VIEWSTATE size minimization

This post continues the series of Internet Information Services IIS optimization. See the link if you want to follow the whole series.

According to Microsoft, in NET Framework Class Library documentation for Control.ViewState Property:
A server control's view state is the accumulation of all its property values. In order to preserve these values across HTTP requests, ASP.NET server controls use this property […]
That means that, the bigger the contents of the control, the bigger must be its ViewState property.
What is it used for? When server technologies are used, such as ASP, ASP.NET, PHP, and so on, in the server side a high level and powerful language is used. These languages have advanced server controls (such as grid, treeview, etc), and they can do validations of any kind (on database access, etc). The final end of this high level language is transforming the ‘server page’ in a final page that a browser can understand (HTML+Javascript). If on the one hand you have server controls that are rendered into HTLM when they are output to the browser, what happens when the user does a postback/callback and sends the page back to the server? Here is where the ViewState plays its role, helping to recreate the page objects at the server, in the OOP sense (<asp:TextBox ID=...) based on HTML controls (<input name=”...).

Wouldn’t be easier to forget about all this and handle it in the traditional way? For recreating simple controls as a text box or a select box, it could be feasible to fetch the values right from the HTML, without using the ViewState, but imagine trying to recreate a GridView with only the HTML, having to strip out the formatting. Besides, without the ViewState we could not send to the server certain events such as a change of selection in a DropDownList (the previously selected element is saved in the ViewState).

Ok, we will need the ViewState after all, but, is there any way of minimizing it? Yes. As Microsoft states:
View state is enabled for all server controls by default, but there are circumstances in which you will want to disable it. For more information, see Performance Overview.
If you see Performance Overview, you will be suggested to:
Save server control view state only when it is required. View state enables server controls to repopulate property values on a round trip without requiring you to write code […]
Take that into consideration when writing your master pages, since most of the controls in the master page will be static (or at much, written only once by the server) and probably not needed at all again in case of a postback or callback (unless, for instance a DropDownList for changing the language of the site, being placed in the master page).

When can we disable the view state? Basically, when we use data that will be read only, or that will not be needed again by the server in case of a postback/callback, for instance a grid that do not have associated events for sorting or selection at the server.

There are several ways for controlling the viewstate:
  • In a page by page basis: If you have any particular page in which you know you will not need the viewstate, you can disable it completely at the page declaration:
    <%@ Page Title="Home" Language="C#" MasterPageFile="~/MasterPage.master" AutoEventWireup="true" CodeFile="default.aspx.cs" Inherits="_default" EnableViewState="false" %>
    However, doing so might render your masterpage controls (if any) unusable for that particular page. For instance, if you have DropDownList control in your masterpage for changing/selecting the language of the website and you disable the viewstate for several single files of your site,
  • In the master page declaration: In a similar way as you do for a single page, you can do it also in the masterpage. The result will be that, unless you override this option for single page (explicitly declaring single pages as having it), all pages using a master page declared this way will not have ViewState (and if they do, it will not contain any info about controls from the masterpage):
    <%@ Master Language="C#" AutoEventWireup="true" CodeFile="MasterPage.master.cs" Inherits="MasterPage" EnableViewState="false" %>
  • In a control by control basis: A more flexible (due to its granularity) way for controlling the view state is enabling/disabling it control by control:
    <asp:TextBox ID="TextBox1" runat="server" EnableViewState="false" ></asp:TextBox> 
    This will probably be the easiest method and the one that less interfere with the rest of a website; besides its effects (in the size of the viewstate and functionality) can be easily checked and can be easily reverted back if something does not work.
Most of the controls in a masterpage will fall into the category of light control group (see Viewstate Optimization Strategies in ASP.NET), it means that including or excluding them from the view state makes very little difference (its footprint is very small). Even that being the case, you should make sure you set EnableViewState="false" attribute for them just in case.

One of the asp.net controls that makes the View State grow heavily is the asp.menu control. As I showed in my previous post ASP.NET menu control optimization, moving it out of the masterpage and placing it in another standalone client-side cacheable file can make wonders. However, if you do not implement such a suggestion, you can at least disable the view state for the menu control. The menu control will still be rendered within every page, but the size of the View State will be significantly smaller without further effort. In one of our customers, simply adding EnableViewState="false" to the menu control definition, reduced the size of their homepage (for example) from 150Kb to around 109Kb. Since the menu was in the masterpage, the reduction was similar for all the pages in their site.


Internet Information Services IIS optimization

1 comment:

Jean said...

Thank you! Your comments on the asp menu control helped me reduce my viewstate significantly too.