Using a Base Controller for obtaining Common ViewData

I am working on an ASP.NET MVC application that contains a header and menu on each page. The menu and header are dynamic. In other words, the menu items and header information are determined at runtime.

My initial thought is to build a base Controller from which all other controllers derive. In the base controller, I will obtain the menu and header data and insert the required information into the ViewData. Finally, I will use a ViewUserControl to display the header and menu through a master page template.

So, I'm trying to determine the best practice for building such functionality. Also, if this is the recommended approach, which method should I override (I'm guessing Execute) when obtaining the data for insertion into the ViewData.

I'm sure this is a common scenario, so any advice/best-practices would be appreciated! Thanks in advance!

EDIT: I did find the following resources after posting this (of course), but any additional anecdotes would be awesome!

How do you use usercontrols in mvc that display an "island" of data?


Depends on where your information is coming from. We have standard view data that we use to generate some of the information we have on screen that we create in just this fashion. It works well and is easily maintained. We override the View method to implement strongly typed view names and use this information to retrieve some of the data that the master page requires as well.

You could write a helper extension to render the header/menu That way you could have it show in different places in the view should you need to, but only one place for maintenance.

public static HtmlString MainMenu(this HtmlHelper helper)

Use a base controller class to implement generell filter methods. The controller class implements some filter interfaces IActionFilter, IAuthorizationFilter, IExceptionFilter and IResultFilter which are usefull to implement some common behavior for all controllers.

If the menu data is the same on all pages but different for each unique user. Generate the menudata in an OnAuthorization or Initialize method of your controller base class. First will be called on authorization. Initialize will be called before every action method. You have access to ViewData Context. Generate the menudata there. Put the view content for menu and header into the master page and access generated ViewData there.

I tackled a similar design challenge a couple months ago - implementing a breadcrumb feature that changes as user navigates from page to page.

I overrided the OnActionExecuting method to gather the breadcrumbs and store them in ViewData (I use the name of the action as the breadCrumb of the view). Then I updated the Master page to include a user control that takes the ViewData and renders the breadcrumbs.

One thing to be aware is that if you were using the default ASP.NET MVC error handling attribute [HandleError] and your error page is using the same Master page that attempts to read the ViewData, you will soon find out that you can't access ViewData from your error page and it will raise an exception. Depending on whether you need the ViewData for failure scenarios, the viable solution is to use a separate Master page or do this: How do I pass ViewData to a HandleError View?

I'll answer your question with another question. Will the base controller have to determine what type it really is in order to generate the proper menu data? If so, then you're defeating the purpose of polymorphism and the code to generate the data should go in each controller, perhaps in OnActionExecuting if the menu is the same for all actions. Pushing it back down into a parent class seems likely to end up with some switch statement in the parent class doing what each derived controller really ought to take care of.

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