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ADO.NET: More than a Matter of ABCs

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How does ADO.NET differ from its predecessor, ADO? Tech journalist Jacqueline Emigh gets to the bottom of this new set of architectural blocks.
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Microsoft is vaunting ADO.NET as a catch-all cure for raising database performance, achieving XML interoperability, and ultimately saving on development time. Yet ADO.NET isn't all that easy to use, especially at first. To make the most of the new database development architecture, you need to learn the ins and outs of DataSets and a number of other esoteric new concepts. You'll also find that some components you might need, such as ODBC.NET Data Provider, are still available only through downloads.

At this point, many developers readily admit to feeling daunted. "It appears that it is definitely harder to learn and program ADO.NET than other data access technologies Microsoft has introduced," writes one database developer in an Internet newsgroup.

"I understand that ADO.NET has good new functionalities. (Yet) if I'd wanted to write thousands of lines of code instead of hundreds, I would have already chosen Java instead of VB," complains another developer.

"You'll need to start thinking in the ADO.NET way instead of the old ADO way," advises Andrew J. Brust, a consultant and frequent speaker on the topic of ADO.NET.

"At first, you may be taken aback because some lines of code are a little longer and more complex," contends Brust, who is president of Progressive Systems Consulting, Inc. "I've definitely mentored people. However, ADO.NET does have a lot of advantages."

Even Microsoft acknowledges the greater complexities of ADO.NET. "With ADO.NET, little is done for you 'under the covers,'" say Microsoft's Dennis Lu and Doug Rothaus in a whitepaper posted on the MSDN Web site.

However, it doesn't necessarily take lots of preparation to get started with ADO.NET, according to Brust. "The connection, command, and DataReader objects are 'the big three.' You can probably 'make do' just knowing about these."

XML Data Transport

ADO.NET brings such a huge departure from ADO that many accuse Microsoft of misnaming the software. Why did Microsoft nearly reinvent the wheel? For one thing, ADO.NET adds the ability to transport all data in XML format for fine-grained descriptions of database documents that can be used across platforms, advocates say.

Brust says: "With one set of code, you can export all the XML information with all the detail items nicely indented. You could also export XML with regular ADO, but you practically had to turn handsprings to get it to read."

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