Render .ascx-Files in ASP.NET MVC Using Only RazorViewEngine

ASP.NET Band-Aid

If you're stuck in an environment where you're migrating from ASP.NET MVC to ASP.NET WebForms it's good to know that you can actually render your existing WebForms-Controls in you MVC-views. This might sound like a crazy thing to do (and it is in the long run!) but it might be useful if you're stuck between sprints and have perfectly working WebForms-Controls (.ascx-files) that you don't have time to migrate right now. All you have to do is use the HtmlHelper's helper-method .RenderPartial(string partialViewName) and pass it the path to the WebForms-Control.

// Write the content of a control inside a view:
Html.RenderPartial("~/Controls/ControlVirtualPath.ascx");

// Or to get the content of a control as a MvcHtmlString, for further manipulation:
Html.Partial("~/Controls/CustomControl.ascx")

It's important that your controls inherits from System.Web.Mvc.ViewUserControl and NOT the old System.Web.UI.UserControl.

One performance-tip that is often mentioned around ASP.NET MVC is to deactivate the WebForms-View Engine for MVC Razor-views (which actually turns out to maybe not make such a big difference after all). This will not prevent .aspx, .ascx and other WebForms-files from working.

But you still want your .ascx-files to work inline in your MVC Razor-views. This can be achieved by implementing your own class that inherits RazorViewEngine, which only uses the WebFormViewEngine when actually needed.

Global.asax (or other config-class)

// Remove WebFormViewEngine (and RazorViewEngine)
ViewEngines.Engines.Clear();
ViewEngines.Engines.Add(new CustomRazorViewEngine());

CustomRazorViewEngine : System.Web.Mvc.RazorViewEngine

private static readonly WebFormViewEngine WebFormsEngine = new WebFormViewEngine();

public override ViewEngineResult FindPartialView(
    ControllerContext context, string name, bool useCache)
{
    if (name.EndsWith(".ascx"))
    {
        return WebFormsEngine.FindPartialView(context, name, useCache);
    }

    return base.FindPartialView(context, name, useCache);
}

If you need the actual class of the control to do some further analysis/manipulation, you can do the following anywhere in your code:

var viewPage = new ViewPage();
var control = viewPage.LoadControl("~/Controls/ControlVirtualPath.ascx") as ControlType;

Serialize HtmlString & MvcHtmlString in JSON.NET

JSON

The HtmlString-class (and MvcHtmlString) that is and has been used in the ASP.NET-platform, including WebPages, since the introduction of ASP.NET MVC is basically just a wrapped string, that doesn't gets automatically HTML-encoded when used in Razor-views. Despite this fact, if you want to serialize or deserialize this object in JSON.NET it will come back as null.

To be able to serialize an object containing a property of a type inheriting from IHtmlString, like HtmlString and MvcHtmlString, to then, for instance, cache the serialized object, you need to implement your own Newtonsoft.Json.JsonConverter that handles the serialization and deserialization.

HtmlStringConverter : Newtonsoft.Json.JsonConverter

public override bool CanConvert(Type objectType)
{
    return typeof(IHtmlString).IsAssignableFrom(objectType);
}

public override object ReadJson(
    JsonReader reader, Type objectType, object existingValue, JsonSerializer serializer)
{
    var value = reader.Value as string;
    // Specifically MvcHtmlString
    if (objectType == typeof(MvcHtmlString))
    {
        return new MvcHtmlString(value);
    }
    // Generally HtmlString
    if (objectType == typeof(HtmlString))
    {
        return new HtmlString(value);
    }

    // Fallback for other (future?) implementations of IHtmlString
    return Activator.CreateInstance(objectType, value);
}

public override void WriteJson(JsonWriter writer, object value, JsonSerializer serializer)
{
    var htmlString = value as HtmlString;
    if (htmlString == null)
    {
        return;
    }

    writer.WriteValue(htmlString.ToString());
}

You then have to register this Converter in your JsonSerializerSettings like this:

CurrentConverter.Converters.Add(new HtmlStringConverter());