ASP.NET provides a standard way to handle errors in web applications by configuring a customError section in the Web.config file. Standard behaviour is to redirect a user from an erroneous page to an error page that in its turn shows some kind of more or less friendly explanation of what has happened.
This approach is quite OK for intranet web applications but usually is not appropriate for a public web app accessible for search engines.
The main problem here is that when error happens ASP.NET returns 302 "temporary redirect" response redirecting browser to the error page configured in the Web.config.
If the erroneous page was accessed by a SE bot the bot would index a content of the error handling page under the original page's URL thus creating a wrong index entry.
Another problem is if the actual error on the page was that the requested content was not found. This scenario is quite regular on modern dynamic web sites that construct content pages dynamically based on a Url. In http world such a situation should be called as 404 "Not found" especially in the case of a bot visiting such a page. But ASP.NET standard handling will once again respond 302 and let the bot include a not existing page in a search index.
What I am driving at is the correct error handling should always return a corresponding http status code for a SE bot with the appropriate content for the user. So how can we do that without writing too much code?
Actually quite easy. Starting version 3.5 SP1 ASP.NET has a new attribute redirectMode in the customError configuration section:
The new redirectMode attribute can be assigned one of two values: ResponseRedirect (default) or ResponseRewrite. ResponseRewrite prevents the erroneous page being redirected with the code 302 to an error page however the content of the error page will be shown on the original page. Internally ASP.NET is doing Server.Execute of the error page instead of Response.Redirect as usual.
So this is already a one third of work. The next thing we need to do is to return a correct http status code. It can be achieved by adding a few lines of code to the error page let's say to a Page_Load event handler:
int httpCode = 500;
Exception ex = Server.GetLastError();
if (ex is HttpException)
httpCode = ((HttpException) ex).GetHttpCode();
Response.StatusCode = httpCode;
This code checks if the reason of the error was an HttpException (a standard .NET exception class) then it assigns an http code from the exception otherwise it returns 500. Now it's two third of work done.
What left is to handle exceptions in your code properly. The best practices here are:
- If your application can not return a requested content for any reason except your application's internal problems then throw an HttpException with the code 404 and it will be friendly handled by your error page.
throw new HttpException(404, "Not found");
- Map other your application's specific exceptions to standard http codes and return them too.
- If your application throws an exception internally then wrap the internal exception with HttpException using an appropriate http code.
catch (Exception ex)
throw new HttpException(code, message, ex);
If an erroneous page happened to start rendering content before the error occurred you may want to clear it on the error page before outputting an error message:
If for some reason you can not use the new redirectMode attribute in the .config file (older framework, application specifics, etc.) then just add a few lines of code to the global.asax that do the same:
void Application_Error(object sender, EventArgs e)
// Do something with the error, i.e. log, notify, etc.
It may be a good idea to clear an error status on the error page after you're done with error handling:
Now that is all.