Spent a bit of time recently to try and get my MVC application handle 404 errors exactly as I want. The solution that I ended up choosing is based on this excellent SO answer.

The advantage of rendering the Error view by calling ErrorController.Execute, as opposed to making an entry in web.config, is that you get to preserve the URL without a browser redirect.

If you think about which scenarios warrant a 404 response a more involved strategy is justifiable:

  1. Non-supported controller name - captured by {controller}/{action}/{parameter} rule.
  2. Supported controller but bad action - captured by Controller.HandleUnknownAction.
  3. Non-supported URL format - captured by the catch-all rule.

Using ErrorController.Execute allows to preserve the URL for all of those scenarios. Now, to trap all unhandled exceptions in order to not show a Yellow Screen of Death, you would need to do some error handling in Application.Error event handler. Something similar is described in this answer.

There is a catch, however. If the anti-XSS features kick in and disallow a URL containing, say, angle brackets, executing error controller from global exception handler will throw an exception resulting in a YSOD.

The best solution i found was to catch the exception when doing Execute and do a browser redirect then. This prevents the runtime from creating a YSOD due to an unhandled exception in the exception event.

IController errorController = ControllerBuilder.Current.GetControllerFactory().CreateController(null, "error");
try {
    errorController.Execute(new RequestContext(
            contextBase, errorRoute));
} catch(Exception) {
    //If we are here it means that the URL is unsafe and the only way to handle it gracefully is to redirect.
    Response.Redirect("~/Error/BadRequest"); //Controller/View pair that returns 400 - Bad Request

It's probably not the best idea to handle 400 error as 404, hence we redirect to a "BadRequest" action in the ErrorController.

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18 June 2010