Various components of the .NET Platform and the functions performed by them

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Now we will go in detail about the various components that build the .NET framework
and its functionalities.

Common Language Runtime

At the core of the .NET platform is the Common Language Runtime (CLR). The CLR
simplifies application development, provides a robust and secure execution
environment, supports multiple languages and simplifies application deployment and
management.

The diagram below provides more details on the CLR's features:

Features of CLR in .Net

In this section we will cover some of the more significant features provided to .NET
applications by the CLR. These include:

• Memory Management
• Common Type System

Before moving further let us discuss briefly about Common Language
Infrastructure(CLI) according to Standardizing Information and Communication
Systems(ECMA) specifications. The Microsoft Shared Source CLI Implementation is a
file archive containing working source code for the ECMA-334 (C#) and ECMA-335
(Common Language Infrastructure, or CLI) standards. In addition to the CLI
implementation and the C# compiler, the Shared Source CLI Implementation from
Microsoft called ROTOR contains tools, utilities, additional Framework classes, and
samples.

For the benefit of existing codebases, the CLI standard also takes pains to describe
in detail how unmanaged software can co-exist safely with managed components,
enabling seamless sharing of computing resources and responsibilities.

Like the C runtime, the CLI has been designed to exploit the power of diverse
platforms, as well as to complement existing tools, languages, and runtimes. Let's
look at a few of the likely ways that the Shared Source CLI Implementation might
interest you:

• There are significant differences in implementation between this code and the
code for Microsoft's commercial CLR implementation, both to facilitate portability
and to make the code base more approachable. If you are a developer who is
interested in knowing how JIT compilers and garbage collectors work, or of how
Microsoft Visual Studio works on your behalf under the covers, this distribution
will definitely hold your attention!

• The distribution will help you in creating courseware around interesting topics
that can be illustrated by this codebase.

• The distribution will help you in implementing your own version of the CLI and it
also helps you in understanding the way the compilers and tools target the CLI.

Automatic Memory Management

Now let us discuss about an important feature of the CLR called Automatic Memory
Management. A major feature of .NET framework CLR is that the runtime
automatically handles the allocation and release of an object’s memory resources.
Automatic memory management enhances code quality and developer productivity
without negatively impacting expressiveness or performance.

The Garbage Collector (GC) is responsible for collecting the objects no longer
referenced by the application. The GC may automatically be invoked by the CLR or
the application may explicitly invoke the GC by calling GC.Collect. Objects are not
released from memory until the GC is invoked and setting an object reference to
Nothing does not invoke the GC, a period of time often elapses between when the
object is no longer referenced by the application and when the GC collects it.

Common Type System

The Common Type System defines how data types are declared, used, and managed
in the runtime, and is also an important part of the runtime’s support for the Cross-
Language Integration. The common type system performs the following functions:

• Establishes a framework that enables cross-language integration, type safety,
and high performance code execution.

• Provides an object-oriented model that supports the complete implementation of
many programming languages.

• Defines rules that languages must follow, which helps ensure that objects written
in different languages can interact with each other.

The Common Type System can be divided into two general categories of types,
Reference type and Value type each of which is further divided into subcategories.

Common Type System Architecture

Common Type System Architecture in .Net

The .NET type system has two different kinds of types namely Value types and
Reference types.

Value types 

Value types directly contain the data, and instances of value types are either
allocated on the stack or allocated inline in a structure. Value types can be built-in
(implemented by the runtime), user-defined, or enumerations.
The core value types supported by the .NET platform reside within the root of the
System namespace. There types are often referred to as the .NET “Primitive Types”.
They include:
• Boolean
• Byte
• Char
• DateTime
• Decimal
• Double
• Guid
• Int16
• Int32
• Int64
• SByte
• Single
• Timespan

Reference types 

Reference types store a reference to the value's memory address, and are
allocated on the heap. Reference types can be self-describing types, pointer types, or
interface types. The type of a reference type can be determined from values of selfdescribing
types. Self-describing types are further split into arrays and class types.

Value Type vs. Reference Type

The primary difference between reference and value types is how instances of the
two types are treated by the CLR. One difference is that the GC collects instances of
reference types that are no longer referenced by the application. Instances of value
types are automatically cleaned up when the variable goes out of scope. Let’s take a
look at an example in VB.NET:

Another difference is when one variable is set equal to another or passed as a
parameter to a method call. When a variable of a reference type (A) is set equal to
another variable of the same type (B), variable A is assigned a reference to B. Both
variables reference the same object. When a variable of value type (A) is set equal
to another variable of the same type (B), variable A receives a copy of the contents
of B. Each variable will have its own individual copy of the data.

Yet another difference between the behaviors of value types versus reference types
is how equality is determined. Two variables of a given reference type are
determined to be equal if both the variables refer to the same object. Two variables
of a given value type are determined to be equal if the state of the two variables are
equal.

The final difference between the two is the way the instances of a type are initialized.
In a reference type, the variable is initialized with a default value of Null. The
variable will not reference an object until explicitly done by the object. Whereas a
variable declared as a value type will always reference a valid object.

Custom Types

A Custom Type is a set of data and related behavior that is defined by the developer.
A developer can define both custom reference type and custom value types.
In vb.net we can define custom types by using the Structure keyword. Let’s look at
an example wherein we define a custom value type.

Sub Test()
Dim myInteger as Integer
Dim myObject as Object
End Sub

‘myInteger a Value type is automatically cleaned up when the Sub ends.

‘But myObject a Reference type is not cleaned up until the GC is run.

We declare a structure by name Test, it signals vb.net compiler to have Test
derive from System.ValueType and therefore a value type. In the Main() we initialize
x and then set y equal to x. Since x and y are both instances of value types, y is set
equal to the value of x. After changing the fields in y write the value of the fields in
both x and y to the Console. The output of the program is:

x: myInt = 4 and myString = Test
y: myInt = 1 and myString = Changed

Notice that even after changing the value of fields in y it did not affect x. This is
exactly the behavior required for primitive types.

Boxing and Unboxing Value Types

Sometimes it is required to treat an instance of a value type as if it were an instance
of a reference type. An example of this is when a value type is passed ByRef as a
parameter of a method. This is where the concept of Boxing becomes important.
Boxing occurs when an instance of a value type is converted to a reference type. An
instance of a value type can be converted either to a System.Object or to any other
interface type implemented by the value type.

Module Module1
Public Structure Test
Public myString as String
Public myInteger as Integer
End Structure
Public Sub Main()
‘Notice that both declarations are equivalent
‘Both x and y are instance of type test
Dim x as New Test()
Dim y as Test
x.myInteger = 4
y.myString = “Test”
‘Reference to x is assigned to y
y = x
y.myInteger = 1
y.myString = “Changed”
Console.WriteKine(String.Format(“x : myInt = {0} and String = {1} ”, _
x.myInteger, x.myString))
Console.WriteKine(String.Format(“y : myInt = {0} and String = {1} ”, _
y.myInteger, y.myString))
End Sub
Module Module1
Public Function Add(ByVal x As Object, ByVal y As Object) As Object
Add = x + y
End Function
Public Sub Main
Dim x As Integer = 2
Dim y As Integer = 3
Dim sum As Integer
Sum = Add(x , y)
Console.WriteLine(“ {0) + {1} = {2} ”, x, y, sum)
End Sub
End Module

In the above example both x and y are boxed before they are passed to Add.
Then x,y and Sum are boxed before they are passed to WriteLine.

Unboxing involves the conversion of an instance of a reference type back to its
original value type. In Vb.net it is done using the helper functions in the
Microsoft.VisualBasic.Helpers namespace. For example in the above example,
IntegerType.FromObject is called to unbox the return parameter of type object back
to Integer.

Just-In-Time Compilation (JIT)

The MSIL is the language that all of the .NET languages compile down to. After they
are in this intermediate language, a process called Just-In-Time (JIT) compilation
occurs when resources are used from your application at runtime. JIT allows “parts”
of your application to execute when they are needed, which means that if something
is never needed, it will never compile down to the native code. By using the JIT, the
CLR can cache code that is used more than once and reuse it for subsequent calls,
without going through the compilation process again.

The figure below shows the JIT Process:
Just In Time(JIT) compiler compilation process

JIT Compilation Process

The JIT process enables a secure environment by making certain assumptions:

• Type references are compatible with the type being referenced.

• Operations are invoked on an object only if they are within the execution
parameters for that object.

• Identities within the application are accurate.

By following these rules, the managed execution can guarantee that code being
executed is type safe; the execution will only take place in memory that it is allowed
to access. This is possible by the verification process that occurs when the MSIL is
converted into CPU-specific code. During this verification, the code is examined to
ensure that it is not corrupt, it is type safe, and the code does not interfere with

existing security policies that are in place on the system.

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