JavascriptSerializer in the RegisterStartupScript

Startup script behavior in the ASP.NET WebForms inside UpdatePanel containing script tags.

This post is about registering startup script in the ASP.NET WebForms inside UpdatePanel. The method we used ScriptManager.RegisterStartupScript takes 5 arguments, four of them are quite obvious. From the documentation:

//   page:
//     The page object that is registering the client script block.
//   type:
//     The type of the client script block. This parameter is usually specified by using
//     the typeof operator (C#) or the GetType operator (Visual Basic) to retrieve the
//     type of the control that is registering the script.
//   key:
//     A unique identifier for the script block.
//   script:
//     The script to register.

The last one entirely changes the behavior and leads to some unexpected behavior and eventually exceptions.

//   addScriptTags:
//     true to enclose the script block with <script> and </script> tags; otherwise,
//     false.

What happens?

When the parameter addScriptTags is true, everything works as expected, at least to me. The script is encoded and registered inside <script> tag created by the ASP.NET.

But when we register startup script withfalse value for the parameter addScriptTags. Without changing anything in the script (except adding <script> tag) the page stops working. The end user doesn't see anything, except the missing update of the UpdatePanel.

When you dig a little and open the browser developer console, you can see javascript error

0x800a139e - JavaScript runtime error: Sys.WebForms.PageRequestManagerServerErrorException: Error during serialization or deserialization using the JSON JavaScriptSerializer. The length of the string exceeds the value set on the maxJsonLength property.

Also, when logging unhandled exceptions in the web application (HttpApplication.Error), you got following

System.Web.HttpUnhandledException (0x80004005): ... Error during serialization or deserialization using the JSON JavaScriptSerializer. The length of the string exceeds the value set on the maxJsonLength property.
   at System.Web.Script.Serialization.JavaScriptSerializer.Serialize(Object obj, StringBuilder output, SerializationFormat serializationFormat)
   at System.Web.Script.Serialization.JavaScriptSerializer.Serialize(Object obj, SerializationFormat serializationFormat)
   at System.Web.Script.Serialization.JavaScriptSerializer.Serialize(Object obj)
   at System.Web.UI.ScriptRegistrationManager.WriteScriptWithTags(HtmlTextWriter writer, String token, RegisteredScript activeRegistration)
   at System.Web.UI.ScriptRegistrationManager.RenderActiveScriptBlocks(List`1 updatePanels, HtmlTextWriter writer, String token, List`1 scriptRegistrations)
   at System.Web.UI.ScriptRegistrationManager.RenderActiveScripts(List`1 updatePanels, HtmlTextWriter writer)

So, the ASP.NET starts using JavascriptSerializer when addScriptTags is changed to false. I'm not sure why this happens, maybe some kind of encoding? But why they use JavascriptSerializer only when script tags are used from our code? After some digging I have found what is happening under the hood.

The implementation

The source is taken from the reference source of the ScriptRegistrationManager and shortened for clarity.

private static void WriteScriptWithTags(HtmlTextWriter writer, string token, RegisteredScript activeRegistration)
    // If the content already has script tags, we need to parse out the contents
    // so that the client doesn't have to. The contents may include more than one
    // script tag, but no other content (such as arbitrary HTML).
    string scriptContent = activeRegistration.Script;

    // ... walk through all script tags in the scriptContent and for each of them do:
    for (...)
        OrderedDictionary attrs = new OrderedDictionary();

        // ... get content between script tags.
        string scriptBlockContents = scriptContent.Substring(indexOfEndOfScriptBeginTag, (indexOfScriptEndTag - indexOfEndOfScriptBeginTag));
        attrs.Add("text", scriptBlockContents);
        // ... add all attributes defined on the script tag to the attrs dictionary.
        JavaScriptSerializer serializer = new JavaScriptSerializer();

        // Dev10# 877767 - Allow configurable UpdatePanel script block length
        // The default is JavaScriptSerializer.DefaultMaxJsonLength
        if (AppSettings.UpdatePanelMaxScriptLength > 0)
            serializer.MaxJsonLength = AppSettings.UpdatePanelMaxScriptLength;

        string attrText = serializer.Serialize(attrs);
        PageRequestManager.EncodeString(writer, token, "ScriptContentWithTags", attrText);

    // ...

After registering a script (including script tags) the ASP.NET parses out all these tags. For each of the found script tag, it creates a dictionary with the script content (text=your script), eventually adds attributes from the tag and uses JavascriptSerializer to serialize this dictionary. At this point, the previously mentioned exception can raise. JavascriptSerializer is created with the default maxJsonLength, which can be overriden by the appSettings with key aspnet:UpdatePanelMaxScriptLength.

This appSetting is parsed as Int32, which can be found at reference source of the AppSettings. There are also other 'hidden' ASP.NET appSettings.

The serialized dictionary is then placed in the ajax response, deserialized at the client and executed by the browser.


There is no limit for the length of the script registered with the addScriptTags as true. When this is changed, the script is serialized using JavascriptSerializer and some length limits apply.

It is always better to register scripts without tags and let the infrastructure to generate them for you. I even don't known any use-case where I would want to generate them by myself and if you do, please leave a comment. Nevertheless I have found this usage on many places in the customers code base.

Posted on 2016-10-04
Written by Maraf

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