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WPF and Silverlight are related technologies for building user interfaces in .NET. Although they are aimed at two significantly different scenarios, they share so many concepts and features that it makes sense to discuss both of them at the same time almost everything in this chapter applies to both WPF and Silverlight. As its name suggests, the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) is for building interactive applications that run on Windows. WPF applications typically run as standalone applications, requiring an installation step to get them onto the target machine, as they may need prerequisites to be installed first. (WPF is .NET-based, so it requires the .NET Framework to be installed.) This means they are deployed like old-school Windows desktop applications. However, WPF makes it easy for applications to exploit the graphical potential of modern computers in a way that is extremely hard to achieve with more traditional Windows UI technologies. WPF applications don t have to look old-school. Silverlight is for web applications, or more specifically, so-called Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). It does not depend on the full .NET Framework it is a browser plugin that provides a self-contained, lightweight, cross-platform version of the framework. The whole Silverlight runtime is around a 5 MB download, whereas the full .NET Framework is far more than 200 MB* and Silverlight installs in seconds rather than minutes. Once the plug-in is installed, Silverlight content downloads as part of a web page, just like AJAX and Flash content, with no installation step for new applications. (Like with Flash-based Adobe AIR applications, it s also possible for a Silverlight application to run out-of-browser once it has been downloaded, if the user consents.) But because Silverlight contains a form of the .NET Framework, you get to write client-side code in C#, which can run in all of the popular web browsers, on both Windows and Mac OS X.
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* It s not usually necessary to download the entire .NET Framework an online installer can determine which bits are required for the target machine. Even so, a full Silverlight download ends up being about one-fifth the size of the smallest possible download required for the full framework.
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At the time of this writing, Microsoft does not produce a Silverlight plugin for Linux. However, an open source project called Moonlight offers a Linux-compatible version of Silverlight. This is based on the Mono project, an open source version of C# and the .NET Framework that can run on various non-Microsoft systems, including Linux. Microsoft has provided some assistance to the Moonlight project to help its developers achieve compatibility with the Microsoft Silverlight plugin. However, be aware that the Moonlight plug-in has historically lagged behind Microsoft s as we write this, Moonlight s current official release is two major version numbers behind Microsoft s. If you need to support Linux desktop machines with a Silverlight-based web application, this lag will limit the features you can use.
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Despite the very different environments in which WPF and Silverlight applications run, they have a great deal in common. Both use a markup language called Xaml to define the layout and structure of user interfaces. Their APIs are sufficiently similar that it is possible to write a single codebase that can be compiled for either WPF or Silverlight. There are critical concepts, such as data binding and templating, which you need to understand to be productive in either system. It s not accurate to say that Silverlight is a subset of WPF. However, this doesn t stop people from saying it; even Microsoft sometimes makes this claim. It s strictly untrue: WPF has many features that Silverlight does not and Silverlight has a few features that WPF does not, so neither is a subset of the other. But even if you allow a slightly woolly interpretation of the word subset, it s a misleading way to describe it. Even where both Silverlight and WPF offer equivalent features they don t always work in the same way. A few minutes with a decompilation tool such as Reflector or ILDASM makes it abundantly clear that WPF and Silverlight are quite different beasts on the inside. So if you are contemplating building a single application that works both in the browser as a Silverlight application and on the desktop as a WPF application, it s important to understand the point in the following warning.
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While it is possible to write a single codebase that can run as both WPF and Silverlight code, this doesn t happen automatically. Silverlight code is likely to need some modification before it will run correctly in WPF. If you have existing WPF code, significant chunks of it may need rewriting before it will run in Silverlight.
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Codebases that run on both WPF and Silverlight tend to use conditional compilation they use the C# preprocessor s #if, #else, and #endif directives to incorporate two different versions of the code in a single source file in the places where differences are required. Consequently, development and testing must be performed on Silverlight and WPF side by side throughout the development process.
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In practice, it s not common to need to write a single body of code that runs in both environments. It might be useful if you re writing a reusable user interface component that you plan to use in multiple different applications, but any single application is likely to pick just one platform either WPF or Silverlight depending on how and where you need to deploy it. In this chapter, the examples will use Silverlight, but WPF equivalents would be very similar. We will call out areas in which a WPF version would look different. We will start by looking at one of the most important features, which is common to both WPF and Silverlight.
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