software development

Cascading DropDowns using XML and LINQ

A simple alternative method to the Ajax Control Toolkit's

Don't get me wrong, the Ajax Control Toolkit (ACT) is great, but a couple of the controls leave something to be desired.  For one, the things required to integrate the cascading dropdowns is a bit excessive IMO.  No need ot require asmx files to do a simple lookup.  Also, if you are changing values in your dropdowns (as I needed to do), this gives you no simple way to do it.


Figuring that dropdowns are almost always relatively small collections of choices, and I would be editing them often for my purposes, an XML files seems to be the perfect fit for this situation.  On top of that, with the ease of LINQ, this would be extremely easy to make an interface for editing the properties so my users could edit them without knowing the first thing about XML. 


I am going to try to basically copy the ACT in terms of functionality as I really like it, but change it 'under the hood'.  First thing is to make a simple XML file with my options in it, I used old cars for an example:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
        <maker>-please select-</maker>
        <car_maker name="Ford">
        <car_maker name="Chevy">
        <car_maker name="Dodge">

 Now add the Dropdowns to yoru .aspx with a few more properies added (required for this to work) the properties are:

  1. cascadeTo : The dropDown you want to cascade to
  2. cascadeCategory : The category in XML your cascade properties lie
  3. cascadeDescendant : The final level in XML where your items lie
  4. cascadeBlank : [optional] What the cascading DropDown will display when it is awaiting a selection

Here is my .aspx, Notice I added "- Select Make -" to the ddlModel DropDownList as that will help give the user some guidance and it is the same as the 'cascadeBlank' I designated:

Make:<br />
<asp:DropDownList ID="ddlMake"  runat="server" cascadeTo="ddlModel" cascadeCategory="car_maker" cascadeDescendant="car" cascadeBlank="- Select Make -"  AutoPostBack="true" onselectedindexchanged="ddlMake_SelectedIndexChanged" />
<br /><br />
Model:<br />
<asp:DropDownList ID="ddlModel" runat="server" Enabled="false"  >
    <asp:ListItem>- Select Make -</asp:ListItem>

Next, you need to access your XML document and fill your initial menu, so make sure to add something like this to your code-behind:

XElement x;
protected void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
    x = XElement.Load(Server.MapPath(".") + "\\App_Data\\dropdowns.xml");
    if (!IsPostBack)
        foreach (XElement elem in x.Descendants("maker")) addDdlItems(ddlMake, elem.Value);

public void addDdlItems(DropDownList ddl, string value)
    ListItem li = new ListItem();
    li.Value = value;

Now you simply need to call cascade.fromThisDropDown from your _SelectedIndexChange event.  This way you don't need to write any code, just place the cascade.cs fil into your App_Code folder:

protected void ddlMake_SelectedIndexChanged(object sender, EventArgs e)
 { cascade.fromThisDropDown(this.Page, (DropDownList)sender, x); }

And that's it.  You can place it inside an UpdatePanel for the same exact Ajax effect that you have with the ACT, but without those pesky asmx files. If you want to see the cascade.cs code, click here to view/hide.


Not completely dummy proof, but I think it's useful.  You can download just the cascade class, or the full working example: