Working with Assemblies in .NET

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Working with Assemblies
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The .NET Framework supports the creation of several kinds of applications: Windows console applications (also known as Character User Interface, or CUI, applications),
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Part I:
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The Basics
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Windows Forms (standard Windows GUI applications), Windows Services (previously known as Windows NT Services), Components (reusable objects conceptually similar to COM components), Web Forms (server-side Web applications with user interface), and Web Services (server-side Web applications that can be queried programmatically). Regardless of its type, a .NET application is deployed in the form of one assembly. You can also decide to split an application into multiple assemblies, for example, if you want to reuse code in other applications more easily. An assembly can include one or more executable files, each of which is individually known as a managed module. A managed module contains both IL code and metadata that describes both the types that the module exposes and the types that the module references.
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Single-File and Multiple-File Assemblies
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Most .NET compilers, including the Visual Basic and the C# compilers, transform one or more source files into a single-module assembly:
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Test.vb Functions.vb MainForm.vb VBC compiler Test.exe (single-module assembly)
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If the assembly contains managed modules written in different languages or if the assembly contains nonexecutable files, such as .html, .doc, .gif, or .jpg files, you must create a multifile assembly by using a tool named Assembly Linker (AL.EXE). In this case, you must use the /target:module option to inform the VBC compiler that it must output a managed module that will be later passed to the AL utility:
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Test.vb MainForm.vb Sort.cs Functions.cs Readme.html Logo.gif
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VBC /target:module
Test.netmodule
CSC /target:module
Sort.netmodule
AL /out:myasm.exe
myasm.exe
In the case depicted in the preceding diagram, the resulting assembly consists of five files: Myasm.exe, Test.netmodule, Sort.netmodule, Readme.html, and Logo.gif. When you assemble resource files, you can decide whether the resource file is included in the output file (using the / embed AL option) or just referenced by the assembly (using the /linkres AL option).
1:
Introducing Microsoft .NET
Neither Visual Studio .NET nor Visual Studio .NET 2003 can create multifile assemblies, so you re forced to use AL from the command line to link multiple modules in one assembly.
Metadata and the Manifest
The metadata included in each managed module completely describes each type defined in the module: name, public members, and the signature of each distinct method, down to the type of its private variables. Metadata also records information about every type that this module uses, including the name of the assembly that con tains that type. In short, you can think of metadata as a superset of type libraries used under COM, with an important difference: you can t separate IL from its metadata. (By comparison, you can create stand-alone type libraries.) While you can do COM programming without using a type library, you can t invoke code inside a .NET assembly if you can t access its metadata (and therefore the assembly file itself because the metadata is always stored inside the assembly s modules). The most important use of metadata is in ensuring that methods and fields are accessed in a correct way; that is, you must pass the correct number of arguments of the right type and assign the return value to a variable of the proper type. When referencing a type in another assembly, the metadata makes certain that the correct version of the assembly is used. Remember that a given system can host multiple versions of the same assembly. Another good thing about metadata is that it makes a managed module self-describing. By looking at metadata, BCL knows exactly what an assembly needs to run (such as a specific version of the .NET runtime), which external assemblies it references, and so on. No additional information is to be stored outside the assembly for example, in the system registry and you can install the assembly by making a simple XCOPY of its files in a directory on the hard disk. (As you already know, this simplified scenario doesn t account for shared assemblies, which also require registration in the GAC.) More generally, the entire .NET architecture is based on metadata. For example, the .NET memory manager uses metadata to calculate how much memory must be allocated when a .NET object is created. Metadata is also used when your code is serializing the state of an object to a file or a database field and also when your code is remoting an object (which occurs when the runtime serializes an object and sends its state to another workstation, where a perfect copy of the object can be re-created). IntelliSense in Visual Studio also exploits metadata to list members of a given type, as does the Object Browser tool to display all the types contained in an assembly and their members. The action of reading metadata to retrieve information about types in an assembly is known as reflection. The file you specify with the /out option of AL or the only executable file that you have when you create single-file assemblies with the VBC compiler contains the assembly s manifest. The manifest is a special metadata section that lists the names of all the files that make up the assembly and of all the types that the assembly exposes to the outside.
Part I:
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