.NET Framework

.NET Framework

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.NET Framework
Developer Microsoft
Latest release 3.5.21022.8 / November 19, 2007
OS Windows XP, Windows 2003, Windows Vista and above
Genre System platform
License MS-EULA, BCL under Microsoft Reference License[1]

The Microsoft .NET Framework is a software component that is a part of Microsoft Windows operating systems. It has a large library of pre-coded solutions to common program requirements, and manages the execution of programs written specifically for the framework. The .NET Framework is a key Microsoft offering, and is intended to be used by most new applications created for the Windows platform.

The pre-coded solutions that form the framework's Base Class Library cover a large range of programming needs in areas including: user interface, data access, database connectivity, cryptography, web application development, numeric algorithms, and network communications. The class library is used by programmers who combine it with their own code to produce applications.

Programs written for the .NET Framework execute in a software environment that manages the program's runtime requirements. This runtime environment, which is also a part of the .NET Framework, is known as the Common Language Runtime (CLR). The CLR provides the appearance of an application virtual machine, so that programmers need not consider the capabilities of the specific CPU that will execute the program. The CLR also provides other important services such as security mechanisms, memory management, and exception handling. The class library and the CLR together compose the .NET Framework.

The .NET Framework is included with Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista, and can be installed on most older versions of Windows.

Design goals and principal features

Microsoft .NET Framework was designed with several intentions:

  • Interoperability - Because interaction between new and older applications is commonly required, the .NET Framework provides means to access functionality that is implemented in programs that execute outside the .NET environment. Access to COM components is provided in the System.Runtime.InteropServices and System.EnterpriseServices namespaces of the framework, and access to other functionality is provided using the P/Invoke feature.
  • Common Runtime Engine - Programming languages on the .NET Framework compile into an intermediate language known as the Common Intermediate Language, or CIL (formerly known as Microsoft Intermediate Language, or MSIL). In Microsoft's implementation, this intermediate language is not interpreted, but rather compiled in a manner known as just-in-time compilation (JIT) into native code. The combination of these concepts is called the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI), a specification; Microsoft's implementation of the CLI is known as the Common Language Runtime (CLR).
  • Language Independence - The .NET Framework introduces a Common Type System, or CTS. The CTS specification defines all possible datatypes and programming constructs supported by the CLR and how they may or may not interact with each other. Because of this feature, the .NET Framework supports development in multiple programming languages. This is discussed in more detail in Microsoft .NET Languages.
  • Base Class Library - The Base Class Library (BCL), part of the Framework Class Library (FCL), is a library of functionality available to all languages using the .NET Framework. The BCL provides classes which encapsulate a number of common functions, including file reading and writing, graphic rendering, database interaction and XML document manipulation.
  • Simplified Deployment - Installation of computer software must be carefully managed to ensure that it does not interfere with previously installed software, and that it conforms to increasingly stringent security requirements. The NET framework includes design features and tools that help address these requirements.
  • Security - The design is meant to address some of the vulnerabilities, such as buffer overflows, that have been exploited by malicious software. Additionally, .NET would provide a common security model for all applications.
  • Portability - A design goal of the .NET Framework is to remain platform agnostic, and thus be cross platform compatible. That is, a program written to use the framework should run without change on any type of system for which the framework is implemented. Microsoft's commercial implementations of the framework cover Windows, Windows CE, and the XBox 360. Microsoft has also released implementations that can run on some Unix-based platforms such as FreeBSD and Mac OSX, but license restrictions limit these to educational use only. In addition, Microsoft submits the specifications for the Common Language Infrastructure (which includes the core class libraries, Common Type System, and the Common Intermediate Language)[2][3][4], and the C# language[5], and the C++/CLI language[6] to both ECMA and the ISO, making them available as open standards. This makes it possible for third parties to freely implement compatible implementations of the framework and its languages on other platforms.


Visual overview of the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI)
Visual overview of the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI)

[edit] CLI

The core aspects of the .NET framework lie within the Common Language Infrastructure, or CLI. The purpose of the CLI is to provide a language-agnostic platform for application development and execution, including functions for exception handling, garbage collection, security, and interoperability. Microsoft's implementation of the CLI is called the Common Language Runtime, or CLR. The CLR is composed of four primary parts:

[edit] Assemblies

Main article: .NET assembly

The intermediate CIL code is housed in .NET assemblies. As mandated by specification, assemblies are stored in the Portable Executable (PE) format, common on the Windows platform for all DLL and EXE files. The assembly consists of one or more files, but one of these must contain the manifest, which has the metadata for the assembly. The complete name of an assembly (not to be confused with the filename on disk) contains its simple text name, version number, culture and public key token. The public key token is a unique hash generated when the assembly is compiled; thus two assemblies with the same public key token are guaranteed to be identical. A private key can also be specified known only to the creator of the assembly and can be used for strong naming and to guarantee that the assembly is from the same author when a new version of the assembly is compiled (required to add an assembly to the Global Assembly Cache).


Main article: .NET metadata

All CIL is Self-Describing through .NET metadata. The CLR checks on metadata to ensure that the correct method is called. Metadata is usually generated by language compilers but developers can create their own metadata through custom attributes. Metadata also contains information about the assembly. Metadata is also used to implement the reflective programming capabilities of .NET Framework.

Class library

Main article: Base Class Library

The Base Class Library, sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Framework Class Library (FCL) (which is a superset including the Microsoft.* namespaces), is a library of classes available to all languages using the .NET Framework. The BCL provides classes which encapsulate a number of common functions such as file reading and writing, graphic rendering, database interaction, XML document manipulation, and so forth. The BCL is much larger than other libraries, but has much more functionality in one package.

[edit] Security

.NET has its own security mechanism, with two general features: Code Access Security (CAS), and validation and verification. Code Access Security is based on evidence that is associated with a specific assembly. Typically the evidence is the source of the assembly (whether it is installed on the local machine, or has been downloaded from the intranet or Internet). Code Access Security uses evidence to determine the permissions granted to the code. Other code can demand that calling code is granted a specified permission. The demand causes the CLR to perform a call stack walk: every assembly of each method in the call stack is checked for the required permission and if any assembly is not granted the permission then a security exception is thrown.

When an assembly is loaded the CLR performs various tests. Two such tests are validation and verification. During validation the CLR checks that the assembly contains valid metadata and CIL, and it checks that the internal tables are correct. Verification is not so exact. The verification mechanism checks to see if the code does anything that is 'unsafe'. The algorithm used is quite conservative and hence sometimes code that is 'safe' is not verified. Unsafe code will only be executed if the assembly has the 'skip verification' permission, which generally means code that is installed on the local machine.

.NET Framework uses appdomains as a mechanism for isolating code running in a process. Appdomains can be created and code loaded into or unloaded from them independent of other appdomains. This helps increase fault tolerance of the application, as faults or crashes in one appdomain does not affect rest of the application. Appdomains can also be configured independently with different security privileges. This can help increasing security of the application by separating potentially unsafe code. However, the developer has to split the application into subdomains, it is not done by the CLR.

[edit] Memory management

The .NET Framework CLR frees up the developer from the burden of managing memory (allocating and freeing up when done); instead it does the memory management itself. To this end, the memory allocated to instantiations of .NET types (objects) is done contiguously[7] from the managed heap, a pool of memory managed by the CLR. As long as there exists a reference to an object, which might be either a direct reference to an object or via a graph of objects, the object is considered to be in use by the CLR. When there is no reference to an object, and thus cannot be reached or used, it becomes garbage. However, it still holds on to the memory allocated to it. .NET Framework includes a garbage collector which runs periodically, on a separate thread than the application's thread, that enumerates all the unusable objects and reclaims the memory allocated to them.

The .NET Garbage Collector (GC) is a non-deterministic, compacting, mark-and-sweep garbage collector. The GC runs only when a certain amount of memory has been used or there is enough pressure for memory on the system. Since it is not guaranteed when the conditions to reclaim memory is reached, the GC runs are non-deterministic. Each .NET application has a set of roots , which are a set of pointers maintained by the CLR that point to objects on the managed heap (managed objects). These include references to static objects and objects defined as local variables or method parameters currently in scope, as well as objects referred to by CPU registers.[7] When the GC runs, it pauses the application, and for each objects referred to in the root, it recursively enumerates all the objects reachable from the root objects and marks the objects as reachable. It uses .NET metadata and reflection to discover the objects encapsulated by an object, and then recursively walk them. It then enumerates all the objects on the heap (which were initially allocated contiguously) using reflection and all the objects, not marked as reachable, are garbage.[7] This is the mark phase.[8] Since the memory held by garbage is not of any consequence, it is considered free space. However, this leaves chunks of free space between objects which were initially contiguous. The objects are then compacted together, by using memcpy[8] to copy them over to the free space to make them contiguous again.[7] Any reference to an object invalidated by moving the object is updated to reflect the new location by the GC.[8] The application is resumed after the garbage collection is over.

The GC used by .NET Framework is actually generational.[9] Objects are assigned a generation; newly created objects belong to Generation 0. The objects that survive a garbage collection are tagged as Generation 1, and the Generation 1 objects that survive another collection are Generation 2 objects. The .NET Framework uses up to Generation 2 objects.[9] Higher generation objects are garbage collected less frequently then lower generation objects. This helps increase the efficiency of garbage collection, as older objects tend to have a larger lifetime than newer objects.[9] Thus, by removing older (and thus more likely to survive a collection) objects from the scope of a collection run, fewer objects need to be checked and compacted.[9]

[edit] Standardization and licensing

In August 2000, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel worked to standardize CLI and the C# programming language. By December 2001, both were ratified ECMA standards (ECMA 335 and ECMA 334). ISO followed in April 2003 (ISO/IEC 23271 and ISO/IEC 23270).

While Microsoft and their partners hold patents for the CLI and C#, ECMA and ISO require that all patents essential to implementation be made available under "reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) terms." In addition to meeting these terms, the companies have agreed to make the patents available royalty-free.

However, this does not apply for the part of the .NET Framework which is not covered by the ECMA/ISO standard, which includes Windows Forms, ADO.NET, and ASP.NET. Patents that Microsoft holds in these areas may deter non-Microsoft implementations of the full framework.

On October 3, 2007, Microsoft announced that much of the source code for the .NET Framework Base Class Library (including ASP.NET, ADO.NET and Windows Presentation Foundation) will be made available with the final release of Visual Studio 2008 towards the end of 2007 under the shared source Microsoft Reference License.[1] The source code for other libraries including Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) and Language Integrated Query (LINQ) will be added in future releases. Being released under the Microsoft Reference License means this source code is made available for debugging purpose only, primarily to support integrated debugging of the BCL in Visual Studio.

[edit] Versions

Microsoft started development on the .NET Framework in the late 1990s, originally under the name of Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS). By late 2000, the first beta versions of .NET 1.0 were being released. [10]

The .NET Framework stack.
The .NET Framework stack.
Version Name Version Number Release Date
Pre-beta ?.?.????.? 2000-07-11
1.0 Beta 1 1.0.????.0 November 2000
1.0 Beta 2 1.0.2914.0 2001-06-20
1.0 RTM 1.0.3705.0 2002-01-05
1.0 SP1 1.0.3705.209 2002-03-19
1.0 SP2 1.0.3705.288 2002-08-07
1.0 SP3 1.0.3705.6018 2004-08-31
1.1 RTM 1.1.4322.573 2003-04-01
1.1 SP1 1.1.4322.2032 2004-08-30
1.1 SP1 (W2k3) 1.1.4322.2300 2005-03-30
2.0 RTM 2.0.50727.42 2005-11-07
2.0 RTM (Vista) 2.0.50727.312 2007-01-30
2.0 (KB928365) 2.0.50727.832 2007-07-10
2.0 SP1 2.0.50727.1433 2007-11-19
3.0 RTM 3.0.4506.30 2006-11-06
3.0 RTM (Vista) 3.0.4506.26 2007-01-30
3.0 SP1 3.0.4506.648 2007-11-19
3.5 RTM 3.5.21022.8 2007-11-19
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