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Site Maps In ASP.NET

Creating high quality content for web site requires hard work. Because of that, webmasters usually want to be sure that all produced content is visible to web spiders so it can be indexed and possibly attract visits from popular search engines, like Google, Live or Yahoo. Webmasters often solved this problem by adding one more page, named site map page. That was common HTML page which contains hyperlinks to all other pages on web site, so visitor or web spider could find all content if classic navigation through menus didn't work properly.


Google recognized this problem and introduced site maps formatted as XML files. Site maps are accepted later by Microsoft and Yahoo. ASP.NET 2.0 goes one step beyond and provides new .sitemap XML files that work with Menu, TreeView and SiteMapPath controls to enable easier navigation. Although Google site map and ASP.NET .sitemap are both XML files, they don't use same schema.

Web.sitemap file in ASP.NET

Web.sitemap file must be placed in a root of web application. It is an XML file that describes hierarchical web site structure. You can make new Web.sitemap file in Visual Studio if you go on menu File --> New File... and select Site Map from Visual Studio Templates in "Add New Item" dialog. Click OK and you'll get new xml file with this content:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<siteMap xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/AspNet/SiteMap-File-1.0" >
    <siteMapNode url="" title=""  description="">
        <siteMapNode url="" title=""  description="" />
        <siteMapNode url="" title=""  description="" />

As you can see, it is an XML file. There is interesting element siteMapNode which we can use to describe the structure of our web site. Here is an example of typical Web.sitemap file for small web site.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<siteMap xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/AspNet/SiteMap-File-1.0" >
    <siteMapNode url="~/Default.aspx" title="Home"  description="Home page of our web site">
      <siteMapNode url="~/News.aspx" title="News"  description="Company news." />
      <siteMapNode url="~/Products/Default.aspx" title="Products"  description="Our products" >
        <siteMapNode url="~/Products/Product1.aspx" title="First product" description="This is first product." />
        <siteMapNode url="~/Products/Product2.aspx" title="Second product" description="This is second product." />
      <siteMapNode url="~/Contact.aspx" title="Contact Us"  description="Here you can contact us." />
      <siteMapNode url="~/Order.aspx" title="Order"  description="Purchase our products online." />

Let's analyze this file. You can see it is pretty self explanatory. We practically use only one tag, named siteMapNode to describe url, title and short description of every page on web site. Url values start with "~/" which indicates root of the web application. You also can add urls that are outside of your web application. There could be only one siteMapNode inside siteMap tag. But, inside first siteMapNode could be many nested siteMapNode tags to describe hierarchical structure between pages.

Url, title and description are not only parameters of siteMapNode. For example, you can use siteMapFile attribute to add multiple map files or roles attribute to show different views to different users based on roles.

How to add additional sitemap files with siteMapFile attribute

You can add multiple child sitemap files by using a siteMapFile attribute. For example, with code like this we can add additional Products.sitemap file where we will keep description of all products:

<siteMapNode siteMapFile="Products.sitemap"/>

Using Menu Control with Web.sitemap

You can use data from Web.sitemap file to enable site navigation with Menu Control.

* First, drag Menu Control from the toolbox (it is on Navigation tab) to the web form.

* Click small ">" button to show Smart Tags.

* From Choose Data Source drop down list select "<New Data Source...>"

* New "Data Source Configuration Wizard" dialog will appear. Select Site Map icon from dialog and click OK button. Your web form should look like in image bellow:

Menu Control design with Web.sitemap file.
Menu control in design time

* Now you can test your Menu, press F5 to start debugging. If you use Web.sitemap like in example above you'll see this output:

Menu Control at run time
Menu control at run time

You can customize how much menu levels will initially be displayed on form by changing StaticDisplayLevels property. Default value is 1, but in our example I will change StaticDisplayLevels to 2 to achieve more user friendly look. I also changed AutoFormat to Colourful.

Menu Control with StaticDisplayLevels = 2
Customized output with StaticDisplayLevels = 2

Using TreeView Control with Web.sitemap

You can use TreeView Control on similar way like Menu control. Just drug TreeView control from Toolbox (if you can't find it, TreeView is located on Navigation tab) and drop it to web form. Then set its data source like in example above with Menu Control. Add some formatting and run the application. You should get output similar to this:

TreeView loaded from Web.sitemap
TreeView Control at run time with data loaded from Web.sitemap file

Using SiteMapPath Control (a.k.a bread crumbs) with Web.sitemap

Using of SiteMapPath Control is easiest of all three controls in Navigation tabs. Drag and drop SiteMapPath Control from toolbox to web form and it is ready to use :). You can test it to see how it works.

Implementing two or more different navigations by adding additional sitemap providers

Sometimes you need to use two or even more different navigation systems that shows different urls. Very common example is page with two menus, first is vertical menu on left side and second is horizontal menu on top of the page. These menus show different links. To achieve this, you need two different site map providers with different .sitemap files. To achieve this you need to edit your web.config file inside <system.web> element:

  <siteMap defaultProvider="AspNetXmlSiteMapProvider">
    <add name="LeftMenuProvider" siteMapFile="LeftMenu.sitemap" type="System.Web.XmlSiteMapProvider" />
    <add name="TopMenuProvider" siteMapFile="TopMenu.sitemap" type="System.Web.XmlSiteMapProvider" />

As you can see, defaultProvider is AspNetXmlSiteMapProvider and we used it before in examples of Menu, TreeView and SiteMapPath controls. DefaultProvider reads content of Web.sitemap file. Inside <providers> element, I added two new providers: LeftMenuProvider which reads nodes from LeftMenu.sitemap file and TopMenuProvider which reads TopMenu.sitemap file.

You can use these custom sitemap providers on the same way as defaultProvider. Only difference is that you need to set value for SiteMapProvider property of SiteMapDataSource control to select wanted provider:

<asp:SiteMapDataSource SiteMapProvider="LeftMenuProvider" ID="SiteMapDataSource1" runat="server" />

How to load site navigation from database

If you worked with database driven web sites (well, who isn't?) then you probably had your site structure described in some table. It is pretty common case that one part of site navigation comes from static XML file, and other part dynamically from SQL Server or some other database. In this case, it would be great to have additional sitemap provider which reads from database. There is an example of SqlSiteMapProvider on MSDN site (scroll page in url down to SqlSiteMapProvider heading). To connect this provider to navigation controls, we need to edit web.config file like before, and add this line inside <providers> element:

<add name="SQLServerProvider" type="SqlSiteMapProvider" connectionStringKey="YourConnectionStringToSqlServerDatabase" />

Remarks when using Menu, TreeView and SiteMapPath with Web.sitemap

It is probably not good idea to place navigation controls manually on all pages. Instead, place them just once in Master page.

You can limit visibility of particular menu items by using roles attribute. In code bellow, "Administration" area will be visible only to users who belong to Administrator role:

<siteMapNode url="~/Admin.aspx" title="Administration"  description="Web site administration" roles="Administrator" />

Implementing of Menu, TreeView and SiteMapPath controls is fast and you usually don't need to write any additional C# or VB.NET code.

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