Cascading dropdowns with just a bit of Ajax in ASP.NET 2.0

In this sample I am going to go through very common idea of cascading dropdowns. Very basically speaking it is all about having set of dropdowns where next dropdown is populated on the basis of value selected from previous one.

Let’s start with very simple xml document:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
    <Person ID="1" Name="Laith Francis" ParentID="0" />
    <Person ID="2" Name="Hammett Swanson" ParentID="0" />
    <Person ID="3" Name="Macon Hayden" ParentID="0" />
    <Person ID="4" Name="Kennan Mooney" ParentID="0" />
    <Person ID="5" Name="Jin Hutchinson" ParentID="4" />
    <Person ID="6" Name="Emery Schwartz" ParentID="1" />
    <Person ID="7" Name="Melvin Garrett" ParentID="2" />
    <Person ID="8" Name="Giacomo Lamb" ParentID="4" />
    <Person ID="9" Name="Stephen Harding" ParentID="3" />
    <Person ID="10" Name="Ian Ward" ParentID="1" />
    <Person ID="11" Name="Raphael Walters" ParentID="2" />
    <Person ID="12" Name="Lee Gould" ParentID="1" />
    <Person ID="13" Name="Carter Carpenter" ParentID="4" />
    <Person ID="14" Name="Kareem Shepard" ParentID="14" />
    <Person ID="15" Name="Zahir Montgomery" ParentID="12" />
    <Person ID="16" Name="Zachery Mcmahon" ParentID="14" />
    <Person ID="17" Name="Hu Dillon" ParentID="12" />
    <Person ID="18" Name="Allistair Bradford" ParentID="13" />
    <Person ID="19" Name="Vincent Bryan" ParentID="11" />
    <Person ID="20" Name="Vance Santos" ParentID="12" />

Now let’s create very simple .aspx page, that has three dropdowns. First one we will populate using standard ASP.NET binding method so we will use DropDownList control in this instance. Because we do not populate other dropdowns straight away, nothing stops us from using html select tags. The markup can be like this:

<form id="form1" runat="server">
    <asp:DropDownList DataSourceID="xmlBosses"
        ID="ddlBosses" runat="server"></asp:DropDownList>
    <asp:XmlDataSource DataFile="~/App_Data/data.xml"
        ID="xmlBosses" runat="server" XPath="/People/Person[@ParentID=0]">
    <br />
    <select id="ddlManagers"></select>
    <br />
    <select id="ddlWorkers"></select>

Having this markup done we now need a mechanism to populate ddlManagers when ddlBosses changes. Same action needs to happen to ddlWorkers when ddlManagers is changed. To accomplish that we need make Ajax request to some data provider. In our instance, because application is created in ASP.NET 2.0, I opted for web service, (.Net 3.5 with MVC with it’s JsonResult class and Json() method is much more friendly on this front thought).

Firstly we need web service. We want to give it a boss Id and get list of all managers that report to this boss. Web service can look like this one:

public class People : System.Web.Services.WebService {
    [ScriptMethod(ResponseFormat = ResponseFormat.Xml)]
    public List GetData(int ParentID) { 
        List<int> result = new List<int>(); 

        XmlDocument doc = new XmlDocument(); 
        XmlNodeList nodes = doc.SelectNodes("/People/Person[@ParentID=" 
            + ParentID.ToString() + "]");

        foreach (XmlNode node in nodes) {
            Person p = new Person();
            p.ID = Convert.ToInt32(node.Attributes["ID"].Value);
            p.Name = node.Attributes["Name"].Value;
            p.ParentID = Convert.ToInt32(node.Attributes["ParentID"].Value);
        return result;

    public class Person {
       private int _id;
       private string _name;
       private int _parentId;

       public int ID {
           get { return _id; }
           set { _id = value; }

       public string Name {
           get { return _name; }
           set { _name = value; }

       public int ParentID {
           get { return _parentId; }
           set { _parentId = value; }

Having all of that we are now ready for very final stage – building Ajax call to execute web service and process returned data. The only thing we need is a bit of jQuery code, that will do it all:

$(function() {
    // for each dropdown bind change event
    $('select').change(function(e) {
        // capture which dropdown caused request
        if(!e) var e = window.event;
        var srcId =;

        // create ajax request
            url: 'WebServices/People.asmx/GetData', //call to created web method
            data: { ParentID: $(this).val() },  //web method expects ParentID
            contentType: 'application/xml; charset=utf-8',
            dataType: 'xml',
            error: function(xhr, status, e) { ... },
            success: function(data) {
                // if success get dropdown to be updated
                var select = null;
                switch(srcId) {
                    case 'ddlBosses':
                        select = $('select#ddlManagers');
                    case 'ddlManagers':
                        select = $('select#ddlWorkers');

                // remove items from dropdown

                // loop through Ajax request results
                $('Person', data).each(function() {
                    // for each result create option element
                    var option = document.createElement('option');
                    $(option).text($('Name', this).text()).val($('ID', this).text());
                    // and append it to dropdown

And this is it!

I hope you will enjoy it!