What is .NET Framework?

.NET Framework is a software development framework created by Microsoft for building and running computer applications on the Windows Operating System. It was the premier Common Language Infrastructure in development until the introduction of .NET. Microsoft has stopped running updates to the .NET Framework after version 4.8 (released in April 2019); they now focus on .NET– a cross-platform replacement to .NET Framework.

What is a Programming Framework?

To further understand .NET and how it works, it’s essential to know what a programming framework means in computer programming. Programming frameworks (or frameworks for short) are tools that provide a programmer with the components and structure required for application development. Frameworks also set boundaries/limitations on using a particular programming language.

Frameworks help programmers eliminate the need to deal with standard low-level programming details and focus on the actual development process, thereby speeding up development. The use of frameworks makes it possible to have a universal set of solutions for multiple programmers. A framework can consist of support programs, compilers, code libraries, toolsets, and APIs for software development and system creation.

There are various types of frameworks for different development needs; they include:

The Components Of the .NET Framework

1. Supported Programming Languages And Their Compilers

Every framework has a programming language intended to work for; for example, people use Django for Python development, and Node.js for JavaScript. .NET Framework supports up to 32 programming languages, although the major ones are C#, F#, and VB.NET

Compilers are programs that translate code from one programming language to another. In most cases, the term compiler refers to programs that translate code from a high-level language to a lower-level language that the computer can understand and execute. Every programming language contained in .NET Framework also has its compiler installed.

Less popular languages that the .NET Framework supports are A Sharp (.NET), Boo, Cobra, Fantom, IronPython, Oxygene, and Sharp,

2. Runtime Environment

A runtime environment/system is an environment within a computer dedicated to running programs. The runtime used in .NET Framework is the Common Language Runtime (CLR). The CLR runs the code and provides services that make the development process more manageable.

Various versions of the .NET Framework use different CLR versions; below is a table showing each .NET Framework version and its CLR.

Version CLRRelease Date

3. Framework Class Library (FCL)

.NET Framework has a collection of in-built libraries known as the Framework Class Library (FCL). FCL is a collection of classes, interfaces, and value types that you can reuse in different projects. 

The FCL in .NET Framework makes the programmer’s job easier by handling many standard functions like:

  • Reading and writing of files.
  • Network communication.
  • Manipulation of XML documents.
  • Exception handling.
  • Reflection and threading, etc.

4. Package Manager (NuGet)

Apart from using the built-in libraries, programmers can also access packages built by other developers on the NuGet package manager. NuGet is the free and open-source package manager designed for .NET Framework developers to share reusable code. You need to download the NuGet command-line app to create and use NuGet packages on your projects.

5. Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

To use .NET Framework, you need to install an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) known as Visual Studio. The Visual Studio IDE is an essential tool for facilitating .NET application development. The Visual Studio IDE helps to make .NET development easy by providing services such as:

  • Support for code written in multiple languages.
  • A code editor that supports code refactoring and IntelliSense.
  • A built-in browser to view online content like source code and help.
  • Fully-customizable IDE environment to meet the user’s needs.
  • Ability to add tools and plugins.
  • A debugging tool that works at the source and machine level.

Every version of the .NET Framework has a version of the Visual Studio IDE compatible with it. Below is a table representing the correlation between .NET Framework and IDE versions.

.NET Framework VersionIDE Version
1.1VS.NET 2003
2.0VS 2005
3.0Expression Blend
3.5VS 2008
4.0VS 2010
4.5VS 2012
4.8VS 2015

How To Install And Setup .NET Framework

There are two sets of people who need to install the .NET Framework on their computers– developers who want to use the framework and computer users who want to run an application written on the .NET Framework.

Installing .NET Framework For Developers

The steps to take if you want to install .NET Framework as a developer are as follows:

  1. Visit the Visual Studio download page and click the Community free download version.
  2. Once you download the app, install the .exe file.
  3. Select the type of software development you intend to do with the .NET Framework on the Workload pane of the Visual Studio Installer.
  4. Click the Individual components tab to select the versions of the .NET Framework with which you want to work.
  5. If you need to, you can also download whatever language packs you need.
  6. After selecting all you need, select the Install while download option on the dropdown located at the bottom-right corner.
  7. Click the Modify button to download and install the necessary files. After installation, you are good to go.

Installing .NET Framework For Users

As a computer user who has an application written on the .NET Framework, the application won’t work unless you install .NET Framework on your system. The steps to do so are as follows:

  1. Visit the .NET Framework download page and select the latest version.
  2. Once the download is complete, install the file with the default settings.
  3. .NET Framework should be installed and activated on your computer and your application ready to run.

.NET Framework version 4.8 is the latest and last version produced by Microsoft, and installing this version should meet your .NET Framework needs. Installing a new version would overwrite any older versions you have installed on your system.

How Does .NET Framework Work?

.NET Framework does a lot under the hood to make writing and running applications possible for developers and users. Below is an overview of how the framework functions:

1. You Write Code In Supported Languages

You can write programs on .NET Framework in one or more languages that the framework supports. 

2. .NET Framework Compiles The Code Into Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL)

.NET Framework contains compilers that compile your code to an intermediate language called Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL). This MSIL is a managed binary and not the native machine code/binary you would get from using a regular compiler. The .NET runtime executes the managed binary.

The compilation used by .NET Framework is the Just In Time (JIT) compilation. Regular compilers use the Ahead Of Time (AOT) compilation technique, making the program always ready to be executed by your machine. With JIT compilation, the runtime first runs the program and compiles it down to native code just in time.

Advantages Of Using .NET Framework For Development

1. Language Interoperability and Integration

.NET Framework’s Common Language Runtime (CLR) makes it possible for developers to create modules of a single application in different languages. Integrating various languages reduces the need to learn or hire developers in a particular language.

2. Backward Support

When you write a program using .NET Framework, you don’t have to bother about the program getting obsolete with new updates. Each new version of the .NET Framework can seamlessly run programs written in older versions.

3. Security

.NET Framework has an inbuilt security mechanism that helps verify and validate applications. You can define each application’s security mechanism, which determines the user’s access to the code or program.

4. Object-oriented Programming

Newer versions of Visual Studio allow developers on the .NET Framework to execute OOP code on their applications.

5. Language Independence

A software development team can consist of developers in various programming languages as long as they are supported.

6. Memory Management 

The Common Language Runtime on .NET Framework manages the system memory through the Garbage Collector program. The Garbage Collector runs at intervals to detect and release resources not used by a running program.

7. Code Sharing And Reusability

.NET allows you to share and reuse bits of code that you and .NET developers have created on the NuGet package manager; this speeds up the development process.

.NET Framework For Cross-Platform Development

Initially, .NET Framework focused solely on Windows application development until the creation of Mono. Mono is an implementation of .NET on Android, Linux, and Mac machines.

In June 2016, Microsoft created the first version of .NET Core– an official cross-platform implementation of .NET that runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac. Usually, programmers could not share code written in .NET Core to .NET Framework and vice versa. Soon, there was a method of writing class libraries known as .NET Standard that programmers could use on different .NET implementations.

From version 5 of .NET Core, the framework began to be known simply as .NET, and in April 2022, the latest stable version of .NET is .NET 6.0. .NET 6.0 takes away the need for .NET Standard as code written on .NET can run on .NET Framework also.

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