ASP.NET- "Download as Word/Excel"

In ASP.NET, we use the MIME type and Response.AddHeader method to Download Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel documents. Due to the popularity & convenience that Microsoft Word & Excel offer, you may have run into umpteen sites that offer visitors to download reports or the like as Word or Excel documents. While this can be accomplished with Office Automation or expensive tools, be aware that is there a lightweight technique available.

A Little Background First

I "discovered" Office HTML & XML two summers ago when I had to implement "Download as Word Document" functionality for a report with customized features, through a web page without using any third party utility. Among other things, I had to allow users to download a report as a Word document with PRINT LAYOUT.

In Office 2000 (& above) documents can be converted from Word to HTML (File->Save As) and vice versa! It is interesting to see how an Office Document renders HTML & CSS on thus saving as Web page. By understanding and emulating this conversion technique, we can generate Word or Excel documents through web pages. The various formatting features in the Office document are defined through XML as explained in the Microsoft Office HTML and XML Reference. By manipulating these properties exposed through XML programmatically, we can incorporate custom formatting capability in the Office docs that we offer for downloading.

The document properties (defined as XML elements) common to Office applications are prefixed with "o:" while Word specific properties are prefixed with "w:" and Excel properties are prefixed with "x:" specific properties

The View element specifies a document's view setting. It can have the following values:

  • MasterPages
  • Normal
  • Print
  • Web (default)

By setting the value of the View explicitly from the default "Web" layout view to "Print" - <w:View>Print</w:View> (as shown below), the downloadable Word document can be made to open with the Print layout.


To get a low down on the Office XML Elements dig into the downloadable Office HTML and XML Reference mentioned above.

The (inline) VB.NET code below shows how to allow dynamic content to be downloaded as a Word document with the required Word formatting features. We first build the content with the Office style settings. Just to demonstrate that we will be streaming dynamic content, I will be showing the date & time at which the page is accessed with DateTime.Now

Finally by setting the MIME type to application/msword using Response.AppendHeader (instead of AddHeader method which is only used for backward compatibility) and also specifying the filename with "content-disposition" header, the HTML content can be forced to be downloaded as a Word .doc file with the desired file name.

<%@ Page Language="VB" %>
<script runat="server">

Public Sub Page_Load(sender as Object, e as EventArgs)

'build the content for the dynamic Word document
in HTML alongwith some Office specific style properties.

Dim strBody = New StringBuilder("")

strBody =   "<html xmlns:o='urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office' " & _
"xmlns:w='urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:word'" & _
"xmlns=''>" & _

    strBody =   strBody + _
                  "<!--[if gte mso 9]>" & _
"<xml>" & _
"<w:WordDocument>" & _
"<w:View>Print</w:View>" & _
"<w:Zoom>90</w:Zoom>  " & _
"</w:WordDocument>" & _
"</xml>" & _

    strBody = strBody + _
               "<style>" & _
"<!-- /* Style Definitions
*/@page Section1{size:8.5in 11.0in;" & _
margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in " & _
1.25in;mso-header-margin:.5in; " & _
mso-footer-margin:.5in;    mso-paper-source:0;}" " & _
    "div.Section1{page:Section1;}-->" & _

    strBody = strBody + _
                 "<body lang=EN-US style='tab-interval:.5in'>" & _
"<div class=Section1><h1>Time and tide wait for none</h1>" & _
"<p style='color:red'><I>" & DateTime.Now & "</I></p>"& _

    'Force this content to be downloaded
as a Word document with the name of your choice

Response.AppendHeader("Content-disposition", _
"attachment; filename=myword.doc")
End Sub

Implementing the "Download as Excel" feature

I recently stumbled upon a elegant example that utilizes the same technique to implement "Download as Excel" functionality for a web page with content from a data source. I got this from among a bunch of re-usable utility methods that Daniel Olson has shared.

The method DataTable2ExcelString() takes a DataTable & converts its contents into a HTML table. This string containing the HTML table is then streamed as MIME content to Excel on the client and thus implementing the "Download as Excel" feature becomes a cinch.

Here's a little C# snippet that illustrates how easy it is to use it -

//for demo purpose, lets create a small datatable & populate it with dummy data
System.Data.DataTable workTable = new System.Data.DataTable();

//The tablename specified here will be set as the worksheet name of the generated Excel file.
workTable.TableName = "Customers";
System.Data.DataRow workRow;

for (int i = 0; i <= 9; i++)
workRow = workTable.NewRow();
workRow[0] = i;
workRow[1] = "CustName" + i.ToString();

//...and lets put DataTable2ExcelString to work
string strBody = DataTable2ExcelString(workTable);

Response.AppendHeader("Content-Type", "application/");
Response.AppendHeader("Content-disposition", "attachment; filename=my.xls");

The complete source code can be viewed here. For a more detailed description of the DataTable2ExcelString method, check the author’s documentation.

The same idea can be adapted for generating Word documents with dynamic content from a web page. The code samples and their output can be viewed from this landing page. This technique can be used with any server side language.

The possibilities with Office HTML & XML programmability are immense. This article described a lightweight method to generate a Excel document dynamically over the Web with content from any data source, by tapping the rich formatting properties offered through Office HTML & XML.

Update (Feb 3, 2007)

Adding a Custom Header & Footer to the dynamically generated Excel sheet

Excel uses CSS and @page definitions to store some page setup settings. If you want a Header & Footer to appear when the downloaded Excel sheet is printed, use the  mso-header-data & mso-footer-data style attributes like this -

mso-header-data : '&R Date: &D Time: &T';
mso-footer-data : '&L Proprietary & Confidential &R Page &P of &N';

&L is used for left-aligning text and &R for right-aligning text in the header/footer. The other metacharacters and their meanings (extracted from the "Headers and Footers" section of the Office HTML & XML Reference) are listed below  -

&C - Center-aligned data
&D - Date
&T - Time
&P - Page number
&N - Number of pages
&B - Bold
&I - Italic
&\0022fontname\,fontstyle\0022&fontsize - Font name, style, and size

To see this feature in action, check the working sample and source code. Print preview the downloaded Excel file to notice the Header & Footer.

By mv ark   Popularity  (32095 Views)
Biography - mv ark
M.V. 'Anil' Radhakrishna is a seasoned developer who enjoys working with Microsoft tools & technologies. He blogs his little discoveries and about Web development tips, tricks and trivia quite regularly. You can find some of his unusual code samples & snippets at his Code Gallery.