ASMX SOAP Webservices with abstract models without using XmlInclude

I’m hoping this post might be useful to some folks out there that might be stuck using old ASMX/SOAP webservices in ASP.Net. If you’ve tried to return an abstract or superclass from an ASMX webservice without using XmlInclude or SoapInclude, you’ll get an error like:

System.InvalidOperationException: There was an error generating the XML document. ---> System.InvalidOperationException: The type MyAwesomeClass was not expected. Use the XmlInclude or SoapInclude attribute to specify types that are not known statically.
   at Microsoft.Xml.Serialization.GeneratedAssembly.XmlSerializationWriter1.Write6_Item(String n, String ns, Item o, Boolean isNullable, Boolean needType)
   at Microsoft.Xml.Serialization.GeneratedAssembly.XmlSerializationWriter1.Write10_Item(Object o)
   at Microsoft.Xml.Serialization.GeneratedAssembly.ItemSerializer.Serialize(Object objectToSerialize, XmlSerializationWriter writer)
   at System.Xml.Serialization.XmlSerializer.Serialize(XmlWriter xmlWriter, Object o, XmlSerializerNamespaces namespaces, String encodingStyle, String id)
   --- End of inner exception stack trace ---
   at System.Xml.Serialization.XmlSerializer.Serialize(XmlWriter xmlWriter, Object o, XmlSerializerNamespaces namespaces, String encodingStyle, String id)
   at System.Xml.Serialization.XmlSerializer.Serialize(TextWriter textWriter, Object o, XmlSerializerNamespaces namespaces)
   at System.Web.Services.Protocols.XmlReturnWriter.Write(HttpResponse response, Stream outputStream, Object returnValue)
   at System.Web.Services.Protocols.HttpServerProtocol.WriteReturns(Object[] returnValues, Stream outputStream)
   at System.Web.Services.Protocols.WebServiceHandler.WriteReturns(Object[] returnValues)
   at System.Web.Services.Protocols.WebServiceHandler.Invoke()

The normal way to work around this is to attribute your ASMX class with [XmlInclude(typeof(MyAwesomeClass)] and repeat this for every subclass that you might be returning. This essentially tells the SOAP handler what types it should expect to serialize so it can ‘warm’ up a list of XmlSerializers.

The problem with this is that you need to know about all of these types up-front, but what if you have a plugin system where other developers can define their own types? There would be no way of knowing up-front what types to register so this approach will not work.

IXmlSerializer to the rescue

To work around this problem you can define a wrapper class for your abstract/superclass.  Working with IXmlSerializer is pretty annoying and I highly recommend this great article if you are going to use it since one mistake can cause all sorts of problems

The following class should work for any object. Also note the usage of the static dictionary to store references to created XmlSerializer instances since these are expensive to create per type.

public class SerializedObjectWrapper : IXmlSerializable
    /// <summary>
    /// The underlying Object reference that is being returned
    /// </summary>
    public object Object { get; set; }

    /// <summary>
    /// This is used because creating XmlSerializers are expensive
    /// </summary>
    private static readonly ConcurrentDictionary<Type, XmlSerializer> TypeSerializers 
        = new ConcurrentDictionary<Type, XmlSerializer>();

    public XmlSchema GetSchema()
        return null;

    public void ReadXml(XmlReader reader)

        //Get the Item type attribute
        var itemType = reader.GetAttribute("ItemType");
        if (itemType == null) throw new InvalidOperationException("ItemType attribute cannot be null");
        //Ensure the type is found in the app domain
        var itemTypeType = Type.GetType(itemType);
        if (itemTypeType == null) throw new InvalidOperationException("Could not find the type " + itemType);

        var isEmptyElement = reader.IsEmptyElement;

        if (isEmptyElement == false)
            var serializer = TypeSerializers.GetOrAdd(itemTypeType, t => new XmlSerializer(t));
            Object = serializer.Deserialize(reader);

    public void WriteXml(XmlWriter writer)
        var itemType = Object.GetType();
        var serializer = TypeSerializers.GetOrAdd(itemType, t => new XmlSerializer(t));
        //writes the object type so we can use that to deserialize later
            itemType.AssemblyQualifiedName ?? Object.GetType().ToString());

        serializer.Serialize(writer, Object);


Here’s an example of the usage of the SerializedObjectWrapper class along with the example that would cause the above mentioned exception so you can see the difference:

public abstract class MyAbstractClass

public class MyAwesomeClass : MyAbstractClass

public MyAbstractClass GetStuff()
    return new MyAwesomeClass();

public SerializedObjectWrapper GetStuff()
    return new SerializedObjectWrapper
        Object = new MyAwesomeClass()


I know most people aren’t using AMSX web services anymore but in case your stuck on an old project or have inherited one, this might be of use :)


Shannon Thompson

I'm a Senior Software Engineer working full time at Microsoft. Previously, I was working at Umbraco HQ for about 10 years. I maintain several open source projects (many related to Umbraco) such as Articulate, Examine and Smidge, and I also have a commercial software offering called ExamineX. Welcome to my blog :)

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