.NET Software Development: The Definitive Guide

Updated September 9, 2018

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The .NET Platform

We’ve seen .NET grow into a widely used tech for robust, scalable apps. This guide shares everything we've learned about effective .NET development.

Whether you're a beginner or expert, this guide will help master .NET. You'll learn the .NET Framework architecture, C# programming basics, building apps, debugging strategies, security best practices, and advanced concepts.

We’ll also preview the future of .NET with techs like .NET 6, .NET MAUI, and Blazor. Our goal is to help you architect and build expert-level .NET solutions.

Understanding the .NET Platform

What is .NET?

.NET is a platform with tools, languages, and libraries for building diverse apps that run on Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, Android, and more. Key pieces include:

.NET Framework

The original Windows-only .NET for ASP.NET web apps, Windows desktop apps, Windows services, etc.

.NET Core

A cross-platform, open source .NET for web, mobile, desktop, gaming, IoT, and cloud-native apps on Linux, macOS, and Windows. Recently renamed '.NET'.

.NET 5+

The next generation of .NET Core further improving cross-platform development.

Xamarin

A platform for building iOS, Android, and Windows mobile apps with C# and the .NET Framework.

ASP.NET

A web framework on .NET for web apps and APIs.

Entity Framework

An object-relational mapper for .NET simplifying data access.

These provide the foundation for .NET development. They share APIs through .NET Standard, enabling code reuse and portability.

Benefits of the .NET Platform

.NET offers many advantages:

icon productivity

Productivity

C# and F# enable fast development. C# combines ease of use with performance. Debugging and diagnostic tools like Visual Studio also improve productivity.

icon cross-platform

Cross-Platform

With .NET Core and .NET 5+, developers can build for Windows, Linux, macOS, mobile, web, and more from a single codebase. This simplifies development and deployment.

icon open-source

Open Source

Large parts of .NET like ASP.NET Core are open source with active developer communities advancing them.

icon performance

Performance

.NET apps can run fast with just-in-time compilation to machine code and technologies like Span<T> reducing memory allocation.

icon scalibility

Scalability

.NET makes horizontal scaling easy on multiple servers thanks to its stateless architecture. Integrated caching also improves performance.

icon security

Security

.NET has strong capabilities for authentication, authorization, encryption, threat mitigation, and more. Enterprises rely on .NET for secure systems.

These capabilities have made .NET a top choice for enterprise apps, e-commerce, SaaS, gaming backends, and IoT.

The .NET Framework

The .NET Framework uses a multilayered architecture with class libraries and common runtime services.

At the lowest level is the Common Language Runtime (CLR), the execution engine handling compiling and running apps. It provides core services like memory management, security, and threading.

On top of the CLR are the Framework Class Libraries including:

.NET Framework Architecture

net framework introduction

The .NET Framework uses a multilayered architecture with class libraries and common runtime services.

At the lowest level is the Common Language Runtime (CLR), the execution engine handling compiling and running apps. It provides core services like memory management, security, and threading.

On top of the CLR are the Framework Class Libraries including:

  • Base Class Library

    Basic types like strings, collections, threading

  • ASP.NET

    For building web apps and APIs

  • Windows Forms and WPF

    Rich graphical interfaces

  • ADO.NET

    Relational data access

The BCL provides fundamental types and utilities for all .NET languages. ASP.NET, Windows Forms and ADO.NET add frameworks for specific needs.

At the top are your custom app logic and UI interacting with the lower-level libraries and CLR services.

.NET Assemblies and Common Intermediate Language

Compiling .NET source code converts it to Common Intermediate Language (CIL) code stored in assemblies (DLL/EXE files). CIL is platform-agnostic, so it can be compiled for any system.

Assemblies contain CIL and type metadata like assembly name, version, types defined, etc. The CLR uses this metadata when running apps. Assemblies are the deployment units in .NET.

This design provides a robust, managed runtime for Windows desktop, web, and service apps. .NET also makes reusable libraries easy to build.

Next, we'll look at C#, the most common .NET language.

The C# Programming Language

C# is an object-oriented, type-safe language designed for .NET development. With its productive features and Framework integration, C# has become the most widely used .NET application language.

C# was created alongside .NET as its flagship language. It combines C++'s robustness with C-like syntax. Features like tight .NET Framework API integration, memory management without pointers, simplified error handling, and native support for references/nullable types allow developers to efficiently write .NET apps while avoiding classes of errors.

C# Language Fundamentals

C# Language Fundamentals

C# will feel familiar to Java and C++ devs. Some fundamentals:

  • Object-oriented with classes, inheritance, interfaces
  • Strongly typed but with type inference
  • Structs for value types
  • Garbage collection
  • Lambda expressions
  • LINQ query

Some examples demonstrating C#'s simple, intuitive syntax:

class Customer
{
  public string Name {get; set;}

  public void Print()
  {
    Console.WriteLine(Name);
  }
}

This declares a Customer class with Name property and Print method.

Built-in data types include numeric, Boolean, text, and collections.

Standard arithmetic, comparison, and logical operators allow manipulating data. For example:

int sum = x + y;
bool equal = x == y;

if (!equal && sum > 10)
{
  ⁄⁄ do something
}

This covers C# basics. Next we'll explore OOP code.

Object-Oriented Programming

C# is primarily object-oriented with concepts like:

For example:

  • Encapsulation - Grouping fields/methods into classes
  • Inheritance - Subclasses/superclasses
  • Polymorphism - Overriding methods in subclasses
  • Abstraction - Abstract classes and interfaces

For example:

public abstract class Shape
{
  public abstract void Draw();
}

public class Circle : Shape
{
  public override void Draw()
  {
    ⁄⁄ draw circle
  }
}

Here Circle inherits from Shape and overrides Draw().
C# supports single inheritance and interfaces like Java.

Writing C# Code

Visual Studio is the fastest way to write C# code:

  • Apps for console, Windows, web, mobile, cloud
  • IntelliSense for fast coding
  • Debugging and diagnostics
  • Built-in compiler
  • NuGet package management
  • Integrated with .NET Framework

This makes Visual Studio ideal for .NET development with C#.
Now let's see how to build apps with .NET.

Building .NET Application

A .NET strength is its support for diverse app types - from web to mobile to services and more.

Some .NET app types:

icon web app

Web Apps and Services

  • ASP.NET sites
  • REST APIs with ASP.NET Web API
  • Real-time communication with SignalR
  • Azure cloud services
icon mobile app

Mobile Apps

  • iOS, Android, Windows apps with Xamarin
  • Cross-platform apps with .NET MAUI
icon desktop app

Desktop Apps

  • Windows apps with Windows Forms and WPF
  • Cross-platform desktop with .NET 6
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Gaming

  • Unity game development with C#
  • AAA titles with XNA and DirectX
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IoT and Embedded Systems

  • Apps for microcontrollers like Raspberry Pi
  • Device management with Azure IoT Hub

Let's explore some popular app building approaches.


Building Web Apps with ASP.NET

Building Web App AspNet

ASP.NET is Microsoft's web framework for .NET creating sites and services. Capabilities include:

  • Rapid development with ASP.NET Web Forms server controls
  • Sites using model-view-controller with ASP.NET MVC
  • REST APIs accessible from any client with ASP.NET Web API
  • Real-time communication by adding SignalR
  • Dynamic sites embedding C#

ASP.NET handles HTTP requests and renders responses using your C# backend code. Features like model binding, validation, caching, etc. improve productivity. You can host ASP.NET apps on servers like IIS or use ASP.NET Core for cross-platform hosting.

The Visual Studio designers simplify building and debugging ASP.NET sites. The mature ecosystem of 3rd party controls and themes for ASP.NET also accelerates development.


Building Windows Desktop Apps

For building Windows desktop apps, .NET developers have two main options: Windows Forms and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF).

Windows Forms is the legacy framework for classic Win32 apps with .NET. You can rapidly build apps by dragging controls onto forms and wiring up data binding.

WPF is a more advanced framework for modern Windows apps powered by DirectX with hardware acceleration. WPF enables advanced styling with XAML, 3D support, and other richer capabilities.

Both integrate seamlessly with Visual Studio to enable quickly building desktop GUIs with .NET.

Building Desktop App

Developing Cross-Platform Mobile Apps

Xamarin.iOS

native iOS apps with C# and XAML

Xamarin.Android

native Android dev with C# and XML

Xamarin.Forms

cross-platform UI framework

Xamarin, a Microsoft .NET platform, enables building native iOS and Android apps with C# and .NET.

With Xamarin, you use C# and .NET to create native iOS and Android apps using native UI frameworks (Xamarin.iOS, Xamarin.Android, Xamarin.Forms)

Xamarin handles compiling C# into native binaries and wrapping it with native shell projects for distribution. This enables native UX while reusing .NET code. Visual Studio's advanced Xamarin tools boost productivity.

An exciting development is .NET MAUI, the multi-platform UI framework that will supersede Xamarin for building truly cross-platform mobile apps from a single C# codebase.

Debugging and Troubleshooting .NET Apps

Bugs and problems invariably creep up when writing software. Mastering debugging and troubleshooting techniques is essential.

Debugging .NET Apps with Visual Studio

Visual Studio provides unmatched .NET debugging tools including:

  • Breakpoints - Pause execution on any line
  • Step debugging - Step through code line-by-line
  • Data inspection - Inspect variables and objects
  • Call stack - See method invocation sequence
  • Exception helper - Catch .NET exceptions

Advanced techniques like runtime code changes, data breakpoints, conditional breakpoints, and tracepoints save hours tracking down bugs.

Logging Application Errors

A good logging strategy is also important for diagnosing errors:

  • Windows Event logs
  • File, console, etc. trace listeners
  • Robust logging frameworks like Log4Net, NLog
  • Built-in .NET tracing
  • Structured logging with Serilog

Monitoring Health and Performance

Understanding runtime behavior helps find issues before failures:

  • .NET performance counters
  • AppInsights for Azure monitoring
  • Diagnostics Profiler for CPU and memory
  • Instrumenting code with traces
  • 3rd party app performance management tools

Profiling tools pinpoint bottlenecks like slow code and memory leaks. They provide detailed metrics to optimize.

Troubleshooting Strategies

Effective troubleshooting strategies:

  • Recreate bugs locally for debugging
  • Simplify and isolate to remove variables
  • Scan logs for anomalies
  • Ensure dependencies are available
  • Monitor resources like performance counters
  • Break apart complex code
  • Compare configs across environments
  • Rollback recent changes
  • Leverage existing solutions

Pattern recognition from experience helps quickly isolate common failure points.

Securing .NET Applications

.NET Framework Architecture

Data protection

Any public app is vulnerable to threats. .NET provides security features to build hacker-resistant programs.

User authentication and access authorization are the primary security aspects:

  • Authentication - Identifying users
  • Authorization - Controlling user access

For web apps, additional considerations include:

  • Encrypting connections - TLS, SSL, HTTPS
  • Preventing attacks - Input validation, sanitization
  • Data protection - Encryption, hashing

.NET provides tools like:

  • Membership API - User auth workflows
  • Role provider - Manage access by role
  • Claims-based identity - Federated identity
  • Data Protection API - Encryption helpers
  • SSL certificates - Encrypt HTTP traffic

Authenticating Users

Common built-in protocols:

  • Username/password
  • Integrated Windows - Active Directory
  • Federated - Facebook, Google, etc.
  • OpenID Connect - Centralized identity
  • OAuth - Token-based authorization

Once authenticated, the .NET identity system manages users with claims-based identities.

Authorizing Access

Authorization controls feature access based on identity and roles:

  • Role-based - Restrict by role
  • Claims-based - Granular control via claims
  • Custom policies - App-specific rules

Securing Web Apps

  • Encrypt all traffic with HTTPS
  • Sanitize inputs to prevent attacks
  • Validate user intentions
  • Securely store secrets like API keys
  • Limit CORS access
  • Automated patching, recovery

Sound engineering principles are essential for truly secure software.

Advanced .NET Concepts

Let's go beyond the basics to advanced techniques for high-scale, resilient .NET apps and frameworks.

Asynchronous Programming

Synchronous code blocks executing threads until complete, risking bottlenecks.

The async/await keywords enable non-blocking asynchronous code:

async Task LongTaskAsync()
{
  await Step1Async();
  await Step2Async();
}

Asynchronous code runs on background threads without blocking, improving scalability.

Task Parallel Library

The Task Parallel Library (TPL) provides concurrent programming constructs like:

  • Tasks for asynchronous operations
  • Parallel for parallelizing loops
  • Concurrent collections
  • Task schedulers
  • Synchronization primitives

TPL improves multi-core processor utilization for compute-heavy .NET apps.

Parallel Programming

True parallelism uses multiple concurrent threads for a single operation. TPL tools like Parallel.For enable parallel work:

Parallel.For(0, 100, i =>
{
  ⁄⁄ Do work on index i
});

This performs 100 iterations concurrently.

Parallel LINQ queries also use parallel operations:

bigArray.AsParallel().Where(x => Filter(x));

Concurrency and Thread Safety

With async and parallelism, thread safety is crucial:

  • Mutual exclusion locks
  • Thread safe collections
  • Immutable data structures
  • Message passing
  • Thread local variables
  • Avoid shared state

Proper concurrent design avoids race conditions and inconsistencies.

LINQ Queries

LINQ enables SQL-style queries on .NET collections:

users.Where(u => u.Age > 30).OrderBy(u => u.Name);

LINQ providers connect to databases, XML, JSON, etc. Combined with lambdas, LINQ provides a declarative way to filter, map, and transform data.

Interoperability

Interoperability

.NET apps sometimes need to work with unmanaged C++ or COM components. This is easy with:

  • P/Invoke - Call Win32 functions
  • COM interop - Instantiate COM objects
  • C++/CLI - Managed wrappers

This enables reusing legacy code in .NET programs.

Performance and Scalability

Critical systems require high performance and scalability. .NET optimizations include:

  • Just-in-time compilation
  • Code caching
  • Hardware acceleration
  • Vectorization
  • Concurrent garbage collection
  • Asynchronous I/O
  • Memory mapped files

Profiling guides you to poorly performing code and bottlenecks. Refactoring, caching, parallelism, async I/O, and object reuse realize huge efficiency gains.

.NET's breadth enables virtually any system architecture. But how will it evolve in the future?

Performance and Scalability

.NET Development Trends and the Future

.NET advancement shows no signs of slowing. Microsoft heavily invests in .NET to power next-gen software.

.NET 5 and .NET 6

.NET 5 delivered:

  • Unified .NET across platforms
  • Faster performance
  • More operating systems
  • ARM64 support
  • C# 9, F# 5

.NET 6 furthers cross-platform capabilities with mobile ahead-of-time compilation and WebAssembly support. Exciting times ahead!

Blazor and WebAssembly

Blazor enables interactive web UIs with C# instead of JavaScript. Benefits:

  • Full C# in browser
  • Share server logic
  • Native performance
  • One language for frontend/backend
  • Visual Studio integration

WebAssembly apps are a milestone for .NET web development.

.NET MAUI for Mobile

.NET MAUI evolves Xamarin for building mobile apps with C# and .NET. Advantages:

  • Truly cross-platform UI
  • Full mobile device capabilities
  • Performance improvements
  • Azure cloud connectivity
  • Backwards compatibility with Xamarin

The future of mobile dev is multi-platform with .NET MAUI and C#.

Microservices, Containers, and Kubernetes

.NET suits cloud-native development using:

  • Microservices
  • Containers for deployment
  • Kubernetes orchestration
  • Service Mesh patterns

Microsoft Kubernetes tools integrate seamlessly with .NET.

Machine Learning with .NET

With ML.NET, .NET developers can integrate machine learning like:

  • Model training pipelines
  • Computer vision
  • Anomaly detection
  • Recommendation engines
  • Predictive maintenance
  • Fraud prevention

Democratizing AI is a huge opportunity for .NET to power intelligent apps.

Conclusion

We’ve witnessed .NET’s evolution into a mature, cross-platform tech for innovative applications.

This guide covered the full .NET landscape - from Framework architecture to building apps, debugging, security, and performance. You learned modern patterns like microservices and explored critical topics like ML.NET.

This just scratches the surface of .NET’s possibilities. Advancements like .NET 6, Blazor, and .NET MAUI will shape its future. Exciting times ahead!

We hope this guide provided a solid .NET foundation and the skills to take your coding to the next level. Mastering .NET development takes time, but understanding these concepts, architectures, and techniques gets you well on your way.

Now it’s time to put this knowledge into practice. Think about the apps you want to build and dive in. The rewards are immense.

Here's to many more great years of .NET development!

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