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Upgrading ASP.NET projects one page at a time

Looking at an approach to migrate old ASP.NET WebForms or MVC projects to ASP.NET Core in a gradual way

5-Minute Read

TL;DR: I’ve come up with a way to gradually migrate old ASP.NET WebForms (or MVC) applications to .NET 5.0, and you can watch me figure it out in real-time on my brand new Twitch channel.


I’ve been working on Visual ReCode for a while now. It’s a plug-in for Visual Studio 2019 that helps developers migrate old .NET 4.x code to new .NET 5.0 or .NET Core 3.1. We just released version 2.0 , with a new feature called Guided Project Upgrades that helps you upgrade your solution one project at a time, switching to the new SDK-style csproj format, and adding modern target frameworks like net5.0 or netstandard2.0. It checks your NuGet packages and upgrades them if necessary, and makes sure you upgrade projects in the right order.

Visual ReCode also provides a way to migrate WCF applications, which are not supported in the new .NET, to gRPC, which is very much supported (in fact, it’s the best-performing gRPC implementation there is). And right now I’m working on providing the same functionality for ASP.NET WebAPI, migrating it to ASP.NET Core MVC, and looking at a WCF ReST to ASP.NET Core MVC feature.

That still leaves a couple of old frameworks on the table, though. ASP.NET MVC is a possible target for future investigation, although there are quite a lot of differences that mean it would be more of a “helper” than an automated migrator. But ASP.NET WebForms is a whole other thing. It’s been around for 20 years now; it’s really, really complicated; it’s completely unlike MVC or Blazor or anything else in the modern .NET stack. There’s really no way to automate the migration of WebForms applications to ASP.NET Core.

And the chances are, if you’ve got a WebForms application in production, it’s a massive behemoth of code that’s built up over years, and rewriting it would be a huge undertaking. Having worked on rewrite projects in the past, I know from experience that they’re a nightmare, and get derailed all the time by the maintenance requirements of the existing code.

So what to do?

The big problem is that there’s no way to gradually upgrade WebForms (or MVC) to ASP.NET Core. You can’t run Core on .NET 4.x, and you can’t run WebForms on Core. But what if you could run two separate applications and make it look as if they’re the same one?

Enter YARP.

YARP stands for Yet Another Reverse Proxy, and it’s a Microsoft project to build a reverse proxy server on top of the blazing-fast Kestrel HTTP server. It’s not a stand-alone application; it’s a package that runs in an ASP.NET Core app. You just reference the Microsoft.ReverseProxy package and add it as an endpoint in your Startup class.

public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
    services.AddReverseProxy() 
        .LoadFromConfig(Configuration.GetSection("ReverseProxy"));
}

public void Configure(IApplicationBuilder app, IWebHostEnvironment env)
{
    app.UseRouting();

    app.UseEndpoints(endpoints =>
    {
        endpoints.MapReverseProxy();
    });
}

Being just part of the ASP.NET Core pipeline means that you can do all sorts of creative things with your reverse proxy by adding more middleware. And of course, one of the pieces of middleware you could add in there is ASP.NET Core MVC.

public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
    services.AddControllersWithViews();
    services.AddReverseProxy() 
        .LoadFromConfig(Configuration.GetSection("ReverseProxy"));
}

public void Configure(IApplicationBuilder app, IWebHostEnvironment env)
{
    app.UseRouting();

    app.UseEndpoints(endpoints =>
    {
        endpoints.MapControllerRoute(
            name: "default",
            pattern: "{controller=Home}/{action=Index}/{id?}");
        
        endpoints.MapReverseProxy();
    });
}

Now, let’s say the home page for your WebForms application is ~/Default.aspx. If you add an MVC action with that route to your Core application, the routing will hit that first. Any routes that aren’t hit in your application, though, will be transparently proxied through to the old app. Now you can rewrite individual pages in your site however you want, while continuing to support and maintain the old application, until eventually everything is migrated and the old code can be retired.

The complexity

If only it were just that easy. There are a couple of things in the way of this approach: session state and authentication. WebForms applications in particular tend to be heavy users of server-side session, whereas in ASP.NET Core it’s much less used. And authentication is very different, too.

I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out a way to address these issues, though. And as a new thing for 2021, I wanted to try my hand at streaming. So I’m combining these two things: you can join me on my Twitch stream and watch as I try to gradually upgrade the Wingtip Toys sample application to ASP.NET Core 5.0 using this approach. I’ve done two streams to date, and so far I’ve got the home page to look roughly the same, and implemented basic session sharing between the two applications (that even works with “in-proc” session on the WebForms side), as well as copying and pasting a bunch of Entity Framework 6.0 classes and finding out that they work perfectly in EF Core 5.0.

Once I’ve got everything working in this test application, I’m going to package up the various components as open-source NuGet packages so that everyone can try this approach.

If you want to catch up on the streams, I’ve archived them on YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2. Or if you just want to browse around the code, you can find it on GitHub.


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Comments

Nick Coleman's Gravatar
Hi Mark, We have a few applications on .net webforms that we are really keen to update but suffer from the problems which you refer to. Its just not practical to spend the time (which could be spent on client projects!) on upgrading… We have been looking at other solutions DotVVM etc but your solution looks like it will be a great way to upgrade… I will be watching carefully and hopefully catch your next twitch session! Cheers Nick

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