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Developers Respond to .NET Source Release

Developers sound off on the release of .NET Framework source code

Developers itching to get under the covers of Microsoft's flagship .NET Framework got a bit of good news in October. That's when the company announced it would release the code under the Microsoft Reference License program. Developers will gain the ability to review and debug .NET source code under Visual Studio 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5. The two products are expected to ship together in the first quarter of 2008.

The Reference License allows developers to view -- but not modify or distribute -- the reference .NET source code. The goal of the release is to help .NET developers better understand "the inner workings of the framework's source code," according to an Oct. 3 blog posting by Microsoft Developer Division General Manager Scott Guthrie.

"Having source code access and debugger integration of the .NET Framework libraries is going to be really valuable for .NET developers," Guthrie writes. "Being able to step through and review the source should provide much better insight into how the .NET Framework libraries are implemented, and in turn enable developers to build better applications and make even better use of them."

Developer Praise
Developer response to the announced release has been positive. When we queried RDN readers about their thoughts, we fielded a burst of replies.

"I'm very happy that Microsoft is allowing developers to view the source. It's a well-appreciated feature," writes Bryan Farrell, a developer at a northern New Jersey bank, in an e-mail. "It will most definitely help, especially with the development of custom server controls. One of the biggest problems with developing server controls is the ability to emulate functionality of certain controls when inheriting from them."

Farrell says developers will be able to copy key code elements into their own classes and polish custom controls to a professional sheen.

"Combine that with full JavaScript/DOM IntelliSense support and the average developer will be able to create some amazing client/server-enabled server controls that rival the standard controls in their functionality and integration into the development environment," Farrell says.

One of the key applications for the released source code, according to Microsoft, is enabling deep debugging.

"There are moments when a framework class isn't behaving the way you think it should, or a framework bug is suspected, that source code could come in handy," writes Michael Khalsa, president of custom software outfit Silver Earth Inc. "Many of these would probably be classes that are wrapping underlying kernel features, I/O functionality, security features, etc."

Not Everyone Benefits
Some developers are less excited about the move. "At my shop, developers spend as little time as they can get away with stepping through their own code," writes Bob Lozo, a senior QA analyst at HTP Inc. "Adding the time to also step through the .NET underpinnings is something I won't see a lot of."

Wesley Davis, a Web/database/SharePoint developer for the U.S. Army in Iraq, says his group won't benefit from opened source code. But he does think others will.

"It's the deep integration of libraries and components, where an understanding of what's going on under the hood is useful," Davis explains. "I'm not thinking so much of the really basic class libraries, but those classes in the framework that Microsoft says, 'Not intended for use by YOU.' That 'just below what's publicly available' layer is the source code that I want to see."

Khalsa believes some developers will ignore the strictures of the license and repackage "a few classes here and there" to create what he calls "trimmed-down versions of classes" for specific projects.

"I do think that releasing source code will occasionally help, although it's less of an issue now that the framework is more polished than in the early version 1 days," he writes, adding: "The Mono people will probably have a field day."

About the Author

Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.

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