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Asp.Net Request Collections

Today on Twitter, Sahil Malik asked the question “Is there any reason ever to use Request.QueryString over Request.Params?” (link – for as long as it persists on Twitter).

For QueryString itself, there is practically no reason not to use the less specific collection, as QueryString is always checked first. That means that there is a small performance hit in Request.Params as it will check all collections regardless and not one in just calling Request, as it returns the first one it finds.

If you are trying to get at the Forms, Cookies, or ServerVariables collections, there is a performance hit (albeit small) no matter which way you turn. (Information on the happenings inside the .Net Framework are available on this Hanselman post from a few years ago.

There is an issue, however, if you want to access any of the other collections by using either Request[] or Request.Params[]. And really, this is the code smell that I was worried about when responding to Sahil earlier today. Let’s make an example page here. I made this using Asp.Net WebForms (to hopefully have the widest base of understanding).

Here is the meat of the .aspx page.

Here is the code behind

The initial page load.

When we click the button, the cookie value is checked and since it is false, we get the sad news that we aren’t an admin.

After the first click.

Okay, let’s now assume that someone is curious if you are using simple cookie checks, so they look inside Firefox to see what the cookies are on your site.

Our site's cookie.

Now, let me take a chance that the operator of this site is being sloppy and is using Request[] instead of calling the value from the cookie collection explicitly. I’ll add ?IsAdmin=true onto the querystring to mirror the cookie and then click the button. Since the QueryString collection is checked first, I’ll be overriding the cookie in this instance.

Here is our result
Our site has now been compromised.

Well, that’s not good. What if we actually just check the cookie value instead of being lazy?

Now when I try the QueryString hack, the page is safe.
Crisis averted.

This doesn’t solve all of the problems with this page, though. I’m not pushing this off as some airtight secure solution. What I’m hoping to point out is that coding hard and even though we are given certain shortcuts, you really have to understand the ramifications of your code before throwing it out in the wild.

A Speed Problem

SpeedFirst let me give you a little of the background. At work, we are building a web application. Among other things, we’d like it to be fast. We made many painstaking decisions to build it to be fast. My last post talked about some of the things that we were going to undertake to make sure that it was fast through the pipe.

However, we were having a problem. Page loads were taking over 5 seconds and that was after the initial hit penalty that ASP.Net gives you. I put tracing information in our handler and it turns out that all of our framework code was executing in .05 seconds. That wasn’t the problem. The step of getting the base handler (for the hand off to ASP.Net) however, was taking over 5 seconds.

We had another interesting problem. The ASP.Net Cache object didn’t work. It would be alive for the duration of a page hit, but on the next hit it was gone. My boss suggested that the pages were compiling every time, and we ultimately did see that in the %windir%\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v2.0.50727\Temporary ASP.NET Files directory. The question was, “Why?”.

We had wanted the site files to be dynamically compiled for ease of updating, while our framework code remained in pre-compiled .dlls. To troubleshoot, I recommended that we pre-compile the website as well and see what happened. Page hits got down to half a second a piece. Interesting.

Shortly after, though, I got a brainstorm. We were writing log files into a folder in the bin directory (a holdover convention from a previous application) and every time that directory changed (on every page hit), ASP.Net would sense that the bin directory changed (since the log folder was in it and a part of it) and think that the site had changed and now needed a recompile. It makes perfect sense in retrospect!

We moved the log directory outside of the bin, went back to dynamic compilation, and got the same performance improvement that we got with the pre-compiled version – much to my relief.

High Performance Web Sites

High Performance Web SitesI’m starting to get involved in this book, High Performance Web Sites by Steve Souders. My boss picked it up and read it and had really good things to say. Then the CEO read it and was really geeked about it. So, I decided that I’d better give it more than the cursory glance that I’d previously allotted it. I know that there is a lot of push to write one’s server code to run as quickly as possible, but I feel that the subjects that this book is covering are being largely overlooked.

Mr. Souders wrote the book while he was a Yahoo employee (he works at Google as of January 7th). He is also the creator of YSlow and an expert in web performance. However, you can actually get a lot of the tips if you check out this page and install YSlow onto your machine. YSlow is an addon for Firebug, itself a plugin for Firefox. If you are doing web development, you should already know about Firebug. If you don’t, run – don’t walk – to download it and you can thank me later.

When you run YSlow, it analyzes the current page for each of the 13 points that the Yahoo Developer Network has identified as major causes of web site slowness. It assigns you a grade to each item and gives the site an overall score. For instance, this blog scores a D (65). According to YSlow, I need to add an expires header, use GZip compression, and configure ETags in order to get this site up to par. As an experiment, I may very well dig into trying to get my score up to at *least* a B! If you aren’t sure what these points mean or what I’m talking about, you should check out the links above or get the book.

The book is very well written and is grouped in such a way so that it can be digested separately by different members of a team or by one person. The appendices of the book contain case studies of several major sites using the tools I discussed above and explains what each could do to improve user experience. At $20.00 on Amazon (and used from $11 and change), every web developer really should read this book, implement it, and keep it as a reference for future development.

In a Coding Mood – A Classic POS Post

This is a classic post from my old blog that I’m porting over here.  As I read through my old blog and find these in preparation to take it offline, I’ll be posting “Classic” POS (Pete on Software… not the other, more popular meaning) posts on here.  This code came from my reading of Code Complete, 2nd edition.

Let me share something with you. It is assumed often that less code will result in faster execution of a program.Examine the following code written in C#.
for (int i=0; i <10;i++)
  someArray[i] = i;


someArray[0] = 0;
someArray[1] = 1;
someArray[2] = 2;
someArray[3] = 3;
someArray[4] = 4;
someArray[5] = 5;
someArray[6] = 6;
someArray[7] = 7;
someArray[8] = 8;
someArray[9] = 9;

Both sets do the same thing. Most every programmer that I know will do the first one. But, the loop (first example) is 2.5 times SLOWER than the explicit declaration (second one) when run. In some languages the equivalent code is 4.5 times slower.  Unrolling loops (where possible), is often a way to tweak code for speed when you’ve just got to have it.

There is always so much to learn.

What Cost, Functions?

This post is about Sql, specifically in the Sql Server RDBMS, but I believe that the principles will hold up across platforms.

If you are using a function in a WHERE clause in your SQL, like the following:

The function will be evaluated for every row in your table. This will result in performance decreasing exponentially as your table grows.

A better way to accomplish this query is to do the following:

This code will only evaluate the function one time and as long as you have the comparison column indexed properly, you will see very impressive results. On one query on my local machine, Sql Profiler showed that query that was taking over 7000ms begin to return in about 70ms.

The performance gains in that exact instance were less drastic on a Sql Server running on an actual server (it had just been powering its way through), but in time it would have gotten unbearably slow, as well.

Hope that helps someone.