Making it easier to port to .NET Core

Immo Landwerth

In my last post, I talked about porting to .NET Core and requested feedback from our community on what their experience was and what we could improve.

This sparked many great conversations with our users.

Based on these conversations as well as our experience working with first- and third-party partners, we’ve decided to drastically simplify the porting effort by unifying the core APIs with other .NET platforms, specifically the .NET Framework and Mono/Xamarin.

In this blog post, I’ll talk about our plans, how and when this work will happen, and what this means for existing .NET Core customers.

Reflecting on .NET Core

The .NET Core platform evolved from a desire to create a modern, modular, app-local, and cross-platform .NET stack. The business goals that drove its creation were focused on providing a stack for brand new application types (such as touch-based UWP apps) or modern cross-platform applications (such as ASP.NET Core web sites and services).

We are about to ship .NET Core 1.0 and we have succeeded in creating a powerful and cross platform development stack. .NET Core 1.0 is the beginning of a journey to get .NET everywhere.

While .NET Core works well for the scenarios that we set out to address, it provides access to fewer technologies than other .NET platforms, especially the .NET Framework. Partly because not everything has been made cross platform, and partly because we aggressively trimmed some features out of it.

It became clear that adopting .NET Core would require existing .NET developers to spend a considerable amount of time to port to it.

While there is certainly some value in presenting new customers with a cleaner API, it disproportionately penalized our existing loyal customers who have invested over many years in using the APIs and technologies we advertised to them. We want to extend the reach of the .NET platform and gain new customers, but we can’t do so at the expense of existing users.

Xamarin is a great role model in this regard. They allow .NET developers to build mobile applications for the iOS and Android platforms with minimal effort. Consider iOS. It shares many of the characteristics of the UWP platform, such as the high focus on end-user experience and the requirement of static compilation. However, in contrast to .NET Core, Xamarin did not start with reimagining the .NET stack. They took Mono as-is, removed the application model components (Windows.Forms, ASP.NET), added a new one for iOS, and made minimal changes to make it suitable for embedded use. Since Mono is virtually identical to the .NET Framework, the resulting API set is fairly comprehensive and makes porting existing code to Xamarin substantially easier.

Since its inception the key promise of .NET has been to make developers more productive and help them write robust code. It was designed from the start to support developers on a wide range of areas and scenario, starting with desktop and web applications to microservices, mobile applications and gaming.

For us to deliver on our promise, it is critical that we provide a unified core API that is available everywhere. A unified core API allows developers to easily share code across these workloads and allows them to focus their skills where it matters the most – creating great services and user experiences.

.NET Core moving forward

At Build 2016, Scott Hunter presented the following slide:


Here is the promise we want to make to you:

Whether you need to build a desktop application, a mobile app, a web site, or a micro service: you can rely on .NET to get you there. Code sharing is as easy as possible because we provide a unified BCL. As a developer, you can focus on the features and technologies that are specific to the user experiences and platforms you’re targeting.

This is how we want to realize this promise: we will provide source and binary compatibility for applications that target the core Base Class Libraries (BCL) across all platforms with the same behavior across platforms. The Base Class Libraries are those that existed in mscorlib, System, System.Core, System.Data, and System.Xml and that are not tied to a particular application model and are not tied to a particular operating system implementation.

Whether you target the .NET Core 1.0 surface (System.Runtime-based surface), or the upcoming version of .NET Core with the expanded API (mscorlib-based surface), your existing code will continue to work.

The promise of making it easier to bring existing code extends to libraries and NuGet packages. Obviously this includes portable class libraries, regardless of whether they used mscorlib or System.Runtime.

Here are a few examples of the additions that will make your life easier when targeting to .NET Core:

  • Reflection will become the same as the .NET Framework, no need for GetTypeInfo(), good old .GetType() is back.
  • Types will no longer miss members we’ve removed for clean up reasons (Clone(), Close() vs Dispose(), old APM APIs)
  • Binary serialization (BinaryFormatter) will be available again

A full list of the planned additions will be made available in our corefx GitHub repo.

What does this mean for .NET Core?

From talking to our community on social media it seems there is a concern that these API additions degrade the .NET Core experience. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of investments we made for .NET Core, be it that it can be deployed in an app-local fashion, XCOPY deployment, that we have an ahead-of-time (AOT) compiler tool chain, that it’s open source and cross- platform remain unchanged. The same is true for all the additional features and performance improvements we made, such as the new networking component called Kestrel.

Originally, when we designed .NET Core we’ve talked heavily about modularization and pay for play, meaning you only have to consume the disk space for the features that you end up using. We believe we can still realize these goals without compromising so heavily on compatibility.

Initially, our plan to achieve minimum disk space usage relied on a manual process of splitting the functionality in tiny libraries and we know that our users liked this. We will now provide a linking tool that will be more precise and provide better savings than any manual process could have provided. This is similar to what Xamarin developers get today.

Timelines and process

The process to extend the API surface of .NET Core will come after we ship .NET Core 1.0 RTM. This way, those of you that have been following along .NET Core will be able to deploy to production.

You can expect to see more details and plans over the next couple of weeks published in our corefx GitHub repository. One of the first things we will do is to publish a set of API references that list which APIs we’re planning to bring. So when porting code you will be able to tell whether you want to jump to .NET Core 1.0 or wait for the new APIs to come. We’ll also call out which APIs we don’t plan on bringing. Our desire is to provide a dashboard for our users to check on the project status and goals.

This will be an improvement over the process that we followed in the lead up to .NET Core 1.0, as we did not share enough of our internal processes with the world.

Lastly, we’re planning on releasing incremental updates to .NET Core on NuGet that extends the set of available APIs. This way, you will not have to wait until all the API additions are done in order to take advantage of them. This also allows us to incorporate your feedback on behavioral compatibility.

Over the next weeks we will publish more details in the corefx repo. You can expect this blog to communicate the status and all major decisions.

Stay tuned for more details!


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