The .NET ecosystem is constantly evolving and expanding, offering developers a plethora of options and opportunities to create amazing applications. However, with so many choices available, it can be challenging to understand the differences and nuances between various .NET platforms and frameworks. In this article, we will explore and compare three key concepts in the .NET world: .NET Standard, .NET 6, and .NET 6-Windows. We will examine their origins, features, benefits, and use cases, and help you make an informed decision for your next project.
The story of .NET development begins with the traditional .NET Framework, which was introduced by Microsoft in 2002 as a platform for building Windows desktop and web applications. The .NET Framework provided a common set of libraries and tools that enabled developers to use various languages (such as C#, VB.NET, and F#) and technologies (such as ASP.NET, WPF, and WinForms) to create applications that ran on the Windows operating system.
However, as the technology landscape changed and new platforms emerged, such as mobile devices, cloud services, etc., the .NET Framework faced some limitations and challenges. It was not designed to support cross-platform development, and it had a monolithic architecture that made it difficult to adopt new features and innovations. Moreover, it had compatibility issues with older versions, which forced developers to maintain multiple versions of their applications for different target frameworks.
To address these challenges, Microsoft introduced .NET Core in 2016 as a new platform for building modern applications that could run on multiple platforms, such as Windows, Linux, and macOS. .NET Core was designed to be modular, lightweight, and flexible, allowing developers to choose the components they needed for their applications. It also offered improved performance, security, and developer productivity. .NET Core evolved rapidly over the years, adding new features and capabilities with each release.
In 2020, Microsoft announced the next major evolution of .NET Core: .NET 5. This was a significant milestone in the .NET journey, as it marked the beginning of a unified vision for the future of .NET development. .NET 5 aimed to bring together the best of both worlds: the power and versatility of .NET Core, and the familiarity and compatibility of .NET Framework. It also aimed to consolidate the various .NET platforms that existed at the time, such as Xamarin for mobile development and Mono for game development.
For comprehencing comparison and evolution of of the .NET Ecosystem, please refer to my detailed blog post on .NET Framework vs. .NET Core vs. .NET 5/.NET 6
The unification of the .NET ecosystem is an ongoing process that involves several steps and stages. The ultimate goal is to provide developers with a single platform that can support any kind of application development scenario, whether it is web, desktop, mobile, cloud, or IoT. This platform would have a consistent set of APIs, libraries, tools, and languages that would enable developers to share code and resources across different platforms and devices.
To achieve this goal, Microsoft has introduced three key concepts that play an important role in the unification process: .NET Standard, .NET 6, and .NET 6-Windows. These concepts are not mutually exclusive or contradictory; rather, they are complementary and interrelated. They each serve a specific purpose and address a specific need in the .NET ecosystem. In the following sections, we will explore each of these concepts in detail and understand how they contribute to the unification vision.
.NET Standard is not a platform or a framework; rather, it is a specification or a contract that defines a set of APIs that any .NET platform must implement in order to be compatible with each other. In other words, it is a common denominator or a baseline that ensures that code written for one .NET platform can run on another without any modifications or adaptations.
The purpose of .NET Standard is to enable cross-platform development and code reusability across different .NET implementations. For example, if you want to create a library that can be used by both ASP.NET Core web applications and Xamarin mobile applications, you can target .NET Standard as your framework instead of choosing a specific platform. This way, your library can run on any platform that supports .NET Standard without requiring any changes.
One of the main advantages of using .NET Standard is cross-platform compatibility. By targeting .NET Standard as your framework, you can ensure that your code can run on any platform that supports it, such as Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, iOS, tvOS, watchOS etc. This gives you more flexibility and reach for your applications.
Another benefit of using .NET Standard is versioning and maintaining consistent APIs. Unlike traditional frameworks that have different versions for different platforms, .NET Standard has a single version that applies to all platforms. This means that you don’t have to worry about compatibility issues or breaking changes when you upgrade your framework. Moreover, .NET Standard provides a stable and consistent set of APIs that are well-defined and documented, making it easier to write and maintain your code.
.NET Standard has several versions, each with a different set of APIs and a different level of compatibility with different .NET platforms. The higher the version number, the more APIs are available, but the fewer platforms are supported. The lower the version number, the fewer APIs are available, but the more platforms are supported. For example, .NET Standard 1.0 has the least number of APIs, but it is supported by the most number of platforms, such as .NET Framework 4.5, .NET Core 1.0, Xamarin.iOS 10.0, etc. On the other hand, .NET Standard 2.1 has the most number of APIs, but it is supported by the fewest number of platforms, such as .NET Core 3.0, Xamarin.iOS 12.16, etc.
The latest version of .NET Standard is 2.1, which was released in 2019. It added over 3,000 new APIs to the previous version, such as Span
The reason for this is that .NET Standard 2.1 was designed to be compatible with future versions of .NET and Xamarin, which are based on a newer runtime and compiler than .NET Framework. Therefore, some of the APIs in .NET Standard 2.1 are not compatible with these older platforms.
To overcome this limitation, Microsoft has announced that .NET Standard 2.1 will be the last version of .NET Standard, and that future versions of .NET will replace it as the standard for cross-platform development.
For more details please refer to the official documentation of Microsoft on .NET Standard.
This brings us to the next concept in our discussion: .NET 6.
.NET 6 is the latest(LTS) and most advanced version of the .NET platform, which was released in November 2021. It is a successor to both .NET Core and .NET 5, and it represents a major step forward in the unification vision of the .NET ecosystem.
.NET 6 is designed to be a single platform that can support any kind of application development scenario, whether it is web, desktop, mobile, cloud, or IoT. It offers a consistent set of APIs, libraries, tools, and languages that enable developers to share code and resources across different platforms and devices.
.NET 6 also introduces some new features and capabilities that make it more powerful and versatile than previous versions. For example, it supports native compilation for Windows, Linux, and macOS applications using AOT (ahead-of-time) compilation; it supports cross-platform UI development using MAUI (Multi-platform App UI); it supports minimal APIs for building lightweight web applications; it supports hot reload and hot restart for faster development cycles; and it supports Blazor WebAssembly for building client-side web applications using C#.
One of the main goals of .NET 6 is to harmonize the diverse .NET implementations that existed before it under a single umbrella. For example, before .NET 6, if you wanted to create a mobile application using Xamarin.Forms, you had to target a specific platform such as Xamarin.iOS or Xamarin.Android as your framework. This meant that you had to deal with platform-specific dependencies and limitations that could affect your code quality and performance.
With .NET 6, you can target .NET 6 as your framework instead of choosing a specific platform. This means that your code can run on any platform that supports .NET 6 without requiring any changes or adaptations. Moreover, .NET 6 provides a unified set of libraries and tools that are optimized for mobile development, such as MAUI (Multi-platform App UI), which is a successor to Xamarin.Forms.
Similarly, before .NET 6, if you wanted to create a desktop application using WPF or WinForms, you had to target either .NET Framework as your framework. This meant that you had to deal with compatibility issues and feature gaps between these frameworks.
With .NET 6, you can target .NET 6 as your framework instead of choosing a specific framework. This means that your code can run on any platform that supports .NET 6 without requiring any changes or adaptations. Moreover, .NET 6 provides a unified set of libraries and tools that are optimized for desktop development, such as AOT (ahead-of-time) compilation, which improves the startup time and performance of your applications.
.NET 6 also brings some exciting new features and advancements that make it more powerful and versatile than previous versions. Some of these features are:
- Enhanced performance: .NET 6 offers significant improvements in performance, such as faster JSON serialization, better memory management, and reduced allocations.
- Language features: .NET 6 supports the latest versions of C# (10) and F# (6), which introduce new syntax and features, such as record structs, global using directives, interpolated string handlers, and type classes.
.NET 6-Windows is a special version of .NET 6 that is tailored for Windows development. It is designed to cater to Windows-specific functionalities and requirements, such as Windows Forms, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), and Windows Services.
.NET 6-Windows is not a separate platform or framework; rather, it is a subset of .NET 6 that includes additional libraries and tools that are specific to Windows development. For example, it includes the Windows Desktop SDK, which provides access to Windows APIs and features, such as the Windows Registry, the Taskbar, the Clipboard, etc.
One of the main features of .NET 6-Windows is the support for WinUI (Windows UI Library), which is a modern UI framework for building native Windows applications. WinUI is a successor to UWP (Universal Windows Platform) and XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language), and it offers a rich set of controls, animations, and styles that are consistent with the Fluent Design System.
WinUI is part of Project Reunion, which is an initiative by Microsoft to simplify Windows app development by unifying the various APIs and platforms that exist for Windows development. Project Reunion aims to provide a common set of libraries and tools that work across different versions of Windows 10 and Windows 11, as well as different app models, such as Win32, UWP, MSIX, etc.
The main benefit of choosing .NET 6-Windows as your development platform is that you can leverage the full potential of Windows development. You can access the latest and greatest features and functionalities that are exclusive to Windows, such as WinUI, WPF, WinForms, WCF, etc. You can also take advantage of the native performance and compatibility that .NET 6-Windows offers for your applications.
However, there are also some considerations to ponder when deciding on this development path. One of them is that .NET 6-Windows is not cross-platform; it only works on Windows devices. This means that if you want to target other platforms or devices, such as Linux, macOS, Android, iOS, etc., you will need to use another version of .NET 6 or another framework. Another consideration is that .NET 6-Windows may have some dependencies or limitations that are specific to Windows development. For example, you may need to install additional components or packages to use certain features or libraries.
Before choosing between .NET Standard, .NET 6, and .NET 6-Windows as your development platform, you need to evaluate your project’s needs and objectives. Some of the questions you need to ask yourself are:
- What kind of application do you want to build? Is it a web application, a desktop application, a mobile application, a cloud application, or an IoT application?
- What platforms or devices do you want to target? Do you want to target only Windows devices, or do you want to target multiple platforms or devices?
- What features or functionalities do you need for your application? Do you need access to specific APIs or libraries that are only available on certain platforms or frameworks?
- What level of performance or compatibility do you expect for your application? Do you need high performance or low latency for your application? Do you need backward compatibility or forward compatibility for your application?
Based on your answers to these questions, you can navigate the decision matrix below to find the best platform or framework for your project:
Some examples of real-world scenarios and use cases for each platform or framework are:
- .NET Standard: You want to create a library that can be used by multiple .NET platforms or frameworks, such as ASP.NET Core, Xamarin, Blazor, etc. You don’t need access to platform-specific APIs or libraries, and you are satisfied with the APIs that are available in .NET Standard. You want to ensure that your library can run on any platform that supports .NET Standard without requiring any changes or adaptations.
- .NET 6: You want to create a web application that can run on multiple platforms or devices, such as Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, iOS, etc. You need access to the latest and greatest features and functionalities that .NET 6 offers, such as AOT compilation, MAUI, minimal APIs, Blazor WebAssembly, etc. You want to take advantage of the high performance and versatility that .NET 6 offers for your application.
- .NET 6-Windows: You want to create a desktop application that can run on Windows devices. You need access to the latest and greatest features and functionalities that are exclusive to Windows development, such as WinUI, WPF, WinForms, WCF, etc. You want to leverage the native performance and compatibility that .NET 6-Windows offers for your application.
In this article, we have explored and compared three key concepts in the .NET world: .NET Standard, .NET 6, and .NET 6-Windows. We have examined their origins, features, benefits, and use cases, and helped you make an informed decision for your next project.
I hope that this article has given you a clear and comprehensive understanding of the differences and nuances between these concepts, and how they contribute to the unification vision of the .NET ecosystem. I also hope that this article has inspired you to embrace the versatility and power of the .NET platform, and to stay informed about the latest developments and innovations in the .NET world.
Thank you for reading this article. If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to leave a comment below.
Happy coding! 😊