The .NET ecosystem is a collection of platforms, languages, libraries, and tools that enable developers to build various types of applications using a common set of technologies. However, not all .NET platforms are the same. There are significant differences between .NET Framework, .NET Core, and .NET 5 that affect the development, deployment, and performance of applications.
In this blog post, I will compare and contrast these three platforms in terms of their features, characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. We will also discuss the evolution of the .NET ecosystem, the considerations for migration, and the future outlook of .NET development.
The .NET ecosystem has undergone several changes and improvements since its inception in 2002. Here is a brief overview of how it evolved over time:
Historical context: Emergence of .NET Framework: The first version of .NET Framework was released by Microsoft in 2002 as a platform for developing Windows-based applications using various languages such as C#, and VB.NET. It provided a common runtime environment called the Common Language Runtime (CLR) and a set of class libraries and APIs that supported various functionalities such as web development, data access, networking, security, and more. Over the years, Microsoft released several updates and enhancements to .NET Framework, making it the dominant platform for Windows development.
Introduction of .NET Core as a cross-platform, open-source alternative: In 2016, Microsoft introduced .NET Core as a new platform that aimed to address some of the limitations and challenges of the .NET Framework. Unlike .NET Framework, which was tightly coupled with Windows, .NET Core was designed to be cross-platform, meaning that it could run on Linux and macOS as well as Windows. It was also open-source, meaning that anyone could contribute to its development and improvement. Moreover, .NET Core was modular and lightweight, allowing developers to choose only the components they needed for their applications. It also offered improved performance and scalability compared to .NET Framework.
Transition to .NET 5: Unification of .NET Core and .NET Framework: In 2020, Microsoft released .NET 5 as the next major version of .NET Core. However, unlike previous versions of .NET Core, which had a separate version number from .NET Framework, .NET 5 adopted the same version number as .NET Framework to signify its unification with it. In other words, .NET 5 was intended to be the single platform for all types of .NET development, whether it was Windows-based or cross-platform. It merged the best features and capabilities of both .NET Core and .NET Framework while also adding new ones such as C# 9 and F# 5 language features. It also aimed to provide a single codebase for multiple application types such as desktop, web, mobile, cloud, gaming, IoT, and more.
Each of the three platforms has its own set of features and characteristics that make it suitable for different scenarios and requirements. Here is a summary of some of the key aspects of each platform:
Windows-centric development: As mentioned earlier, .NET Framework was designed primarily for developing Windows-based applications. It relied on Windows-specific features and components such as the Windows Registry, Windows Services, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Windows Forms, etc. Therefore, it could not run on other operating systems without using third-party tools or frameworks such as Mono or Wine.
Extensive class libraries and APIs: One of the main advantages of .NET Framework was that it provided a rich set of class libraries and APIs that covered a wide range of functionalities and domains such as web development (ASP.NET Web Forms), data access (Entity Framework), networking (WCF), security (Cryptography), etc. These libraries and APIs were well-tested and widely used by millions of developers around the world.
Windows Forms and WPF for desktop applications: For developing desktop applications using .NET Framework, developers had two main options: Windows Forms and WPF. Windows Forms was a simple and easy-to-use framework that allowed developers to create graphical user interfaces (GUIs) using drag-and-drop controls and events. WPF was a more advanced and powerful framework that enabled developers to create rich and interactive GUIs using XAML (a declarative markup language) and data binding.
ASP.NET for web applications: For developing web applications using .NET Framework, developers had the option of using ASP.NET, a framework that followed the model-view-controller (MVC) pattern and allowed developers to create dynamic web pages using server-side controls and events. ASP.NET also supported features such as master pages, user controls, validation controls, etc.
Entity Framework for data access: For accessing and manipulating data using .NET Framework, developers had the option of using Entity Framework, an object-relational mapping (ORM) framework that enabled developers to work with data using domain objects rather than database tables and queries. Entity Framework also supported features such as code-first, database-first, and model-first approaches, lazy loading, change tracking, migrations, etc.
Cross-platform compatibility: As mentioned earlier, .NET Core was designed to be cross-platform, meaning that it could run on Windows, Linux, and macOS without requiring any modifications or adaptations. This gave developers the flexibility and freedom to choose their preferred operating system and deploy their applications to various platforms and environments.
Modular and lightweight design: Unlike .NET Framework, which was a monolithic platform that included all the components and libraries in a single package, .NET Core was a modular platform that allowed developers to choose only the components and libraries they needed for their applications. This reduced the size and complexity of the applications and improved their performance and efficiency.
Improved performance and scalability: .NET Core also offered improved performance and scalability compared to .NET Framework. It used a new runtime called CoreCLR that was optimized for speed and memory usage. It also supported features such as async/await, span, memory, etc. that enhanced the performance of applications. Moreover, .NET Core supported features such as containerization and microservices that enabled developers to build scalable and distributed applications.
ASP.NET Core for web applications: For developing web applications using .NET Core, developers had the option of using ASP.NET Core, a framework that was a complete rewrite of ASP.NET and offered several advantages over it. ASP.NET Core followed the MVC pattern more strictly and allowed developers to create dynamic web pages using Razor Pages or Blazor. ASP.NET Core also supported features such as dependency injection, middleware, configuration, logging, etc.
Entity Framework Core for data access: For accessing and manipulating data using .NET Core, developers had the option of using Entity Framework Core, an ORM framework that was a complete rewrite of Entity Framework and offered several advantages over it. Entity Framework Core was more lightweight and modular than Entity Framework and allowed developers to work with data using domain objects rather than database tables and queries. Entity Framework Core also supported features such as code-first, database-first, and model-first approaches, change tracking, migrations, etc.
Unified platform merging .NET Core and .NET Framework: As mentioned earlier, .NET 5 was intended to be the single platform for all types of .NET development, whether it was Windows-based or cross-platform. It merged the best features and capabilities of both .NET Core and .NET Framework while also adding new ones such as C# 9 and F# 5 language features. It also aimed to provide a single codebase for multiple application types such as desktop, web, mobile, cloud, gaming, IoT, and more.
Enhanced performance and capabilities: .NET 5 also offered enhanced performance and capabilities compared to both .NET Core and .NET Framework. It used the same runtime as .NET Core (CoreCLR) but improved it further with features such as tiered compilation, ready-to-run images, single-file executables, etc. It also added new features such as source generators, nullable reference types, records, pattern matching, etc. that improved the productivity and quality of code.
C# 9 and F# 5 language features: One of the main attractions of .NET 5 was that it introduced new language features for both C# and F# that made them more expressive and powerful.
Some of the new features for C# 9 were:
- Top-level statements: Simplified the syntax for writing console applications by removing the need for namespaces, classes, and methods.
- Init-only properties: Enabled immutable object initialization by allowing properties to be set only during object creation.
- Records: Provided a concise way to define immutable data types with value-based equality and inheritance support.
- Pattern matching enhancements: Added new patterns such as relational patterns, logical patterns, type patterns, etc. that made pattern matching more versatile and readable.
Some of the new features for F# 5 were:
- String interpolation: Enabled embedding expressions inside string literals using the
- Open static classes: Allowed importing all the static members of a class without specifying the class name each time.
- Enhanced slicing: Added support for slicing multidimensional arrays and lists using the
- nameof function: Returned the name of a symbol as a string literal at compile time.
- String interpolation: Enabled embedding expressions inside string literals using the
Single codebase for multiple application types: Another major advantage of .NET 5 was that it enabled developers to use a single codebase for multiple application types such as desktop, web, mobile, cloud, gaming, IoT, and more. This meant that developers could reuse their code and logic across different platforms and devices without having to rewrite or adapt them. This also reduced the maintenance and testing efforts and increased the consistency and quality of the applications.
Another important aspect of comparing the three platforms is their development and deployment processes. Each platform has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of how developers can create, test, and deploy their applications. Here is a summary of some of the key aspects of each platform:
Windows-exclusive development: As mentioned earlier, .NET Framework was designed primarily for developing Windows-based applications. Therefore, it required developers to use Windows as their development environment. This limited the choice and flexibility of developers who preferred to use other operating systems such as Linux or macOS.
Dependencies on specific Windows versions: Another drawback of the .NET Framework was that it depended on specific Windows versions and features for its functionality and compatibility. This meant that developers had to ensure that their target machines had the same or higher Windows versions as their development machines. This also meant that developers had to update their applications whenever a new Windows version was released.
Deployment challenges for cross-platform scenarios: Finally, .NET Framework posed some challenges for deploying applications to cross-platform scenarios such as Linux or macOS machines or Docker containers. Since .NET Framework was not natively supported on these platforms, developers had to use third-party tools or frameworks such as Mono or Wine to run their applications. However, these tools or frameworks did not guarantee full compatibility or performance of the applications.
Command-line interface (CLI) for development: Unlike .NET Framework, which relied on graphical tools such as Visual Studio for development, .NET Core offered a command-line interface (CLI) for development. This gave developers more control and flexibility over their development process and allowed them to use their preferred code editors and tools. The CLI also supported features such as scaffolding, testing, debugging, publishing, etc.
Containerization and microservices support: One of the main advantages of .NET Core was that it supported containerization and microservices architectures for developing and deploying applications. Containerization allowed developers to package their applications and their dependencies into isolated and lightweight units called containers that could run on any platform or environment. Microservices allowed developers to break down their applications into smaller and independent services that could communicate with each other through APIs. These features improved the scalability, reliability, and maintainability of the applications.
Simplified deployment with self-contained executables: Another advantage of .NET Core was that it simplified the deployment process by allowing developers to create self-contained executables that included all the necessary components and libraries for running the applications. This eliminated the need for installing or updating any external dependencies or frameworks on the target machines. This also reduced the size and complexity of the applications.
Docker containers for easy deployment: Finally, .NET Core also supported Docker containers for easy deployment of applications. Docker containers were a type of container that used Docker technology to create, manage, and run containers. Docker containers offered several benefits such as portability, security, isolation, etc. Developers could use Docker commands or tools such as Visual Studio or Visual Studio Code to create and deploy Docker containers for their applications.
Similar development and deployment advantages as .NET Core: As mentioned earlier, .NET 5 was based on .NET Core and inherited most of its features and capabilities. Therefore, it also offered similar development and deployment advantages as .NET Core such as CLI support, containerization support, self-contained executables, Docker containers, etc.
Enhanced performance and compatibility: However, .NET 5 also improved upon some of the aspects of .NET Core such as performance and compatibility. For example, it introduced features such as tiered compilation, ready-to-run images, single-file executables, etc. that enhanced the performance of the applications by optimizing the code generation and execution processes. It also improved the compatibility of the applications by supporting more APIs and libraries from .NET Framework.
Migration strategies from .NET Core and .NET Framework: Finally, .NET 5 also provided some migration strategies for developers who wanted to move their existing applications from .NET Core or .NET Framework to .NET 5. For migrating from .NET Core, developers could simply update their project files and target frameworks and resolve any potential issues or conflicts. For migrating from .NET Framework, developers could use tools such as .NET Upgrade Assistant to assess the feasibility and perform the necessary steps for migrating their applications.
Another aspect of comparing the three platforms is their future outlook. Each platform has its own roadmap and vision for the future development and improvement of the platform. Here is a summary of some of the key aspects of each platform:
.NET Framework: No further development.: As mentioned earlier, .NET Framework will not receive any further development or improvement from Microsoft. It will only receive security and reliability updates, but no new features or capabilities. Therefore, .NET Framework is considered to be a legacy platform that will eventually be phased out by .NET Core and .NET 6.
.NET Core: Transition to .NET 5 and .NET 6: As mentioned earlier, .NET Core was the precursor to .NET 5 and .NET 6, which are the next major versions of .NET Core. Therefore, .NET Core will not receive any further development or improvement from Microsoft either. Therefore, .NET Core is considered to be a transitional platform that is eventually replaced by .NET 5 and .NET 6.
.NET 6: The future of .NET: However, .NET 5 is also deprecated, as Microsoft has already released .NET 6 in November 2021, which is the current LTS version of .NET. .NET 6 will continue the vision and mission of .NET 5 by providing a unified and innovative platform for all types of .NET development. It has also introduced new features and improvements such as:
- MAUI: A framework that will enable developers to create cross-platform native UIs for desktop and mobile applications using a single codebase.
- Minimal APIs: A feature that will simplify the creation of web APIs by reducing the amount of boilerplate code required.
- Hot Reload: A feature that will enable developers to apply code changes to their applications without restarting them.
Another factor to consider when comparing the three platforms is their community and support. Each platform has its own level of community growth and engagement, as well as Microsoft’s commitment to long-term support. Here is a summary of some of the key aspects of each platform:
.NET Framework: Mature but limited community growth: .NET Framework has a mature and established community of developers who have been using it for years. It also has a large number of resources and tutorials available online that can help developers learn and use the platform. However, .NET Framework has a limited community growth potential due to its Windows-centric nature and its lack of innovation and improvement compared to .NET Core and .NET 6.
.NET 6: Continuation of community expansion: .NET 6 is expected to continue the community expansion that .NET Core started by attracting more developers from both .NET Framework and .NET Core. It also aims to foster a unified and collaborative community of developers who can work together on the same platform and share their knowledge and experience.
Microsoft’s commitment to long-term support: Microsoft has committed to providing long-term support for all platforms but with different levels of priority and frequency. For .NET Framework, Microsoft will provide security and reliability updates only, but no new features or improvements. For .NET 6, Microsoft will provide updates every year, but only the LTS version will be supported.
One of the most common questions that developers have when comparing the three platforms is whether they should migrate their existing applications from .NET Framework or .NET Core to .NET 6 or not. The answer to this question depends on several factors such as the type, size, complexity, and requirements of the applications, as well as the benefits, challenges, and adjustments involved in the migration process. Here are some of the considerations for migration:
Assessing existing projects for migration feasibility: The first step for migration is to assess the existing projects for their migration feasibility. This involves analyzing the codebase, dependencies, libraries, APIs, features, etc. of the projects and determining how compatible they are with .NET 6. This also involves identifying any potential issues or conflicts that might arise during or after the migration.
Benefits of migrating to .NET Core or .NET 5: The next step for migration is to weigh the benefits of migrating to .NET 6 against the costs and risks involved. Some of the benefits of migrating are:
- Improved performance and scalability
- Cross-platform compatibility
- Enhanced features and capabilities
- Simplified development and deployment
- Future-proofing and innovation
Potential challenges and adjustments: The final step for migration is to prepare for the potential challenges and adjustments required for migrating to .NET 6. Some of the challenges and adjustments are:
- Code refactoring and rewriting
- Dependency management and resolution
- Library and API compatibility and replacement
- Feature availability and functionality
- Testing and debugging
Available tools and resources for migration: Fortunately, there are some tools and resources available that can help developers with the migration process. One of these tools is .NET Upgrade Assistant. .NET Upgrade Assistant is a tool that helps developers upgrade their applications from .NET Framework to .NET 6 by performing a series of steps such as updating project files, changing target frameworks, resolving dependencies, etc.
In this blog post, we have compared and contrasted three platforms in the .NET ecosystem: .NET Framework, .NET Core, and .NET 5/.NET 6. We have discussed their evolution, features, characteristics, development, deployment, community, support, migration, and future outlook. I have also highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of each platform in terms of its suitability for different scenarios and requirements.
The main takeaway from this comparison is that each platform has its own strengths and weaknesses that make it more or less appropriate for different types of applications. However, it is clear that .NET Framework is becoming obsolete and irrelevant in the face of newer and better platforms such as .NET 6. Therefore, developers who are still using or considering using .NET Framework should seriously consider migrating their applications to .NET 6 as soon as possible.
On the other hand, it is also clear that .NET 6 is the future of .NET development. They offer superior performance, compatibility, features, and capabilities that make them ideal for developing modern and innovative applications for various platforms and devices. Therefore, developers who are already using or considering using .NET 6 should continue to explore and embrace the evolving .NET ecosystem.
I hope that this blog post has helped you understand the differences between these three platforms and make an informed decision about when and how to migrate to use for your projects.
Thanks for reading till the end…