High-Level Overview in .NET

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High-Level Overview
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At a high level, NET is a virtual runtime environment that consists of a virtual execution engine, the Common Language Runtime (CLR), and a set of associated framework libraries Applications written for NET, at compile time, do not translate into machine code but instead use an intermediary representation that the execution engine translates at runtime (depending on architecture) Although this may seem as if the CLR acts as an interpreter (interpreting the intermediate language), the primary difference between the CLR and an interpreter is that the CLR does not retranslate the intermediate code each and every time Rather, it takes a one-time hit of translating a chunk of intermediate code into machine code and then reuses the translated machine code in all subsequent invocations Using a virtual execution 23
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CLR Fundamentals
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engine provides some key benefits to developers Examples of such benefits include the following:
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Memory management Security management Code verification
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To better understand what components NET consists of, Figure 2-1 illustrates the 50,000-foot overview of the different entities involved in the NET world At the core of NET, there is an ECMA standard that states what implementations of the NET runtime need to adhere to in order to be compliant This standards document is commonly referred to as the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) The CLI doesn t just dictate rules for the runtime itself but also includes a set of library classes that are considered crucial and common enough to warrant inclusion This set of class libraries is called the Base Class Libraries (BCL) The next layer in Figure 2-1 is the Common Language Runtime (CLR) This is an actual component and represents Microsoft s implementation of the CLI When a NET redistributable package is installed on a machine, it includes the CLR On top of the CLR sits the NET framework These are all the libraries that are available to developers when creating NET
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NET Applications NET Framework
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Figure 2-1 High-level overview of the different components in NET
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High-Level Overview
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applications The NET framework can be considered a superset of the BCL and includes frameworks such as the Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and much more The libraries that are part of the NET framework but not the BCL are considered outside of the standards realm, and any applications that make use of them may or may not work on other CLI implementations besides the CLR At the top level, we have the NET applications, which run within the confines of the CLR The key focus of this book is to examine how the CLR functions and how that knowledge is crucial when debugging NET applications
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Are There Other CLI Compliant Implementations
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Is Microsoft s CLR the only implementation of the CLI out there Not quite Because the CLI has become increasingly popular, there are a number of companies/organizations that have produced their own CLI-compliant runtimes A great example of such an implementation is the Mono project (sponsored by Novell) In addition to being an open source project, the Mono CLI implementation can run on Windows, Linux, Solaris, and Mac OS X Additionally, Microsoft has released the Shared Source Common Language Infrastructure (20), aka Rotor project, which includes a CLI-compliant implementation of the standard Because the source code is shared source, this project provides great insights into how a functional implementation works
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2 CLR FUNDAMENTALS
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Because the CLR is responsible for all aspects of NET application execution, what does the general execution flow look like Figure 2-2 illustrates a high-level overview of the execution model starting with the application s source code
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CLR (Just in Time Compilation)
Figure 2-2 High-level view of NET execution model
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CLR Fundamentals
Naturally, the starting point is the source code of the NET application The source code can be in any of the NET supported languages such as C#, VBNET, managed C++, and others The source code is then fed to the appropriate compiler, which compiles the code into an intermediary language known as the Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL) In contrast with a native code application, which during compile and link time is translated into CPU specific instructions, MSIL is a higher-level language that is platform neutral The net outcome of a compilation is known as an assembly The notion of an assembly is at the heart of NET and will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter For now, you can view the assembly as a self-contained entity that encapsulates everything that needs to be known about the application (including the code, or MSIL for the application) When the NET assembly is run, the CLR is automatically loaded and begins executing the MSIL The way that MSIL is executed is by first translating it to instructions native to the platform that the code is executing on This translation is done at runtime by a component in the CLR known as the Just-In-Time (JIT) compiler In the next few chapters, we will take a closer look at the different components (refer to Figure 2-2) that partake in the execution flow of a NET application We will utilize the debuggers and associated tools when necessary to illustrate the concepts being discussed