Support Your Customers with an Online Help Desk: Part II

Web Site Configuration and Web Form Design

CodeTalk

LANGUAGES: C#

ASP.NET VERSIONS: 2.0

 

Support Your Customers with an Online Help Desk: Part II

Web Site Configuration and Web Form Design

 

By Bipin Joshi

 

In Part I we developed a set of classes that are essential for our help desk application. Now it s time to start developing the Web site. To begin, we ll configure our Web site to use forms authentication. We ll configure authentication, membership, roles, and e-mail service via configuration files. All the user interface attributes such as fonts and colors are stored in a theme. Further, we ll need a couple of master pages applied to various Web forms. Finally, we ll need user registration and log-in capabilities. We ll make use of such ASP.NET AJAX server controls as UpdatePanel, UpdateProgress, and Timer, which make Web applications more responsive, rich, and user friendly.

 

Configuring the Connection String

To begin, add a database connection string in the section. This connection string points to the HelpDeskDb database we created in Part I. Open the web.config file in Visual Studio and modify its section as shown here:

 

 connectionString="data source=.;

 initial catalog=HelpDeskDb;user id=sa;password=pwd"

 providerName="System.Data.SqlClient"/>

 

The name of the connection string is connectionstring; it points to the HelpDeskDb database. Make sure to change the connection string to suit your environment. This connection string is used by the and sections later.

 

Configuring Security

The help desk application consists of different areas for customers and support personnel. This requires some authentication scheme to validate the users. We ll use Forms authentication in our application and the section to configure it:

 

 

The mode attribute of the section specifies the authentication mode as Forms. The tag inside the section configures the login page to be Login.aspx using the loginUrl attribute. This is how ASP.NET knows where to redirect users for logging in if they are not yet authenticated. Simply adding the section is not enough. You also need to ban all the anonymous users from accessing the site with the help of the section. The tag inside the section sets the users attribute to ?, indicating that access to all the users whose identity is in question is to be denied.

 

Configuring Membership and Role Providers

The section simply enables Forms-based authentication. We use Membership features of ASP.NET 2.0 for user validation. To use Membership features the underlying database must be configured using the aspnet_regsql.exe tool. To save some space we won t discuss this tool here, but make sure to run this tool on the HelpDeskDb database so as to create the required tables and stored procedures. Once the database is configured for Membership features add to the web.config file the markup shown here:

 

 connectionStringName="connectionstring"

 type="System.Web.Security.SqlMembershipProvider"/>

 

The section adds a membership provider named MyProvider. The connectionStringName attribute points to the connection string we defined earlier. Finally, the type attribute specifies the type that is acting as the membership provider (SqlMembershipProvider in our example).

 

The help desk application needs to implement role-based security because some pages are accessible to customers and some are not. We need two roles: Customer and SupportPerson. Before we create these roles in the system it is important to configure a role provider. To do so, add a section to the web.config file:

 

 connectionStringName="connectionstring"

 type="System.Web.Security.SqlRoleProvider"/>

 

The tag enables role features by setting its enabled attribute to true. It then adds a role provider named MyProvider. The connectionStringName attribute is the same as before, but notice the type attribute this time it is SqlRoleProvider.

 

Configuring E-mail Service

After support personnel responds to an issue, the help desk application sends an e-mail notification to the customer. This calls for configuring SMTP service in the web.config file. The section takes care of this configuration:

 

host="localhost"/>

 

Notice that the section comes under the configuration section. Furthermore, notice that the section is outside the section. The from attribute of the section specifies the sender s e-mail address. This way you need not specify a sender s e-mail address while sending e-mails from your code. Make sure to change this address as per your requirements. The tag configures the SMTP host as localhost. Instead of localhost, you can specify your own SMTP server. The defaultCredentials attribute indicates whether to use Windows user credentials for authentication purposes. If you wish to use specific user credentials for authentication purposes, use the UserName and Password attributes of the tag.

 

Themes

Now that we ve finished configuring the Web site, let s create a theme. Right-click the Web site in Solution Explorer and choose Add ASP.NET Folder | Theme (see Figure 1).

 


Figure 1: Adding a new theme.

 

Name the theme MyTheme. Then right-click on the MyTheme folder and select Add New Item. Doing so will open the Add New Item dialog box (see Figure 2).

 


Figure 2: Adding a new style sheet.

 

Using the Add New Item dialog box, add a new style sheet named StyleSheet.css. The style sheet simply contains some CSS attributes for the HTML tag:

 

body

{

   font-size: 12px;

   font-family: Verdana;

}

 

Using the Add New Item dialog box, add a Skin file named SkinFile.skin. Skin files contain user interface attributes (color, font, width, etc.) for server controls. In our example we need skins as shown in Figure 3. The complete markup of SkinFile.skin is shown in Figure 4.

 

Skin for

Skin Id

Description

Label

Heading

Represents a skin for Label controls that are acting as the heading of a Web form.

Label

Message

Represents a skin for Label controls that display messages to the end user.

Label

SiteLogo

Represents a skin for Label controls that act as the main heading on master pages.

Label

-

Represents the default skin for Label controls.

HyperLink

MenuLink

Represents a skin that is applied to HyperLink controls used for navigation purposes.

GridView

-

Represents the default skin for GridView controls.

FormView

-

Represents the default skin for FormView controls.

DataList

-

Represents the default skin for DataList controls.

Figure 3: List of skins used by various server controls.

 

 Font-Size="25px" SkinId="Heading" />

 Font-Name="Verdana" Font-Bold="true" />

 Font-Name="Verdana" Font-Bold="true" SkinId="Message" />

 Font-Italic="False" Font-Names="Lucida Handwriting"

 Font-Overline="False" Font-Size="XX-Large"

 Font-Underline="False" ForeColor="#804000"

 SkinId="SiteLogo" />

 Font-Size="14px" SkinId="MenuLink" />

 Width="100%" GridLines="None" CellPadding="4"

 AutoGenerateColumns="False" AllowPaging="True">

 Font-Bold="True" />

 ForeColor="#333333" Font-Bold="True"/>

 HorizontalAlign="Center"/>

 ForeColor="White" Font-Bold="True"/>

 ForeColor="#284775"/>

 Width="100%" CellPadding="4">

 Font-Bold="True"/>

 HorizontalAlign="Center"/>

 Font-Bold="True"/>

 Width="100%" CellPadding="4">

 ForeColor="#333333" />

 ForeColor="#284775" />

 ForeColor="White" />

Figure 4: Markup from SkinFile.skin.

 

One way to apply a theme to Web forms is to specify it in the theme attribute of the @Page directive. However, that requires setting the theme attribute of every Web form. An easier approach is to specify the theme in the configuration file; the tag of the web.config file allows us to do just that:

 

...

 

As you can see, the theme attribute of the tag specifies the name of the theme. This completes the theme of our help desk application.

 

Master Pages

Now we ll develop two master pages. We need one master page for all the Web forms used by customers and another for all the Web forms used by support personnel. Before you add master pages, add two folders named Customer and Support under the root folder of the Web site. The Customer folder will contain a master page and Web forms related to customers; the Support folder will contain a master page and Web forms related to support personnel.

 

Now add inside the Customer folder a new master page named CustomerMasterPage.master. Drag and drop a Label control at the top of the master page and set its Text property to Help Desk. Drag and drop a ScriptManager control below the Label. The help desk application uses ASP.NET AJAX server controls like UpdatePanel and UpdateProgress. These controls require that the ScriptManager control be present on the page. Next, drag and drop a Label control below the ScriptManager control and set its Text property to Welcome. Also, drag and drop a LoginName and a LoginStatus control beside the Welcome label. The LoginName control will display the name of the logged-in user and the LoginStatus control will allow users to log out. Add a horizontal rule (


) below the Welcome label. Now drag and drop two HyperLink controls and set their properties as shown in Figure 5.

 

ID

Property

Value

HyperLink1

Text

New Issue

 

NavigateUrl

~/customer/postissue.aspx

 

SkinId

MenuLink

HyperLink2

Text

History

 

NavigateUrl

~/customer/history.aspx

 

SkinId

MenuLink

Figure 5: Setting the properties of HyperLink controls in CustomerMasterPage.master.

 

Figure 6 shows CustomerMasterPage.master in design mode and Figure 7 shows markup generated after performing the above steps.

 


Figure 6: CustomerMasterPage.master in design mode.

 

<%@ Master Language="C#" AutoEventWireup="true"

 CodeFile="CustomerMasterPage.master.cs"

 Inherits="CustomerMasterPage" %>

...

...

 LogoutText="[Logout]" />



 NavigateUrl="~/customer/postissue.aspx" SkinID="MenuLink">

New Issue

 NavigateUrl="~/customer/history.aspx" SkinID="MenuLink">

History

...

 runat="server">


 Text="Copyright (C) 2007. All rights reserved.">


...

Figure 7: Markup of CustomerMasterPage.master.

 

Now add another master page named SupportMasterPage.master. This master page is similar to the one we just developed, except that it consists of three HyperLink controls. The HyperLink controls and their properties are described in Figure 8. This completes development of both master pages.

 

ID

Property

Value

HyperLink1

Text

Pending Issues

 

NavigateUrl

~/support/pendingissues.aspx

 

SkinId

MenuLink

HyperLink2

Text

Selected Issues

 

NavigateUrl

~/support/selectedissues.aspx

 

SkinId

MenuLink

HyperLink3

Text

All Issues

 

NavigateUrl

~/support/history.aspx

 

SkinId

MenuLink

Figure 8: Setting the properties of HyperLink controls in SupportMasterPage.master.

 

User Registration and Log-in

The help desk application needs a user registration facility wherein customers can register themselves. Further, they should be able to log in to the Web site and access their area. We ll create a login page, Login.aspx, that will allow users to register and log in to the Web site. Begin by adding a new Web form named Login.aspx. Drag and drop a ScriptManager control on the Web form (the UpdatePanel and UpdateProgress controls require a ScriptManager control on the page). Then drag and drop an UpdatePanel control on the Web form. Place a Login control inside the UpdatePanel. The UpdatePanel control allows partial page rendering instead of posting back the whole page. Now drag and drop an UpdateProgress control below the UpdatePanel and set its AssociateUpdatePanelID property to UpdatePanel1. The UpdateProgress control is used to display a progress indicator when the UpdatePanel is being refreshed. Place a Label control inside the UpdateProgress control and set its Text property to Please wait...signing in...; set the SkinId property of the Label to Message.

 

Next, drag and drop another UpdatePanel control on the form and place a CreateUserWizard control inside it. Also, drag and drop another UpdateProgress control below the second UpdatePanel and set its AssociateUpdatePanelID property to UpdatePanel2. Add a Label control to the second UpdateProgress and set its Text and SkinId properties to Please wait...registration in progress... and Message, respectively. The Login.aspx should now resemble Figure 9.

 


Figure 9: Login.aspx in design mode.

 

The help desk application has two application-specific roles: Customer and SupportPerson. New users who register with the system are by default assigned a Customer role. This is done by handling the CreatedUser event of the CreateUserWizard control:

 

protected void CreateUserWizard1_CreatedUser(object sender,

 EventArgs e)

{

Roles.AddUserToRole(CreateUserWizard1.UserName, "Customer");

}

 

The CreatedUser event of the CreateUserWizard control is raised when a new user successfully registers with the Web site. Inside we call the AddUserToRole method of the Roles object. The AddUserToRole method takes two parameters: the name of the user and the name of the role to which the user is to be added. In our example the UserName property of the CreateUserWizard control returns the name of the newly registered user.

 

Once a user logs in to the system they should be taken to the appropriate area depending on their role. This is achieved by handling the LoggedIn event of the Login control. The LoggedIn event is raised when a user successfully logs in to the application:

 

protected void Login1_LoggedIn(object sender, EventArgs e)

{

if (Roles.IsUserInRole(Login1.UserName,"Customer"))

{

Response.Redirect("~/customer/postissue.aspx");

}

if (Roles.IsUserInRole(Login1.UserName,"SupportPerson"))

{

Response.Redirect("~/support/pendingissues.aspx");

}

}

 

Inside the LoggedIn event handler we use the IsUserInRole method of the Roles object to determine whether the user is part of the Customer role. If so, we redirect the user to the PostIssue.aspx page. Similarly, if the user is part of the SupportPerson role, we redirect the user to PendingIssues.aspx.

 

Before you run Login.aspx and test user registration and log-in functionality, you must create two roles in the system: Customer and SupportPerson. To create these roles we use the Web Site Administration Tool, which can be invoked via the Website | ASP.NET Configuration menu option (see Figure 10).

 


Figure 10: Creating roles using the Web Site Administration Tool.

 

Once we create the required roles we can run Login.aspx and register new users. Figure 11 shows a sample user registration.

 


Figure 11: Creating new users.

 

Notice how the UpdateProgress control displays a progress indicator message after we click the Create User button. Also notice there is no postback after we click the Create User button. This is because the CreateUserWizard control is placed inside an UpdatePanel control; only that UpdatePanel control gets refreshed after we click the Create User button.

 

Create at least four users for testing purposes (Customer1, Customer2, Support1, and Support2). By default, all the users are added to the Customer role. Add the users Support1 and Support2 to the SupportPerson role using the Web Site Administration Tool (see Figure 12). Note: You won t be able to test log-in functionality immediately because we haven t yet developed the Web forms for customers or support personnel.

 


Figure 12: Adding users to the SupportPerson role.

 

Posting an Issue

Now create a Web form that allows customers to post an issue or request. Begin by adding a new Web form named PostIssue.aspx in the Customer folder. Make sure to check the Select master page checkbox in the Add New Item dialog box (see Figure 13).

 


Figure 13: Adding a new Web form.

 

Visual Studio will prompt you to select a master page for the new Web form (see Figure 14); select CustomerMasterPage.master from the Customer folder.

 


Figure 14: Selecting a master page.

 

Drag and drop an UpdatePanel control on the Web form. Add a Panel control inside the UpdatePanel control. Then add a table inside the Panel control and design the table as shown in Figure 15.

 


Figure 15: Designing PostIssue.aspx.

 

The table consists of textboxes for entering the subject and description of an issue (both are validated using RequireFieldValidator controls). The SkinId property of the Post an Issue label is set to Heading. Similarly, the SkinId property of Label5 is set to Message. Now drag and drop an UpdateProgress control below the UpdatePanel control and set its AssociatedUpdatePanelID property to UpdatePanel1. Add a Label inside the UpdateProgress control and set its Text property to Please wait...; set the SkinId property of the Label to Message. In the Click event handler of the Submit button write code to insert an issue in the Issues table:

 

protected void Button1_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)

{

MembershipUser user=Membership.GetUser();

Issues.Add(TextBox1.Text, TextBox2.Text, user.UserName);

Panel1.Visible = false;

Label5.Text = "Your issue has been posted. Our support will

 contact you shortly. Thank you!";

}

 

This code retrieves the current user by calling the GetUser method of the Membership object. It then calls the Add method of the Issues class. The Add method accepts a subject and description of an issue and name of the user who is posting the issue. After adding the issue the Visible property of the Panel is set to false and a success message is displayed in a Label control. Figure 16 shows PostIssue.aspx in action. Notice that the controls (such as HyperLink and Label) assume the formatting as specified in the skin file of the MyTheme theme.

 


Figure 16: Sample run of PostIssue.aspx.

 

Viewing a History of Issues

Customers should be able to see a history of all the issues posted by them. Hence, we ll develop another Web form named History.aspx inside the Customer folder. Make sure to select CustomerMasterPage.master as its master page. Then drag and drop a Label control on it and set its Text property to Issue History. Also, set its SkinId property to Heading. Now drag and drop an Object Data Source control on the Web form. Open the smart tag of the Object Data Source control and choose Configure Data Source... (see Figure 17). Doing so will start a wizard. The first step of the wizard allows us to choose a business object (see Figure 18). Select Issues as the business object and click the Next button. On the second step choose the select method SelectByCustomerId (see Figure 19).

 


Figure 17: Smart tag of the Object Data Source control.

 


Figure 18: Choosing a business object.

 


Figure 19: Choosing a select method.

 

We simply need to show the issue history, so we need not set update, insert, and delete methods of the Object Data Source control. Clicking Next displays the last step of the wizard, wherein we are asked to supply a value or source for the postedby parameter of the SelectByCustomerId method. We ll supply this parameter via code, so select None from the Parameter Source combobox and finish the wizard (see Figure 20).

 


Figure 20: Specifying parameters for the select method.

 

Now drag and drop an UpdatePanel control below the Object Data Source control. Add a GridView control inside it. Open the smart tag for the GridView and choose Data Source as ObjectDataSource1. Also enable paging for the GridView (see Figure 21).

 


Figure 21: The smart tag of GridView.

 

Click on the Edit Columns option from the smart tag of GridView to open the Fields dialog box, as shown in Figure 22.

 


Figure 22: Adding columns to the issue history GridView.

 

Add one HyperLinkField and two BoundFields to the GridView. Set the properties of these three columns as shown in Figure 23.

 

Column

Property

Value

HyperLinkField

HeaderText

Issues

 

DataNavigateUrlFields

IssueId

 

DataNavigateUrlFormatString

~/displaythread.aspx?issueid={0}

 

DataTextField

Title

BoundField

HeaderText

Posted On

 

DataField

PostedOn

 

DataFormatString

{0:d}

BoundField

HeaderText

Resolved On

 

DataField

ResolvedOn

 

DataFormatString

{0:d}

Figure 23: Setting properties of GridView columns.

 

Observe the properties of HyperLinkField carefully. This column renders hyperlinks pointing to DisplayThread.aspx. We must pass an issue ID to DisplayThread.aspx as a querystring parameter. This is done with the help of the DataNavigateUrlFormatString property. Notice the use of the {0} place holder to represent the issue ID. The actual value of the issue ID is substituted at run time depending on the DataNavigateUrlFields property.

 

We must supply the postedby parameter of the SelectByCustomerId method in the Page_Load event of the Web form; here s the Page_Load event handler of History.aspx:

 

protected void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)

{

MembershipUser user=Membership.GetUser();

ObjectDataSource1.SelectParameters["postedby"]

.DefaultValue = user.UserName;    

}

 

This code retrieves the current user using the GetUser method of the Membership object. It then sets the DefaultValue property of the postedby parameter from the SelectParameters collection of the Object Data Source control. This way the history of the currently logged in customer alone is shown. Run History.aspx and you should see something similar to Figure 24. This completes development of customer-specific Web forms.

 


Figure 24: Sample run of History.aspx.

 

Conclusion

In this second part of the series we configured the help desk application for membership and roles. We also developed a theme that encapsulates the look and feel of various server controls. We developed two master pages, one for customer-related pages and one for support personnel-related pages. The help desk application uses forms authentication, so we developed a user registration and log-in page. Controls such as Login and CreateUserWizard save us a lot of work. We used ASP.NET AJAX controls such as UpdatePanel and UpdateProgress. The UpdatePanel control helps provide an improved user experience by allowing partial page rendering, and it significantly reduces postbacks, improving overall performance. Finally, we developed two Web forms for posting an issue and viewing the history of issues. In Part III of this series we ll develop Web forms specific to support personnel.

 

The sample code for Part II is available for download.

 

Bipin Joshi is the founder and owner of BinaryIntellect Consulting (http://www.binaryintellect.com), where he conducts professional training programs on .NET technologies. He is the author of Developer s Guide to ASP.NET 2.0 (http://www.binaryintellect.com/books) and co-author of three Wrox books on .NET 1.x. He writes regularly for http://www.DotNetBips.com, a community Web site he founded in the early days of .NET. He is a Microsoft MVP, MCAD, MCT, and member of ASPInsiders. He jots down his thoughts about .NET, life, and Yoga at http://www.bipinjoshi.com. He also conducts workshops on Yoga and Meditation, where he helps IT professionals develop a positive personality. You can contact him at mailto:[email protected].

 

 

 

Hide comments

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Publish