Ask the Expert

Does a workstation have to run in the .NET environment to run ASP.NET and VB.NET apps?

I am an Information Technology Specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs. I have been programming in VB and ASP for a number of years and have been trying to get my arms around .NET. Since my employer is very sensitive about deploying applications to workstations, most of my recent development work has been in ASP. The advantage of ASP to our environment is that I do not have compatibility or deployment issues with the desktop workstations and therefore we maintain a stable environment.

I purchased VB.NET and created my first hello world form with a button and a popup dialog box. Then I compiled the program and tried deploying it on a Windows 95 and Windows 98 machine. To my amazement, I had to install the .NET environment with 10 MB of files in order for my little program to run. It was my understanding that with .NET you can deploy only the DLL files that you need for the application to run, and the files can be in the application folder and not the Windows folder. As you can see, if this is correct about .NET, then I must abandon my attempts to migrate to this development platform.

Is ASP.NET the same way as VB.NET? Does it require the workstation to run in the .NET environment in order to run applications? How do professional developers and those who write shareware programs deal with the deployment of DLL files? Most of the shareware programs that I have installed do not put any files in the Windows folder but still seems to run fine.

If you have time and can provide me some insight I would greatly appreciate it. Since I live in a very remote area, I do not have access to Microsoft seminars or have any Microsoft contacts.
Being a veteran, and a disabled one at that, I appreciate what the VA does! What you're seeing with .NET client application is that, in order to run, that client application needs the complete .NET Common Language Runtime (CLR) present in order to run. While Microsoft might shoot me for saying this, the best way to think about .NET is that it's essentially a new operating system that runs under Windows. When you develop a client application, you need to make sure the supporting files are there.

The good news is that Microsoft's CLR is a safe installation so it's reasonable to install it on the client machines. The main reason the network administrators are gun shy, and rightfully so, about installing things on the desktop is the "DLL hell" problem where one installation of a single bad DLL can blow out multiple applications. .NET avoids all of that and is built from the ground up to allow you to choose exactly which versions of what DLLs you want to run against with the application's configuration files.

When it comes to ASP.NET, that's something that will become extremely important to your future. With ASP.NET, everything runs on the server, just like traditional ASP (or ASP.OLD), so the user interface is shown in the browser with nothing on the client machine. You'll still need to install the .NET CLR on the server machines to execute your ASP.NET applications. Once you see how much easier life is with ASP.NET, you'll want (and need!) to move to it as soon as possible.

This was first published in May 2003

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