.NET Framework 4: A first look at the new features

Visual Studio 2010 Release Candidate has been made available a few weeks back. The .NET Framework 4 is arriving with some great new enhancements for all of us, and in this post, I plan to briefly discuss some of those exciting features that caught my eye. Let’s begin:

Parallel extensions
Introducing parallelism in our applications was never this much easier. The new Task Parallel Library offers a lot more control over the work items (called Tasks) as compared to our classic Thread Pooling techniques. The semantics of the new parallel loops are much similar to our existing sequential loops and hence our existing logic can be parallelized with minimal effort. I have discussed the new parallel programming features in .NET framework 4 in my followup post here.

Entity framework 4
The new version of Entity Framework seems to have quite a number of enhancements. It is great that Microsoft has addressed the user responses regarding the current limitations of Entity Framework 3.5. We are getting support for POCO (Plain Old CLR/C# Objects) and self-tracking entities which are great features for our enterprise and LOB applications having more than one tier. The new foreign key associations are another great enhancement since the users were finding it difficult to set associations without grabbing the entity from database. Model first development, lazy loading, code only abilities, complex types handling, better naming of entities, improvement in generated TSQL queries, ability to directly run store commands are some other wonderful features of the upcoming version of Entity Framework.

Managed Extensibility Framework
The Managed Extensibility Framework offer an excellent way for our enterprise LOB applications to dynamically expand. In previous versions of .NET, and without MEF, we need to manually load external assemblies and use reflective techniques to instantiate and use their objects/features. This has been made really easy with Managed Extensibility Framework in .NET 4. When an MEF enabled application is launched, it automatically discovers and loads all the extensions and hence allows us to easily add new features to an already deployed application. Here’s an excellent article by Glenn Block from last month’s MSDN magazine: Building Composable Apps in .NET 4 with the Managed Extensibility Framework. MEF seems quite promising I really look forward to use MEF in my future applications.

Silverlight 4
Wow!! We haven’t yet been able to fully digest Silverlight 3 and SL 4 is approaching. Microsoft is doing a lot of investment in Silverlight and the upcoming version has quite great features. The ability to consume COM objects has greatly reduced the limitations of Silverlight that were inherently present due to being a browser based technology. Tim Heuer once did a wonderful job by covering all the features of Silverlight 4 in this post. I will simply list a few ones here:

  • Drag and Drop support from desktop to a Silverlight App: This one would allow us for better UI experiences for some interactive applications. Imagine that we have got some Rich Text Editor application running and we drag a photo from our desktop and it finds its place in the current document. Cool!
  • COM integration: COM support in out-of-browser mode can lead us to achieving some very powerful interaction with the programs on the user machine. We can now access a SQL server database residing on user’s computer, we can now open a certain document in user’s MsProject app, and many more. For some insight, have a look at Justin’s wonderful post here.
  • MEF support: Now our Silverlight apps are extendable via MEF which is really cool.
  • Right click support: A perfect feature for our interactive applications, we now can control the context menu items as well.
  • Desktop Notifications: The Silverlight application can now show Taskbar notifications as well.
  • ICommand support : A great feature for MVVM lovers, we now have commanding support for in XAML without requiring any external MVVM framework.
  • Printing support: We can even control printing from our Silverlight application.

DLR and dynamic keyword
The CLR (Common Language Runtime) is now accompanied with DLR (Dynamic Language Runtime) in .NET Framework 4. This is going to allow easy interaction with dynamic languages and COM objects without explicitly using the reflection methods. More on this on this MSDN doc: DLR Overview.

Code contracts
This is a great enhancement for our architects who are always cautious about design principles. The new version of .NET now support specifying pre-conditions, post-conditions, and object invariants. This can result in improved testing and better contract verification in design-by-contract programming. More info on this MSDN doc: Code Contracts.

Optional Parameters
Like Visual Basic, we are getting support for optional parameters in C# with .NET 4. Although this is a debatable topic but it can be helpful in cases where we needed to develop several overloads of a single method. More on this topic in this MSDN doc: Named and Optional Arguments.

That’s all. These were my initial thoughts on the new features of .NET Framework. The full official list of the new enhancements can be viewed on MSDN here. Of course, the views and opinions will get richer by the passage of time when we start building our application in .NET 4. So let’s download Visual Studio 2010 RC from here and start enjoying the new features. Happy programming!