Developer .NET UPDATE—brought to you by the Windows & .NET Magazine Network
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April 8, 2003--In this issue:
1. DEVELOPER .NET PERSPECTIVES
- Visual Studio .NET and Windows 2003 Features, Part 1
- Register Now for Our Wireless Technology Web Seminar!
- Have You Checked Out SSMU's Newly Designed Site?
3. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Visualize Your Code as a Flowchart
4. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
1. DEVELOPER .NET PERSPECTIVES
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to discuss some of the features in Visual Studio .NET 2003 and Windows Server 2003, which Microsoft is officially releasing on April 24. Although some of the features I'll discuss are in Windows 2003, all the features are accessible from Visual Studio .NET. This week, let's look at a feature that Microsoft designed just to make your Windows .NET Framework applications confusing: obfuscation.
Obfuscation doesn't make developing applications confusing. Rather, obfuscation makes the resulting code confusing, which is a good thing. As its definition implies, obfuscation conceals the logic that's embedded in an application so that other developers can't capture the code, reverse engineer the application, then sell it or a similar program under a different name.
With Framework applications, reverse engineering might become more prevalent. Applications written in the Framework languages aren't compiled down to the machine-language level but rather the Microsoft intermediate language (MSIL) level. Developers can glean a significant amount of information about the source code from the MSIL-compiled code. Framework assemblies often embed readable metadata that describes the intended runtime behavior of the assemblies' modules. As a result, someone who wants to reverse engineer logic can look at an assembly and get a pretty good idea of the major elements in the source code.
If you're developing an application that will be sold to the public or a set of custom libraries that will be sold to other developers, the obfuscator that's part of Visual Studio .NET can help protect your source code. You can obfuscate the source of the logic used to create your application. The obfuscator starts by changing the friendly names that you assigned variables into unreadable names. Then, the obfuscator adjusts some of the logical pointers to make your code difficult to follow. The idea is that an obfuscator doesn't interfere with the running of your logic, but if someone attempts to reverse engineer your code, the logic becomes nested or broken.
If you're developing an application (e.g., a Web site) that will run on a server you control, the obfuscator doesn't have much value. Although your application might be publicly accessed, your source code will already be protected because it's on your server.
Interestingly, Microsoft didn't develop its own obfuscator. Instead, Microsoft purchased the rights to use PreEmptive Solutions' Dotfuscator, which is the same product that Sun Microsystems uses to obfuscate some of its core Java security libraries. Visual Studio .NET's embedded Dotfuscator has only basic capabilities. To go beyond those capabilities, you must purchase an upgraded version of Dotfuscator or purchase a third-party product, such as Wise Owl's Demeanor for .NET or Remotesoft's Salamander.
Dotfuscator isn't a tool that you turn on while debugging. Instead, using Dotfuscator requires an additional step when you're creating the release version of your application. After you use Visual Studio .NET to compile your application in release mode, you select Dotfuscator on Visual Studio .NET's Tools menu to open it. Dotfuscator, which runs in its own process, takes your release assembly as its input and recompiles it, producing hard-to-read custom project files.
The official release of Visual Studio .NET and Windows 2003 is just around the corner. Although some people might not think these new products offer many new features, they certainly have a few elements, such as the Dotfuscator, that can make a big difference in developers' jobs. Next week, I'll discuss the next generation of the Internet and how these new Microsoft products are preparing to meet it.
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3. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Sue Cooper, [email protected])
4. CONTACT US
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