Wiley | 978-0-470-19137-8 | Datasheet | Wiley Professional C# 2008

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Part I
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The C# Language
Chapter 2: C# Basics
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Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
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Chapter 3: Objects and Types
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Chapter 4: Inheritance
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Chapter 5: Arrays
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Chapter 6: Operators and Casts
Chapter 7: Delegates and Events
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Chapter 8: Strings and Regular Expressions
Chapter 9: Generics
Chapter 10: Collections
Chapter 11: Language Integrated Query
Chapter 12: Memory Management and Pointers
Chapter 13: Reflection
Chapter 14: Errors and Exceptions
. NET Architecture
Throughout this book, we emphasize that the C# language must be considered in parallel with the
.NET Framework, rather than viewed in isolation. The C# compiler specifically targets .NET,
which means that all code written in C# will always run within the .NET Framework. This has two
important consequences for the C# language:
1.
2.
The architecture and methodologies of C# reflect the underlying methodologies of .NET.
In many cases, specific language features of C# actually depend on features of .NET, or of
the .NET base classes.
Because of this dependence, it is important to gain some understanding of the architecture and
methodology of .NET before you begin C# programming. That is the purpose of this chapter. The
following is an outline of what this chapter covers:
❑
This chapter begins by explaining what happens when all code (including C#) that targets
.NET is compiled and run.
❑
Once you have this broad overview, you take a more detailed look at the Microsoft
Intermediate Language (MSIL or simply IL); the assembly language that all compiled code
ends up in on .NET. In particular, you see how IL, in partnership with the Common Type
System (CTS) and Common Language Specification (CLS), works to give you interoperability
between languages that target .NET. This chapter also discusses where common languages
(including Visual Basic and C++) fit into .NET.
❑
Next, you move on to examine some of the other features of .NET, including assemblies,
namespaces, and the .NET base classes.
❑
The chapter finishes with a brief look at the kinds of applications you can create as a C#
developer.
Part I: The C# Language
The Relationship of C# to . NET
C# is a relatively new programming language and is significant in two respects:
❑
It is specifically designed and targeted for use with Microsoft’s .NET Framework (a feature-rich
platform for the development, deployment, and execution of distributed applications).
❑
It is a language based on the modern object-oriented design methodology, and, when designing
it, Microsoft learned from the experience of all the other similar languages that have been
around since object-oriented principles came to prominence some 20 years ago.
One important thing to make clear is that C# is a language in its own right. Although it is designed to
generate code that targets the .NET environment, it is not itself part of .NET. Some features are
supported by .NET but not by C#, and you might be surprised to learn that some features of the C#
language are not supported by .NET (for example, some instances of operator overloading)!
However, because the C# language is intended for use with .NET, it is important for you to have an
understanding of this Framework if you want to develop applications in C# effectively. Therefore, this
chapter takes some time to peek underneath the surface of .NET. Let’s get started.
The Common Language Runtime
Central to the .NET Framework is its runtime execution environment, known as the Common Language
Runtime (CLR) or the .NET runtime. Code running under the control of the CLR is often termed
managed code.
However, before it can be executed by the CLR, any source code that you develop (in C# or some other
language) needs to be compiled. Compilation occurs in two steps in .NET:
1.
2.
Compilation of source code to IL.
Compilation of IL to platform-specific code by the CLR.
This two-stage compilation process is very important, because the existence of the IL (managed code) is
the key to providing many of the benefits of .NET.
Microsoft Intermediate Language shares with Java byte code the idea that it is a low-level language with
a simple syntax (based on numeric codes rather than text), which can be very quickly translated into
native machine code. Having this well-defined universal syntax for code has significant advantages:
platform independence, performance improvement, and language interoperability.
Platform Independence
First, platform independence means that the same file containing byte code instructions can be placed on
any platform; at runtime, the final stage of compilation can then be easily accomplished so that the code will
run on that particular platform. In other words, by compiling to IL you obtain platform independence for
.NET, in much the same way as compiling to Java byte code gives Java platform independence.
Note that the platform independence of .NET is only theoretical at present because, at the time of writing, a
complete implementation of .NET is available only for Windows. However, a partial implementation is
available (see, for example, the Mono project, an effort to create an open source implementation of .NET,
at www.go-mono.com).
Performance Improvement
Although we previously made comparisons with Java, IL is actually a bit more ambitious than Java byte
code. IL is always Just-in-Time compiled (known as JIT compilation), whereas Java byte code was often
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Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
interpreted. One of the disadvantages of Java was that, on execution, the process of translating from Java
byte code to native executable resulted in a loss of performance (with the exception of more recent cases,
where Java is JIT compiled on certain platforms).
Instead of compiling the entire application in one go (which could lead to a slow startup time), the JIT
compiler simply compiles each portion of code as it is called (just in time). When code has been compiled
once, the resultant native executable is stored until the application exits so that it does not need to be
recompiled the next time that portion of code is run. Microsoft argues that this process is more efficient
than compiling the entire application code at the start, because of the likelihood that large portions of
any application code will not actually be executed in any given run. Using the JIT compiler, such code
will never be compiled.
This explains why we can expect that execution of managed IL code will be almost as fast as executing
native machine code. What it does not explain is why Microsoft expects that we will get a performance
improvement. The reason given for this is that, because the final stage of compilation takes place at
runtime, the JIT compiler will know exactly what processor type the program will run on. This means
that it can optimize the final executable code to take advantage of any features or particular machine
code instructions offered by that particular processor.
Traditional compilers will optimize the code, but they can only perform optimizations that are
independent of the particular processor that the code will run on. This is because traditional compilers
compile to native executable before the software is shipped. This means that the compiler does not know
what type of processor the code will run on beyond basic generalities, such as that it will be an x86compatible processor or an Alpha processor. The older Visual Studio 6, for example, optimizes for a
generic Pentium machine, so the code that it generates cannot take advantage of hardware features of
Pentium III processors. However, the JIT compiler can do all the optimizations that Visual Studio 6 can,
and in addition, it will optimize for the particular processor that the code is running on.
Language Interoperability
The use of IL not only enables platform independence; it also facilitates language interoperability. Simply
put, you can compile to IL from one language, and this compiled code should then be interoperable with
code that has been compiled to IL from another language.
You are probably now wondering which languages aside from C# are interoperable with .NET; the
following sections briefly discuss how some of the other common languages fit into .NET.
Visual Basic 2008
Visual Basic .NET 2002 underwent a complete revamp from Visual Basic 6 to bring it up to date with the
first version of the .NET Framework. The Visual Basic language itself had dramatically evolved from
VB6, and this meant that VB6 was not a suitable language for running .NET programs. For example, VB6
is heavily integrated into Component Object Model (COM) and works by exposing only event handlers
as source code to the developer — most of the background code is not available as source code. Not only
that; it does not support implementation inheritance, and the standard data types that Visual Basic 6
uses are incompatible with .NET.
Visual Basic 6 was upgraded to Visual Basic .NET in 2002, and the changes that were made to the
language are so extensive you might as well regard Visual Basic as a new language. Existing Visual
Basic 6 code does not compile to the present Visual Basic 2008 code (or to Visual Basic .NET 2002, 2003,
and 2005 for that matter). Converting a Visual Basic 6 program to Visual Basic 2008 requires extensive
changes to the code. However, Visual Studio 2008 (the upgrade of Visual Studio for use with .NET) can
do most of the changes for you. If you attempt to read a Visual Basic 6 project into Visual Studio 2008, it
will upgrade the project for you, which means that it will rewrite the Visual Basic 6 source code into
Visual Basic 2008 source code. Although this means that the work involved for you is heavily cut down,
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Part I: The C# Language
you will need to check through the new Visual Basic 2008 code to make sure that the project still works
as intended because the conversion might not be perfect.
One side effect of this language upgrade is that it is no longer possible to compile Visual Basic 2008 to
native executable code. Visual Basic 2008 compiles only to IL, just as C# does. If you need to continue
coding in Visual Basic 6, you can do so, but the executable code produced will completely ignore the
.NET Framework, and you will need to keep Visual Studio 6 installed if you want to continue to work in
this developer environment.
Visual C++ 2008
Visual C++ 6 already had a large number of Microsoft-specific extensions on Windows. With Visual C++
.NET, extensions have been added to support the .NET Framework. This means that existing C++ source
code will continue to compile to native executable code without modification. It also means, however,
that it will run independently of the .NET runtime. If you want your C++ code to run within the .NET
Framework, you can simply add the following line to the beginning of your code:
#using <mscorlib.dll>
You can also pass the flag /clr to the compiler, which then assumes that you want to compile to
managed code, and will hence emit IL instead of native machine code. The interesting thing about C++ is
that when you compile to managed code, the compiler can emit IL that contains an embedded native
executable. This means that you can mix managed types and unmanaged types in your C++ code. Thus
the managed C++ code
class MyClass
{
defines a plain C++ class, whereas the code
ref class MyClass
{
gives you a managed class, just as if you had written the class in C# or Visual Basic 2008. The advantage
of using managed C++ over C# code is that you can call unmanaged C++ classes from managed C++
code without having to resort to COM interop.
The compiler raises an error if you attempt to use features that are not supported by .NET on managed
types (for example, templates or multiple inheritances of classes). You will also find that you will need to
use nonstandard C++ features when using managed classes.
Because of the freedom that C++ allows in terms of low-level pointer manipulation and so on, the C++
compiler is not able to generate code that will pass the CLR’s memory type-safety tests. If it is important
that your code be recognized by the CLR as memory type-safe, you will need to write your source code
in some other language (such as C# or Visual Basic 2008).
COM and COM+
Technically speaking, COM and COM+ are not technologies targeted at .NET, because components
based on them cannot be compiled into IL (although it is possible to do so to some degree using
managed C++, if the original COM component was written in C++). However, COM+ remains an
important tool, because its features are not duplicated in .NET. Also, COM components will still work —
and .NET incorporates COM interoperability features that make it possible for managed code to call up
COM components and vice versa (this is discussed in Chapter 24, “Interoperability”). In general,
however, you will probably find it more convenient for most purposes to code new components as .NET
components, so that you can take advantage of the .NET base classes as well as the other benefits of
running as managed code.
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Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
A Closer Look at Intermediate Language
From what you learned in the previous section, Microsoft Intermediate Language obviously plays a
fundamental role in the .NET Framework. As C# developers, we now understand that our C# code will
be compiled into IL before it is executed (indeed, the C# compiler compiles only to managed code). It
makes sense, then, to now take a closer look at the main characteristics of IL, because any language that
targets .NET will logically need to support the main characteristics of IL, too.
Here are the important features of IL:
❑
Object orientation and use of interfaces
❑
Strong distinction between value and reference types
❑
Strong data typing
❑
Error handling using exceptions
❑
Use of attributes
The following sections explore each of these characteristics.
Support for Object Orientation and Interfaces
The language independence of .NET does have some practical limitations. IL is inevitably going to
implement some particular programming methodology, which means that languages targeting it need to
be compatible with that methodology. The particular route that Microsoft has chosen to follow for IL is
that of classic object-oriented programming, with single implementation inheritance of classes.
If you are unfamiliar with the concepts of object orientation, refer to Appendix B, “C#, Visual Basic,
C++/CLI,” for more information.
In addition to classic object-oriented programming, IL also brings in the idea of interfaces, which saw
their first implementation under Windows with COM. Interfaces built using .NET produce interfaces
that are not the same as COM interfaces. They do not need to support any of the COM infrastructure
(for example, they are not derived from IUnknown, and they do not have associated globally unique
identifiers, more commonly know as GUIDs). However, they do share with COM interfaces the idea that
they provide a contract, and classes that implement a given interface must provide implementations of
the methods and properties specified by that interface.
You have now seen that working with .NET means compiling to IL, and that in turn means that you will
need to use traditional object-oriented methodologies. However, that alone is not sufficient to give you
language interoperability. After all, C++ and Java both use the same object-oriented paradigms, but they
are still not regarded as interoperable. We need to look a little more closely at the concept of language
interoperability.
To start with, we need to consider exactly what we mean by language interoperability. After all, COM
allowed components written in different languages to work together in the sense of calling each other ’s
methods. What was inadequate about that? COM, by virtue of being a binary standard, did allow
components to instantiate other components and call methods or properties against them, without
worrying about the language in which the respective components were written. To achieve this,
however, each object had to be instantiated through the COM runtime, and accessed through an
interface. Depending on the threading models of the relative components, there may have been large
performance losses associated with marshaling data between apartments or running components or both
on different threads. In the extreme case of components hosted as an executable rather than DLL files,
separate processes would need to be created to run them. The emphasis was very much that components
could talk to each other but only via the COM runtime. In no way with COM did components written in
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Part I: The C# Language
different languages directly communicate with each other, or instantiate instances of each other — it was
always done with COM as an intermediary. Not only that, but the COM architecture did not permit
implementation inheritance, which meant that it lost many of the advantages of object-oriented
programming.
An associated problem was that, when debugging, you would still need to debug components written
in different languages independently. It was not possible to step between languages in the debugger.
Therefore, what we really mean by language interoperability is that classes written in one language
should be able to talk directly to classes written in another language. In particular:
❑
A class written in one language can inherit from a class written in another language.
❑
The class can contain an instance of another class, no matter what the languages of the two
classes are.
❑
An object can directly call methods against another object written in another language.
❑
Objects (or references to objects) can be passed around between methods.
❑
When calling methods between languages you can step between the method calls in the
debugger, even when this means stepping between source code written in different languages.
This is all quite an ambitious aim, but amazingly, .NET and IL have achieved it. In the case of stepping
between methods in the debugger, this facility is really offered by the Visual Studio integrated
development environment (IDE) rather than by the CLR itself.
Distinct Value and Reference Types
As with any programming language, IL provides a number of predefined primitive data types. One
characteristic of IL, however, is that it makes a strong distinction between value and reference types.
Value types are those for which a variable directly stores its data, whereas reference types are those for
which a variable simply stores the address at which the corresponding data can be found.
In C++ terms, using reference types can be considered to be similar to accessing a variable through a
pointer, whereas for Visual Basic, the best analogy for reference types are objects, which in Visual Basic 6
are always accessed through references. IL also lays down specifications about data storage: instances of
reference types are always stored in an area of memory known as the managed heap, whereas value types
are normally stored on the stack (although if value types are declared as fields within reference types,
they will be stored inline on the heap). Chapter 2, “C# Basics,” discusses the stack and the heap and
how they work.
Strong Data Typing
One very important aspect of IL is that it is based on exceptionally strong data typing. That means that all
variables are clearly marked as being of a particular, specific data type (there is no room in IL, for
example, for the Variant data type recognized by Visual Basic and scripting languages). In particular, IL
does not normally permit any operations that result in ambiguous data types.
For instance, Visual Basic 6 developers are used to being able to pass variables around without worrying
too much about their types, because Visual Basic 6 automatically performs type conversion. C++
developers are used to routinely casting pointers between different types. Being able to perform this
kind of operation can be great for performance, but it breaks type safety. Hence, it is permitted only
under certain circumstances in some of the languages that compile to managed code. Indeed, pointers
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Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
(as opposed to references) are permitted only in marked blocks of code in C#, and not at all in Visual
Basic (although they are allowed in managed C++). Using pointers in your code causes it to fail the
memory type-safety checks performed by the CLR.
You should note that some languages compatible with .NET, such as Visual Basic 2008, still allow some
laxity in typing, but that is possible only because the compilers behind the scenes ensure that the type
safety is enforced in the emitted IL.
Although enforcing type safety might initially appear to hurt performance, in many cases the benefits
gained from the services provided by .NET that rely on type safety far outweigh this performance loss.
Such services include:
❑
Language interoperability
❑
Garbage collection
❑
Security
❑
Application domains
The following sections take a closer look at why strong data typing is particularly important for these
features of .NET.
The Importance of Strong Data Typing for Language Interoperability
If a class is to derive from or contains instances of other classes, it needs to know about all the data types
used by the other classes. This is why strong data typing is so important. Indeed, it is the absence of any
agreed-on system for specifying this information in the past that has always been the real barrier to
inheritance and interoperability across languages. This kind of information is simply not present in a
standard executable file or DLL.
Suppose that one of the methods of a Visual Basic 2008 class is defined to return an Integer — one of
the standard data types available in Visual Basic 2008. C# simply does not have any data type of that
name. Clearly, you will be able to derive from the class, use this method, and use the return type from C#
code, only if the compiler knows how to map Visual Basic 2008’s Integer type to some known type that
is defined in C#. So, how is this problem circumvented in .NET?
Common Type System
This data type problem is solved in .NET using the Common Type System (CTS). The CTS defines the
predefined data types that are available in IL, so that all languages that target the .NET Framework will
produce compiled code that is ultimately based on these types.
For the previous example, Visual Basic 2008’s Integer is actually a 32-bit signed integer, which maps
exactly to the IL type known as Int32. This will therefore be the data type specified in the IL code.
Because the C# compiler is aware of this type, there is no problem. At source code level, C# refers to
Int32 with the keyword int, so the compiler will simply treat the Visual Basic 2008 method as if it
returned an int.
The CTS does not specify merely primitive data types but a rich hierarchy of types, which includes welldefined points in the hierarchy at which code is permitted to define its own types. The hierarchical
structure of the CTS reflects the single-inheritance object-oriented methodology of IL, and resembles
Figure 1-1.
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Part I: The C# Language
Type
Reference
Type
Interface Types
Value Type
Pointer Types
Built-in Value
Types
Self-describing
Types
User-defined
Value Types
Class Types
Arrays
Enumerations
Boxed Value
Types
Delegates
User-defined
Reference
Types
Figure 1-1
The following table explains the types shown in Figure 1-1.
10
Type
Meaning
Type
Base class that represents any type.
Value Type
Base class that represents any value type.
Reference Types
Any data types that are accessed through a reference and stored
on the heap.
Built-in Value Types
Includes most of the standard primitive types, which represent
numbers, Boolean values, or characters.
Enumerations
Sets of enumerated values.
User-defined Value Types
Types that have been defined in source code and are stored as
value types. In C# terms, this means any struct.
Interface Types
Interfaces.
Pointer Types
Pointers.
Self-describing Types
Data types that provide information about themselves for the
benefit of the garbage collector (see the next section).
Arrays
Any type that contains an array of objects.
Class Types
Types that are self-describing but are not arrays.
Delegates
Types that are designed to hold references to methods.
User-defined Reference
Types
Types that have been defined in source code and are stored as
reference types. In C# terms, this means any class.
Boxed Value Types
A value type that is temporarily wrapped in a reference so that it
can be stored on the heap.
Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
We will not list all of the built-in value types here, because they are covered in detail in Chapter 3,
“Objects and Types.” In C#, each predefined type recognized by the compiler maps onto one of the IL
built-in types. The same is true in Visual Basic 2008.
Common Language Specification
The Common Language Specification (CLS) works with the CTS to ensure language interoperability. The
CLS is a set of minimum standards that all compilers targeting .NET must support. Because IL is a very
rich language, writers of most compilers will prefer to restrict the capabilities of a given compiler to
support only a subset of the facilities offered by IL and the CTS. That is fine, as long as the compiler
supports everything that is defined in the CLS.
It is perfectly acceptable to write non-CLS-compliant code. However, if you do, the compiled IL code is
not guaranteed to be fully language interoperable.
For example, take case sensitivity. IL is case sensitive. Developers who work with case-sensitive
languages regularly take advantage of the flexibility that this case sensitivity gives them when selecting
variable names. Visual Basic 2008, however, is not case sensitive. The CLS works around this by
indicating that CLS-compliant code should not expose any two names that differ only in their case.
Therefore, Visual Basic 2008 code can work with CLS-compliant code.
This example shows that the CLS works in two ways. First, it means that individual compilers do not
have to be powerful enough to support the full features of .NET — this should encourage the
development of compilers for other programming languages that target .NET. Second, it provides a
guarantee that, if you restrict your classes to exposing only CLS-compliant features, then code written in
any other compliant language can use your classes.
The beauty of this idea is that the restriction to using CLS-compliant features applies only to public and
protected members of classes and public classes. Within the private implementations of your classes, you
can write whatever non-CLS code you want, because code in other assemblies (units of managed code;
see later in this chapter) cannot access this part of your code anyway.
We will not go into the details of the CLS specifications here. In general, the CLS will not affect your C#
code very much because there are very few non-CLS-compliant features of C# anyway.
Garbage Collection
The garbage collector is .NET’s answer to memory management and in particular to the question of what
to do about reclaiming memory that running applications ask for. Up until now, two techniques have
been used on the Windows platform for de-allocating memory that processes have dynamically
requested from the system:
❑
Make the application code do it all manually.
❑
Make objects maintain reference counts.
Having the application code responsible for deallocating memory is the technique used by lower-level,
high-performance languages such as C++. It is efficient, and it has the advantage that (in general)
resources are never occupied for longer than necessary. The big disadvantage, however, is the frequency
of bugs. Code that requests memory also should explicitly inform the system when it no longer requires
that memory. However, it is easy to overlook this, resulting in memory leaks.
Although modern developer environments do provide tools to assist in detecting memory leaks, they
remain difficult bugs to track down. That’s because they have no effect until so much memory has been
leaked that Windows refuses to grant any more to the process. By this point, the entire computer may
have appreciably slowed down due to the memory demands being made on it.
Maintaining reference counts is favored in COM. The idea is that each COM component maintains a
count of how many clients are currently maintaining references to it. When this count falls to zero, the
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Part I: The C# Language
component can destroy itself and free up associated memory and resources. The problem with this is
that it still relies on the good behavior of clients to notify the component that they have finished with it.
It takes only one client not to do so, and the object sits in memory. In some ways, this is a potentially
more serious problem than a simple C++-style memory leak because the COM object may exist in its
own process, which means that it will never be removed by the system. (At least with C++ memory
leaks, the system can reclaim all memory when the process terminates.)
The .NET runtime relies on the garbage collector instead. The purpose of this program is to clean up
memory. The idea is that all dynamically requested memory is allocated on the heap (that is true for all
languages, although in the case of .NET, the CLR maintains its own managed heap for .NET applications
to use). Every so often, when .NET detects that the managed heap for a given process is becoming full
and therefore needs tidying up, it calls the garbage collector. The garbage collector runs through
variables currently in scope in your code, examining references to objects stored on the heap to identify
which ones are accessible from your code — that is, which objects have references that refer to them. Any
objects that are not referred to are deemed to be no longer accessible from your code and can therefore be
removed. Java uses a system of garbage collection similar to this.
Garbage collection works in .NET because IL has been designed to facilitate the process. The principle
requires that you cannot get references to existing objects other than by copying existing references and
that IL be type safe. In this context, what we mean is that if any reference to an object exists, then there is
sufficient information in the reference to exactly determine the type of the object.
It would not be possible to use the garbage collection mechanism with a language such as unmanaged
C++, for example, because C++ allows pointers to be freely cast between types.
One important aspect of garbage collection is that it is not deterministic. In other words, you cannot
guarantee when the garbage collector will be called; it will be called when the CLR decides that it is
needed, though it is also possible to override this process and call up the garbage collector in your code.
Security
.NET can really excel in terms of complementing the security mechanisms provided by Windows
because it can offer code-based security, whereas Windows really offers only role-based security.
Role-based security is based on the identity of the account under which the process is running (that is, who
owns and is running the process). Code-based security, by contrast, is based on what the code actually
does and on how much the code is trusted. Thanks to the strong type safety of IL, the CLR is able to
inspect code before running it to determine required security permissions. .NET also offers a mechanism
by which code can indicate in advance what security permissions it will require to run.
The importance of code-based security is that it reduces the risks associated with running code of
dubious origin (such as code that you have downloaded from the Internet). For example, even if code is
running under the administrator account, it is possible to use code-based security to indicate that that
code should still not be permitted to perform certain types of operations that the administrator account
would normally be allowed to do, such as read or write to environment variables, read or write to the
registry, or access the .NET reflection features.
Security issues are covered in more depth in Chapter 20, “Security.”
Application Domains
Application domains are an important innovation in .NET and are designed to ease the overhead
involved when running applications that need to be isolated from each other but that also need to be
able to communicate with each other. The classic example of this is a Web server application, which may
be simultaneously responding to a number of browser requests. It will, therefore, probably have a
number of instances of the component responsible for servicing those requests running simultaneously.
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Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
In pre-.NET days, the choice would be between allowing those instances to share a process (with the
resultant risk of a problem in one running instance bringing the whole Web site down) or isolating those
instances in separate processes (with the associated performance overhead).
Up until now, the only means of isolating code has been through processes. When you start a new
application, it runs within the context of a process. Windows isolates processes from each other through
address spaces. The idea is that each process has available 4GB of virtual memory in which to store its
data and executable code (4GB is for 32-bit systems; 64-bit systems use more memory). Windows
imposes an extra level of indirection by which this virtual memory maps into a particular area of actual
physical memory or disk space. Each process gets a different mapping, with no overlap between the
actual physical memories that the blocks of virtual address space map to (see Figure 1-2).
Physical
Memory
PROCESS 1
Physical memory
or disk space
4GB virtual
memory
PROCESS 2
Physical memory
or disk space
4GB virtual
memory
Figure 1-2
In general, any process is able to access memory only by specifying an address in virtual memory —
processes do not have direct access to physical memory. Hence, it is simply impossible for one process to
access the memory allocated to another process. This provides an excellent guarantee that any badly
behaved code will not be able to damage anything outside of its own address space. (Note that on
Windows 95/98, these safeguards are not quite as thorough as they are on Windows NT/2000/
XP/2003/Vista, so the theoretical possibility exists of applications crashing Windows by writing to
inappropriate memory.)
Processes do not just serve as a way to isolate instances of running code from each other. On Windows
NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista systems, they also form the unit to which security privileges and permissions
are assigned. Each process has its own security token, which indicates to Windows precisely what
operations that process is permitted to do.
Although processes are great for security reasons, their big disadvantage is in the area of performance.
Often, a number of processes will actually be working together, and therefore need to communicate with
each other. The obvious example of this is where a process calls up a COM component, which is an
executable and therefore is required to run in its own process. The same thing happens in COM when
surrogates are used. Because processes cannot share any memory, a complex marshaling process must be
used to copy data between the processes. This results in a very significant performance hit. If you need
components to work together and do not want that performance hit, you must use DLL-based components
and have everything running in the same address space — with the associated risk that a badly behaved
component will bring everything else down.
13
Part I: The C# Language
Application domains are designed as a way of separating components without resulting in the
performance problems associated with passing data between processes. The idea is that any one process
is divided into a number of application domains. Each application domain roughly corresponds to a
single application, and each thread of execution will be running in a particular application domain (see
Figure 1-3).
PROCESS - 4GB virtual memory
APPLICATION DOMAIN:
an application uses some
of this virtual memory
APPLICATION DOMAIN:
another application uses
some of this virtual memory
Figure 1-3
If different executables are running in the same process space, then they are clearly able to easily share
data, because, theoretically, they can directly see each other ’s data. However, although this is possible in
principle, the CLR makes sure that this does not happen in practice by inspecting the code for each
running application to ensure that the code cannot stray outside of its own data areas. This looks, at first,
like an almost impossible task to pull off — after all, how can you tell what the program is going to do
without actually running it?
In fact, it is usually possible to do this because of the strong type safety of the IL. In most cases, unless
code is using unsafe features such as pointers, the data types it is using will ensure that memory is not
accessed inappropriately. For example, .NET array types perform bounds checking to ensure that no
out-of-bounds array operations are permitted. If a running application does need to communicate or
share data with other applications running in different application domains, it must do so by calling on
.NET’s remoting services.
Code that has been verified to check that it cannot access data outside its application domain (other than
through the explicit remoting mechanism) is said to be memory type safe. Such code can safely be run
alongside other type-safe code in different application domains within the same process.
Error Handling with Exceptions
The .NET Framework is designed to facilitate handling of error conditions using the same mechanism,
based on exceptions, that is employed by Java and C++. C++ developers should note that because of IL’s
stronger typing system, there is no performance penalty associated with the use of exceptions with IL in
the way that there is in C++. Also, the finally block, which has long been on many C++ developers’
wish lists, is supported by .NET and by C#.
Exceptions are covered in detail in Chapter 14, “Errors and Exceptions.” Briefly, the idea is that certain
areas of code are designated as exception handler routines, with each one able to deal with a particular
error condition (for example, a file not being found, or being denied permission to perform some
operation). These conditions can be defined as narrowly or as widely as you want. The exception
architecture ensures that when an error condition occurs, execution can immediately jump to the
exception handler routine that is most specifically geared to handle the exception condition in question.
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Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
The architecture of exception handling also provides a convenient means to pass an object containing
precise details of the exception condition to an exception handling routine. This object might include an
appropriate message for the user and details of exactly where in the code the exception was detected.
Most exception-handling architecture, including the control of program flow when an exception occurs,
is handled by the high-level languages (C#, Visual Basic 2008, C++), and is not supported by any special
IL commands. C#, for example, handles exceptions using try{}, catch{}, and finally{} blocks of
code. (For more details, see Chapter 14.)
What .NET does do, however, is provide the infrastructure to allow compilers that target .NET to
support exception handling. In particular, it provides a set of .NET classes that can represent the
exceptions, and the language interoperability to allow the thrown exception objects to be interpreted by
the exception-handling code, regardless of what language the exception-handling code is written in. This
language independence is absent from both the C++ and Java implementations of exception handling,
although it is present to a limited extent in the COM mechanism for handling errors, which involves
returning error codes from methods and passing error objects around. The fact that exceptions are
handled consistently in different languages is a crucial aspect of facilitating multi-language development.
Use of Attributes
Attributes are familiar to developers who use C++ to write COM components (through their use in
Microsoft’s COM Interface Definition Language [IDL]). The initial idea of an attribute was that it
provided extra information concerning some item in the program that could be used by the compiler.
Attributes are supported in .NET — and hence now by C++, C#, and Visual Basic 2008. What is,
however, particularly innovative about attributes in .NET is that you can define your own custom
attributes in your source code. These user-defined attributes will be placed with the metadata for the
corresponding data types or methods. This can be useful for documentation purposes, in which they can
be used in conjunction with reflection technology to perform programming tasks based on attributes. In
addition, in common with the .NET philosophy of language independence, attributes can be defined in
source code in one language and read by code that is written in another language.
Attributes are covered in Chapter 13, “Reflection.”
Assemblies
An assembly is the logical unit that contains compiled code targeted at the .NET Framework. Assemblies
are not covered in detail in this chapter because they are covered thoroughly in Chapter 17,
“Assemblies,” but we summarize the main points here.
An assembly is completely self-describing and is a logical rather than a physical unit, which means that
it can be stored across more than one file (indeed, dynamic assemblies are stored in memory, not on file
at all). If an assembly is stored in more than one file, there will be one main file that contains the entry
point and describes the other files in the assembly.
Note that the same assembly structure is used for both executable code and library code. The only real
difference is that an executable assembly contains a main program entry point, whereas a library
assembly does not.
An important characteristic of assemblies is that they contain metadata that describes the types and
methods defined in the corresponding code. An assembly, however, also contains assembly metadata
that describes the assembly itself. This assembly metadata, contained in an area known as the manifest,
allows checks to be made on the version of the assembly, and on its integrity.
ildasm, a Windows-based utility, can be used to inspect the contents of an assembly, including the
manifest and metadata. ildasm is discussed in Chapter 17, “Assemblies.”
15
Part I: The C# Language
The fact that an assembly contains program metadata means that applications or other assemblies that
call up code in a given assembly do not need to refer to the registry, or to any other data source, to find
out how to use that assembly. This is a significant break from the old COM way of doing things, in which
the GUIDs of the components and interfaces had to be obtained from the registry, and in some cases, the
details of the methods and properties exposed would need to be read from a type library.
Having data spread out in up to three different locations meant there was the obvious risk of something
getting out of synchronization, which would prevent other software from being able to use the
component successfully. With assemblies, there is no risk of this happening, because all the metadata is
stored with the program executable instructions. Note that even though assemblies are stored across
several files, there are still no problems with data going out of synchronization. This is because the file
that contains the assembly entry point also stores details of, and a hash of, the contents of the other files,
which means that if one of the files gets replaced, or in any way tampered with, this will almost certainly
be detected and the assembly will refuse to load.
Assemblies come in two types: private and shared assemblies.
Private Assemblies
Private assemblies are the simplest type. They normally ship with software and are intended to be used
only with that software. The usual scenario in which you will ship private assemblies is when you are
supplying an application in the form of an executable and a number of libraries, where the libraries
contain code that should be used only with that application.
The system guarantees that private assemblies will not be used by other software because an application
may load only private assemblies that are located in the same folder that the main executable is loaded
in, or in a subfolder of it.
Because you would normally expect that commercial software would always be installed in its own
directory, there is no risk of one software package overwriting, modifying, or accidentally loading
private assemblies intended for another package. And, because private assemblies can be used only by
the software package that they are intended for, you have much more control over what software uses
them. There is, therefore, less need to take security precautions because there is no risk, for example, of
some other commercial software overwriting one of your assemblies with some new version of it (apart
from software that is designed specifically to perform malicious damage). There are also no problems
with name collisions. If classes in your private assembly happen to have the same name as classes in
someone else’s private assembly, that does not matter, because any given application will be able to see
only the one set of private assemblies.
Because a private assembly is entirely self-contained, the process of deploying it is simple. You simply
place the appropriate file(s) in the appropriate folder in the file system (no registry entries need to be
made). This process is known as zero impact (xcopy) installation.
Shared Assemblies
Shared assemblies are intended to be common libraries that any other application can use. Because
any other software can access a shared assembly, more precautions need to be taken against the
following risks:
16
❑
Name collisions, where another company’s shared assembly implements types that have the
same names as those in your shared assembly. Because client code can theoretically have access
to both assemblies simultaneously, this could be a serious problem.
❑
The risk of an assembly being overwritten by a different version of the same assembly — the
new version being incompatible with some existing client code.
Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
The solution to these problems is placing shared assemblies in a special directory subtree in the file
system, known as the global assembly cache (GAC). Unlike with private assemblies, this cannot be done
by simply copying the assembly into the appropriate folder — it needs to be specifically installed into
the cache. This process can be performed by a number of .NET utilities and requires certain checks on the
assembly, as well as the set up of a small folder hierarchy within the assembly cache that is used to
ensure assembly integrity.
To prevent name collisions, shared assemblies are given a name based on private key cryptography
(private assemblies are simply given the same name as their main file name). This name is known as a
strong name; it is guaranteed to be unique and must be quoted by applications that reference a shared
assembly.
Problems associated with the risk of overwriting an assembly are addressed by specifying version
information in the assembly manifest and by allowing side-by-side installations.
Reflection
Because assemblies store metadata, including details of all the types and members of these types that are
defined in the assembly, it is possible to access this metadata programmatically. Full details of this are
given in Chapter 13, “Reflection.” This technique, known as reflection, raises interesting possibilities,
because it means that managed code can actually examine other managed code, and can even examine
itself, to determine information about that code. This is most commonly used to obtain the details of
attributes, although you can also use reflection, among other purposes, as an indirect way of
instantiating classes or calling methods, given the names of those classes or methods as strings. In this
way, you could select classes to instantiate methods to call at runtime, rather than at compile time, based
on user input (dynamic binding).
. NET Framework Classes
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of writing managed code, at least from a developer ’s point of view, is
that you get to use the .NET base class library.
The .NET base classes are a massive collection of managed code classes that allow you to do almost any of
the tasks that were previously available through the Windows API. These classes follow the same object
model that IL uses, based on single inheritance. This means that you can either instantiate objects of
whichever .NET base class is appropriate or derive your own classes from them.
The great thing about the .NET base classes is that they have been designed to be very intuitive and easy to
use. For example, to start a thread, you call the Start() method of the Thread class. To disable a TextBox,
you set the Enabled property of a TextBox object to false. This approach — though familiar to Visual
Basic and Java developers, whose respective libraries are just as easy to use — will be a welcome relief
to C++ developers, who for years have had to cope with such API functions as GetDIBits(),
RegisterWndClassEx(), and IsEqualIID(), as well as a whole plethora of functions that required
Windows handles to be passed around.
However, C++ developers always had easy access to the entire Windows API, unlike Visual Basic 6 and
Java developers who were more restricted in terms of the basic operating system functionality that they
have access to from their respective languages. What is new about the .NET base classes is that they
combine the ease of use that was typical of the Visual Basic and Java libraries with the relatively
comprehensive coverage of the Windows API functions. Many features of Windows still are not available
through the base classes, and for those you will need to call into the API functions, but in general, these
are now confined to the more exotic features. For everyday use, you will probably find the base classes
adequate. Moreover, if you do need to call into an API function, .NET offers a so-called platform-invoke that
17
Part I: The C# Language
ensures data types are correctly converted, so the task is no harder than calling the function directly from
C++ code would have been — regardless of whether you are coding in C#, C++, or Visual Basic 2008.
WinCV, a Windows-based utility, can be used to browse the classes, structs, interfaces, and enums in
the base class library. WinCV is discussed in Chapter 15, “Visual Studio 2008.”
Although Chapter 3 is nominally dedicated to the subject of base classes, once we have completed our
coverage of the syntax of the C# language, most of the rest of this book shows you how to use various
classes within the .NET base class library for the .NET Framework 3.5. That is how comprehensive
base classes are. As a rough guide, the areas covered by the .NET 3.5 base classes include:
❑
Core features provided by IL (including the primitive data types in the CTS discussed in
Chapter 3, “Objects and Types”)
❑
Windows GUI support and controls (see Chapters 31, “Windows Forms,” and 34, “Windows
Presentation Foundation”)
❑
Web Forms (ASP.NET, discussed in Chapters 37, “ASP.NET Pages” and 38, “ASP.NET
Development”)
❑
Data access (ADO.NET; see Chapters 26, “Data Access,” 30, “.NET Programming with SQL
Server,” 27 and 29, “LINQ to SQL” and “LINQ to XML” and 28, “Manipulating XML”)
❑
Directory access (see Chapter 46, “Directory Services”)
❑
File system and registry access (see Chapter 25, “Manipulating Files and the Registry”)
❑
Networking and Web browsing (see Chapter 41, “Accessing the Internet”)
❑
.NET attributes and reflection (see Chapter 13, “Reflection”)
❑
Access to aspects of the Windows OS (environment variables and so on; see Chapter 20,
“Security”)
❑
COM interoperability (see Chapters 44, “Enterprise Services” and 24, “Interoperability”)
Incidentally, according to Microsoft sources, a large proportion of the .NET base classes have actually
been written in C#!
Namespaces
Namespaces are the way that .NET avoids name clashes between classes. They are designed to prevent
situations in which you define a class to represent a customer, name your class Customer, and then someone
else does the same thing (a likely scenario — the proportion of businesses that have customers seems to be
quite high).
A namespace is no more than a grouping of data types, but it has the effect that the names of all data
types within a namespace are automatically prefixed with the name of the namespace. It is also possible
to nest namespaces within each other. For example, most of the general-purpose .NET base classes are in
a namespace called System. The base class Array is in this namespace, so its full name is System.Array.
.NET requires all types to be defined in a namespace; for example, you could place your Customer class
in a namespace called YourCompanyName. This class would have the full name YourCompanyName
.Customer.
If a namespace is not explicitly supplied, the type will be added to a nameless global namespace.
Microsoft recommends that for most purposes you supply at least two nested namespace names: the first
one represents the name of your company, and the second one represents the name of the technology or
software package of which the class is a member, such as YourCompanyName.SalesServices.Customer.
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Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
This protects, in most situations, the classes in your application from possible name clashes with classes
written by other organizations.
Chapter 2, “C# Basics,” looks more closely at namespaces.
Creating . NET Applications Using C#
C# can also be used to create console applications: text-only applications that run in a DOS window. You
will probably use console applications when unit testing class libraries, and for creating UNIX or Linux
daemon processes. More often, however, you will use C# to create applications that use many of the
technologies associated with .NET. This section gives you an overview of the different types of
applications that you can write in C#.
Creating ASP.NET Applications
Active Server Pages (ASP) is a Microsoft technology for creating Web pages with dynamic content. An
ASP page is basically an HTML file with embedded chunks of server-side VBScript or JavaScript. When
a client browser requests an ASP page, the Web server delivers the HTML portions of the page,
processing the server-side scripts as it comes to them. Often these scripts query a database for data and
mark up that data in HTML. ASP is an easy way for clients to build browser-based applications.
However, ASP is not without its shortcomings. First, ASP pages sometimes render slowly because the
server-side code is interpreted instead of compiled. Second, ASP files can be difficult to maintain because
they are unstructured; the server-side ASP code and plain HTML are all jumbled up together. Third, ASP
sometimes makes development difficult because there is little support for error handling and typechecking. Specifically, if you are using VBScript and want to implement error handling in your pages,
you must use the On Error Resume Next statement, and follow every component call with a check to
Err.Number to make sure that the call has gone well.
ASP.NET is a complete revision of ASP that fixes many of its problems. It does not replace ASP;
rather, ASP.NET pages can live side by side on the same server with legacy ASP applications. Of course,
you can also program ASP.NET with C#!
The following section explores the key features of ASP.NET. For more details, refer to Chapters 37, “ASP.
NET Pages,” 38, “ASP.NET Development,” and 39, “ASP.NET AJAX.”
Features of ASP.NET
First, and perhaps most important, ASP.NET pages are structured. That is, each page is effectively a class
that inherits from the .NET System.Web.UI.Page class and can override a set of methods that are
evoked during the Page object’s lifetime. (You can think of these events as page-specific cousins of the
OnApplication_Start and OnSession_Start events that went in the global.asa files of plain old
ASP.) Because you can factor a page’s functionality into event handlers with explicit meanings, ASP.NET
pages are easier to understand.
Another nice thing about ASP.NET pages is that you can create them in Visual Studio 2008, the same
environment in which you create the business logic and data access components that those ASP.NET
pages use. A Visual Studio 2008 project, or solution, contains all of the files associated with an application.
Moreover, you can debug your classic ASP pages in the editor as well; in the old days of Visual InterDev,
it was often a vexing challenge to configure InterDev and the project’s Web server to turn debugging on.
For maximum clarity, the ASP.NET code-behind feature lets you take the structured approach even
further. ASP.NET allows you to isolate the server-side functionality of a page to a class, compile that class
into a DLL, and place that DLL into a directory below the HTML portion. A code-behind directive at
the top of the page associates the file with its DLL. When a browser requests the page, the Web server
fires the events in the class in the page’s code-behind DLL.
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Part I: The C# Language
Last, but not least, ASP.NET is remarkable for its increased performance. Whereas classic ASP pages are
interpreted with each page request, the Web server caches ASP.NET pages after compilation. This means
that subsequent requests of an ASP.NET page execute more quickly than the first.
ASP.NET also makes it easy to write pages that cause forms to be displayed by the browser, which you
might use in an intranet environment. The traditional wisdom is that form-based applications offer a
richer user interface but are harder to maintain because they run on so many different machines. For this
reason, people have relied on form-based applications when rich user interfaces were a necessity and
extensive support could be provided to the users.
Web Forms
To make Web page construction even easier, Visual Studio 2008 supplies Web Forms. They allow you to
build ASP.NET pages graphically in the same way that Visual Basic 6 or C++ Builder windows are
created; in other words, by dragging controls from a toolbox onto a form, then flipping over to the code
aspect of that form and writing event handlers for the controls. When you use C# to create a Web Form,
you are creating a C# class that inherits from the Page base class and an ASP.NET page that designates
that class as its code behind. Of course, you do not have to use C# to create a Web Form; you can use
Visual Basic 2008 or another .NET-compliant language just as well.
In the past, the difficulty of Web development discouraged some teams from attempting it. To succeed in
Web development, you needed to know so many different technologies, such as VBScript, ASP, DHTML,
JavaScript, and so on. By applying the Form concepts to Web pages, Web Forms have made Web
development considerably easier.
Web Server Controls
The controls used to populate a Web Form are not controls in the same sense as ActiveX controls. Rather,
they are XML tags in the ASP.NET namespace that the Web browser dynamically transforms into HTML
and client-side script when a page is requested. Amazingly, the Web server is able to render the same
server-side control in different ways, producing a transformation appropriate to the requestor ’s
particular Web browser. This means that it is now easy to write fairly sophisticated user interfaces for
Web pages, without worrying about how to ensure that your page will run on any of the available
browsers — because Web Forms will take care of that for you.
You can use C# or Visual Basic 2008 to expand the Web Form toolbox. Creating a new server-side control
is simply a matter of implementing .NET’s System.Web.UI.WebControls.WebControl class.
XML Web Services
Today, HTML pages account for most of the traffic on the World Wide Web. With XML, however,
computers have a device-independent format to use for communicating with each other on the Web. In
the future, computers may use the Web and XML to communicate information rather than dedicated
lines and proprietary formats such as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). XML Web services are designed
for a service-oriented Web, in which remote computers provide each other with dynamic information
that can be analyzed and reformatted, before final presentation to a user. An XML Web service is an easy
way for a computer to expose information to other computers on the Web in the form of XML.
In technical terms, an XML Web service on .NET is an ASP.NET page that returns XML instead of HTML
to requesting clients. Such pages have a code-behind DLL containing a class that derives from the
WebService class. The Visual Studio 2008 IDE provides an engine that facilitates Web service
development.
An organization might choose to use XML Web services for two main reasons. The first reason is that
they rely on HTTP; XML Web services can use existing networks (HTTP) as a medium for conveying
information. The other is that because XML Web services use XML, the data format is self-describing,
nonproprietary, and platform-independent.
20
Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
Creating Windows Forms
Although C# and .NET are particularly suited to Web development, they still offer splendid support for
so-called fat-client or thick-client apps — applications that must be installed on the end user ’s machine
where most of the processing takes place. This support is from Windows Forms.
A Windows Form is the .NET answer to a Visual Basic 6 Form. To design a graphical window interface,
you just drag controls from a toolbox onto a Windows Form. To determine the window’s behavior, you
write event-handling routines for the form’s controls. A Windows Form project compiles to an executable
that must be installed alongside the .NET runtime on the end user ’s computer. Like other .NET project
types, Windows Form projects are supported by both Visual Basic 2008 and C#. Chapter 31, “Windows
Forms,” examines Windows Forms more closely.
Using the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF)
One of the newest technologies to hit the block is the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). WPF
makes use of XAML in building applications. XAML stands for Extensible Application Markup
Language. This new way of creating applications within a Microsoft environment is something that was
introduced in 2006 and is part of the .NET Framework 3.0 and 3.5. This means that to run any WPF
application, you need to make sure that the .NET Framework 3.0 or 3.5 is installed on the client machine.
WPF applications are available for Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, and Windows
Server 2008 (the only operating systems that allow for the installation of the .NET Framework 3.0 or 3.5).
XAML is the XML declaration that is used to create a form that represents all the visual aspects and
behaviors of the WPF application. Though it is possible to work with a WPF application
programmatically, WPF is a step in the direction of declarative programming, which the industry is
moving to. Declarative programming means that instead of creating objects through programming in a
compiled language such as C#, VB, or Java, you declare everything through XML-type programming.
Chapter 34, “Windows Presentation Foundation” details how to build these new types of applications
using XAML and C#.
Windows Controls
Although Web Forms and Windows Forms are developed in much the same way, you use different kinds
of controls to populate them. Web Forms use Web server controls, and Windows Forms use Windows
Controls.
A Windows Control is a lot like an ActiveX control. After a Windows Control is implemented, it compiles
to a DLL that must be installed on the client’s machine. In fact, the .NET SDK provides a utility that
creates a wrapper for ActiveX controls, so that they can be placed on Windows Forms. As is the case with
Web Controls, Windows Control creation involves deriving from a particular class, System.Windows
.Forms.Control.
Windows Services
A Windows Service (originally called an NT Service) is a program designed to run in the background in
Windows NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista (but not Windows 9x). Services are useful when you want a program to
be running continuously and ready to respond to events without having been explicitly started by the user.
A good example is the World Wide Web Service on Web servers, which listens for Web requests from clients.
It is very easy to write services in C#. .NET Framework base classes are available in the System
.ServiceProcess namespace that handles many of the boilerplate tasks associated with services. In
addition, Visual Studio .NET allows you to create a C# Windows Service project, which uses C# source
21
Part I: The C# Language
code for a basic Windows Service. Chapter 23, “Windows Services,” explores how to write C# Windows
Services.
Windows Communication Foundation (WCF)
Looking at how you move data and services from one point to another using Microsoft-based
technologies, you will find that there are a lot of choices at your disposal. For instance, you can use
ASP.NET Web services, .NET Remoting, Enterprise Services, and MSMQ for starters. What technology
should you use? Well, it really comes down to what you are trying to achieve, because each technology is
better used in a particular situation.
With that in mind, Microsoft brought all of these technologies together, and with the release of the .NET
Framework 3.0 as well as its inclusion in the .NET Framework 3.5, you now have a single way to move
data — the Windows Communication Foundation (WCF). WCF provides you with the ability to build your
service one time and then expose this service in a multitude of ways (under different protocols even) by
just making changes within a configuration file. You will find that WCF is a powerful new way of
connecting disparate systems. Chapter 42, “Windows Communication Foundation,” covers this in detail.
The Role of C# in the . NET Enterprise
Architecture
C# requires the presence of the .NET runtime, and it will probably be a few years before most clients —
particularly most home computers — have .NET installed. In the meantime, installing a C# application is
likely to mean also installing the .NET redistributable components. Because of that, it is likely that we
will see many C# applications first in the enterprise environment. Indeed, C# arguably presents an
outstanding opportunity for organizations that are interested in building robust, n-tiered client-server
applications.
When combined with ADO.NET, C# has the ability to access quickly and generically data stores such as
SQL Server and Oracle databases. The returned datasets can easily be manipulated using the ADO.NET
object model or LINQ, and automatically render as XML for transport across an office intranet.
Once a database schema has been established for a new project, C# presents an excellent medium for
implementing a layer of data access objects, each of which could provide insertion, updates, and deletion
access to a different database table.
Because it’s the first component-based C language, C# is a great language for implementing a business
object tier, too. It encapsulates the messy plumbing for intercomponent communication, leaving
developers free to focus on gluing their data access objects together in methods that accurately enforce
their organizations’ business rules. Moreover, with attributes, C# business objects can be outfitted for
method-level security checks, object pooling, and JIT activation supplied by COM+ Services.
Furthermore, .NET ships with utility programs that allow your new .NET business objects to interface
with legacy COM components.
To create an enterprise application with C#, you create a Class Library project for the data access objects
and another for the business objects. While developing, you can use Console projects to test the methods
on your classes. Fans of extreme programming can build Console projects that can be executed
automatically from batch files to unit test that working code has not been broken.
On a related note, C# and .NET will probably influence the way you physically package your reusable
classes. In the past, many developers crammed a multitude of classes into a single physical component
because this arrangement made deployment a lot easier; if there was a versioning problem, you knew
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Chapter 1: .NET Architecture
just where to look. Because deploying .NET enterprise components involves simply copying files into
directories, developers can now package their classes into more logical, discrete components without
encountering “DLL Hell.”
Last, but not least, ASP.NET pages coded in C# constitute an excellent medium for user interfaces.
Because ASP.NET pages compile, they execute quickly. Because they can be debugged in the Visual
Studio 2008 IDE, they are robust. Because they support full-scale language features such as early
binding, inheritance, and modularization, ASP.NET pages coded in C# are tidy and easily maintained.
Seasoned developers acquire a healthy skepticism about strongly hyped new technologies and
languages and are reluctant to use new platforms simply because they are urged to. If you are an
enterprise developer in an IT department, though, or if you provide application services across the
World Wide Web, let us assure you that C# and .NET offer at least four solid benefits, even if some of the
more exotic features like XML Web services and server-side controls don’t pan out:
❑
Component conflicts will become infrequent and deployment is easier because different versions
of the same component can run side by side on the same machine without conflicting.
❑
Your ASP.NET code will not look like spaghetti code.
❑
You can leverage a lot of the functionality in the .NET base classes.
❑
For applications requiring a Windows Forms user interface, C# makes it very easy to write this
kind of application.
Windows Forms have, to some extent, been downplayed due to the advent of Web Forms and Internetbased applications. However, if you or your colleagues lack expertise in JavaScript, ASP, or related
technologies, Windows Forms are still a viable option for creating a user interface with speed and ease. Just
remember to factor your code so that the user interface logic is separate from the business logic and the
data access code. Doing so will allow you to migrate your application to the browser at some point in the
future if you need to. In addition, it is likely that Windows Forms will remain the dominant user interface
for applications for use in homes and small businesses for a long time to come. In addition to this, the new
smart client features of Windows Forms (the ability to easily work in an online/offline mode) will bring a
new round of exciting applications.
Summar y
This chapter has covered a lot of ground, briefly reviewing important aspects of the .NET Framework
and C#’s relationship to it. It started by discussing how all languages that target .NET are compiled into
Microsoft Intermediate Language (IL) before this is compiled and executed by the Common Language
Runtime (CLR). This chapter also discussed the roles of the following features of .NET in the compilation
and execution process:
❑
Assemblies and .NET base classes
❑
COM components
❑
JIT compilation
❑
Application domains
❑
Garbage collection
Figure 1-4 provides an overview of how these features come into play during compilation and execution.
23
Part I: The C# Language
C# Source
Code
VB.NET
Source Code
COMPILATION
ASSEMBLY
containing IL
CODE
Language
Interoperability
through CTS
and CLS
ASSEMBLY
containing IL
CODE
.NET base
classes
CLR ORGANIZES:
Assemblies
loaded
JIT
compilation
Security
permissions
granted
Memory type
safety checked
EXECUTION
PROCESS
Application domain
CODE EXECUTES
HERE
Creates App
Domain
Garbage collector
cleans up sources
COM interop
services
legacy COM
component
Figure 1-4
You learned about the characteristics of IL, particularly its strong data typing and object orientation, and
how these characteristics influence the languages that target .NET, including C#. You also learned how
the strongly typed nature of IL enables language interoperability, as well as CLR services such as garbage
collection and security. There was also a focus on the Common Language Specification (CLS) and the
Common Type System (CTS) to help deal with language interoperability.
Finally, you learned how C# could be used as the basis for applications that are built on several .NET
technologies, including ASP.NET.
Chapter 2 discusses how to write code in C#.
24
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