AJAX Features in ASP.NET MVC

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AJAX Features in ASP.NET MVC

Discover How to Place AJAX Requests in ASP.NET MVC Applications

For a few moments when I first approached ASP.NET MVC I really thought it was the negation of AJAX. With a programming model heavily based on REST principles, I thought all that one could do is invoke a URL. And when you get, or post to, a URL, you inevitably involve the browser and get a full-page refresh. As I’ve explored it more, and as the facts have largely shown, my first impression was dead wrong. AJAX is definitely possible in ASP.NET MVC.

The role of JavaScript is clearly relevant and fundamental. The ASP.NET MVC Framework simply provides its own set of JavaScript files and utilities to make AJAX calls occur in much the same way they occur in WebForms applications. In this article I’ll go through the various aspects of the AJAX API you can leverage in ASP.NET MVC applications.


Compared to WebForms, ASP.NET MVC provides a smarter layer of code on top of the same ASP.NET runtime.

In the WebForms model, the request that comes in is dispatched to an HTTP handler that maps the URL to a server file. It reads the content of the server file, parses that to a C# class, compiles the class into an assembly, and invokes a well-known method on the class. The well-known method is ProcessRequest, one of the members of the IHttpHandler interface that represents the public contract for any ASP.NET page. The C# class that defines the expected behavior for the page derives from a system class (the System.Web.UI.Page class). This class is nothing more than a built-in HTTP handler—albeit one of the most complex HTTP handlers ever written.

The ASP.NET MVC Framework abstracts some of the steps in the procedure just described. For example, the URL is not necessarily bound to a server file. The URL is simply the representation of the requested resource. This means that a module intercepts the request, parses the URL, and forwards the request to a controller component. The role that the page class plays in WebForms is split between controller and view in ASP.NET MVC. I dare say that ASP.NET MVC smartly refactors ASP.NET WebForms, but works on top of the same runtime environment and, therefore, according to the same set of global rules. If AJAX is possible in WebForms, it has to be possible in ASP.NET MVC, as well.

JavaScript Makes AJAX Run

At its core, AJAX is about making an out-of-band request to the web server via XMLHttpRequest. A piece of JavaScript code prepares the call, runs it asynchronously, then processes the response in a callback function. The callback function is responsible for updating the user interface with downloaded data using the DOM services. To make developers’ lives a bit easier, Microsoft provided in ASP.NET AJAX such facilities as the partial rendering API and JavaScript proxy for Web services.

To be picky, I could say that Microsoft didn’t provide a very simple API to make AJAX calls that hide the nitty-gritty details of the XMLHttpRequest object. JavaScript proxies are great, but they require a Web or WCF service at the other end. The Microsoft AJAX client library does offer a WebRequest object, but it takes a few lines of code to prepare it and make it work. Other libraries, primarily the jQuery library now included in ASP.NET AJAX, make up for this with their own API.

The package that contains the ASP.NET MVC install also includes the jQuery library, so you can use this library (or any other similar libraries) to prepare your direct AJAX calls directed at URLs of choice. This is the most natural way of having AJAX in ASP.NET MVC applications. However, Microsoft provides facilities to make AJAX happen in a way that is similar to partial rendering in WebForms.

That said, I feel the need to clarify a key point once and for all. There’s only one way of placing AJAX calls, and it’s all about using the XMLHttpRequest object. On top of this, some frameworks and JavaScript libraries have built their own infrastructure, with the sole purpose of making programming easier and faster.

Direct Scripting

I like to use the expression “direct scripting” to refer to the scenario where you have some JavaScript code that places calls to an HTTP endpoint and receives a semantic response, such as JSON data or primitive data. Direct scripting is an approach to AJAX that works in any case, as it is at the lowest possible level of abstraction. All you need in the page is a button or in general some event handler, no matter how defined. Figure 1 shows some JavaScript code that uses jQuery to attach an onclick handler to a button.

You use the Ajax.ActionLink method within code blocks, as shown here:

<%= Ajax.ActionLink("Get customers", "/GetCustomers", new AjaxOptions { OnSuccess="addCustomersEx" })%>

The code generates a hyperlink that points to the same GetCustomers method we considered earlier in the direct scripting example. The first argument you pass to the action link is the text of the hyperlink. The second argument is the controller action to invoke. Finally, the third argument is a collection of optional settings to use in the call. At the very minimum, you must specify the JavaScript callback that runs upon a successful completion of the call. The ActionLink method has several more overloads; the one shown here is the most common and simple of all.

The controller action can return anything, including JSON, JavaScript, or plain HTML markup. The callback, if specified, will handle the response and update the user interface accordingly. Here’s the source code of the addCustomersEx callback function:

function addCustomersEx(context)


// Grab the method’s response
var response = eval(context.get_data());
// Invoke the addCustomers function of Figure 1
// to populate the dropdown list


The success callback, as well as any other callbacks you can specify in the AjaxOptions object, receives only one argument of type AjaxContext. Figure 2 shows the members of the object. To get the response as plain data, call the get_data method and pass it through the JavaScript’s eval function to transform a JSON string into a usable JavaScript object.
Member Description


Gets any data returned from the controller action.


Indicates how to treat the response (only if markup), whether to replace, prepend, or append it to the markup of the specified DOM element. The default is replace.

Indicates the DOM element to be displayed to indicate that an AJAX call is going on.


Gets the Sys.Net.WebRequest object that represents the current request.


Gets the Sys.Net.WebRequestExecutor object for the current request.


Indicates the DOM element to be automatically updated with the returned markup, if any.

The link emitted in the page takes the following form:

As you can see, AJAX in ASP.NET MVC is definitely possible, but all of it happens through JavaScript.

Partial Rendering in ASP.NET MVC

The AJAX ActionLink method also can be used to implement a sort of partial rendering. If the controller action returns HTML markup, then this content can automatically be inserted in to the inner space of the specified DOM element. To get this, simply specify the element to update in the AjaxOptions settings and, optionally, the desired insertion mode:

<%= Ajax.ActionLink("Details", "/GetCustomerDetails", new AjaxOptions { LoadingElementId="lblWait", UpdateTargetId="pnlDetails" })%>

The lblWait DOM element is displayed for the time it takes to download the response, then is hidden. The pnlDetails DOM element, instead, is updated with the content downloaded. Of course, this approach works well if the downloaded content is an HTML string. Here’s a sample controller method:

public string GetCustomerDetails(string id)


// Return HTML



I recommend that any element you use as the loading element be initially hidden from view using CSS.


In this article I’ve demonstrated the simplest way to get AJAX in an ASP.NET MVC solution. In particular, I focused on direct scripting and the AJAX ActionLink helper method. The ActionLink approach, though, also lends itself very well to implement a sort of partial rendering in ASP.NET MVC. Because of space constraints I could only scratch the surface of this topic. Next month I’ll provide full coverage of partial rendering in ASP.NET MVC, including posting an entire form to a controller. Stay tuned!


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  1. Isuru Says:

    Excellent note on Ajax on ASP.net..

  2. kulveer Says:

    Thanks Isuru.

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