Like it or not, WebForms is not going away. Fortune 50 companies use it for their public facing, mission critical websites, and I can’t really see many of these folks tossing away years of work simply because MVC is the new shiny. Talking with some industry folks, I see a lot of fear/misunderstanding around the MVC/WebForms story going forward.
One thing that Jeffrey at Headspring has convinced me of recently is that there should be a convergence of these two models at some point in the future. On a recent large project, we’ve had areas where it just made sense to use WebForms. For us, it was a 3rd party reporting control. Making the transition there was tough, however, as many things I counted on in MVC just weren’t there any more. However, recent strides in ASP.NET 4.0 have eliminated many of the existing headaches.
My vision of an MVC-WebForms marriage is one of a seamless harmony, one where I can go back and forth between MVC and WebForms without much issue between the two. So what is needed to make this marriage last?
Model Binding/Strongly-Typed pages
One of the big pains going from MVC to WebForms is the lack of model binding. I don’t like poking into controls to get values, nor do I enjoy poking into the querystring/forms collections to manually munge dictionaries.
In addition to model binding would be pages where I could strongly-type the Page class, so that I didn’t have to manually pull junk out of controls. I could see this done in a variety of ways, whether it’s an overloaded Page_Load event, a different Page base class or whatever.
Shared HtmlHelpers and MasterPages
I’d like to easily generate links from MVC to WebForms, and vice-versa. Additionally, I don’t want to create a new Master Page for WebForms pages. I haven’t tried to mix both, but it would be nice to be able to share a common template for both sets of pages. If I get HtmlHelpers, then I can easily use Url.Action, Html.ActionLink and so on.
This is already in ASP.NET 4.0, nothing else needed here. Since I can create routes for WebForms, I can use the route-based URL generators in MVC land to generate a link from an MVC to WebForms page. Of course, I can always hard-code the .ASPX URL.
There are still situations in every-day work that WebForms is the right way to go. I like MVC as a pattern more than the presenter/front controller of WebForms, and that’s a conscious choice I make. But for those wanting to mix technologies, it’s still a little ways off before these can both live together in harmony, if only for those times when I absolutely must use both.