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.NET Basics for the Database Developer: Take the Plunge

This short introduction to .NET shows Access and SQL Server developers how to use a development tool to create connections to data and a user interface to manipulate that data.

any MS Access and SQL Server developers are moving to .NET. It's a natural migration because these developers can use .NET to create the same types of solutions they would in either database, but there's much more to .NET than your ordinary database. After all, .NET is not a database—it doesn't store data—but a programming framework. This short introduction to the mysterious world of .NET shows Access and SQL Server developers how to use a development tool, the freely available Visual Basic Express (VB Express), to create connections to data and a user interface to manipulate that data.

Learning .NET is a bit like being caught up in a tornado and thrown to parts unknown. Don't worry if you feel a bit lost at first, because .NET is an entirely different reality for most beginners who are coming from the database development realm. Like Dorothy's Oz, you might find the journey a bit intimidating at first. However, before long you'll see .NET for the beautiful set of tools it really is. Once you're acclimated, you won't be in such a hurry to click your heels and transport back home. Most likely, you'll want to stick around to learn more.

Microsoft .NET is here to stay and there's no time like the present to take the plunge.

What Is .NET?

Before jumping right in to .NET, you should know a few terms, beginning with a general definition of .NET. The .NET Framework is a class library (Framework Class Library, or FCL), a runtime host, and a collection of utilities. The FCL contains all the classes that .NET makes available to your application. You don't have to write them yourself. The runtime host protects everything by managing permissions, digital certificates, and so on. The runtime host is also the component that lets you write a VB.NET application that references code written in other languages, such as C#. In addition, the runtime host cleans up after you by reclaiming memory from unreferenced objects. Several utilities come with the framework, including compilers, debugging tools, and so on.

Some other new terms you'll encounter include:

  • Framework: An environment that provides an interface. In this case, the .NET Framework is the environment that provides a new interface to Windows services and the Windows API.
  • Project: An assembly in a .NET solution. A solution can contain multiple projects, each of which can be a Windows Forms application, a class library, or a console application.
  • Solution: The application container, which has a startup project that the developer sets. Think of the multiple projects in a solution as roughly equivalent to the groups in the MS Access Visual Basic Editor, where you see report modules, form modules, class modules, and so on. The startup project in a larger solution usually isn't the one that contains the table adapters or the user interface or the reports or a lot of other things. The startup project is the entry point to the application. The startup project discussed this article is a Windows Form application.

These definitions will become more relevant as the article progresses.

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