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Repeater vs. DataList vs. ListView vs. GridView

If you look under Data tab on Visual Studio Toolbox, you can see several controls that could be used to display data from some data source, like database or XML file. Standard ASP.NET data presentation controls are:

  - DataList,
  - DetailsView,
  - FormView,
  - GridView,
  - ListView and
  - Repeater.

Every of these controls could be used to display data. Logical question is, why ASP.NET offers so many controls for same task? What are differences between these controls and most important, when to use each of them?

 

We can divide data presentation controls into two main groups. First group consists of DetailsView and FormView control. These two controls can only show individual record at the same time. DetailsView and FormView are similar. Main difference is that DetailsView control has pre-built rendering, while FormView control requires template. Because of this, DetailsView demands less work, but FormView is more customizable.

In second group are Repeater, DataList, GridView and ListView control. These controls show collection of records, and are commonly called data list controls.

Data tab on Visual Studio Toolbox
Image 1: Data tab on Visual Studio Toolbox

Repeater control features

Repeater control is derived from Control class. Repeater simply repeats data given in templates. Repeated data is usually HTML code mixed with records from data source. Repeater's output is not predefined. Because of that, Repeater demands most work to define template. In return it gives us most flexibility to build layout and optimize presentation.

With same template and same data set, Repeater usually works faster of DataList or GridView controls. This is mostly because of DataReader class, which is used for read only access. DataReader is faster than DataSet or DataTable classes commonly used with GridView.

Compared to GridView and DataList control, Repeater has limited features. By default, Repeater is good for displaying of data. It is not best choice if you need editing of data. Also, by default it doesn't provide paging and sorting of records.

DataList control features

Unlike Repeater, DataList control is derived from WebControl class. That gives it a number of style properties like BorderStyle, BackColor, ForeColor etc.

DataList is somewhere between Repeater and GridView, in many ways looks like a compromise between these two. DataList has more features but more limited in design when compared to Repeater. In the other hand, it has more flexibility and less features than GridView.

Also, DataList has RepeatDirection, RepeatColumns and RepeatLayout properties, which are unique for DataList control. These properties are useful when you need to create presentation with more than one record per row, like image gallery, product catalog etc. For example, let say you are creating an image gallery and want to show 5 images per row. Repeater would require checking of record position and manipulating HTML. With DataList, just use RepeatDirection="Horizontal" and RepeatColumns="5".

RepeatLayout could be Table or Flow, depending of do you need HTML table structure in layout.

GridView control features

Like DataList control, GridView is derived from WebControl class and includes numerous style properties. In addition to this, GridView is most complex control and have most properties. Numerous features include data paging, sorting, updating and deleting of records. First versions of ASP.NET had DataGrid control. GridView is replaced DataGrid in ASP.NET 2.0 as improved version of old DataGrid control.

GridView displays data in form of grid. Rows and columns are represented as HTML table. This is very useful if you need grid-like presentation. If you need to present data in table layout, then GridView requires a minimum of effort. In same time, if you want more customizable flow layout, GridView is not best option.

Common problem when using GridView control could be large ViewState which makes page loads slower and requires more bandwidth. This could be insignificantly on low traffic website, but keep in mind that for each second while the page loads, the percentage of visitors will become impatient and leave website. Also, massive view state is not good for SEO (search engine optimization).

One more problem is using of default pager on large tables or high traffic websites. If default paging is used, GridView will load complete dataset in memory, which descreases website's performances.

ListView control features

ListView control is newest data presentation control, introduced in ASP.NET 3.5. Previous controls (Repeater, DataList and GridView) logically follow each other. For example, Repater is simplest but fastest, then DataList has more features but more overheads too, and finally GridView is most complex, has most features, but heaviest and thus slowest on page.

Now, there is new ListView control which tries to provide best from both sides: speed and flexibility in design, and also a lot of features like paging, updating or deleting of records etc. Because of this, ListView control is often better choice than Repeater or DataList.

Flexibility in design comes with price. To use ListView, you'll probably have to write a lot of markup code. For simple table layout, GridView requires much less work.

ListView has new LayoutTemplate. Instead of Header and Footer templates, ListView has just LayoutTemplate. Main advantage of LayoutTemplate when compared to Header and Footer templates is that LayoutTemplate makes markup code looks more object oriented. So, it is not a big difference between these two models. It is possible to achieve same results with LayoutTemplate on ListView like with HeaderTemplate and FooterTemplate on Repeater, DataList and GridView.

Table comparison of Repeater, DataList, GridView and ListView control

Table comparison is the easiest way to quickly decide which data list control is best for your specific project requirements.

   Repeater   DataList   GridView   ListView 
Flow layout Yes Yes No Yes
Table layout No No Yes No
Style properties No Yes Yes Yes
Column layout No Yes No No
Paging No No Yes Yes
Sorting No No Yes Yes
Edit/Delete No No Yes Yes
Insert No No No Yes
Grouping No Yes No Yes

Conclusion

In this tutorial, I covered some differences between ASP.NET data list controls. Repeater, DataList, GridView and ListView have many common traits too. They share properties like DataSource, DataBound, and also events ItemCreated, ItemDataBound etc. Because of similarities between controls, it is usually not hard to switch to another control if first choice is not good. For example, if you used DataList in previous code, you can change it into ListView to use its new InsertTemplate feature.

ListView control can exceed the capabilities of Repeater or DataList control, but GridView still has advantage in faster implementation and short markup code. GridView's common problem is large ViewState which could cause page loads slowly.

Default GridView paging opens complete data set in server's memory. For large tables or for high traffic websites, this will overload web server's resources. Even new ListView's DataPager control still opens all records in memory. Also, pages are opened by using JavaScript which means only first page is indexed by search engines. The solution could be to create custom pager, but this takes time needed to create, test and optimize code, as well as later maintenance of separate project.

By recognizing this problem, Bean Software created SEO Pager control which solves all paging issues with Repeater, DataList, GridView and ListView control:

- Supports templates, so your pager look any way you want.
- Application's code works with selected page only, not complete data set. On this way, whatever data list control you choose, it will work fast and web server's resources remains free.
- Supports both standard post back and plain hyperlinks in pager buttons. Search engines like Google follows only plain links and avoid post backs.
- Works with any data list control: Repeater, DataList, GridView or ListView.

Happy coding!


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