One of the strengths of ASP.NET is its configuration system. By centralizing all of the settings that control the behavior of your ASP.NET Web site in a single XML file (web.config), ASP.NET makes it easy to be sure that you haven't overlooked anything when you're customizing a site. But in ASP.NET 1.0 and 1.1 (the versions that shipped with Visual Studio .NET 2002 and Visual Studio .NET 2003), this convenience comes at the cost of needing to edit the XML file by hand. While most developers are used to having to deal with XML files by now, it's always an annoyance to have to stare at angle brackets.
Apparently Microsoft's developers were annoyed by this too, because they came up with not one but two different ways to make the ASP.NET configuration process easier in version 2.0. In this article, I'll show you the new tools. The Web Site Administration Tool is designed for use by developers who are building ASP.NET 2.0 sites, and the ASP.NET Configuration Tool is smoothly integrated with Internet Information Services Manager for use by administrators. Between these two tools, you may never need to look at an angle bracket again.
The Web Site Administration Tool
The Web Site Administration Tool is available from within Visual Studio 2005 while you're designing an ASP.NET 2.0 Web site. To launch the tool, select ASP.NET Configuration from the Website menu. This will open the tool in a separate browser window, as shown in Figure 1.
The tool breaks its functionality down across three tabs:
- Security, for managing user accounts and roles.
- Application, for managing general application settings.
- Provider, for testing and assigning providers for membership and role management
This tool doesn't let you configure every possible web.config setting, but it does handle most of the ones that a developer will wand to alter during the design process.
The Application Tab
As a developer, you'll probably spend most of your time on the Application tab. Here you can modify application settings, set up an SMTP server within your ASP.NET application, modify the application's online state, or configure debugging and tracing.
Application settings are a mechanism for storing arbitrary name-value pairs within the web.config file. For example, if you create an application setting with the name UserLimit and the value 25, you're actually adding this XML fragment to the file:
<appSettings> <add key="UserLimit" value="25" /> </appSettings>
ASP.NET doesn't do anything with these settings itself. They're for
your own use in configuring your Web applications as you see fit. You can
access them by using the
System.Configuration.ConfigurationManager class in your
SMTP e-mail settings let you determine how your ASP.NET application will send e-mail. You can choose a server and port to use, the name to use as the From address on outgoing mail, and the authentication information to sign in with.
The Application Status section of the Application tab gives you a one-click way to take an application offline (or to subsequently place an offline application back online). An offline application won't respond to user requests. This is handy when you need to perform extended maintenance such as changing a database schema and don't want user interactions to interfere with the process.
Finally, you can choose whether to enable debugging or capture tracing information, and specify custom error pages for the application. Each setting you can make in this section (such as setting the sort order for tracing results) corresponds to an entry in the web.config file.
The Provider Tab
The Provider tab of the Web Site Administration Tool lets you select and test providers for site configuration information. You can either choose a single provider for everything, or separate providers for membership information and role information. By default, new ASP.NET sites use the AspNetSqlProvider for all configuration information. It's possible to write custom data provider classes to store this information in places other than the default SQL Server database. If you do, this tab lets you test your customer provider as well.
The Security Tab
The Security tab of the Web Site Administration Tool is designed to manage all aspects of securing an ASP.NET Web site. If you don't need security on your site, you'll never need to touch this tab. But if you do need security, you'll find these operations here:
- Select the site's authentication type.
- Use the Security Setup Wizard to walk you through configuring security.
- Create and manage users.
- Create and manage roles.
- Create and manage access rules.
The ASP.NET Configuration Tool
The Web Site Administration Tool is only available on computers where Visual Studio 2005 is installed. This makes it less than useful on production servers - it's likely that your network administrators will take a dim view of trying to install VS2005 on the corporate Web server. Fortunately, there's another tool to fill the gap for post-deployment configuration. ASP.NET 2.0 integrates its own configuration tool directly into Internet Information Services Manager, which is Microsoft's standard tool for managing IIS Web sites.
To launch this tool, follow these steps:
- Open IIS Manager
- Locate the ASP.NET Web application that you want to configure.
- Right-click on the application and select Properties.
- In the Properties dialog box, click the Edit Configuration button. This will open the ASP.NET Configuration Settings dialog box, shown in Figure 2.
The ASP.NET Configuration Settings dialog box provides access to most of the settings in the web.config file, organized across seven tabs:
- The Connection tab lets you add, edit, and delete connection strings and arbitrary application settings.
- The Custom Errors tab lets you set the custom errors mode and specify pages to handle individual errors.
- The Authorization tab shows you any inherited authorization rules, and lets you add, edit, and delete local authorization rules.
- The Authentication tab lets you set the site authentication mode, set forms authentication parameters, and select membership and role management providers.
- The Application Tab provides access to a variety of application-wide settings, including page language and theme defaults, globalization settings, and impersonation and identity settings.
- The State Management tab lets you pick a session state mode, customize session state management, and specify the session timeout.
- The Locations tab lets you identify specific paths and subdirectories that should have their own configuration settings.
As with the Web Site Administration Tool, everything here could be changed directly in the web.config file. But it's a whole lot easier to make changes through the graphical user interface and let the tool worry about keeping the XML up to date.
It's All About Making Your Life Easier
Could we have configured all of our ASP.NET 2.0 sites without these new tools? Sure; we got through ASP.NET 1.0 and 1.1 without them just fine. But the point of new versions of software is to make hard things easy and easy things easier. Little improvements like the Web Site Administration Tool and the ASP.NET Configuration Settings tool remove a bit of the grunt work from setting up ASP.NET 2.0 sites, and it's nice to have them around to help. Put enough little things together, and you've got a good reason to upgrade.
About the Author
Mike Gunderloy is the author of over 20 books and numerous articles on development topics, and the Senior Technology Partner for Adaptive Strategy, a Washington State consulting firm. When he's not writing code, Mike putters in the garden on his farm in eastern Washington state.