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Hot Menu Options

Make Your Sites Sizzle with a Custom HoverList Control





Hot Menu Options

Make Your Sites Sizzle with a Custom HoverList Control


By Steve C. Orr


You can never have too many menu controls. Ever. But more is not always good enough they have to be unique, as well. A unique menu control can really differentiate a Web site, making it stand out from the information overload that is the World Wide Web. To help you get moving in this distinctive direction, try using the HoverList custom control provided with this article to spice up your site.


The HoverList control contains configurable menu items that highlight as the mouse is moved over them at run time. The list can be specified at design time or run time, and may optionally be data bound. Each list item consists of a string value and a formatted text item that may optionally include HTML. A configurable header area is also optionally included (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: The HoverList control contains a configurable list of menu items that can be highlighted with various color effects as the mouse hovers over them.


To use this control, download the sample code and add the included HoverList.dll to your Visual Studio 2005 toolbox (see end of article for download details). Then drag it onto any WebForm to get started using it. The ASPX declaration looks roughly like this (depending on how the control s properties have been configured):


 borderstyle="Solid" borderwidth="1px"


 datatextfield="Title" datavaluefield="Url"

 hoverbackcolor="Blue" hoverforecolor="LightCyan"

 padding="0.2em" width="200px">


The design-time experience is very much like working with a ListBox because the ListBox and the HoverList control both inherit from ListControl (as explained in more detail later). The HoverList s most noteworthy members are listed in the table in Figure 2. There are several properties for configuring the appearance of the header area of the control, and a couple important properties for configuring the color changes that happen when the mouse is hovered over each menu item.


Noteworthy HoverList Members


OnSelectedIndexChanged event

Raised whenever the user clicks on one of the menu items.

ShowHeader property

Specifies the visibility of the header area. Default: True

HeaderText property

Specifies the text displayed in the header area.

HeaderBackColor property

Specifies the background color of the header area. Default: LightBlue

HeaderForeColor property

Specifies the color of the header text. Default: Black

HeaderFont property

Specifies the font of the header text.

HoverBackColor property

Specifies the background color of the menu when the mouse hovers over it. Default: Blue

HoverForeColor property

Specifies the text color of the menu item when the mouse hovers over it. Default: LightCyan

Padding property

Specifies the padding around the edge of the control. Default: 0.2em

HorizontalAlign property

Specifies the alignment of the menu items. Default: Center

AppendDataBoundItems property

Appends data-bound items to statically declared list items. Default: False

Figure 2: The HoverList control provides several useful members in addition to those that the base ListControl already provides.


The HoverList control s menu items can be configured at design time via the standard ListItem Collection Editor shown in Figure 3. Alternatively, items can be added programmatically at run time or standard data-binding techniques can be applied. You can even combine these techniques, thanks to the AppendDataBoundItems property.


Figure 3: The HoverList control supports standard data-binding techniques, or items can be added at design time through the ListItem Collection Editor dialog box.


AppendDataBoundItems is a new property of the base ListControl class (as of ASP.NET version 2.0). It lets you declare one or more list items at design time, and then also add data-bound list items at run time. This is especially useful for controls such as DropDownList, because you can configure the first item to say Choose an item from the list and then add the rest of the list via standard data binding. This was not possible in ASP.NET 1; instead, you either needed to ditch data binding or add a dummy record to the data source to achieve such functionality.


When the user clicks on one of the HoverList s menu items at run time, the page posts back and the OnSelectedIndexChanged event is raised, as demonstrated here:


Protected Sub HoverList1_SelectedIndexChanged(ByVal _

 sender As Object, ByVal e As System.EventArgs) _

 Handles HoverList1.SelectedIndexChanged

 Response.Write("You Clicked: " & HoverList1.SelectedValue)

End Sub


That covers most of what you need to know to use the HoverList control. If you re the intellectually curious type (which I assume most of you are), keep reading to tour the source code and find out about the details of its inner workings.



One of the most fundamental pieces of information about the HoverList control is that it inherits from ListControl. ListControl is an abstract base class provided by the .NET Framework from which many common controls inherit. A few of the standard ASP.NET controls that extend the ListControl class are ListBox, DropDownList, and CheckBoxList. Like these controls, HoverList doesn t need to deal with trivia, such as data binding, because that is all handled by the base ListControl class. This greatly simplifies the code, reducing it to little more than an exercise in HTML rendering. Essentially, the HoverList control consumes the collection of ListItems that is managed by the ListControl class, and renders custom HTML from that data. The general structure of the control is shown here:


ToolboxData("<{0}:HovrList runat=server>")> _

Public Class HoverList

   Inherits ListControl

   Implements IPostBackEventHandler

      'TODO: constructor

      'TODO: public properties

      'TODO: Rendering

      'TODO: Postback handling

End Class


Another important detail is that the control implements the IPostBackHandler interface. This enables the control to handle postbacks in a standard way. The associated code is located in the RaisePostBackEvent routine. The logic is simple for the HoverList control: Unselect any previously selected item and ensure that the item the user clicked is now the selected item. Then hand off control to the base class which will raise the standard OnSelectedIndexChanged event to the page:


Public Sub RaisePostBackEvent(ByVal _

   eventArgument As String) Implements _


   If SelectedItem IsNot Nothing Then

       SelectedItem.Selected = False

   End If

   Dim li As ListItem = _


   If li IsNot Nothing Then li.Selected = True


End Sub


You ll notice references to the SelectedItem property and the Items collection, but you ll find no such properties in the HoverList source code. Rather, these properties are inherently available from the base ListControl class. Therefore, the HoverList control only needs to define the unique properties it requires for its customizable rendering chores. While most of the properties are utilitarian in nature, a couple of them are shown in Figure 4 to give you a taste.


Description("Sets or gets the font color of the header.")> _

Public Property HeaderForeColor() As System.Drawing.Color


   If ViewState("HeaderForeColor") IsNot Nothing Then

     Return CType(ViewState("HeaderForeColor"), Color)


     Return Color.Black 'default

   End If

 End Get

 Set(ByVal value As Color)

   ViewState("HeaderForeColor") = value

 End Set

End Property

Private Const Content As _

System.ComponentModel.DesignerSerializationVisibility = _


Private _lblHeader As Label = New Label

Description("The font applied to the header area."), _

NotifyParentProperty(True), _

DesignerSerializationVisibility(Content)> _

Public Property HeaderFont() As FontInfo


     If ViewState("HeaderFont") IsNot Nothing Then

         Return CType(ViewState("HeaderFont"), FontInfo)


         Return _lblHeader.Font

      End If

  End Get

  Set(ByVal value As FontInfo)

     ViewState("HeaderFont") = value

  End Set

End Property

Figure 4: Because the concept of a header is foreign to the base ListControl class, the HoverList control must explicitly define header-related properties.


The HeaderForeColor property is needed so the application developer may specify which color they would like the text of the header area to be. The property stores the property in ViewState, and uses Black by default. The HeaderFont property is a little more complicated because of the fact that the Font property is complex and contains many sub-properties. Most of the details related to this are managed by .NET automatically if you tell it to. That s what the extra attributes are for NotifyParentProperty and DesignerSerializationVisibility are critical for ensuring the properties are persisted properly, especially at design time.


Of course, all these properties are pointless until they are used by the rendering code to output the customized HTML that makes up the HoverList control. The overridden Render event is listed in Figure 5.


Protected Overrides Sub Render(ByVal tw As HtmlTextWriter)

   'create a container

   Dim pnl As Panel = CreateContainer()

   'create the header

   If Me.ShowHeader Then CreateHeader(pnl)

   'create each list item

   For Each li As ListItem In Me.Items

       CreateItem(pnl, li)



End Sub

Figure 5: The overridden Render event delegates rendering tasks to several other internal functions.


As you can see, each piece of the control is rendered by custom functions: CreateContainer, CreateHeader, and CreateItem. The CreateContainer function listed in Figure 6 is a fairly simple function that does little more than instantiate a Panel control and set its properties to some proper defaults. This panel will act as the container for the other elements of the HoverList control. Many of the HoverList s properties are piped through to be managed by the Panel control.


Private Function CreateContainer() As Panel

   Dim pnl As New Panel

   pnl.ID = Me.ID

   pnl.Style(HtmlTextWriterStyle.Padding) = _


   pnl.HorizontalAlign = Me.HorizontalAlign

   pnl.BorderColor = Me.BorderColor

   pnl.BorderStyle = Me.BorderStyle

   pnl.BorderWidth = Me.BorderWidth

   pnl.Width = Me.Width

   pnl.Height = Me.Height

   pnl.Visible = Me.Visible

   pnl.Enabled = Me.Enabled

   pnl.ToolTip = Me.ToolTip

   Return pnl

End Function

Figure 6: The CreateContainer function instantiates a Panel control to contain the child controls that make up the HoverList control.


If the application developer has set the ShowHeader property of the HoverList control to True, then the CreateHeader function is called to generate the header area of the control. As demonstrated here, the header area is nothing more than a Label control:


Private Sub CreateHeader(ByVal pnl As Panel)

   Dim lbl As Label = _lblHeader

   lbl.Text = Me.HeaderText & "
" 'For Firefox

   lbl.Width = New Unit(100, UnitType.Percentage)

   lbl.BackColor = Me.HeaderBackColor


   lbl.ForeColor = Me.HeaderForeColor


End Sub


The For loop shown in Figure 5 loops through each ListItem managed by the base ListControl class and renders each item individually by invoking the CreateItem subroutine shown in Figure 7. This is what makes up the bulk of the control s final rendered appearance.


Private Sub CreateItem(ByVal pnl As Panel, _

 ByVal li As ListItem)

 Dim lbl As New Label

 lbl.Text = li.Text & "
" 'For Firefox

 lbl.Width = New Unit(100, UnitType.Percentage)

 lbl.BackColor = Me.BackColor

 lbl.ForeColor = Me.ForeColor

 If li.Enabled Then

     lbl.Style(HtmlTextWriterStyle.Cursor) = "hand"

     lbl.Attributes("onMouseOver") = _

         "'" & _

         ColorTranslator.ToHtml(Me.HoverBackColor) _

         & "';" & "'" & _

         ColorTranslator.ToHtml(Me.HoverForeColor) _

         & "';"

     lbl.Attributes("onMouseOut") = _

         "'" & _

         ColorTranslator.ToHtml(Me.BackColor) _

         & "';" & "'" & _

         ColorTranslator.ToHtml(Me.ForeColor) & "';"

     lbl.Attributes("onClick") = _

         Page.ClientScript.GetPostBackClientHyperlink(Me, _


 End If



End Sub

Figure 7: The CreateItem subroutine is invoked once for every ListItem that s managed by the underlying ListControl class. It instantiates and configures a Label control to represent each ListItem.


Like the header area, each ListItem will be represented by a Label control. The CreateItem subroutine instantiates and configures a Label control to represent the ListItem parameter. Because the ASP.NET 2.0 version of the standard ListIem class now includes an Enabled property, it is used here to represent a richer rendering for enabled items. For example, the Label s Cursor style is set to hand so that the mouse cursor will appear as a hand icon when moved over enabled items at run time (as shown in Figure 1).


The CreateItem subroutine shown in Figure 7 continues by adding client-side onMouseOver and onMouseOut events to the Label control to implement the unique color changes that occur when the mouse moves over the item at run time. These client-side events use JavaScript to change the text color and the background color of the label as the mouse enters and leaves its boundaries.


The final client-side event to be wired up is the onClick event. When the user clicks on the label, the page will post back and, ultimately, the OnSelectedItemChanged event will fire, allowing the page to respond to the user s command. ASP.NET s GetPostBackClientHyperlink method dynamically generates the code that invokes the post back. This method uses ASP.NET s adaptive rendering engine to generate proper PostBack code, no matter which browser or device is being utilized by the end user.


Finally, the selected font is applied to the label, and the label is added to the containing panel s control collection. Then the panel s complete control tree is finally output when execution returns to the last line of the render function of Figure 5.



The HoverList is a nice control to have around to add a quick and functional menu of options to the user. Its visual interactivity adds a bit of spice to a Web site without being overly flashy. The design-time experience is quite similar to that of a ListBox, so the learning curve should be small.


By inheriting from ListControl, rich functionality can be taken advantage of with little or no code necessary such as data binding and practical design-time features. Sprinkle in a touch of rendering code with a dash of client-side JavaScript code and a useful little control starts to emerge. Using the techniques demonstrated in this article, you can extend the HoverList control with enhanced functionality, or use the knowledge to create a custom control that lives up to your own dreams or at least your manager s requirements.


The source code for the HoverList control (in both VB and C#) is available for download.


Steve C. Orr is an MCSD and a Microsoft MVP in ASP.NET. He s been developing software solutions for leading companies in the Seattle area for more than a decade. When he s not busy designing software systems or writing about them, he can often be found loitering at local user groups and habitually lurking in the ASP.NET newsgroup. Find out more about him at or e-mail him at mailto:[email protected].




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