C# Tutorial Lesson 1: Introducing the Microsoft .NET Framework

.NET (dot-net) is the name Microsoft gives to its general vision of the future of computing, the view being of a world in which many applications run in a distributed manner across the Internet. We can identify a number of different motivations driving this vision.

Firstly, distributed computing is rather like object oriented programming, in that it encourages specialised code to be collected in one place, rather than copied redundantly in lots of places. There are thus potential efficiency gains to be made in moving to the distributed model.

Secondly, by collecting specialised code in one place and opening up a generally accessible interface to it, different types of machines (phones, handhelds, desktops, etc.) can all be supported with the same code. Hence Microsoft's 'run-anywhere' aspiration.

Thirdly, by controlling real-time access to some of the distributed nodes (especially those concerning authentication), companies like Microsoft can control more easily the running of its applications. It moves applications further into the area of 'services provided' rather than 'objects owned'.

Interestingly, in taking on the .NET vision, Microsoft seems to have given up some of its proprietary tendencies (whereby all the technology it touched was warped towards its Windows operating system). Because it sees its future as providing software services in distributed applications, the .NET framework has been written so that applications on other platforms will be able to access these services. For example, .NET has been built upon open standard technologies like XML and SOAP.

At the development end of the .NET vision is the .NET Framework. This contains the Common Language Runtime, the .NET Framework Classes, and higher-level features like ASP.NET (the next generation of Active Server Pages technologies) and WinForms (for developing desktop applications).

The Common Language Runtime (CLR) manages the execution of code compiled for the .NET platform. The CLR has two interesting features. Firstly, its specification has been opened up so that it can be ported to non-Windows platforms. Secondly, any number of different languages can be used to manipulate the .NET framework classes, and the CLR will support them. This has led one commentator to claim that under .NET the language one uses is a 'lifestyle choice'.

Not all of the supported languages fit entirely neatly into the .NET framework, however (in some cases the fit has been somewhat Procrustean). But the one language that is guaranteed to fit in perfectly is C#. This new language, a successor to C++, has been released in conjunction with the .NET framework, and is likely to be the language of choice for many developers working on .NET applications.

For more information about .NET, see our tutorial, or the reference section (lesson 20).

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