Limiting the size of ASP.NET ViewState to improve performance

ASP.NET's ViewState helps simplify programming in the Web's stateless environment, but at the cost of lots of added bandwidth. Here are some strategies to try and trim the bandwidth bloat.

Microsoft created ASP.NET ViewState to help alleviate the difficulties of programming in the Web's stateless environment. But like every tool that makes a developer's life easy, it comes with a price: performance. In the case of ASP.NET ViewState, the performance problem results from the increased size of any page that uses ViewState.

ViewState basics

ViewState works by adding hidden input fields to the Response, which helps maintain the state of objects in the page. But on high-volume Web sites where every byte of network bandwidth counts, you may want to limit the ViewState size—especially when you consider that ViewState is not only sent out to the client but also gets sent back to the server with each request. In essence, every byte added to a page by ViewState causes two bytes of network traffic, one in each direction.

ViewState is enabled on four levels: machine, application, page, and control. The machine and application levels are controlled by configuration file settings, while the page and control ViewState settings are controlled by properties. Most sites that use ASP.NET will use ViewState in at least portions of the site, so turning it off at the machine or application level often is not feasible. Therefore, ViewState must be handled carefully at the page and control levels.

Eliminating bytes

To maximize performance, each page should be judged on whether it needs ViewState information. If no ViewState is needed in the page or any of its controls, set the EnableViewState property of the page or control to false. Also, remove the runat="Server" attribute from the form tag. If this tag isn't removed, the page itself passes on about 20 bytes of information to the ViewState.

If ViewState is needed, make sure it is enabled only for controls that are really going to use it. Some controls, such as Label and TextBox, do not have a large ViewState footprint. But DataGrids and DataRepeaters store all of their data in ViewState by default, making the page's output potentially very large.

If you want to use one of these larger footprint controls, you can reduce its size by setting the EnableViewState property to false. This will force the DataGrid to go to the datasource for its data with each request, which of course impacts whatever datasource you're using. But it will greatly reduce the size of the HTML stream sent to the client.

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