what is .NET?

written byChief Editor, EPAM Anywhere

As Chief Editor, Darya works with our top technical and career experts at EPAM Anywhere to share their insights with our global audience. With 12+ years in digital communications, she’s happy to help job seekers make the best of remote work opportunities and build a fulfilling career in tech.

As Chief Editor, Darya works with our top technical and career experts at EPAM Anywhere to share their insights with our global audience. With 12+ years in digital communications, she’s happy to help job seekers make the best of remote work opportunities and build a fulfilling career in tech.

.NET is an open-source, cross-platform framework developed by Microsoft for the purpose of building web applications and services. It is a comprehensive development platform that provides tools and technologies to help create robust, secure, and reliable applications with best practices and design patterns.

Established in 2002, the .NET framework offers developers with a diverse selection of tools, programming languages, and libraries to create desktop and web applications. Developers can build applications in C++, Visual Basic, F#, C#, or PowerShell. The .NET platform also supports various popular web development technologies such as HTML, JavaScript, and CSS.

The key .NET meaning is that the platform provides developers with a unified development experience that’s easy to use and maintain, enabling them to develop robust and secure software solutions quickly. It also offers a wide range of features, such as an integrated development environment (IDE), debugging tools, automated testing and deployment, application libraries, and many more.

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Brief history of .NET programming

In July 2000, Microsoft launched the .NET initiative and began a journey in .NET development. Two years later in February 2002, they released their first version of the powerful and advanced .NET Framework featuring C# — a language akin to C++ that allowed developers to create managed code. This framework was especially beneficial for Windows-based computers and servers.

Version 1.0 of the framework included a set of class libraries that allowed developers to create applications using Visual Studio. This version included support for multiple programming languages, including C#, Visual Basic, and F#.

.NET Framework 2.0 in 2006 and .NET Framework 3.0 in 2007 continued this development, and over time, new versions of .NET were regularly released with additional features and enhancements, such as better garbage collection, tooling improvements, LINQ, and cross-platform support for Windows, iOS, and Android.

In 2016, Microsoft released .NET Core, a cross-platform version of the .NET Framework that could be used on Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems. Since then, Microsoft has continued to develop both .NET Framework and .NET Core, with the latest versions being .NET 5 and .NET 6 respectively.

What is .NET Core?

In 2016, Microsoft revealed .NET Core as a revolutionary way to use the framework. This new cross-platform and open-source version was specifically created with cloud technology in mind. After its release two years later, .NET Core quickly became the preferred choice for any new project due to its numerous upgrades over previous versions of .NET.

.NET Core has been designed for modern, cloud-based applications and services as well as IoT, mobile, and desktop apps. It includes the runtime, libraries, compilers, tools, and language support for building applications.

The .NET Core runtime provides support for running .NET code on Windows, Linux, and macOS platforms. This makes it easier to develop cross-platform apps that can be deployed to different devices, such as desktops, web servers, and mobile phones.

The benefits of using .NET Core include high performance due to its modular design; a smaller footprint; improved security features; better scalability; portability between different operating systems; support for open-source projects such as NuGet packages; flexible deployment options like containers or microservices; access to the large developer ecosystem around the platform; powerful development tools such as Visual Studio Code; and more.

.NET 5 and .NET 6

In May 2019, Microsoft declared a major update that would unify their ecosystem: all .NET elements were to be consolidated in a single development platform — the ambitious .NET 5. After over a year of anticipation, this progressive unified development platform was finally launched in November 2020. By replacing both NET Core 3.1 and NET Framework 4.8 with its own new version, .NET 5 has not only brought structure back into the fragmented world of .NET but also offered an array of features to build applications on Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, and Android.

.NET 5 laid the groundwork for unification, and with .NET 6's release in November 2021 came its completion. Visual Studio 2022 was also released that day, creating a unified platform suitable for building projects across multiple cloud, browser, IoT, mobile, and desktop environments. This allows all users to access the same .NET libraries, SDKs, and runtimes, making development simpler than ever before.

With .NET MAUI, the highly-anticipated .NET 6 offers an impressive cross-platform framework for creating native desktop and mobile apps with C# and XAML. In addition to this much-awaited final unification step in application development, you can also look forward to other noteworthy features of the latest version of the software, such as improved garbage collection, support for functional programming concepts, and better tooling.

The Microsoft .NET Framework structure

net application models

The .NET framework, released in 2002, included three application models — WPF, Windows Forms, and ASP.NET Forms — as well as a Base Class Library for further programming potential.

  • Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) is a graphical subsystem for displaying user interfaces, documents, images, and media in Windows-based applications.
  • Windows Forms (WinForms) provides a platform to create desktop applications using the .NET Framework. It includes a variety of GUI controls such as text boxes, checkboxes, radio buttons, etc. that can be used to create forms, dialogs, and other graphical user interfaces.
  • ASP.NET is a web application framework used to create websites and web applications using the .NET Framework. It provides a set of server-side controls that can be used to create interactive dynamic web pages with support for data binding and client-side scripting.

What are the Microsoft .NET Framework design principles?

The .NET Framework was built on several design principles, including simplicity, performance, scalability, portability, extensibility, reliability, and security. It also emphasizes the use of object-oriented programming (OOP) utilizing common language runtime (CLR), which creates a virtual machine to compile code from any .NET language into an intermediate language known as Portable Executable (PE), allowing developers to write efficient code.

This allows for a much easier development process, as developers can write code in any supported language while utilizing the same underlying platform. Additionally, the .NET Framework provides a set of core services, such as memory management and security, which makes it easy to develop reliable and secure applications.

The .NET Framework also helps foster interoperability, making it easier for businesses using different technologies to integrate their applications without updating each application manually.

.NET components

The .NET Framework consists of several components, including the Common Language Runtime (CLR), the .NET libraries, and the .NET tools.

The CLR is responsible for running applications written in any supported language. It also handles memory management and provides security features. The CLR works with the .NET libraries, which contain reusable code that developers can use to write their applications.

Finally, there are the .NET tools, which help developers compile, debug, and deploy their applications on different platforms such as Windows, Linux, or macOS.

.NET runtime

The .NET runtime is the environment in which the .NET code runs. It consists of a set of core libraries, an execution engine, and a virtual machine that provides support for automatic memory management and security features. The .NET runtime also provides access to other services such as debugging and configuration settings.

The .NET runtime enables applications written for any platform or device to run on any operating system or device with the same performance. This makes it easier for developers to write code once and deploy it across multiple platforms without extra effort.

What are .NET languages?

Many different programming languages can be used with the .NET framework. Some of the most popular ones include C#, Visual Basic, F#, and C++. Each language provides different features and capabilities, so developers can choose the one that best suits their needs.

  • C# is an object-oriented programming language designed for building enterprise applications. It has strong type-checking and garbage collection and supports both imperative and functional programming styles. It was created with Microsoft’s vision to unify all programming languages under one roof so that any developer can use any language they desire while still being able to take advantage of all other languages. This led to the development of C# language — later called “the native language” — for the platform because it most resembled Java syntax at the time but with some subtle differences, making it easier for C and C++ developers to migrate.
  • Visual Basic is a popular programming language designed for creating user interfaces. It provides access to the .NET libraries and has a built-in IDE that simplifies development.
  • F# is an open-source functional programming language developed by Microsoft and supported by the .NET Framework. It features strong type-checking and garbage collection.


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When to use .NET

Choosing the right tool or piece of technology for a job has always been a difficult decision because every tool or technological product has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes one tool might excel at task A while being completely unsuitable for task B, so it’s important to evaluate your needs carefully before moving forward. .NET is an excellent choice for developing enterprise applications and services. It provides a robust platform with powerful features such as memory management, security, scalability, and interoperability.

You should consider what kind of target audience or user you are building solutions for. If the target user base is mostly Windows users, then .NET could be a great choice, as it provides easier access to Windows APIs and a large library of components that can help speed up development time. It also has excellent compatibility with Visual Studio, Microsoft’s popular IDE for developing .NET applications.

However, if you're looking to create cross-platform applications that will need to run on multiple operating systems (e.g. Windows, macOS, and Linux), then using .NET Core might be a better fit for you.

Another aspect to consider is the skills of your team. If your team is already experienced in .NET, there may be little reason to switch. However, if your developers are more familiar with JavaScript or Python, then .NET Core might provide an easier transition for them.

Overall, .NET is a great choice for developing enterprise applications and services. It provides a robust platform with powerful features that can help speed up development time. However, it’s important to carefully consider your needs before making the decision to use .NET or any other piece of technology.

Benefits and limitations of using the .NET Framework

There are a host of benefits that come with using .NET for developers and organizations alike.

  • Flexible development: .NET is highly extensible, allowing developers to create custom solutions easily.
  • OOP: .NET makes use of object-oriented programming (OOP) principles, which makes it easier to create and maintain applications.
  • It integrates well with other Microsoft technologies, including Visual Studio IDE, Windows Forms, and WPF, enabling the quick development of powerful applications. Visual Studio is a Microsoft-driven Integrated Development Environment that allows users to develop, publish, and debug applications across all platforms. With its seamless integration with the .NET Framework, it offers the advantage of a language-specific environment throughout the code development process. Whether you're coding for Android or iOS, Visual Studio provides an intuitive platform for your application creation journey.
  • .NET popularity and community: It has become much easier to find experienced .NET developers due to its popularity. There is also a very large and active community around the .NET Framework.
  • Rich library of components: The .NET Framework comes with a huge library of components that can be used to create powerful applications quickly.
  • Security and reliability: The .NET Framework provides a secure environment for developing applications that can be trusted by users and organizations alike. Moreover, the framework’s built-in security and encryption features provide an extra layer of protection against malicious attacks.
  • Easy migration from .NET 5 to .NET 6: To upgrade to .NET 6.0, start by transforming the target framework on your projects in Visual Studio 2022. Then, update any other packages associated with said project and thoroughly test everything afterward to ensure adequate performance.
  • Easy deployment thanks to its automatic component installation feature. The modular design makes it simple to include all the dependencies that your project requires. Deploying is a piece of cake too; just copy and paste the folder into place! Plus, several .NET Core versions can be running simultaneously on one computer, meaning you can manage different projects and deploy tasks quickly with no hassle.

However, there are also some limitations associated with the .NET Framework that any aspiring developer needs to know. These include hardware and operating system requirements, such as Windows as an OS, along with certain minimum specs like processor type. In addition, something that’s both a positive and a negative is the slower rate at which new features are released compared to other languages due to a more rigorous testing process.

  • Licensing: Developing .NET applications can be an expensive endeavor, despite the availability of open-source technologies. The majority of your costs will stem from Visual Studio IDE and supplementary collaboration and quality assurance services that Microsoft offers to simplify things for you. The cost of the license can also be restrictive for smaller businesses.
  • Memory leaks: Another limitation to be aware of is the potential for memory leaks, which can occur when long-running .NET processes fail to release unused resources properly. To avoid such issues in your projects, it’s important to use the proper constructors for any disposable objects and ensure all system resources are released whenever possible.
  • Transition to .NET 5: While transitioning between .NET 5 and .NET 6 is relatively straightforward, the migration from earlier framework versions of .NET to the .NET Core versions is somewhat complex. To ensure the success of your projects, it is advisable to migrate from .NET Core 3.1 to .NET 5 before upgrading further and taking advantage of the most recent release.

Build a .NET career on your own terms

Are you looking to pursue a remote career in .NET development? Explore our remote .NET developer jobs as a starting point.

As part of our engineering talent force at EPAM Anywhere, you’ll be able to leverage our various learning resources and get certification support such as for MCSA: Web Applications or MCSD: App Builder programs offered by Microsoft.

Take control of your career today — become one of our .NET developers and seize the many opportunities presented by this powerful development platform.

written byChief Editor, EPAM Anywhere

As Chief Editor, Darya works with our top technical and career experts at EPAM Anywhere to share their insights with our global audience. With 12+ years in digital communications, she’s happy to help job seekers make the best of remote work opportunities and build a fulfilling career in tech.

As Chief Editor, Darya works with our top technical and career experts at EPAM Anywhere to share their insights with our global audience. With 12+ years in digital communications, she’s happy to help job seekers make the best of remote work opportunities and build a fulfilling career in tech.

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