ASP.Net : To MVC or not to MVC ?

I was recently faced with a situation at work to execute a ASP.Net MVC project to release. The design choice was not mine , however due to certain constraints I was asked to finish it to deployment. We have released a 1.0 version of the project now and in retrospect , if I had started the design from scratch , would I have picked the ASP.Net MVC as opposed to WebForms  which is well established and mature ?. I probably would not have considering the proven rapid time to productivity of WebForms especially when we had several deadlines looming over our heads . However, having already a project with MVC in production I realize the merits of it enough to say, the decision to do it in MVC was not a bad one at all, although we had several pitfalls on the way. Will I use MVC for my next ASP.Net project ? Most probably , yes.

I am sure several shops are faced with this dilemma lately as far as starting a new ASP.Net project….MVC or not? As usual  ‘it depends’ on the context of your organization and it’s development practices so far , however if I were to make a Utopian decision on this problem I would say Yes, MVC is the right choice to get started with the project. This clearly states that MVC is a superior design pattern and ASP.Net MVC has more to offer that can go a long way with your company’s ASP.Net / web development strategy.

Typically I noticed that MVC is a natural choice for developers coming from Java world having to do ASP.Net …so is with Ruby On Rails developers. Microsoft surely succeeded in wooing the Java and ROR folks with their ASP.Net MVC strategy. For those of you who have been hardcore ‘WebFormers’ it’s undoubtedly worth your time because we all know that a complex project developed in WebForms can become a debug nightmare with PostBack and WebForm event life cycle. And there are several other shortcomings…ViewState , Testability , not being able to separate the concerns. A high level of competency in architecture is required in design of moderate to complex WebForms projects  demanding solid upfront design effort that can cost time and money.

Asp.Net MVC manages to alleviate a lot of these due to it’s inherent clear Separation Of Concerns thanks to MVC itself , a known pattern in the Software Architecture world. The framework itself does a lot of groundwork for you as long as you adhere to some good  programming practices as you go along your development cycle. Basically , you  jump start into a good design without having to put in a lot of work upfront. Right there I think , you gained cost and time.

So, to sum it up – for medium to large sized projects it’s undoubtedly a better choice. For smaller projects or prototypes where time-to-market or quick overview could be  the primary concern , Webforms is a better choice since it offers greater productivity. For larger projects , time-to-market is normally one of the concerns , however other predominant concerns are  maintainability , extensibility , testability and performance. All of this , MVC will address and  improve for your projects across the board.

The current ASP.Net MVC 2.0 system has it’s demerits as well, biggest one at this point being , it’s lack of maturity. Version 2 is out there, however it lacks the Rapid development components of WebForms like the Server controls. This can make developers frustrated several times since it slows you down to a great degree. However the brighter side is once you get a hang of how to use HtmlHelpers and enhance them you will appreciate the degree of control and customization it offers as opposed to server controls which could end up becoming sometimes black boxes in difficult situations. The web world is making progress out there with MVCContrib which offers some controls for MVC and Microsoft soon will be coming out with Version 3 which has a lot of enhancements along with a new View Engine called Razor.

There sure is a learning curve for most WebFormers  trying this framework for the first time , more so if you are not familiar with MVC design pattern. So, how do you get your team ready for this new seemingly ‘Rewarding’ technology in a seamless and streamlined fashion? It’s a huge paradigm shift and you want to make sure the team does it step by step without feeling bogged down by it.

In the next blog , I will give you my two cents of how I think the development team can go about learning this framework and making a transition to this technology.

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