Using action-based and verb-based routing in the same ApiController

Action method selection in Web API is a lot smarter than MVC’s. The biggest difference is that the action route parameter is not required, allowing you to select an action based on the HTTP method of the request (verb-based). However, you can run into issues if you try to use both action-based and verb-based routing in the same ApiController.

The Problem

For example, let’s say we have this route:

routes.MapHttpRoute(null, "api/book/{action}", 
    new { controller = @"Book", action = RouteParameter.Optional }, 
    new { action = @"(search|new)?" });

And this controller:

public class BookController : ApiController {

   public object Get() {

   public object Search() {

   public object New() {

Everything works fine when you do GET /api/book/search or GET /api/book/new, but if you try GET /api/book you get the following error: Multiple actions were found that match the request: Get() Search() New().

The first two cases work because, when the action parameter is used, it must match the action method name or alias ([ActionName] attribute), simple as that.

When the action parameter is not used, then action selection is done based on the HTTP method of the request. These includes methods named using the HTTP method as prefix (e.g. Get or GetBook), and methods decorated with a matching HTTP-verb attribute (e.g. [HttpGet]). By these rules, our three methods match and thus we get the error.

The Proposed Solutions

This feature request was reported, but sadly rejected. The proposed solution was, when doing verb-based matching and more than one method matches, exclude all methods decorated with HTTP-verb attributes. We need a way to tell the framework which methods are meant to match the action parameter and which are meant to match the HTTP method. It’s obvious that using both an HTTP-verb attribute and a prefixed name at the same time makes no sense. This solution would be a perfectly good convention for the job.

Another solution proposed by another user, was the use of an attribute to explicitly specify which methods should match the action parameter:

public class NamedActionAttribute : Attribute, IActionMethodSelector {
    public bool IsValidForRequest(HttpControllerContext controllerContext, MethodInfo methodInfo) {
        return controllerContext.RouteData.Values.ContainsKey("action");

Unfortunately, the IActionMethodSelector interface is internal, so we cannot implement this outside the framework.

I’m disappointed that none of these solutions were accepted by the ASP.NET team. Their answer was “use attribute routing instead”.

The Working Solution

Web API has a service called ApiControllerActionSelector we can use to customize action selection.

class CustomApiControllerActionSelector : ApiControllerActionSelector {

   public override HttpActionDescriptor SelectAction(HttpControllerContext controllerContext) {

      IHttpRouteData routeData = controllerContext.RouteData;
      bool containsAction = routeData.Values.ContainsKey("action");
      if (containsAction) {
         return base.SelectAction(controllerContext);

      try {
         routeData.Values["action"] = controllerContext.Request.Method.Method;

         return base.SelectAction(controllerContext);

      } finally {


What the above code does is, if the action parameter is not present then temporarily add it while we do action selection, using the value of the request HTTP method. This means we always do action-based selection, thus avoiding the problem. So, for GET /api/book, it matches the Get method, but it won’t match GetBook.

Hope you like this. Don’t forget to register the service, Application_Start would be a good place to do it:

configuration.Services.Replace(typeof(IHttpActionSelector), new CustomApiControllerActionSelector());

BTW, this is built into MvcCodeRouting now :-)

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Tags: web api
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