Beginning ASP.NET Web Pages with WebMatrix

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Beginning ASP.NET Web Pages with WebMatrix by Mike Brind

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Microsoft launched ASP.NET, a framework for building dynamic websites more than 10 years ago. Since then, improved versions have been released — in 2003 (version 1.1), 2005 (version 2.0), 2008 (version 3.5), and most recently, version 4.0 in 2010. Not long after the release of version 4.0, a series of blog posts appeared from Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President responsible for the Developer Division (which includes ASP.NET). Each of them caused a lot of interest within the ASP.NET development community. The first post announced the launch of IIS Express — a lightweight web server specifically designed to aid in the web application development process. The second blog post concerned the imminent release of a new version of the SQL Server Compact Edition database which could be deployed within a web hosting environment easily. The third post in the series heralded the introduction of a new “View Engine” for ASP.NET, together with a new programming syntax — Razor. The ASP.NET community was giddy with the pace of these announcements. Then along came the final announcement, bringing all these new initiatives together into a totally new web development “stack” — WebMatrix, as well as a new development paradigm leveraging the Razor syntax — Web Pages.


Learning ASP.NET had suddenly got very much easier than it was before.


Until the launch of Web Pages, ASP.NET came in two flavors: Web Forms and MVC. Web Forms has proven pretty popular, and offers a development experience, which is quite close to that enjoyed by Windows application developers. However, web development is very different to desktop development. The two core technologies behind web development — HTTP and HTML are to a large extent hidden from the developer by Web Forms. Web Forms is based on “server-side controls” and has an eventing model, neither of which can be seen in any other web development framework. Web Forms does its best to hide the fact that HTTP is “stateless,” by introducing notions such as ViewState to manage the state of these “controls” from one page request to another. HTML is generated as a result of controls, which have been dragged and dropped onto a design surface, rendering themselves when a page is executed on the web server. In trying to appeal to Windows developers, Web Forms introduced a large number of concepts to web development that are totally unique to the framework and not seen anywhere else. While Web Forms is undeniably a hugely powerful framework, it is not the easiest starting point for anyone new to web development. Its learning curve is high.


ASP.NET MVC was introduced in 2008 partly to provide a more “natural” web development experience, and as a result, it very quickly gained traction among intermediate or experienced ASP.NET web developers, as well as a lot of interest from developers who are more accustomed to using competing technologies such as Ruby On Rails. However, ASP.NET MVC is also designed to solve a lot of other problems that advanced developers have with Web Forms — a lack of testability, a need for clearer “separation of concerns,” the ability to extend the framework, and so on. These notions are obscure to new web development students, so the one problem that MVC did not solve was to make learning ASP.NET any easier. If anything, MVC’s “concept count” is higher than that of Web Forms.


Competing technologies, such as PHP are considered much more accessible in comparison. Even Microsoft’s predecessor to ASP.NET — classic ASP — was seen as much easier to learn. Web Pages is designed to provide a much smoother on-ramp to developing dynamic websites with Microsoft technologies, by deliberately keeping this “concept count” low, but by also providing powerful tools that make development easy, and still making the full power of the .NET framework available to newcomers as they need it. That’s not to say that Web Pages “dumbs down” web development. The skills you need to learn in order to make use of ASP.NET Web Pages are exactly the same as you need to be effective with PHP or any other server-side technology. And what you learn from working with Web Pages provides a great foundation should you decide to advance to ASP.NET MVC at any stage.


Learning ASP.NET web development should not be difficult. This book and WebMatrix will make it much easier for you than your predecessors found. Over the next 14 chapters, you will build your first site and progressively acquire the skills necessary to embellish it with controlling code and database interactivity. You will be shown how to manage errors in your code, make your site secure from potential hackers, protect areas from unauthorized users and finally deploy it to a web server so that the world can come and visit it. And when you have finished the final chapter, you will find further resources listed for you so that you can continue your progression as a web developer.


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