Multi-tenant ASP.NET MVC – Introduction

I’ve read a few different blogs that talk about multi-tenancy and how to resolve some of the issues surrounding multi-tenancy. What I’ve come to realize is that these implementations overcomplicate the issues and give only a muddy implementation! I’ve seen some really illogical code out there. I have recently been building a multi-tenancy framework for internal use at Through this process, I’ve realized a few different techniques to make building multi-tenant applications actually quite easy. I will be posting a few different entries over the issue and my personal implementation. In this first post, I will discuss what multi-tenancy means and how my implementation will be structured.


So what’s the problem?

Here’s the deal. Multi-tenancy is basically a technique of code-reuse of web application code. A multi-tenant application is an application that runs a single instance for multiple clients. Here the “client” is different URL bindings on IIS using ASP.NET MVC. The problem with different instances of the, essentially, same application is that you have to spin up different instances of ASP.NET. As the number of running instances of ASP.NET grows, so does the memory footprint of IIS. Stack Exchange shifted its architecture to multi-tenancy March. As the blog post explains, multi-tenancy saves cost in terms of memory utilization and physical disc storage. If you use the same code base for many applications, multi-tenancy just makes sense. You’ll reduce the amount of work it takes to synchronize the site implementations and you’ll thank your lucky stars later for choosing to use one application for multiple sites. Multi-tenancy allows the freedom of extensibility while relying on some pre-built code.


You’d think this would be simple.

I have actually seen a real lack of reference material on the subject in terms of ASP.NET MVC. This is somewhat surprising given the number of users of ASP.NET MVC. However, I will certainly fill the void ;). Implementing a multi-tenant application takes a little thinking. It’s not straight-forward because the possibilities of implementation are endless. I have yet to see a great implementation of a multi-tenant MVC application. The only one that comes close to what I have in mind is Rob Ashton’s implementation (all the entries are listed on this page). There’s some really nasty code in there… something I’d really like to avoid. He has also written a library (MvcEx) that attempts to aid multi-tenant development. This code is even worse, in my honest opinion. Once I start seeing Reflection.Emit, I have to assume the worst :)

In all seriousness, if his implementation makes sense to you, use it! It’s a fine implementation that should be given a look. At least look at the code.

I will reference MvcEx going forward as a comparison to my implementation. I will explain why my approach differs from MvcEx and how it is better or worse (hopefully better).


Core Goals of my Multi-Tenant Implementation

The first, and foremost, goal is to use Inversion of Control containers to my advantage. As you will see throughout this series, I pass around containers quite frequently and rely on their use heavily. I will be using StructureMap in my implementation. However, you could probably use your favorite IoC tool instead. <RANT> However, please don’t be stupid and abstract your IoC tool. Each IoC is powerful and by abstracting the capabilities, you’re doing yourself a real disservice. Who in the world swaps out IoC tools…? No one!</RANT> (It had to be said.) I will outline some of the goodness of StructureMap as we go along. This is really an invaluable tool in my tool belt and simple to use in my multi-tenant implementation.

The second core goal is to represent a tenant as easily as possible. Just as a dependency container will be a first-class citizen, so will a tenant. This allows us to easily extend and use tenants. This will also allow different ways of “plugging in” tenants into your application. In my implementation, there will be a single dependency container for a single tenant. This will enable isolation of the dependencies of the tenant.

The third goal is to use composition as a means to delegate “core” functions out to the tenant. More on this later.



In MvcExt, “Modules” are a code element of the infrastructure. I have simplified this concept and have named this “Features”. A feature is a simple element of an application. Controllers can be specified to have a feature and actions can have “sub features”. Each tenant can select features it needs and the other features will be hidden to the tenant’s users. My implementation doesn’t require something to be a feature. A controller can be common to all tenants. For example, (as you will see) I have a “Content” controller that will return the CSS, Javascript and Images for a tenant. This is common logic to all tenants and shouldn’t be hidden or considered a “feature”; Content is a core component.


Up next

My next post will be all about the code. I will reveal some of the foundation to the way I do multi-tenancy. I will have posts dedicated to Foundation, Controllers, Views, Caching, Content and how to setup the tenants. Each post will be in-depth about the issues and implementation details, while adhering to my core goals outlined in this post. As always, comment with questions of DM me on twitter or send me an email.

kick it on

1 Comment

  • I'll be following this with interest - I'll be keen to see whether you'll be able to create something that would cope with our needs *and* be pretty.

    That was the main issue with our product, the requirements-per-customer (at the web-level) and potential for change between them meant having to do the things I've outlined in that series.

    That said, as I've already pointed out repeatedly - I *don't* use Reflection.Emit in more recent iterations of the code, instead heavily relying on our IOC container to get the right implementation of the controller based on the current customer.

    I guess I *could* update MvcEx with this code, but all that ever was, was a reference implementation outlining what we *wanted* from a multi-tenant application - it's for this reason I've resisted upgrading it to MVC2 despite many requests, because I don't want people *using* it!

    Anyway, good to see more people getting noisy about multi-tenancy, developing a multi-tenant MVC app is like pissing in the wind at the moment.

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