Nima Dilmaghani’s Technology Blog

Silicon Valley Code Camp is this weekend

While I am sitting far and away from Silicon Valley, I will be watching as the second Silicon Valley Code Camp happens this weekend. I want to tell all the developers, coders, architects, hackers, or whatever techie names they want to call themselves who live in or near the Valley how lucky they are to have such a great event there. Some of my favorite techies will be speaking at this event. People like Douglas Crockford, Juval Lowey, and Matt Mullenweg will be taking time to share their knowledge and experiences with the rest of us and thanks to the hard work of folks like Peter Kellner who have spent countless hours organizing this event, it will all be for free. Believe me, people from other parts of the country or the world do not have this same luxury to drive a few minutes from their home and listen, learn, and share with such a powerful group of software engineers and pioneers involved in such a divers array of technologies. Fortunately, the word has gotten around and over 700 people have registered. Unfortunately, many of those who register will not show up. Mainly because registration is free and the barrier to entry is nothing. So at the last minute, they decide to do something else or feel lazy or … I don’t really know why. All I know is that this is a great opportunity. People pay hundreds of dollars at conferences to see the same speakers give the same talks and folks in the Valley have a wonderful chance to take advantage of it for free this weekend. So don’t let this opportunity go by. If you have not registered, register now. If you have registered, set your alarm clock for Saturday morning and go down there. You are blessed with the opportunity to live in the valley and take advantage of this. Take full advantage of it.

I wish I was there.

The tools folks said they used at Conference

At the conference Someone put a sheet on the wall and folks filled it out with:

here is a flickr link to the photo of the first page and here is what was on the sheet:

Update:  AltNetPedia has this list in much better order now.

What tools do you use?
Visual Studio!
Big Witeboard Wall!
Rhino Mocks
MS Test
Team Build
Mac Book
Structure Map
Textmate for C# (Really!)
Active Record Migrations
NAntMy Generation
Visual SVN
Socket Wrench

Index Cards
Baseball Bat
Media Wiki
Synergy (network KVM)
Tortoise SVN
SQL Server
Acrobat Connect
SQL Diff
CI Factory
SQL Compare
XML Doc Viewer
Lots of e
Cross Loop

Microsoft announces its new MVC architecture for Web Apps

Today at the conference, Scott Guthrie demoed the new MVC architecture that Microsoft will be releasing in Spring 2008 for web apps. The first CTP should be available in two weeks. This architecture is very similar in many ways to the Rails architecture but takes full advantage of Microsoft .NET 3.5’s features and the strong typing in .NET. The crowed of alpha geeks that where incredibly critical of Microsoft the night before all gathered in one room and intently listened. Many questions were asked: Does this framework work with such and such? Can I do so and so. Scott’s answer was yes to all of these questions. The crowed was enchanted by Guthrie. No one had anything negative to say. There were a few syntactic and minor suggestions. And some mental wresting from some of the geeks, but Scott’s technical answers addressed the issues raised. Everyone was incredibly impressed. Scott’s presentation and rapid fire answers to questions demonstrated his detailed understanding of all the testing frameworks as well as alternative development frameworks out there and his team’s synthesis of all this knowledge in what appears to be a superior product to what currently exists in the market.
This will be a MVC pattern similar to Rails with a similar URL mapping convention and an architecture that allows you to plug in your favorite testing tools. Both Scott Hanselman and Philip Wheat taped the talk and will post it shortly. I strongly recommend watching it. This architecture is far superior in separation of concerns, testability, maintainability, and scalability to the existing ASP.NET architecture that was basically mimicking a state-full WinForms environment in a stateless web world to bring existing WinForms developers up to speed with web application development quickly. It will enter a heated battle with Ruby on Rails for the top spot as the best way to develop modern web apps. The Microsoft .NET Framework will have certain advantages such as WCF, Linq, and strong typing while the dynamic nature of Ruby and it’s faster innovation rates due to its open source nature will have other advantages. It will be interesting to see how this fight will pan out.

Note that because of a fundamental change in the design, there will be a new (smaller) set of ASP.NET controls that will work in this model. This architecture relies more on the native html controls (which is a good thing. See my CSS blog post to see what hoops you need to jump through to make ASP.NET controls work well with CSS). AJAX Control Toolkit controls that talk to the server also will get counter parts that will work in this model. There will be no change to the Microsoft Ajax Library or the networking stack of the Microsoft Ajax offering. This stack will also improve the existing ASP.NET architecture by replacing the UpdatePanel that was designed to wrap existing ASP.NET controls which were not originally designed for Ajax with a control that can be passed into the app as a JSON object and placed in a placeholder.

To read other perspectives please read the following blogs:

Bob Grommes, Chris Holmes, Howard Dierking, Jeffery Palermo, Jason Meridth, Joshua Flanagan Mike Moore, Roy Osherove,

Update: Sergio Pereira has written nice blog post that goes in more detail with sample code.

10 Rules for effective use of CSS in ASP.NET

Posted in .NET, ASP.NET, Cascading Style Sheets, CSS, engineering, expression', html, web design by nimad on October 2, 2007

Becoming standards compliant, effective, and successful when using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) with ASP.NET is not always obvious, straightforward or easy. Here I am putting together a series of tips and best practices that can help you on the way.

  1. Always prefer CSS over ASP.NET’s Skins for the following reasons:
    • CSS is a well accepted standard.
    • Designers understand CSS but may not understand ASP.NET’s proprietary mechanisms.
    • Skins lead to Classitis. Each skin creates an html class attribute that has its associated styles. This does not follow the principle of reuse.
    • A well designed external CSS implementation will have a smaller payload and faster download times than its equivalent Skin implementation.
    • Microsoft is heavily investing in tooling for CSS design (Expression Web and inclusion of the Expression Web engine in VS2008), and is really not doing anything more with Skins. So follow their lead. Going forward CSS will have the best tooling support from Microsoft.
  2. Use CSS within the Themes construct in ASP.NET in order to get all the good CSS support in VS2008. In particular, instead of linking to CSS files in the <head> section of your HTML document,
    • Create one or more theme folders under the App_Themes folder.
    • Put your CSS files inside these themes folders.
    • Link to these themes by setting the Themes attribute in the page directive.
  3. When you drag a control from the toolbox onto your form, ASP.NET, depending on the control, may add inline styling to your control. Delete these inline styles in Code View, otherwise due to the specificity rules, they will override anything you set in the CSS files and you will be scratching your head trying to figure out what happened while trying to find out why the styles you specified are not applied.
  4. Furthermore, note that most ASP.NET controls have several formatting properties that can be set via the properties window or directly in the markup. All of these will end up becoming inline styles and should totally be avoided. The only formatting property that I recommend using (in moderation to avoid Classitis) is CssClass.
  5. CSS files are written against pure HTML elements not ASP.NET Server Controls. Therefore, understanding the mappings between the two is vital to writing quality CSS files and separating the structure (HTML) from the presentation (CSS). See the bottom of this post for the mappings.
  6. Understanding the mappings between ASP.NET web control and HTML types is is also vital for making sure that your site is following well established web design standards and guidelines. If you consider using an ASP.NET web control, you need to make sure that the corresponding HTML type was intended for that usage. For example, you can use a LinkButton to submit values to the server. However, the LinkButton converts to an <a href> element (along with some JavaScript that does the postback). The <a href> element is intended for hyperlink. The HTML 4.01 specification clearly states: “A link is a connection from one web resource to another.” To submit data to a server, it is better to use the Button control which converts to input type=”submit”. Why is following these standards important? For example, if we choose the LinkButton over the Button control, if the user has JavaScript turned off, the site will no longer function properly. Also following standards is probably the most important step to making your site accessible.
  7. Often times one has to choose between an ASP.NET Server Control and the corresponding HTML element. Here are some rules of thumb. For simple controls like a TextBox or a Label, if you need to map the control to ASP.NET server side functionality, or if you would like to take advantage of the ASP.NET validation controls, use ASP.NET controls. If you don’t, use the lighter html controls. Obviously sophisticated controls such as the Calendar Control can save you hours of development time since they have no equivalents in HTML. On the other end of the spectrum, do not forget that there are a good number of HTML elements that do not have (and should not have) ASP.NET counterparts. An example is <input type=”reset”>. Use these as necessary to do your work.
  8. Use the YUI Library CSS Tools. They will save you many hours of work. These tools consist of four style sheets that Yahoo uses for their own production websites. They include a reset style sheet that neutralizes browser specific styles, a base style sheet which creates a consistent style foundation for common HTML elements, a style sheet for setting and managing fonts, and a grid style sheet for managing grids. If you like, Yahoo will even host these sheets for you.
  9. Note that you can use ID selectors only with HTML elements. The ID you assign to an ASP.NET Control will most probably change as the HTML is rendered for the control. So for ASP.NET Controls, use the CssClass attribute to define the style. If the control does not have this attribute, wrap it in a <Div> tag. Wrapping in Div tags should be the last resort. Usually you can refactor your CSS by using contextual selectors on Div tags that wrap a group of elements.
  10. The designer behaviors in both VS2008 and Expression Web (note that they have the same engine so they work pretty much the same way) focus on styling ASP.NET controls using ID Selectors. This can easily be changed to class selectors. So for a complex ASP.NET web control you add the CssClass attribute with a value. Then, in the CSS file, you add details to it. The CSS designers help you set the CSS properties of the control itself, but to set the properties of individual elements in the control, you need to go in the CSS file and hand code. Remember two powerful CSS selectors, contextual selectors and attribute selectors. (Note that attribute selectors are not supported in IE6 or older browsers). Here is a simplified example:


<asp:RadioButtonList runat=”server” CssClass=”FunkyRadioButtonList”>








/* general styling for the container control goes here*/



.FunkyRadioButtonList input[type=”radio”]


/*styling specific radio buttons in the FunkyRadioButtonList goes here*/






The list below shows the ASP.NET Server control and the HTML element that is generated from it by the ASP.NET runtime.


ASP.NET Control HTML Element
Label span
TextBox input type=”text”
TextBox TextMode=”MultiLine” textarea
TextBox TextMode=”Password” input type=”password”
Button input type=”submit”
LinkButton a href=”javascript:__doPostBack(‘LinkButton1’,”)”
ImageButton input type=”image”
HyperLink a
DropDownList select
ListBox select size=”4″ gives you 4 rows
ListItem option
CheckBox input type=”checkbox”
RadioButton input type=”radio” followed by a label for the text
RadioButtonList table with a tr with one td for each radio button. Inside each td there
is a input type=”radio” and a label
Image img
ImageMap img and a map tag holding one or more of the following 3:
CircleHotSpot area shape=”circle”
PolygonHotSpot area shape=”poly”
RectangleHotSpot area shape=”rect”
Table table
TableHeaderRow tr
TableRow tr
TableFooterRow tr
TableHeaderCell th
TableCell td
BulletedList ul with each list item:
ListItem li
HiddenField input type=”hidden”
Literal Literal is not translated to any html element. The dynamic content
returned by the methodname method is directly displayed.
Calendar a rather sophisticated table
AdRotator a
FileUpload input type=”file”
Wizard a rather sophisticated table. You can Convert the Wizard Control and
related controls such as the CreatUserWizard control into templates, and
then modify the html, remove the tables, and replace them with divs to make
them CSS friendly. Even after all this, the wizard navigation buttons
will still be unreachable via CSS. Therefore, I hand code these
functionalities instead of relying on the Wizard for full control.
Xml <?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>
MultiView MultiView and all the Views inside of it are not translated to any html
element. Thier content is directly displayed.
Panel div
PlaceHolder Placeholder is not translated to any html element. The controls added to
it by the PlaceHolder1.Controls.Add() methodare directly displayed.
Substitution Substitution is not translated to any html element. The dynamic content
returned by the methodname method is directly displayed.
Localize Localize is not translated to any html element. It’s content is directly
Validation controls span