The .NET SDK vs. Visual Studio .NET
By Paul Litwin
When Visual InterDev was introduced in 1996, ASP (Active Server Pages) was little more than the name of the extension of the pages that Visual InterDev produced. Visual InterDev 1.0 (and the subsequent release, Visual InterDev 6.0), however, had a number of problems, including buggy design-time controls and an assortment of installation and configuration issues. Despite Visual InterDev s limited success, ASP, the technology, became a huge hit. In fact, a very active community of ASP developers sprang up and people started developing killer ASP apps without using Visual InterDev. That s when the term Visual Notepad was coined.
Enter .NET. A lot of ASP developers are wondering if they should use the .NET Framework SDK (along with a text editor) or Visual Studio .NET for developing their ASP.NET sites.
The most obvious reason to use a text editor and the .NET Framework SDK for your ASP.NET development is that it s free (assuming you re using Notepad or some other editor that you already own). All you have to do is download the SDK (http://www.asp.net/download.aspx) to start creating ASP.NET applications. While this may be the most obvious reason, there are plenty of other reasons to follow this path. First, you may prefer to use your favorite text editor instead of Visual Studio .NET. Second, there s plenty of resources, including the excellent quick start tutorials (part of the SDK docs) and many books (including the one Mike Amundsen and I wrote, ASP.NET for Developers) on creating applications this way. Third, and this is a big one, this route leaves you in complete control. You re not forced to use code-behind files, for example, if you don t want to. Nor are you stuck with a lot of extra files clogging up your folders. Fourth, developing ASP.NET applications using the SDK gives you a better understanding of how things really work, which can t hurt. Finally, it just isn t that difficult to use the SDK and its command line tools to create ASP.NET applications.
So if developing with a text editor and the .NET Framework SDK is so great, why would anyone choose Visual Studio .NET? It s simple: the Visual Studio .NET integrated development environment (IDE) makes ASP.NET development much easier. Using VS .NET you can build your Web forms visually by dragging and dropping server controls onto the page. Double click to create event handlers. Easily create data-bound Web pages using wizards. One of my favorites: VS .NET includes advanced IntelliSense support for programming code, HTML, and XML. (Microsoft isn t often credited with being innovative, but their invention of IntelliSense several years ago has to be the coolest things to come to the world of programming since the function.) VS .NET draws green squiggles under syntax errors and supports code outlining. I could go on. Have I mentioned the wonderful validating XML editor? Or the fact that VS .NET takes care of most of the plumbing details, like when you wish to create a client to a Web Service? Simply navigate to the Web Service and Visual Studio takes care of creating and compiling the proxy for you. Visual Studio .NET is the best development environment that Microsoft has produced to date.
So which should you use? Using the SDK, the command-line tools, and a text editor you get the ultimate in control and flexibility, but you have to work a little harder. Visual Studio .NET contains a fabulous IDE that takes a lot of the tedium out of ASP.NET development, but at the price of control. Hats off to Microsoft for giving us a choice. I suggest you try both and see which one works best for you.
Paul Litwin is editor-in-chief of asp.netPRO magazine. Readers may contact him at mailto:[email protected].