Extending PATCH Support For ASP.NET WebAPI : Part I

Written by Khalid Abuhakmeh and Bill Boga

  1. Part I–Introduction
  2. [Part II–Model Binding]({% post_url 2016-03-24-extending-patch-support-for-asp.net-webapi-part-ii-model-binding %})
  3. Part III–Validation

When it comes to HTTP verbs, there is no verb more controversial than PATCH. How, when, and why to use this verb is up to each implementor. In addition to being controversial, it is often overlooked as an option for ASP.NET developers due to a lack of consistent approach in the ASP.NET WebAPI framework. What is PATCH, and what does a client expect the behavior to be?

The HTTP methods PATCH can be used to update partial resources. For instance, when you only need to update one field of the resource, PUTting a complete resource representation might be cumbersome and utilizes more bandwidth — REST Cookbook

While building our newest APIs, we came up with use cases, not mentioned here; that could benefit from the PATCH command. We quickly realized that it would be cumbersome to write every occurrence of PATCH behavior, and we weren’t gluttons for punishment. We took a step back and started thinking about how to implement an approach on top of ASP.NET WebAPI:

  1. We want the procedure to be repeatable regardless of the request.
  2. We want to hook into the ASP.NET WebAPI pipeline.
  3. We need to know which properties were “bound”.
  4. We wanted to leverage the “bound” knowledge to execute our validation selectively (powered by FluentValidation) and Patch mapping.
  5. We wanted to keep our controller actions thin.

Basic Implementation

While we will follow this post up with actual implementation details on how we accomplished our PATCH approach, I’d like to show you how it ultimately looks in our code base.

Let’s start with the controller action.

public IHttpActionResult Patch(AddressPatchRequest request) 
    var address = db.Addresses.Find(request.Id);
    if (address == null)
        return NotFound();

    return Ok(new AddressUpdateResponse(address));

The first thing to note is that we have a very skinny controller action. No verbose if statements or complex logic; just a simple call to Patch. What does AddressPatchRequest look like as an incoming request?

public class AddressPatchRequest : AbstractPatchStateRequest<AddressPatchRequest, Address>
    public AddressPatchRequest()
        // These map our request to the target
        // currently in this example it is conventional by name        
        AddPatchStateMapping(x => x.City);
        AddPatchStateMapping(x => x.IsPrimary);
        AddPatchStateMapping(x => x.StateAbbreviation);
        AddPatchStateMapping(x => x.Street1);
        AddPatchStateMapping(x => x.Street2);
        AddPatchStateMapping(x => x.Type);
        AddPatchStateMapping(x => x.ZipCode);
        // but we can specify a different mapping 
        // AddPatchStateMapping(x => x.ZipCode, x => x.Zip.PostalCode);

    public int Id { get; set; }
    public string City { get; set; }
    public bool? IsPrimary { get; set; }
    public string StateAbbreviation { get; set; }
    public string Street1 { get; set; }
    public string Street2 { get; set; }
    public string Type { get; set; }
    public string ZipCode { get; set; }

Our request inherits from AbstractPatchStateRequest, which understands our mapping target. In the request constructor, we can map from our request to the destination. The target mapping only occurs when an actual property is bound, and Patch is called. Validation is also only triggered on properties that were bound at the time of the request. Let’s take a look at our validator.

public class AddressPatchValidator : AbstractPatchValidator<AddressPatchRequest>
    public AddressPatchValidator()
        RuleFor(x => x.Id).NotEmpty();

        WhenBound(x => x.City, rule => rule.NotEmpty());
        WhenBound(x => x.IsPrimary, rule => rule.NotEmpty());
        WhenBound(x => x.StateAbbreviation, rule => rule.NotEmpty());
        WhenBound(x => x.Street1, rule => rule.NotEmpty());
        WhenBound(x => x.Type, rule => rule.NotEmpty());
        WhenBound(x => x.ZipCode, rule => rule.NotEmpty());

Our approach meets the requirements described earlier while also giving team members a familiar and understandable approach to implementing a confusing feature. The question we asked ourselves was “why isn’t this just baked into ASP.NET WebAPI?!” Granted our approach is opinionated and utilizes a third party library, but we still love it.

Thanks to Bill Boga and Justin Rusbatch for working out the issues required to make this a reality. Stay tuned for Part II, where Bill Boga will go into making the ModelBinder work with our AbstractPatchStateRequest base class.

Published March 22, 2016 by

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Khalid Abuhakmeh Director of Software Development (Former)
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Bill Boga Lead Application Developer

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