When talking about technologies that somehow relate to each other, people may use their names interchangeably. C# and .NET is a pair of frequently confused tech terms. When people say C#, they often mean the .NET platform technologies, and vice versa. However, while these terms may be related, they are not the same. Let’s work it out.
What Is .NET?
A developer platform, an application framework (library), a large ecosystem for creating all types of applications — all of these definitions refer to .NET.
Microsoft launched this product in 2002, and since then, .NET has become a favorite technology for millions of software engineers globally.
- Open source. Currently, .NET is an open-source platform supported by the .NET Foundation, Microsoft and the .NET community.
- Support for multiple programming languages. At the heart of the platform is the virtual machine component named Common Language Runtime (CLR), which enables .NET to support multiple languages. The key languages for .NET are C#, Visual Basic and F#. Additionally, it can work with other languages developed by Microsoft, such as C++ and IronPython (11 languages in total), and can support 50 languages created by other entities. Code written in any of these languages is compiled into a Common Intermediate Language (CIL) assembly, a sort of .NET assembler. Therefore, under certain conditions, we can make separate modules of one application in separate languages.
- Cross-platform. It’s worth noting that .NET has evolved primarily as a platform for Windows, called .NET Framework. Its last version appeared in 2019. An alternative platform, .NET Core, appeared in 2016 and since then .NET has become cross-platform. The new product implementation was aimed at different platforms (Windows, Linux and macOS) and was supposed to incorporate all the features of the outdated .NET Framework, as well as add new functionality. The current version, .NET 6, unifies all the capabilities and allows you to develop desktop, web, mobile, cloud, IoT, and gaming apps for various platforms.
- Powerful class libraries. In .NET, there are multiple class libraries (platform-specific, portable or the .NET Standard library) that are functional, useful components that can be reused across various applications. This makes the development process much easier.
- Variety of technologies. The stack of .NET technologies is diverse, which enables the creation of various software solutions. It includes integrated development environments (Visual Studio, VS for Mac, VS Code, CLI, CLR), components and libraries. In addition, you can use WPF and WinUI to build rich graphical user interfaces, Windows Forms to create simpler graphical applications, ADO.NET and Entity Framework Core to work with databases. Xamarin/MAUI is a powerful tool for developing cross-platform mobile and desktop apps. That list should also include Blazor — the actively developing framework that’s currently gaining popularity. It runs on top of .NET and allows you to create web applications both on the server and client side.
.NET Pros and Cons
Just like with any other technology, you may experience many advantages and some drawbacks when using .NET, and the following are the main ones.
- Platform-agnosticism — the support of multiple platforms and programming languages is a primary advantage of modern software development tools, and .NET has this capacity.
- Automation — .NET offers a range of tools for the automatic performance of many processes, including garbage collection, code checking and testing.
- Flexibility — due to the modular design, .NET-based applications are flexible and easy to maintain.
- Performance — .NET 6 applications are generally characterized by high performance and, according to a number of tests, outperform apps built with other technologies in various categories.
- Active community — there are over six million .NET developers worldwide, which means you can get help and support with any issue.
- License cost — though open-source, .NET can be a pretty expensive platform for large projects, as you will need many tools that are not free — for instance, Visual Studio IDE.
What Is C#?
Now let’s move on to understanding what C# is. The key difference from .NET is that C# is not a platform but a programming language. The reason these terms are often confused or used interchangeably is that C# was created by Microsoft specifically to work with the .NET framework. As you can see, C# is the most commonly used .NET language, and the concept of .NET is somewhat broader than C#.
C# is not a young language, and like the .NET platform, it has come a long way. The first version of the language came out with the release of Microsoft Visual Studio .NET in February 2002. The current version is C# 10.0, which was released in 2021, along with the release of .NET 6.
Currently, C# is one of the most powerful, rapidly developing and in-demand programming languages in the world. C# is object-oriented with a C-like syntax and has taken a lot from Java and C++. Therefore, if you are familiar with one of these languages, learning C# will be easier. For example, C# supports polymorphism, inheritance, operator overloading, static typing. Since C# is a high-level language, its compilation process consists of two stages: from the C# code to intermediate language (IL), and from IL to native code (machine code).
The object-oriented approach allows you to build large, but at the same time flexible, scalable and extensible applications. A wide variety of applications are written in C#: from small desktop programs to large web portals that serve millions of users every day.
- Multithreading. C# allows for simultaneous execution of multiple processes in an application, which helps you maximize the usage of CPU resources.
- Object-oriented programming. C# supports the main principles of OOP: inheritance, abstraction, encapsulation, and polymorphism.
- Type-safety. C# is a type-safe language, which means that it ensures the internal consistency of types due to the usage of protocols for the interaction between types.
- Auto-garbage collection. A significant feature of the C# language is automatic garbage collection, meaning that you will not have to worry about freeing memory, unlike in C++.
C# Pros and Cons
The number of C# software developers is approaching the seven million mark worldwide. This proves that the language has multiple advantages.
- Fast development — due to features such as static typing, developers can write code much faster with C# than with other languages.
- Scalability — C# allows developers to make adjustments and expand functionality when needed without compromising the app quality and reliability.
- Efficiency and flexibility — being object-oriented, C# is a highly efficient and flexible language, which simplifies the development process.
- Cross-platform — software solutions written in C# can run on various operating systems.
- Active community — if you are a C# developer, you may rely on significant community support.
- .NET dependence — C# is initially created for the .NET ecosystem and totally depends on it. For some, this means lack of development flexibility.
Main Differences between C# vs .NET
We’ve compiled a comparison chart to visualize differences and similarities between C# and .NET.
We can also name various tech differences; for example, local variables are automatically initialized in .NET but not in C#; a specific base class constructor is used in the .NET framework but lacks in C#; and many other different things.
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