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Receiving Data As FormDataCollection in ASP.NET Web API

ASP.NET Web API map HTTP verbs to an action method. The Web API actions must follow prescribed signatures in order to work as expected. For example, a Web API method handling POST requests usually takes a single parameter. More often than not this parameter is of a complex type that wraps the actual pieces of data in its properties. This arrangement goes well when you know the exact model being passed by a client (see below).

public string Post(Customer obj)

However, this arrangement is of no use when a client is sending arbitrary pieces of data not mapping to any model. Luckily, Web API provides a way to deal with such data. This article discusses just that.

Consider a case where a Web API is expecting data to be inserted in a table from a client. The data in question consists of arbitrary pieces of information and can't be mapped to a predefined model class. In such cases you can make use of FormDataCollection class. The FormDataCollection class resides in System.Net.Http.Formatting namespace and represents a dictionary of arbitrary keys and values.

The FormDataCollection class should not be confused with the FormCollection class of ASP.NET MVC. They reside in different namespaces. The FormDataCollection resides in System.Net.Http.Formatting whereas FormCollection resides in System.Web.Mvc namespace.

So, a client can send any number of arbitrary key-value pairs to the Web API and the Web API will receive them as a FormDataCollection. The following Post() method of Web API shows how this is done:

public string Post(FormDataCollection form)
    string customerid = form.Get("customerId");
    string company = form.Get("companyName");
    string contact = form.Get("contactName");
    string country = form.Get("country");

    NorthwindEntities db = new NorthwindEntities();
    Customer obj = new Customer()
        CustomerID = customerid,
        CompanyName = company,
        ContactName = contact,
        Country = country

    return "Customer added successfully!";


The Post() method shown above takes a parameter of type FormDataCollection. To read the values from this collection you use Get() method and specify a key name. In the above code the client is sending Customer details such as CustomerID, CompanyName, ContactName and Country. Based on these details a Customer object is formed and added to the Customers DbSet. The changes are saved to the database using SaveChanges(). The Post() method then returns a success method to the client.

To call this Web API method you will write the following jQuery code:

$(document).ready(function () {
  var data = {};
  data.customerID = "ABCDE";
  data.companyName = "Company 1";
  data.contactName = "Contact 1";
  data.country = "USA";

  $.post("/api/customer", data, function(msg){

As you can see the above code creates a JavaScript object with four properties - customerID, companyName, contactName and country. Although this class mimics the Customer model class that's not necessary. You can add any arbitrary property - value pairs to this object and send it to the Web API.

Once the data object created $.post() method of jQuery is used to call the Web API and the data object is passed to it. The success function displays the message returned from the Web API.

If you run this application you will see the customerID, companyName, contactName and country values in the FormDataCollection.

In the preceding example, you created a JavaScript object and passed it to the $.post() method. There can be a situation where you need to pass the data from form fields (rather than from a JavaScript object) to the Web API. For example, you might be having a web page that renders arbitrary form fields using jQuery based on some condition.

<form id="form1">
    <input type="text" name="customerId" value="ABCDE" />
    <input type="text" name="companyName" value="Company 2" />
    <input type="text" name="contactName" value="Contact 2" />
    <input type="text" name="country" value="USA"  />

In such cases your $.post() call will change as follows:

$.post("/api/customer", $("#form1").serialize(), function (msg) {

Notice that the second parameter is not a JavaScript object. It's a call to jQuery serialize() method. The serialize() method returns a URL encoded string that contains the form field name - value pairs. Upon reaching the Web API this data can be read into the FormDataCollection as before.

Bipin Joshi is an independent software consultant and trainer by profession specializing in Microsoft web development technologies. Having embraced the Yoga way of life he is also a meditation teacher and spiritual guide to his students. He is a prolific author and writes regularly about software development and yoga on his websites. He is programming, meditating, writing, and teaching for over 27 years. To know more about his ASP.NET online courses go here. More details about his Ajapa Japa and Shambhavi Mudra online course are available here.

Posted On : 10 November 2014