|This article does not cite any references or sources. (February 2010)|
ASP.NET HTTP Handlers are a new technique presented in ASP.NET that was not present in the "Classic" ASP. HTTP Handlers are components that implement the
System.Web.IHttpHandler interface. Unlike ASP.NET Pages, they have no HTML-markup file, no events and other supporting. All they have is a code-file (written in any .NET-compatible language) that writes some data to the server HTTP response. HTTP handlers are similar to ISAPI extensions.
An ASP.NET HTTP handler is basically a process that runs in response to a request made to an ASP.NET Web application. The most common handler is the ASP.NET page handler that processes .aspx files. When users request an .aspx file, the request is processed by the page through the page handler.
An HTTP module is an assembly that is called on every request that is made to your application. HTTP modules are called as part of the ASP.NET request pipeline and have access to life-cycle events throughout the request. HTTP modules let you examine incoming and outgoing requests and take action based on the request.
Unlike pages, that have ".aspx" file extension, ASP.NET handlers by default have ".ashx" file extension.
Handlers are considered to be more lightweight object than pages. That's why they are used to serve dynamically-generated images, on-the-fly generated PDF-files and similar content to the web browser.