Add a daily Dilbert Comic with a Custom Control in VB.NET


This article describes the construction of a custom control used to display a daily Dilbert comic on a site.  The control is extremely simple to build and it serviced through a public web service made available by Chandu Thota on  Once built, the control can be dropped on any web page and it will retrieve a new comic from the Scott Adams Dilbert archives for display each day.

The web service returns either a path to the image file or an encoded copy of the image.  This example just uses the file path option to populate the image upon initialization.

Figure 1:  Daily Dilbert Custom Control in Use

Getting Started:

The files included with this project include a web control library project and a demonstration web site.  In order to get started, open the included zip file and install the two projects onto your file system.  Open IIS and create a virtual directory for the web application.  Open the solution into Visual 2005 and make any changes necessary to bring both projects into the solution.  Once properly configured, your solution explorer should show these projects, references, and files:
Figure 2:  Solution Explorer with Web App and Control Library

In examining the solution, note that the "Dilbert" control library contains only a single control and that control is called "DilbertControl".  This project also includes a web reference that points to the;  this public site supplies the web service used to capture the Dilbert archive cartoon displayed by the control.

The web application contains only a single web page (default.aspx) and includes a reference to the "Dilbert" DLL.

The web application serves as a container used to test the custom control.  The page itself contains no addition code and the only other element on the page displays the text "The Daily Dilbert".

The Code:  Dilbert Control

The "Dilbert" custom control is constructed to retrieve the information from the web service upon initialization; in the information retrieved is a path to the URL of the cartoon image.  Upon initialization, the URL is retrieved and when the control is rendered, an image is created and added; its imageURL property is set to point to the URL captured from the web service.

In examining the code, note that, only the default imports are included in the project.  The class itself inherits from the WebControl class.

Imports System

Imports System.Collections.Generic

Imports System.ComponentModel

Imports System.Text

Imports System.Web

Imports System.Web.UI

Imports System.Web.UI.WebControls


<ToolboxData("<{0}:DilbertControl runat=server></{0}:DilbertControl>")> _

Public Class DilbertControl

    Inherits WebControl

Following the class declaration, two member variables are declared; one for the web service and one string variable used to contain the path to the cartoon image file.

Private mDilbert As

Private mDilbertPath As String

Next up is the initialization handler:

Private Sub DilbertControl_Init(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles Me.Init


        Me.Width = 600

        Me.Height = 100



            mDilbert = New

            mDilbertPath = mDilbert.DailyDilbertImagePath()


            Exit Sub

        End Try

End Sub

The control initialization handler creates a new instance of the "mDilbert" member variable and then sets the "mDilbertPath" string variable to contain the image URL returned by calling the services "DailyDilbertImagePath" web method.

The last detail to tend to is the rendering; here RenderContents is overridden and, with a try - catch block, a div is started and then an image with the image URL property set to point to string variable containing the URL captured from the service, the image is then rendered and the div is closed.  If an error occurs, the HtmlTextWriter will just print out "Dilbert is on vacation" in lieu of the cartoon.

Protected Overrides Sub RenderContents(ByVal output As HtmlTextWriter)



       Dim img As New Image()

       img.ImageUrl = mDilbertPath




   Catch ex As Exception


       output.Write("Dilbert is on vacation.")


   End Try


End Sub


This project was just for fun although it does show a very basic example of an easy approach to building a custom control that interacts with a web service.

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