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Introducing the .NET Platform

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By learning about the .NET environment, you can gain an understanding of what .NET is and what it means to you. This chapter covers the platform issues most essential to building C# applications.
This chapter is from the book


  • What Is .NET?
  • The Common Language Runtime (CLR)
  • The .NET Framework Class Library (FCL)
  • C# and Other .NET Languages
  • The Common Type System (CTS)
  • The Common Language Specification (CLS)

As a C# developer, it's important to understand the environment you are building applications on: Microsoft .NET (pronounced “Dot Net”). After all, your design and development decisions will often be influenced by code-compilation practicalities, the results of compilation, and the behavior of applications in the runtime environment. The foundation of all .NET development begins here, and throughout this book I occasionally refer back to this chapter when explaining concepts that affect the practical implementation of C#.

By learning about the .NET environment, you can gain an understanding of what .NET is and what it means to you. You learn about the parts of .NET, including the Common Language Runtime (CLR), the .NET Framework Class Library, and how .NET supports multiple languages. Along the way, you see how the parts of .NET tie together, their relationships, and what they do for you. First, however, you need to know what .NET is, which is explained in the next section.

What Is .NET?

Microsoft .NET, which I refer to as just .NET, is a platform for developing “managed” software. The word managed is key here—a concept setting the .NET platform apart from many other development environments. I'll explain what the word managed means and why it is an integral capability of the .NET platform.

When referring to other development environments, as in the preceding paragraph, I'm focusing on the traditional practice of compiling to an executable file that contains machine code and how that file is loaded and executed by the operating system. Figure 1.1 shows what I mean about the traditional compilation-to-execution process.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 Traditional compilation.

In the traditional compilation process, the executable file is binary and can be executed by the operating system immediately. However, in the managed environment of .NET, the file produced by the compiler (the C# compiler in our case) is not an executable binary. Instead, it is an assembly, shown in Figure 1.2, which contains metadata and intermediate language code.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 Managed compilation.

As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, an assembly contains intermediate language and metadata rather than binary code. This intermediate language is called Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL), which is commonly referred to as IL. IL is a high-level, component-based assembly language. In later sections of this chapter, you learn how IL supports a common type system and multiple languages in the same platform.

The other part of an assembly is metadata, which is extra information about the code being used in the assembly. Figure 1.3 shows the contents of an assembly.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 Assembly contents.

Figure 1.3 is a simplified version of an assembly, showing only those parts pertaining to the current discussion. Assemblies have other features that illustrate the difference between an assembly and an executable file. Specifically, the role of an assembly is to be a unit of deployment, execution, identity, and security in the managed environment. In Part X, Chapters 43 and 44 explain more about the role of the assembly in deployment, identity, and security. The fact that an assembly contains metadata and IL, instead of only binary code, has a significant advantage, allowing execution in a managed environment. The next section explains how the CLR uses the features of an assembly to manage code during execution.

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