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Developing Solutions Using Microsoft’s ASP.NET 2.0 Technologies

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that the mantra for development at Microsoft is all things .NET.

By Matthew David

Microsoft is one of the leaders in Web development and technologies. The flagship technology framework for Microsoft Web solutions is ASP.NET, a part of the .NET Framework. In this article you will find out the breadth and value of Microsoft’s Web architecture.

The foundation for ASP.NET – the .NET Framework
Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that the mantra for development at Microsoft is all things .NET. The .NET framework is not unlike any other framework, such as Java, in that a developer gets a hand in their development by having a lot of the heavy lifting done for you. In the case of Microsoft’s .NET framework, the heavy lifting is very considerable. Advanced technologies such as data connectors, security, cultural and date management objects are there to help with development. As a developer you are left to deliver to the cool end of the application instead of having to work on all of the grunt work.

There are three major releases of the .NET framework. Version 1.0/1.1 is ostensibly an introduction to the framework. Microsoft re-designed the core of the Framework for the second release. The third release builds on top of the second release by adding tools that allow better communication between systems (Windows Communication Foundation), a new visualization technology (Windows Presentation Foundation) and a workflow technology (Windows Workflow Foundation).  While using the .NET Framework does force you to use Microsoft technologies and to deploy to Window desktops and servers, you do significantly reduce the cost of development.



ASP.NET in the .NET Framework
There is ASP.NET support in this first release. It is not until you reach the 2.0 release of the .NET framework does things get interesting for Web developers. In many ways Microsoft addressed the limitations developers have with the first release of ASP.NET. Microsoft makes a claim that you will reduce the amount of code you write in C# or VB.NET by up to 75% by developing solutions with ASP.NET 2.0. This is a bold statement. The reality is that there is a lot of truth to the statement.
ASP.NET 2.0 builds upon the technologies released in the first release, but then builds upon them. Some key technologies include:

  • Membership Services for user authentication and validation
  • Better visualization of data with DataList and DataGridView controls
  • Site wide design control with Master Pages
  • Easier ability to build Web Parts – small, reusable Web controls

The result is that you more quickly develop solutions for deployment to the Web.
 
AJAX Support in ASP.NET
As you might expect, Microsoft does keep its eye on the ball when it comes to developing new technologies. The sudden growth and adoption of AJAX, the interactive element of Web development seen in sites such as Google and Yahoo!, is here for ASP.NET. There is nothing new to Microsoft about AJAX. The technology that forms the foundation of AJAX, XML and JavaScript, has a long history with Microsoft. Even though AJAX is the technology de jour the ability to support AJAX solutions in Internet Explorer goes back to 1998.

There are many benefits to using AJAX in your Web solutions. The most significant is the ability to post data back and forth to a server without the Web page appearing to re-fresh. This feature allows Web solutions to begin to look and behave more like desktop solutions. Typically AJAX technologies are complex and hard to implement. This is due to the massive amount of JavaScript that is needed to make AJAX work. In contrast, Microsoft has made adding AJAX very easy. Often you only need to add a few lines of code to implement complex functionality. Microsoft has also gone to extensive lengths to ensure that their Web technologies work across all popular Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Opera.
An example of adding Microsoft’s AJAX tools in the Tab control. The Tab controls allows you to add Windows Desktop-like tabs to you Web solution:

Figure 1: The Tab Control is an example of an ASP.NET AJAX control

 

The code to add the Tab is very small:

As you can see, you need very little code. To write this using JavaScript would be complex. Including the Tab control there are currently 34 AJAX controls you can use with ASP.NET
The complete set of tools is available as a snap in download from www.asp.net, the official Microsoft site for all things ASP.NET. The AJAX tools are also in the .NET Framework 3.5 release.

Beyond the core ASP.NET features – leveraging ASP.NET Futures and SilverLight
ASP.NET, like the .NET Framework, is an expandable environment. Microsoft demonstrates this with an ever increasing list of tools and technologies you can integrate into the Web platform. Two key technologies to keep an eye on are ASP.NET Futures and Silverlight.

ASP.NET Futures is a set of tools that Microsoft updates to show what they are working on. The catch is that these controls are not released or supported – indeed, some of them are buggy. With that said, the Futures do give you a clear indication of where Microsoft is taking ASP.NET. The new set of controls give you better data filter control, ability to access the new Dynamic Library Runtime (this allows you to create Ruby solutions in .NET), new AJAX controls and integration with Silverlight. For me, the new Silverlight controls are very interesting. Essentially, the new controls allow you to control elements such as a video source in your Silverlight solution dynamically from the server. This makes developing YouTube like experiences much easier.

Development Tools for ASP.NET
All of this ASP.NET stuff is cool, but without the correct tools you are going no-where fast. Fortunately, Microsoft has the tools you need. The main tool enterprises will want to use is Visual Studio 2005. Visual Studio comes with the development, testing and deployment tools you need to build enterprise wide solutions.

In addition to Visual Studio, there is Visual Studio Express Web Edition. The key market that uses the Express tools is the hobbyist and student. All of the Web tools listed above are available in the free Express tools.

Microsoft has Expression Web specifically for designers. As with Visual Studio and Express Web you have full access to all of the ASP.NET tools listed above. In addition to this you have unparalleled design control with CSS and other Web standards. ASP.NET stands as a key technology that allows you to deliver the best possible Web experience to your customers.

 

Matthew has written four Flash books, contributed to a dozen Web books, and has published over 400 articles. He is passionate about exposing Internet's potential for all of us. Matthew works directly with many companies as a business strategist coaching IT architects and business leaders to work tightly with each other towards common goals.

Related Keywords:ASP.NET, IT, .NET Framework,ASP.NET Futures ,Silverlight.

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