Julian Jelfs’ Blog

Securely posting application/json data to Asp.Net MVC4

Posted in Javascript, MVC by julianjelfs on April 3, 2013

Asp.Net MVC4 has some good mechanisms to protect against cross-site request forgery. The gist is that on the server you generate a unique token that is written out as a cookie and then also written out to the page you are rendering. Then when the system receives data via a POST request, it can check that the anti-forgery token has been supplied in both the submitted form and in the cookie and that they match. This way, if the user has been tricked into submitting a form that did not originate on the server as the user supposes, that request may have assumed the correct cookie, but will not have the matching form field counterpart and the request will fail.

We do this in Asp.Net MVC4 by simply calling the @Html.AntiForgeryToken() helper inside our view and then adorning our controller’s POST actions with the ValidateAntiForgeryToken attribute. Easy. This works really well if you are taking a traditional approach and posting forms of data to the server. But it is now very common for people to be using some kind of client side MVC framework (angular, knockout, ember etc etc) or even just using $.post to send json data back to the server outside a form submission.

I have seen a lot of people asking the question, how come my ValidateAntiForgeryToken doesn’t work when I post data back to the server using an ajax call in this way? Usually the response is that they are using the wrong content type. They are using “application/json” and they should be using “application/x-www-form-urlencoded” and this is why the anti forgery token cannot be read. This is true – the ValidateAntiForgeryToken attribute specifically looks in the Request.Form for the __RequestVerificationToken value and so it will only work with form url encoded data. But the answer is not to change the content type of your request it is to change your attribute.

The content type of “application/json” is entirely appropriate and correct. That is what you are doing – posting json. It’s much more easily parsed and it’s easier to read across the wire using something like fiddler, it’s easy to serialise and deserialise, it works with MVC model binding out of the box, so leave it alone. All you need to do is tag the verification token onto your request somehow and write a new attribute to pick it out of the request according to your rules. For example, it can easily be stored in and retrieved from a custom http header.

Continue to write the token out to the page using @Html.AntiForgeryToken() and replace the ValidateAntiForgeryToken attribute with something like this:

[AttributeUsage(AttributeTargets.Class | AttributeTargets.Method, AllowMultiple = false, Inherited = true)]
public class ValidateJsonAntiForgeryToken : AuthorizeAttribute
public override void OnAuthorization(AuthorizationContext filterContext)
var request = filterContext.HttpContext.Request;

if (request.HttpMethod == WebRequestMethods.Http.Post)
if (request.IsAjaxRequest())
AntiForgery.Validate(CookieValue(request), request.Headers["__RequestVerificationToken"]);
new ValidateAntiForgeryTokenAttribute().OnAuthorization(filterContext);

private string CookieValue(HttpRequestBase request)
var cookie = request.Cookies[AntiForgeryConfig.CookieName];
return cookie != null ? cookie.Value : null;

Then modify your client code to supply the token as a custom http header. In my case, I have created an angular service that wraps $http.post to achieve this as follows:


app.factory("xsrfPost", function($http) {
return {
post: function(url, args) {
var config = {
headers: {
'__RequestVerificationToken' : angular.element("input[name='__RequestVerificationToken']").val()
return $http.post(url, args, config);

Now, you can use a content-type that makes sense and still take advantage of the framework support for anti-XSRF protection.

“Patch” model binding with Asp.Net MVC

Posted in MVC by julianjelfs on March 8, 2013

Let’s say you have an update Action on a controller in Asp.Net MVC that accepts a domain object which you use for updating something like this:

public ViewResult UpdateCustomer(Customer model)
    //persist your model somehow etc etc
    return View(model);

When you use the DefaultModelBinding the MVC framework will create an instance of the Customer class and fill in any properties that it finds according to the registered ValueProviders (which will pull parameters from various places like the Form and the QueryString etc). This is all very well described here.

But what happens if you have more than one view of the data and sometimes not all of the data is passed back with the form? When might this happen? Perhaps you have a workflow where one user enters some of the data and another user completes the data. You could achieve this with two models and two views and two controller actions but you might have a dynamic view and just pass back the data that user is required to fill in (or has access to).

In this scenario, the DefaultModelBinder will cause us a problem because it creates a new instance of the Customer class to bind to. So suppose that user A has filled out the customer’s name and saved, but user B has to fill out the customer’s address but does not have access to the customer’s name (not very realistic I know). In this case the form posted by user B will not contain a value for the customer’s name, so that value will not be bound and user A’s data will get overwritten with a null value when the model is persisted.

You might be able to handle this with validation, but there is no point giving user B a validation error message relating to a field that he cannot see.

One way to deal with this is to create a custom model binder that loads the existing state of the model before binding rather than loading a blank instance of the type. It might look something like this:

public class CustomerModelBinder : DefaultModelBinder
    protected override object CreateModel(ControllerContext controllerContext, 
                                    ModelBindingContext bindingContext, Type modelType)
        var session = ServiceLocator.Current.GetInstance<IDocumentSession>();
        var val = bindingContext.ValueProvider.GetValue("model.Id");    //this could be parameterised
        if (val != null)
            var customer = session.Load<Customer>(val.AttemptedValue);
            if (customer != null)
                return customer;
        return base.CreateModel(controllerContext, bindingContext, modelType);

In this code, we are checking to see if the ValueProvider has a value for the key to our model object. If it does, we load the object (I’m using Raven but that doesn’t matter), if not we fallback to the DefaultModelBinder.

We then need to register this custom model binder for the specific type we are interested in at application start up;

ModelBinders.Binders.Add(typeof(Customer), new CustomerModelBinder());
And now, when user B’s partially complete POST arrives, it will be bound to the instance of the Customer object that user A created and we will not lose any data. Nice.

Dynamic validation with FluentValidation and MVC 4

Posted in MVC, Uncategorized by julianjelfs on March 7, 2013

FluentValidation is a very nice way to perform custom validations in .Net and integrating it into the built in validation system used in MVC 4 is relatively straightforward. But it is not immediately clear how you go about performing dynamic validation on a MVC model based on the state of that model. If you are implementing a workflow, for example, this is something that you may well want to do. For example, let’s say that you have the following model:

   1: public class Customer

   2: {

   3:     public int Id {get;set;}

   4:     public string Name {get;set;}

   5:     public string Email {get;set;}

   6:     public string Status {get;set;

   7: }

Suppose that you would like the Name to be mandatory if the Status property is set to “New”, but if the Status property is set to “Existing” you would like the Name and the Email to be mandatory. The standard integration of FluentValidation with MVC 4 allows you to correlate a controller action’s input parameter with a validator, by decorating the model type with a Validator attribute. It will then call the Validate method on that validator at the right point by plugging in to the MVC model validation infrastructure. So far this will only allow you to run the same validation regardless of context. The validation can be further customised by adding a CustomizeValidator attribute to the model parameter on your controller action.

The CustomizeValidator attribute allows you to override the properties to validate, the rule sets to validate and an interceptor to call before and after MVC validation takes place. To take advantage of model state to apply specific validation we first need to capture our different scenarios as rule sets in the validator as follows:

   1: public class CustomerValidator : AbstractValidator

   2: {

   3:     public CustomerValidator()

   4:     {

   5:             RuleSet("New", () => {

   6:             RuleFor(c => c.Name).NotEmpty();

   7:         });


   9:         RuleSet("Existing", () => {

  10:             RuleFor(c => c.Name).NotEmpty();

  11:             RuleFor(c => c.Email).NotEmpty();

  12:         });

  13:     }

  14: }

then attribute the model class with this validator:

   1: [Validator(typeof(CustomerValidator))]

   2: public class Customer ....

Create a validation interceptor to specify the correct selector on the ValidationContext based on the model state like this:

   1: public class CustomerValidatorInterceptor : IValidatorInterceptor

   2: {

   3:     public ValidationContext BeforeMvcValidation(ControllerContext controllerContext,

   4:                 ValidationContext validationContext)

   5:     {

   6:         if (validationContext.InstanceToValidate is Customer)

   7:         {

   8:             var customer = (Customer) validationContext.InstanceToValidate;

   9:             return new ValidationContext(customer, validationContext.PropertyChain,

  10:                 new RulesetValidatorSelector(customer.Status));

  11:         }

  12:         return validationContext;

  13:     }


  15:     public ValidationResult AfterMvcValidation(ControllerContext controllerContext,

  16:                 ValidationContext validationContext,

  17:                 ValidationResult result)

  18:     {

  19:         return result;

  20:     }

  21: }


and finally add this interceptor to your controller action via the CustomizeValidation attribute like this:

   1: public ViewResult UpdateCustomer(

   2:     [CustomizeValidator(Interceptor = typeof(CustomerValidatorInterceptor))]Customer model)

   3: {

   4:     ...

   5: }

And now we will execute the correct RuleSet according to the state of the Customer object and it will all integrate with the MVC validation infrastructure nicely.