Asp.net-mvc – ASP.NET MVC View Engine Comparison

asp.net-mvcrazorspark-view-engineviewengine

I've been searching on SO & Google for a breakdown of the various View Engines available for ASP.NET MVC, but haven't found much more than simple high-level descriptions of what a view engine is.

I'm not necessarily looking for "best" or "fastest" but rather some real world comparisons of advantages / disadvantages of the major players (e.g. the default WebFormViewEngine, MvcContrib View Engines, etc.) for various situations. I think this would be really helpful in determining if switching from the default engine would be advantageous for a given project or development group.

Has anyone encountered such a comparison?

Best Solution

ASP.NET MVC View Engines (Community Wiki)

Since a comprehensive list does not appear to exist, let's start one here on SO. This can be of great value to the ASP.NET MVC community if people add their experience (esp. anyone who contributed to one of these). Anything implementing IViewEngine (e.g. VirtualPathProviderViewEngine) is fair game here. Just alphabetize new View Engines (leaving WebFormViewEngine and Razor at the top), and try to be objective in comparisons.


System.Web.Mvc.WebFormViewEngine

Design Goals:

A view engine that is used to render a Web Forms page to the response.

Pros:

  • ubiquitous since it ships with ASP.NET MVC
  • familiar experience for ASP.NET developers
  • IntelliSense
  • can choose any language with a CodeDom provider (e.g. C#, VB.NET, F#, Boo, Nemerle)
  • on-demand compilation or precompiled views

Cons:

  • usage is confused by existence of "classic ASP.NET" patterns which no longer apply in MVC (e.g. ViewState PostBack)
  • can contribute to anti-pattern of "tag soup"
  • code-block syntax and strong-typing can get in the way
  • IntelliSense enforces style not always appropriate for inline code blocks
  • can be noisy when designing simple templates

Example:

<%@ Control Inherits="System.Web.Mvc.ViewPage<IEnumerable<Product>>" %>
<% if(model.Any()) { %>
<ul>
    <% foreach(var p in model){%>
    <li><%=p.Name%></li>
    <%}%>
</ul>
<%}else{%>
    <p>No products available</p>
<%}%>

System.Web.Razor

Design Goals:

Pros:

  • Compact, Expressive, and Fluid
  • Easy to Learn
  • Is not a new language
  • Has great Intellisense
  • Unit Testable
  • Ubiquitous, ships with ASP.NET MVC

Cons:

  • Creates a slightly different problem from "tag soup" referenced above. Where the server tags actually provide structure around server and non-server code, Razor confuses HTML and server code, making pure HTML or JS development challenging (see Con Example #1) as you end up having to "escape" HTML and / or JavaScript tags under certain very common conditions.
  • Poor encapsulation+reuseability: It's impractical to call a razor template as if it were a normal method - in practice razor can call code but not vice versa, which can encourage mixing of code and presentation.
  • Syntax is very html-oriented; generating non-html content can be tricky. Despite this, razor's data model is essentially just string-concatenation, so syntax and nesting errors are neither statically nor dynamically detected, though VS.NET design-time help mitigates this somewhat. Maintainability and refactorability can suffer due to this.
  • No documented API, http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.web.razor.aspx

Con Example #1 (notice the placement of "string[]..."):

@{
    <h3>Team Members</h3> string[] teamMembers = {"Matt", "Joanne", "Robert"};
    foreach (var person in teamMembers)
    {
        <p>@person</p>
    }
}

Bellevue

Design goals:

  • Respect HTML as first-class language as opposed to treating it as "just text".
  • Don't mess with my HTML! The data binding code (Bellevue code) should be separate from HTML.
  • Enforce strict Model-View separation

Brail

Design Goals:

The Brail view engine has been ported from MonoRail to work with the Microsoft ASP.NET MVC Framework. For an introduction to Brail, see the documentation on the Castle project website.

Pros:

  • modeled after "wrist-friendly python syntax"
  • On-demand compiled views (but no precompilation available)

Cons:

  • designed to be written in the language Boo

Example:

<html>    
<head>        
<title>${title}</title>
</head>    
<body>        
     <p>The following items are in the list:</p>  
     <ul><%for element in list:    output "<li>${element}</li>"%></ul>
     <p>I hope that you would like Brail</p>    
</body>
</html>

Hasic

Hasic uses VB.NET's XML literals instead of strings like most other view engines.

Pros:

  • Compile-time checking of valid XML
  • Syntax colouring
  • Full intellisense
  • Compiled views
  • Extensibility using regular CLR classes, functions, etc
  • Seamless composability and manipulation since it's regular VB.NET code
  • Unit testable

Cons:

  • Performance: Builds the whole DOM before sending it to client.

Example:

Protected Overrides Function Body() As XElement
    Return _
    <body>
        <h1>Hello, World</h1>
    </body>
End Function

NDjango

Design Goals:

NDjango is an implementation of the Django Template Language on the .NET platform, using the F# language.

Pros:


NHaml

Design Goals:

.NET port of Rails Haml view engine. From the Haml website:

Haml is a markup language that's used to cleanly and simply describe the XHTML of any web document, without the use of inline code... Haml avoids the need for explicitly coding XHTML into the template, because it is actually an abstract description of the XHTML, with some code to generate dynamic content.

Pros:

  • terse structure (i.e. D.R.Y.)
  • well indented
  • clear structure
  • C# Intellisense (for VS2008 without ReSharper)

Cons:

  • an abstraction from XHTML rather than leveraging familiarity of the markup
  • No Intellisense for VS2010

Example:

@type=IEnumerable<Product>
- if(model.Any())
  %ul
    - foreach (var p in model)
      %li= p.Name
- else
  %p No products available

NVelocityViewEngine (MvcContrib)

Design Goals:

A view engine based upon NVelocity which is a .NET port of the popular Java project Velocity.

Pros:

  • easy to read/write
  • concise view code

Cons:

  • limited number of helper methods available on the view
  • does not automatically have Visual Studio integration (IntelliSense, compile-time checking of views, or refactoring)

Example:

#foreach ($p in $viewdata.Model)
#beforeall
    <ul>
#each
    <li>$p.Name</li>
#afterall
    </ul>
#nodata 
    <p>No products available</p>
#end

SharpTiles

Design Goals:

SharpTiles is a partial port of JSTL combined with concept behind the Tiles framework (as of Mile stone 1).

Pros:

  • familiar to Java developers
  • XML-style code blocks

Cons:

  • ...

Example:

<c:if test="${not fn:empty(Page.Tiles)}">
  <p class="note">
    <fmt:message key="page.tilesSupport"/>
  </p>
</c:if>

Spark View Engine

Design Goals:

The idea is to allow the html to dominate the flow and the code to fit seamlessly.

Pros:

  • Produces more readable templates
  • C# Intellisense (for VS2008 without ReSharper)
  • SparkSense plug-in for VS2010 (works with ReSharper)
  • Provides a powerful Bindings feature to get rid of all code in your views and allows you to easily invent your own HTML tags

Cons:

  • No clear separation of template logic from literal markup (this can be mitigated by namespace prefixes)

Example:

<viewdata products="IEnumerable[[Product]]"/>
<ul if="products.Any()">
    <li each="var p in products">${p.Name}</li>
</ul>
<else>
    <p>No products available</p>
</else>

<Form style="background-color:olive;">
    <Label For="username" />
    <TextBox For="username" />
    <ValidationMessage For="username" Message="Please type a valid username." />
</Form>

StringTemplate View Engine MVC

Design Goals:

  • Lightweight. No page classes are created.
  • Fast. Templates are written to the Response Output stream.
  • Cached. Templates are cached, but utilize a FileSystemWatcher to detect file changes.
  • Dynamic. Templates can be generated on the fly in code.
  • Flexible. Templates can be nested to any level.
  • In line with MVC principles. Promotes separation of UI and Business Logic. All data is created ahead of time, and passed down to the template.

Pros:

  • familiar to StringTemplate Java developers

Cons:

  • simplistic template syntax can interfere with intended output (e.g. jQuery conflict)

Wing Beats

Wing Beats is an internal DSL for creating XHTML. It is based on F# and includes an ASP.NET MVC view engine, but can also be used solely for its capability of creating XHTML.

Pros:

  • Compile-time checking of valid XML
  • Syntax colouring
  • Full intellisense
  • Compiled views
  • Extensibility using regular CLR classes, functions, etc
  • Seamless composability and manipulation since it's regular F# code
  • Unit testable

Cons:

  • You don't really write HTML but code that represents HTML in a DSL.

XsltViewEngine (MvcContrib)

Design Goals:

Builds views from familiar XSLT

Pros:

  • widely ubiquitous
  • familiar template language for XML developers
  • XML-based
  • time-tested
  • Syntax and element nesting errors can be statically detected.

Cons:

  • functional language style makes flow control difficult
  • XSLT 2.0 is (probably?) not supported. (XSLT 1.0 is much less practical).