.NET Framework is a software framework developed by Microsoft that runs primarily on Microsoft Windows. It includes a large class library named Framework Class Library (FCL) and provides language interoperability (each language can use code written in other languages) across several programming languages. Programs written for .NET Framework execute in a software environment (in contrast to a hardware environment) named Common Language Runtime (CLR), an application virtual machine that provides services such as security, memory management, and exception handling. As such, computer code written using .NET Framework is called "managed code". FCL and CLR together constitute the .NET Framework.
FCL provides user interface, data access, database connectivity, cryptography, web application development, numeric algorithms, and network communications. Programmers produce software by combining their source code with .NET Framework and other libraries. The framework is intended to be used by most new applications created for the Windows platform. Microsoft also produces an integrated development environment largely for .NET software called Visual Studio.
.NET Framework began as proprietary software, although the firm worked to standardize the software stack almost immediately, even before its first release. Despite the standardization efforts, developers, mainly those in the free and open-source software communities, expressed their unease with the selected terms and the prospects of any free and open-source implementation, especially regarding software patents. Since then, Microsoft has changed .NET development to more closely follow a contemporary model of a community-developed software project, including issuing an update to its patent promising to address the concerns.
.NET Framework led to a family of .NET platforms targeting mobile computing, embedded devices, alternative operating systems, and web browser plug-ins. A reduced version of the framework, .NET Compact Framework, is available on Windows CE platforms, including Windows Mobile devices such as smartphones. .NET Micro Framework is targeted at very resource-constrained embedded devices. Silverlight was available as a web browser plugin. Mono is available for many operating systems and is customized into popular smartphone operating systems (Android and iOS) and game engines. .NET Core targets the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), and cross-platform and cloud computing workloads.
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F.A.Q. about .Net Development
When Microsoft formally introduced its .NET strategy in mid-2000, analysts were confused about how the company would pull off such a massive platform shift. Over two years later, they're still wondering. But .NET isn't vaporware, and it's not a pipe dream. In fact, .NET is happening today.
What is .NET?
Actually, .NET is many things, but primarily it's a marketing term for a set of products and technologies that Microsoft is creating to move personal and enterprise computing beyond the PC desktop and into a distributed Internet-based environment. So .NET--which was originally called Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS)--is also a platform, one that Microsoft sees as the successor to Windows. The .NET platform is based on Web services which are, in turn, defined by a language called XML.
What is XML?
XML--the eXtensible Markup Language--is a self-descriptive, data definition language. It's structure is similar to HTML, the language of the Web, but it's far more powerful because it's not limited to a static list of language constructs ("tags") that the language's authors supply. Instead, XML is extensible and dynamic: Programmers can define new types of data using XML and then describe that data so that others will know how to use it.
What are Web services?
Web services are functions exposed by server-side applications. They are programmable units that other applications (and Web services) can access over the Internet.
Does .NET require Windows?
Technically, no, but realistically, yes. It's possible the .NET platform could be ported to other operating systems, such as Linux, FreeBSD, the Macintosh, or whatever, and indeed, some work is being done now in this area. However, .NET very much requires Windows today, on both the server and the client. One might say that .NET and Windows have a symbiotic relationship going forward.
Is .NET is being ported to Linux?
Yes. A company called Ximian is porting the standards-based parts of .NET to Linux as you read this, and the work is amazingly far along. Code-named Mono, this project seeks to bring the C# programming language, the Common Language Runtime (CLR, see below), and other .NET features to Linux.
On a related note, Microsoft has contracted Corel (makers of CorelDRAW and Word Perfect) to port .NET to FreeBSD.
Isn't .NET just another name for COM, COM+, Windows DNA, or some other previous Windows technology?
Actually, no. Microsoft spent considerable time and effort developing and promoting a set of Windows technologies that was at various times called OLE, COM, COM+, and Windows DNA (Distributed InterNet Architecture) but .NET is not the next iteration. Windows DNA, which was the final umbrella term for this set of technologies, was based around a concept where Windows-based software components could expose their services for other local and remote Windows software components. But though this sounds passingly similar to .NET, Windows DNA is very much based on proprietary Windows technologies. By comparison, .NET is based on open standards (XML and various related technologies), so it will be much easier for other vendors to adopt the platform and write compatible software. So we can eventually expect to see .NET clients and servers on platforms other than Windows.
So what technologies are part of .NET?
.NET is comprised of several related technologies, including:
.NET Framework - A runtime environment and set of standard services which .NET capable applications and services can utilize. Implemented as a code library, the .NET Framework includes the Common Language Runtime (CLR), the .NET run-time environment; ASP .NET, a Web applications platform; and ADO .NET, for data store access.
.NET Compact Framework - A subset of the .NET Framework designed for Pocket PCs, Microsoft Smart Phones, and other Windows CE .NET-based mobile devices.
MSN consumer services - Microsoft will use its consumer-oriented MSN online service to expose Web services to individuals. The current version, MSN 8, includes the .NET Passport's authentication services, email, address book, calendaring and tasks, and other similar services.
.NET Enterprise Servers - An extensive set of Microsoft server software that runs on Windows servers, including Application Server, BizTalk Server, Exchange Server, Host Integration Server, Internet Security and Acceleration Server, SQL Server, and many others. Microsoft is currently shipping many such server products, but they are all based on Windows DNA currently, not .NET. Future server products--beginning with Windows .NET Server 2003, due in April 2003--will actually be based on .NET technologies for the first time.
Visual Studio .NET - Microsoft's .NET development environment, with support for languages such as Visual Basic .NET, Visual C++ .NET, Visual C# .NET, and Visual J#, which all target the .NET Framework. Other vendors can add other language capabilities to Visual Studio .NET, and the suite can be used to target a wide range of applications and services, including .NET Web services, Windows applications, and Web applications. Note that Visual Studio .NET is not required to create .NET applications and services: Developers can download the .NET Framework for free; this download includes compilers for Visual Basic .NET, Visual C++ .NET and Visual C# .NET.
OK, so what's the point? How does this make my life better?
With apologies to Microsoft for stealing the term, .NET enables a better PC ecosystem. That is, by making life easier for everyone involved with PCs, the benefits are cross-pollinated. Here's how .NET makes life easier on various groups:
Programmers - Because developers now have a consistent, language-neutral programming environment, they can create better applications and services more quickly. And because .NET encompasses such a wider range of functionality, those applications and services can be connected to back-end services via the Internet, offering better, and more exciting functionality.
IT administrators - Because .NET applications and services do away with the "DLL Hell" found in previous Windows applications, they are amazingly easy to distribute and install.
End users - For the reasons listed above, and many others, a new generation of .NET applications and services will provide new types of connected functionality. Access your email from anywhere. Pay for products online without typing in your credit card information. Access weather, traffic, music, and other personal information from a variety of devices, from anywhere in the world. The future is all connected, and .NET will get us there.