MVC routing for public facing web applications

When building a public web application with ASP.NET MVC, I often want to divide the project into three major parts.

  1. The publicly visible, marketing website with about pages, product tour, contact info, sign up, etc.
  2. The actual application, secured behind a login form.
  3. A system admin area, so I can manage user accounts, monitor reports, etc.

Areas, in MVC 2 and better, make it easy to slice up the three parts of the web application. Read on to learn how I set this up and get some useful tips you can use for your own applications.

Everything is an Area

You probably want the public marketing pages to live at the root of your URL structure. So it's tempting to put the controllers and views into the top-level Controllers and Views folders. Don't do this. I don't see why the marketing junk should get special treatment. It's an area just like the application and the system admin areas.

So add three areas to your MVC project called "Public", "App", and "Admin". The default route registration for these is mostly OK, except for Public. We don't want "public" in the URLs. However, simply editing the route registration for Public will cause a potential routing failure. The order of route registration matters.

If, by chance, the Public area is registered before the other two, then its default route of "{controller}/{action}/{id}" will greedily steal any URL heading for App or Admin. For example, the URL "app/home/index" would end up looking for a controller in Public called "AppController" and an action method called "Home". This is not what we intended!

To remedy the situation we must force the Public area to general route to be added after all other areas. Cut it out of the PublicAreaRegistration.cs file. Move it to Application_Start in Global.asax, after the call to AreaRegistration.RegisterAllAreas.

Then make the following changes to make it still behave as an Area route:

AreaRegistration.RegisterAllAreas(); // Force App and Admin to run first
var publicRoute = routes.MapRoute(
    new { controller = "Home", action = "Index", id = UrlParameter.Optional },
    new[] { typeof(Areas.Public.Controllers.HomeController).Namespace }
publicRoute.DataTokens["Area"] = "Public";

This gives the route the correct namespace to look for controllers and assigns the Area name.

URLs heading for App and Admin will reach their intended destinations. You can still keep custom routes in Public's registration. Just make sure they aren't too general, capturing URLs for areas.

I hope you found this tip useful. Follow me on Twitter for constant web application development banter!

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