(C#) DropDownList Optgroups (WebControlAdapter)

March 11, 2010 by C#   ASP.NET  

The way renders webcontrols don't always produce the desired markup, we might require different markup for different browsers - e.g. a visitor browsing your website from their mobile / cellphone.

We might even feel the need to change the way renders webcontrols all together - luckily microsoft provided a mechanism called WebControlAdapters.

For the purpose of this post, imagine the following scenario:

Your employer hands you two lists of options, which he wants selectable from DropDownLists, you think to yourself, awesome I will throw it all together in one DropDownList and distinguish the lists using optgroups - but suddenly it hits you that the standard DropDownList doesn't support optgroups.

After doing some quick research you decide to create a WebControlAdapter as workaround, even though it probably isn't the greatest solution for this issue.

Step 1:
Within the App_Browsers, create a browser file, add the following xml:

  <browser refID="Default">
          adapterType="CSTruter.DropDownListAdapter" />

Step 2:
Define Group as an attribute within your ListItem(s), something you can also do in the codebehind file, e.g. during databinding.

<asp:DropDownList runat="server" ID="ddlA">
	<asp:ListItem Text="C#" Value="1" Group="Microsoft" ></asp:ListItem>
	<asp:ListItem Text="" Value="2" Group="Microsoft"></asp:ListItem>
	<asp:ListItem Text="PHP" Value="3" Group="Open Source"></asp:ListItem>
	<asp:ListItem Text="Java" Value="4" Group="Open Source" Enabled="false"></asp:ListItem>
	<asp:ListItem Text="Perl" Value="5" Group="Open Source"></asp:ListItem>

Step 3:
Create a class inheriting from class WebControlAdapter. Override the RenderContents method (RenderBeginTag & RenderEndTag may also be overriden if needed)

protected override void RenderContents(System.Web.UI.HtmlTextWriter writer)
	// The current control being "adaptered" is available within context from the Control property
	DropDownList dropDownList = (DropDownList)Control;
	ListItemCollection items = dropDownList.Items;
	// Retrieve Optgrouping using LinQ
	var groups = (from p in items.OfType<ListItem>()
				  group p by p.Attributes["Group"] into g
				  select new { Label = g.Key, Items = g.ToList<ListItem>() });

	foreach (var group in groups)
		if (!String.IsNullOrEmpty(group.Label))
			writer.WriteAttribute("label", group.Label);

		int count = group.Items.Count();
		if (count > 0)
			bool flag = false;
			for (int i = 0; i < count; i++)
				ListItem item = group.Items[i];

				if (item.Selected)
					if (flag)
						throw new HttpException("Multiple selected items not allowed");
					flag = true;

					writer.WriteAttribute("selected", "selected");

				if (!item.Enabled)
					writer.WriteAttribute("disabled", "true");

				writer.WriteAttribute("value", item.Value, true);

				if (this.Page != null)
					this.Page.ClientScript.RegisterForEventValidation(dropDownList.UniqueID, item.Value);
				HttpUtility.HtmlEncode(item.Text, writer);
		if (!String.IsNullOrEmpty(group.Label))

When binding from a datasource, (which you wish to persist using ViewState) you will need to override the adapter ViewState methods in order to persist optgroups, observe:

private Object _ViewState;

protected override void OnLoad(EventArgs e)
    if (Page.IsPostBack)
        if (_ViewState != null)
            Object[] groups = (Object[])_ViewState;
            DropDownList dropDownList = (DropDownList)Control;
            // Add saved optgroups to ListItems
            for (Int32 i = 0; i < groups.Length; i++)
                if (groups[i] != null)
                    dropDownList.Items[i].Attributes["Group"] = groups[i].ToString();

protected override void LoadAdapterViewState(object state)
    // Retrieve existing state
    _ViewState = state;

protected override object SaveAdapterViewState()
    DropDownList dropDownList = (DropDownList)Control;
    Int32 count = dropDownList.Items.Count;
    Object[] values = new Object[count];

    // Retrieve Optgrouping from ListItem 
    for (int i = 0; i < count; i++)
        values[i] = dropDownList.Items[i].Attributes["Group"];
    return values;

If all goes according to plan, the WebControlAdapter will override the default markup for all DropDownLists in your solution.

Leave a Comment

Small addition to make April 26, 2022 by Melyssa

I posted a comment yesterday, so many years after this original post... It turns out as I started to use this little adapter, I realized that my listitem attributes were not being added to the options anymore (I use those to add specific data attributes to my options). If you find yourself in that situation, adding the following lines somewhere between the start and close tag for "option" will fix you right up: foreach(string attr in item.Attributes.Keys){ writer.WriteAttribute(attr, item.Attributes[attr]); }

It's 2022 and I needed this April 25, 2022 by Melyssa

You would think this is osmething that would have been added to the controls at some point, but nope. I've needed to use this in a really big project that still uses framework 4.X. It works like a charm. Thank you!

HelpFull Content March 9, 2015 by Jaimin Soni

Thanks. I have found lot of examples on others link but all are failed to work. As per your code working perfect and implement that in less time.

query March 13, 2013 by Anonymous

dat class in the end wer shud i create it??

August 28, 2012 by vikas

Hi, Thanks a lot,I think this is best working example that i found on net. It solves major problem that comes in final stage of project. Once again thanks and keep it up

October 18, 2011 by Christoff Truter

Hi Rob Thank you for your valuable feedback, I will be sure to add that check in the examples. I will also have a look at your DataSource/DataBind question some time this week and post a solution.

A few tweaks required October 18, 2011 by Rob

Great example - more complete and easy to follow than the one on stackoverflow ( A change I'd suggest is in the overridden version of OnLoad in Step 3, you need to add a null check before setting the Group attribute value (in case you have provided a listelement in your dropdownlist without the "Group" attribute e.g. a blank 'please select a value' item). i.e. if (groups[i] != null) { dropDownList.Items[i].Attributes["Group"] = groups[i].ToString(); } The final piece of the puzzle I wished you had shown was how to create your DropDownList in the codebehind. The big gotcha was that I couldn't use DataSource/DataBind because when I did I lost the attribute that I had set on the listitems. If you have a way to get DataSource/DataBind working let me know. Thanks though, keep up the good work.

Worked Great October 6, 2011 by Brennan

Hey thanks for this solution. There were some details that you explained here that helped me to get it to work. I couldn't get it to work off of others' examples. It looks like I just had the NameSpace incorrect in the .browser file, thanks for showing the example of it.

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