April 15

What is .NET Framework? What to know about this open-sourced platform

Discover what .NET Framework is, how it works, what types of apps you can build with it, and why it's so popular.


You've probably heard the phrase "dot-net framework," but do you know what it is or what it is used for?

The .NET Framework is an essential component of many custom applications. If your firm is building customer apps, of if you're sourcing custom apps to integrate with your systems, you need to understand what .NET Framework is and how it works. 

Key takeaways

  • The .NET Framework is an open-source platform for developing Windows-based applications

  • The .NET Framework includes a variety of developer tools and class libraries

  • The .NET Framework works with applications developed in C#, F#, Visual Basic, and other popular programming languages

  • You can use the .NET Framework to develop both web-based and forms-based apps, as well as apps that integrate with major database platforms

Understanding .NET Framework

The .NET Framework is a software development platform designed especially for building Windows-based applications. It was developed by Microsoft, which released the first version back in 2002. In the two decades since, .NET Framework became an essential part of custom applications used in companies around the world. 

The .NET Framework itself includes its own set of developer tools and class libraries. It works with a variety of popular programming languages and can be used to build apps for a variety of platforms, including desktop, mobile, web, servers, and the Internet of Things (IoT). . The NET Framework can build form-based, web-based and database-based applications.

.NET Framework is related to .NET, a developer platform used to build apps across a variety of operating systems. Think of .NET Framework as a Windows-specific version of .NET. 

There are no licensing costs or fees required to run the .NET Framework. It's completely free, even for commercial use. That's because .NET Framework, like.NET, is an open-source platform. The current stable release is .NET Framework 4.8. 

10 reasons to use .NET Framework

The .NET Framework has become ubiquitous in the programming world, especially in the development of web-based and business applications. It was ranked the "most loved" framework in the 2020 Stack Overflow Development Survey, used by 71.5% of developers in the survey. 

This ongoing popularity is because .NET Framework offers multiple benefits to developers, including the following ten:

1. Language compatibility

The .NET Framework works with a wide variety of programming languages, including:

  • C++

  • C#

  • F#

  • IronPython

  • IronRuby

  • Visual Basic

  • Visual COBOL 

Developers can work in their language of choice and know that it's compatible with the .NET Framework. 

2. Version compatibility

Unlike some other frameworks, older versions of .NET Framework are fully compatible with more recent versions. The old code works just fine when .NET upgrades—o modifications are necessary.

3. Portability

The .NET Framework is also extremely portable. All applications developed on the .NET Framework can work on any Windows platform. When .NET Framework is integrated into the larger .NET platform, developers can create apps that run on all major operating systems, including Linux, macOS, and Windows. That makes it easy for developers to create apps with cross-platform capability. 

4. Speed

Another thing that developers like about .NET and the .NET Framework is that they're fast—really fast. According to the TechEmpower benchmark, .NET is faster than any competing web-application framework.

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5. Memory management

The .NET Framework uses the Common Language Runtime for application memory management. The CLR automatically identifies and closes unused system resources to free up memory at regular intervals. 

6. Reliability

.NET Framework benefits from decades of use and development. Its reliability in running thousands of custom applications is unsurpassed. 

7. Easy deployment

.NET Framework is also easy to deploy. The framework offers a variety of tools developers can use to package .NET applications. When these packages are distributed, they automatically install the application. 

8. Large class library

The .NET Framework comes with a large class library of pre-tested code that developers can use in their apps. This Framework Class Library helps to increase developer productivity and minimize development time. 

9. Side-by-side execution

Because the .NET Framework enables multiple versions of the Common Language Runtime to run on the same machine, developers can run different app versions side-by-side. This enables a comparison of different versions and eases troubleshooting.

10. Security

.NET Framework validates apps before granting access to the app or its source code. This results in an extremely secure development environment and apps that are more resistant to malicious actions. 

Understanding the .NET Framework architecture 

The .NET Framework architecture provides an execution environment that integrates a variety of compatible programming languages. In essence, the architecture works like this:

  1. An application is written in one of a variety of compatible programming languages (the most popular being C#, F#, and Visual Basic)

  2. The application is compiled to the Common Intermediate Language (CIL)

  3. The Common Language Runtime (CLR) executes the application on the user's machine, converting the CIL to machine code

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Essential components of the .NET Framework

There are several essential components of the .NET Framework, including the Framework Class Library, the Common Intermediate Language and the Common Language Runtime. 

Framework Class Library

The Framework Class Library (FCL) provides a variety of APIs and types that provide common functionality across apps. There are APIs for:

  • Reading files

  • Writing files

  • Connecting to databases

Types are provided for strings, numbers, dates, etc. 

Common Intermediate Language 

The Common Intermedia Language (CIL) stores code created by the source compliers. The compiled code is stored in files with a .DLL or .EXE extensions. 

Common Language Runtime

The Common Language Runtime (CLR) is the Framework's execution engine. It executes the CIL code by converting it into machine languages. In addition to running the applications, it includes a variety of useful services, including:

  • Exception handling

  • Garbage collection (removes unneeded resources)

  • Thread management

  • Type safety

App models in the .NET Framework

The .NET Framework supports a number of app models for building software applications. The most popular include:

  • ADO.net, used to develop applications that interact directly with databases, such as Microsoft SQL Server

  • ASP.Net, used to develop web-based applications that are served over the Internet and run inside users' web browsers

  • WinForms, used to develop forms-based applications that run on users' computers

Optimizely fully supports .NET and the .NET Framework

Optimizely's Digital Experience Platform fully supports both .NET and the .NET Framework. This makes it easy to develop custom apps that fully integrate with Optimizely's software solutions. Talk to the experts at Optimizely to learn more about working with .NET Framework and the Optimizely platform. 

Contact Optimizely today to unlock your company's digital potential.