ASP.NET Self Host Static File Server

Continuing in my Owin and Katana series of blog posts, I’m going to demo an ASP.NET Self Host Static File Server. If you have not seen my previous posts in this series, I’ve covered how to self host a Web Api application and how to use Topshelf to debug and run as a windows service.

The wonderful thing about the shift to Owin and Katana with ASP.NET is middleware.

Katana has a file server implementation that you can plugin to your application startup pipeline in order to serve static files either on a filesystem or from embedded resources.


The first thing we will do with our demo application is install the Owin StaticFiles middlware into our project.

Install-Package Microsoft.Owin.StaticFiles

The simplest possible configuration is to call IAppBuilder.UseFileServer(true).  This will enable directory browsing of files from the current location of the executable.

When running our demo application, this results in showing us the directory listing when we pass thru our Web API routes without a match.


Now this isn’t very useful but it displays the simplicity of different Owin middlewares that are available.

UseFileServer has several different overloads:

Name Description
System_CAPS_pubmethodSystem_CAPS_static UseFileServer(IAppBuilder)

Enable all static file middleware (except directory browsing) for the current request path in the current directory.

System_CAPS_pubmethodSystem_CAPS_static UseFileServer(IAppBuilder, Boolean)

Enable all static file middleware on for the current request path in the current directory.

System_CAPS_pubmethodSystem_CAPS_static UseFileServer(IAppBuilder, FileServerOptions)

Enable all static file middleware with the given options

System_CAPS_pubmethodSystem_CAPS_static UseFileServer(IAppBuilder, String)

Enables all static file middleware (except directory browsing) for the given request path from the directory of the same name

For our demo application, we are going to create our File Server to serve files from an Assets directory that lives in the same location as our executable.

Now when we browse we see the files within the Assets directory.


Content Type Provider

The Katana FileServer only serves known content types.  If you try and browse to a file that is not a known content type, it will return a 404.

In my example above, I’ve added a data.json file.  Odd to me was that a json file is not a known content type.  In order to serve json files, we must create our own content type provider and add our mappings.

Now we need to specify our CustomContentProvider in our FileServerOptions.

Source Code

GithubThe source code for this demo is available on Github.

Self Host ASP.NET Web Api as a Windows Service

In my previous blog I demonstrated how to Self Host ASP.NET Web API, which was a very basic console application leveraging Owin and Katana.

The next step in this series is how to turn your console application into a Windows service.

If you have any questions, please follow me on Twitter.

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If you prefer a video tutorial, here is one I published to YouTube outlining a similar example as on this post.

Windows Service Template

The typical way to create a Windows Service is by using the Windows Service template when creating a new project within Visual Studio.

The template will create a Program.cs calling ServiceBase.Run() in the Main() method.

SelfHostServiceBase is the code that will extend ServiceBase.   You would have to implement OnStart() and OnStop()

That’s simplest possible implementation.  Now when you start debugging, you are treated with this wonderful message.


What this means is you must build your Windows service, start it, then attach the debugger to the process.

Doesn’t sound like a fun way to debug does it?


TopshelfThere is a great open source project called Topshelf which allows you to create a windows service which is much easier to debug.

Topshelf is a framework for hosting services written using the .NET framework. The creation of services is simplified, allowing developers to create a simple console application that can be installed as a service using Topshelf. The reason for this is simple: It is far easier to debug a console application than a service. And once the application is tested and ready for production, Topshelf makes it easy to install the application as a service.

First thing is to install Topshelf into your project via nuget.

Install-Package Topshelf

Next we need a tiny bit of code to configure our service with topshelf.

We tell topself which class will contain our service (TopselfService) as well as which method to call when the service starts and stops.

Also, you can define which user the service should run as, as well as the name, display name and description.

Now when you debug the application, it will run just like a Console application, in which you can add breakpoints and debug.

Self Host ASP.NET Web API

To verify my web api application is responding, here is the result from my Postman call



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Source Code

GithubThe source code for this demo is available on Github.


Next up I’ll continue adding to the demo by serving static assets from your self host application.

How to Self Host ASP.NET Web Api

OWINOver the past several months, I’ve talked to a few people that were completely unaware that you could self host ASP.NET Web Api application without the need for IIS.

Anyone who has worked with IIS knows that sometimes it can feel a bit heavy.  Especially if you not using any other features other than serving static content or executing your ASP.NET Web Api.

There are a couple important aspects to cover first which are what makes self hosting possible.

If you have any questions, please follow me on Twitter.

Follow @CodeOpinion on Twitter


OWIN defines a standard interface between .NET web servers and web applications. The goal of the OWIN interface is to decouple server and application, encourage the development of simple modules for .NET web development, and, by being an open standard, stimulate the open source ecosystem of .NET web development tools.

To clarify and reword slightly, OWIN is a open source specification that is not defined by microsoft and is not an actual implementation.


Katana is an open source project by the Microsoft Open Technologies.  It’s a set of components for building and hosting OWIN-based web applications that follows the OWIN  specification.

I’m not entirely sure what the status is of OWIN/Katana within ASP.NET 5 (vNext), however I would like to think the separation between server, host, middleware, and application will continue.

Video Tutorial

If you prefer to follow along with a video tutorial, take a look at the video below.


All of the source code for this demo is available on Github.

The first thing we are going to do for this demo is create a Console Application and add the Owin SelfHost and WebAPI Owin Selfhost nuget packages

PM> Install-Package Microsoft.Owin.SelfHost

PM> Install-Package Microsoft.AspNet.WebApi.OwinSelfHost

Next, we will create a Startup class that will contain the HttpConfiguration similar to how you configure Web Api currently.   The startup class is the implementation of the OWIN specification that our OWIN Self Host implementation will use.  The Startup class must provide a public Configuration() method with the signature void.

Next, we will create a simple ApiController.

Last step is to add the web server implementation to out Program.cs Main() method.  This is done by simply calling out Katana implementation of WebApp.Start and passing our Startup class name as a type argument along with the host/port binding details as the first parameter argument.

That’s it!  Now when I make a call from Postman to http://localhost:8080/api/demo, here are the results:



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Source Code

GithubThe source code for this demo is available on Github.