Archive for the ‘.NET Framework’ Category

New Website for Activo:

November 23rd, 2010
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I have good news and bad news to tell you, well it is not really bad news, but just wanted to use that saying…

The bad news is that this website is has just become absolute. Meaning we will no longer publish anything new or introduce any new content on this website. The good news is that we already have a new website and the new website can be found at Notice that we got the domain name that we always wanted to have for Activo – Yeah!


For those of you who are interested, the new website was launched in late August of 2010. The domain was purchased back in November of 2009. The site currently already have twice the amount of traffic that this website has. The site also reflects a few changes in Activo:

  1. We moved our offices from Santa Clara to Los Angeles – and we love it down here. In fact LA is a great hub for techies and entrepreneurs, believe it or not.
  2. We now have a virtual team of developers, designers, and project managers. Yes – it was a decision we had to make back in the days before we moved and it turned out to work great. Our customers love it.
  3. We have decided to focus on Magento Development and Magento Extensions. I got to say, what a great decision that was!

So, check out the new website and our new blog. I (Ron Peled) will continue to post regularly about our daily grind and share with you as much as possible from what I am doing at any given time. Drop me a line if you have any suggestions or recommendations.

.NET Framework, AJAX, Content Management Systems, eCommerce, Ektron, Joomla, LAMP: Linux Apache MySQL PHP, Magento, Performance Optimization, PHP/MySQL, Project Management, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Application Hosting, Web Design, Web Development, Web-based User Interfaces, ZenCart

Manage Application Pool Recycling in IIS7

May 21st, 2009
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If you manage a website that is hosted with the latest Windows Server 2008 and IIS7 you probably want to be aware of the Application Pool settings in general, and in particular the Application Pool Recycle settings. As it turns out, by default, Windows Server 2008 sets the Application Pool to recycle every 1740 minutes. Which is exactly 29 hours or one full day and 5 hours or the number of lattes I had in the winter. All kidding aside, this number is a bit random, especially because it determines when the website’s application pool will recycle and the website will need to recompile, recache, etc. Here is a screenshot:


Instead, what I recommend is that you uncheck the regular time intervals checkbox and use the Specific time one. I chose here 2:00 AM because it is when the site sees the lowest numbers of hits and it is the best time to handle a recycle. You should setup your webserver to recycle when your site is experiencing the lowest traffic levels. So, you’ll probably need to dig into the analytics a bit. Here is a screenshot of how I setup my server:


- Recycles during off peak hours
- You actually control when it recycles
- Typically a performance boost on average

The application will now recycle every 24 hours, instead of 29 hours. In fact, if you are certain that your website has no major problems and no memory leaks you can potentially set the application pool to not recycle automatically at all. This state needs to be monitored but may result in a longer smooth ride. Enjoy!

.NET Framework, Performance Optimization, Web Application Hosting

jQuery Emerges as Most Popular Javascript Library for Web Development

November 3rd, 2008

It seems to be official: jQuery is gaining ground faster than any other JavaScript Library. There may be many reasons but I like to think that jQuery is leading the pack due to its simplicity and relatively small size. Here is what Google Trends is showing us:

Top Reasons for jQuery’s ground gaining:

  • Simplicity.
  • Small in size: only 15K for latest production release after its minified and gzipped.
  • Extendable: pretty big plugin library. Currently showing hundreds of plugins.
  • CSS3 Compliant and one of the first JS Library to use CSS selectors.
  • Handles AJAX very well while avoiding code bloating.
  • Major adoption by ASP.NET developers and teaming up with ASP.NET’s team for improved integration

jQuery Resources:

Other Javascript Libraries:

All these Javascript frameworks provide the basic idea of single developer resource for cross browser and cross platform JavaScript development. Additionally, all make AJAX a little bit easier:

If you know of any additional interesting jQuery Resources, drop me a line. Thanks!

.NET Framework, AJAX, Web Design, Web Development, Web-based User Interfaces , , , , ,

Ektron CMS400 7.0 issues with .NET Framework 3.5 SP1

October 6th, 2008

After upgrading my development machine with Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1, I noticed a couple things. First, the installer also updated the .NET Framework 2.0 instance to Service Pack 2.

Second, my instance of Ektron CMS400 v. (which runs under .NET Framework 2.0) starting having problems. Specifically, I could no longer create library items in the workarea. Attempting to save a library item, for example, a hyperlink would cause the page to postback and the icon bar to disappear:

The postback page after attempting to save the library item

The postback page after attempting to save the library item

There is no error message, but viewing the library item list reveals that the item was not saved.

The culprit was the page /workarea/library.aspx. Viewing the HTML source of this page when attempting to “Add Library”, the form tag’s action attribute was:


… no querystring parameters; so when the page posts back in Ektron, it can’t save the library item and fails.

Viewing the same page on a system without .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 results in an action attribute like this:


Some background: As it turns out, the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 installation changes the way the FORM tag’s ACTION attribute is handled. Prior to this upgrade, ASP.NET would ignore whatever you typed for the form’s action attribute in the markup. ASP.NET would instead render the action attribute to match the original page request. Starting with SP1, the action attribute is no longer ignored and will be rendered exactly as input.

Ektron, as it turns out, supplied an action attribute in the library.aspx form tag. Until the release of this Service Pack, it was ignored by ASP.NET.

Two possible solutions:

This may not be an issue in Ektron CMS400 7.5+, but users of v7.0 should be wary, even if they’re not planning on upgrading .NET Framework 3.5 SP1… Windows Update may upgrade you automatically around November of this year.

.NET Framework, Ektron, Web Development , , , ,

Hack attempt: SQL Injection Tagreting MS SQL Servers

August 19th, 2008
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I noticed one of our client’s IIS web servers was getting a lot of SQL Injection attempts this past week. These attacks pass T-SQL code into querystring parameters in hopes that the application is not checking inputs.

Here’s the code: (I removed the SQL exec() statement and replaced it with print so you can see the unencoded SQL.)

DECLARE @S VARCHAR(4000);SET @S=CAST(0x4445434C4152452040542
05461626C655F437572736F7220 AS VARCHAR(4000));

print @S;

This particular attack is well known and has been sighted in several variants:

Using the following web application best practices, we avoid getting hacked:

  • Application level:
    • Never trust user input (e.g. querystring or form posts). Always consider that user input may contain exploit code and check it appropriately.
    • Always use Stored Procedures and/or Parameterized database queries. Don’t build SQL queries using string concatenation.
    • Use typed variables when possible. Converting a querystring parameter to an integer before passing it to a SQL query can inhibit some attacks.
  • Database level:
    • Use limited database permissions. For example, for SQL Server, don’t let you application run under the “sa” user. The database user should only have permission in the particular database used by the application.
    • If possible, disable extended stored procedures such as xp_cmdshell.
    • Don’t use dynamic SQL. Dynamic SQL can be just as bad as building queries using string concatenation.
      Some DBAs have server-wide policies of no Dynamic SQL.

The application level is crucial. Since a web application may someday be moved to a new server, we can’t assume that the web server and database have been configured using best practices.

All layers of security are important, though: If you’re using a third-party or closed-source web application, you may not have access to application code. In that case, the Database and Web Server layers are your last defense against exploits in improperly written code.

.NET Framework, Web Development , , ,

Ektron: Clarification on User Controls vs API

July 30th, 2008
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We recently spotted an article from Bill Roger’s blog (Ektron‘s CEO) which discusses usage of the Ektron Server Controls v.s. Ektron’s API. At Activo, we are constantly using both approaches and indeed each approach is a bit different and is used in different situations. The article makes it much clearer that Ektron actually put more effort than we thought before into the Server Controls. Understanding that the Server Controls were made for this sort of usage makes us now feel more secure using this method. Previously, I always thought of this method as a hack and preferred the API.

Frank heads our .NET development team and added the following:

I’ve found it easier to start off with a foundation of one of the server controls and build off of that, rather than using only API calls. The server control acts as a “datareader” which can be used to access the data initially. Many of the custom controls we built to replace XSLT use this model:

  • Add a ListSummary inside the user control/page and set its properties.
  • Access the ListSummary’s EkItems property.
  • Manipulate the data from EkItems, transform it, and output it into a repeater.

This tends to work more reliably than using the API calls. However, if the code needs to bypass the permissions model, the only option is to go direct using the API.

.NET Framework, Ektron, Web Development , , , , ,

3 Pitfalls to Avoid for a Faster Ektron CMS400 Website

March 17th, 2008

Server performance is one of the most important functions of websites today. Users expect immediate response when clicking around your site. Even a 3.5 seconds delay may send them somewhere else. Also,  search engine crawlers (like Google) will rank you lower as a result of high latency. Hence, it is not only important to practice a faster website delivery, it’s a necessity. Recently, we have assisted our clients with server performance, which we supported using Ektron CMS400 v7.0.4. Here are the three main server performances we have noted after testing and tracking down the cause of website delays by using the Trace technique in .NET:

1. Avoid XML/XSLT Tranformations for Controls Output

After researching the cause of a huge latency greater than 2 seconds on every page refresh, we have discovered that about 50% of the latency was during the Page_Load occurrence. A more thorough research revealed that the 50% in delay was occurring during the XSLT transformations of all the controls on the page.
By caching these controls, (this solution is only partial and not recommended), and changing the way controls are rendered onto the page, we were able to reduce this latency to less than half. Therefore, we recommend building your Ektron site with the basic Ektron controls, and if you need a special way to present the information, use the code behind to generate a display of the data while you gather the data through the Ektron API and process the data programmatically. In other words, avoid XSLT altogether.

2. Make Use of the Flex Menu Ektron Control

Most of the Ektron sites that we’ve had the chance to work on were structured similarly. The main menu was a set of multi-level menus, which are all rendered by a style-specific XSLT. In some cases, before running through the XSLT, a script was passing through the menu items to find the one that needed to be ‘selected’.
Why should we reinvent the wheel?
If you read Ektron’s documentation, you will find a few menu controls that can be very handy: DHTMLMenu, Menu, SmartMenu, and FlexMenu. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. In short about each one:

  • DHTMLMenu: My least favorite. Uses too much JavaScript and doesn’t render nicely for SEO
  • Menu: The simplest one to use for basic menu systems
  • SmartMenu: I like this menu because it’s a styled and nested unordered list. It can also support section 508 and highlights the selected menu item by a client side script, which is a lot more performance friendly
  • FlexMenu: Our tests indicate that this menu control is the fastest if you have a sophisticated XSLT. It seems like Ektron simply provided a flexible menu control specifically for XML transformations.

We recommend the use of the SmartMenu, and if you insist in using XSLT to display a menu, use the FlexMenu as the alternative.

3. Make Use of the .NET Caching Mechanism

A simple thing for developers to set, isn’t it? Well, you can’t imagine how many sites we’ve seen without any caching beyond what the default settings allow. There is so much more to cache, it is almost a crime not to make use of it in our technology-driven age.

Ultimately, the above lists are just a few main performance issues that we have found with many Ektron sites. The items above alone can improve the site’s performances by up to 50%. However, this list is far from complete by any means. Hardware, Paging, Deadlocks, Server Environment, and even Bandwidth need to all be reviewed in order to improve performances.

Fast Surfing!

.NET Framework, Ektron, Performance Optimization

What mode; Release or Debug?

September 25th, 2007
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One of the Toolbar items in Visual version 1.1 that I found very insightful was the Release Solutions Configuration dropdown. If the solution is set to Release or Debug mode this dropdown reflected it. If you wanted to force a compile in Release or Debug mode, you could also do so through it. However, in version 2.0, it’s hidden. If you want to make it display on your tool bar you have to follow these steps:

  1. Right Click the Toolbar
  2. Checkmark/Select “Build” (might already be selected)
  3. Click the “Toolbar Options” down-arrow (lower right-hand side of the “Build” controls)
  4. Click “Add or Remove Buttons”
  5. Click “Customize”
  6. Select “Build” in the left “Categories” column
  7. In the right column “Commands”; scroll down and drag “Solution Configurations” to the Toolbar

Anyone know of best practices to use when configuring between Debug and Release modes?

.NET Framework