What is .NET technologies?

Many people think of PHP, Ruby on Rails or Python and Django when choosing a language to create a new website or when choosing a language to learn to get that exciting new job. .NET, however, seems to occupy a space somewhat apart from this playground of cool kids. It’s always the last to be picked for team sports; it was shouting “Wassup!” at parties well after 2000; and it has been just plain left out in the cold.
I’m not one of these people. In fact, I’m quite a fan of .NET and have found it great to develop with since moving away from PHP in the early days of my career. With its great tools, large community and broad applicability (mobile, Xbox, desktop and Web) it’s both powerful and fun.
Let’s be honest, though. I’m probably already playing devil’s advocate. So, let’s see if I can convince you, a seasoned non-.NET developer, to try it out.
If you’re already a .NET developer, you might still find something new in the code sample, so I urge you to take a look.

.NET? Link

Let’s be clear on what we mean by .NET, as opposed to IIS (which is a Windows Web server), C# (one of the .NET languages) and ASP Classic (the previous interpreted ASP from back in the day). First, the decision to become a .NET developer is not necessarily a choice of language. Although the majority of developers out there work with C# and most jobs are for C#, you can also code using the .NET framework in Visual Basic (VB), F#, IronRubyIronPython and others, taking advantage of the same base libraries. Admittedly, paid work for ASP.NET is mainly done with C# and VB. For fun, though, and to show how many options you have when developing on the .NET platform, the code sample below will include some of the more obscure methods of rendering a Web page using .NET.
So by “.NET,” we really mean the Common Language Runtime (CLR) (and/or the Dynamic Language Runtime for Iron* languages), which is essentially the virtual machine that the various languages accompanied by the base class libraries can run on. Frameworks are then built on top of that for Windows, Xbox, mobile and Web.


Knowing that .NET is a runtime, we can infer that it is not inherently tied to a particular platform. Of course, the Microsoft CLR is the most common, but Mono is an open-source implementation that runs on Mac and Linux. The mono project also provides us with mod_mono (Apache), monotouch (iPhone) and monodroid (Android) as alternate platforms on which to run our C# code.
To differentiate it further, unlike scripting, interpreted per request languages such as classic ASP and PHP, C# is compiled. This means you don’t have to worry about including files or following naming conventions and folder structures to ensure auto class loading, nor do you have to rely on modules or add-ons to provide such things as RAM-based caching. In fact, the integration goes deeper, allowing you to write modules for IIS (which is the Web server itself) in C#.
So, if you take the time to get to grips with .NET, you can take advantage of these ancillary benefits. Maybe make a game for Windows or Xbox using XNA, or make a app for Windows Phone 7 or Surface. Not to say that every .NET developer is doing these things, but by knowing C# and the wider .NET world, you can very easily jump around the ecosystem trying them out, all using the same tools and core languages and all rounding you out well as a developer.
To see examples of .NET in the wild, take a look at Stack OverflowWired.co.ukGoDaddy, aspects of the Sims and Unity 3. It’s not just for big enterprise B2Bs or people who are still running IE 6. And you can work with commercial products beyond just EPiServer and Kentico. The mono projects mentioned above are open source; and so, too, are a plethora of apps (e.g. Umbraco) and libraries (often found via the NuGet package manager).
Before we get too much into advertising territory, let’s be realistic. Plenty of negative opinions about .NET are out there. Some of these are myths, some are problems that have been addressed, and some are genuine problems that you’ll have to balance against the pros.

Tools Link

Most people have heard of Visual Studio. It’s pretty awesome. Yes, you do have to pay for it, but you can also get a free version. In fact, you can get it pretty easily using the Web Platform Installer, which will also install the IIS Express Web server and a SQL Server Express database if needed. (“Express” means “small-scale” and “free” in the world of Microsoft.)
If you want the full versions but don’t want to pay, then consider applying to Microsoft BizSpark (or, if you’re a student, DreamSpark). You’ll get access to the Microsoft stack for free for three years (after which, your business will be thriving and you can pay for it, or else it’s not and you’ll
pay a $100 exit feegraduate). But to be honest, you probably won’t need it, particularly in the early days or if you’re a hobbyist.
Of course, these are all Windows tools. If you’re not on Windows, then you might opt for Mono Develop.
You could even go half and half: running VS as your IDE, coding in C#, but connecting to a MySQL or Postgres database. Nothing stops you, and support is available. This will even save you from having to consider the cost of production SQL server licenses.

Some Context (Headscape) Link

This article has been a bit of a whistle stop tour through the .NET ecosystem. The intention was to ground experienced developers in what .NET is about, at least from my perspective, enticing you to make small changes to the sample code to see how you fare. Although I’m not suggesting that you make your controllers in IronPython or F#, hopefully I’ve shown how easily these languages can be used in a .NET project, whether it be to reuse some existing logic or to take a more dynamic or functional approach to an aspect of your work. It should also now be clear that .NET is embracing open source. Not only do some of its own offerings carry open-source licenses, but the default MVC project includes jQuery and Modernizr, and people are contributing frameworks and applications.
To give some context to all of this, I work as the lead back-end developer at Headscape, a design and development agency in the south of England. Although I wouldn’t identify ourselves as a “.NET house,” we do use it extensively, having grown from using ASP Classic to using the technologies that Microsoft grew it into. We even started out using the free Express editions of the tools. Our projects over time have been created in Web forms, VB and C#, but we do not shy away from using other technologies. We also use WordPress, Magento and other non-.NET projects. Playing around in the .NET ecosystem, however, has enabled me to have a go at XNA game development, to play with Python in a framework that I already know, and to look into mobile development in my downtime.


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