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ASP.NET is a Web application framework developed by Microsoft, but unlike most things coming out of Redmond, ASP.NET is an open-source framework. To be fair to Microsoft, the company made the .NET core open source in November 2014 in a move welcomed by most (if not all) developers.
ASP.NET is a server-side framework specifically designed to enable programmers to build dynamic websites, services and applications. ASP.NET pages are officially referred to as Web Forms, although developers tend to dispense with formalities.
ASP.NET is object-oriented and allows for inheritance, as well as template-based page development. It basically streamlines the development process and enables developers to use less code to get the job done.
The framework also makes ample use of server-side caching, which can be used to store different objects across the application.
Open source, but reliant on Microsoft
While ASP.net is an open source framework, it is designed with the .NET framework and Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) in mind. Luckily, Microsoft's .NET core is now open source as well.
Hosting companies tend to offer a number of options for ASP.NET, ranging from cheap shared plans to dedicated hosting plans. One of Microsoft's primary design considerations for ASP.NET was to deliver performance benefits over competing script-based frameworks.
This is done by compiling the server-side code to DLL files, allowing the use of a common language runtime that provides a performance boost over other scripted languages. Microsoft tried to offer the best of both worlds - the performance boost made possible by fully compiled binaries and the ease of use provided by scripting languages.
The current version of ASP.NET is 4.5, released in 2012 along with Visual Studio 2012 and .NET 4.5. The 4.0 version is still officially supported, but it's more than four years old and on its way out.
What does this mean for ASP.NET hosting?
Due to its popularity, there is no shortage of ASP.NET hosting plans. The most basic plans start at a few dollars a month and they are designed to host one or more websites. More elaborate shared plans offer hosting for an unlimited number of websites, with abundant storage and more bandwidth.
Dedicated servers usually cost between $150 and $400, depending on the hardware configuration, speed and bandwidth. They usually start with dual-core Xeon processors, 4GB of RAM and mechanical RAID storage. More expensive options usually sport quad-core Xeons, uplink speeds of up to 1Gbps, more bandwidth and more dedicated IPs. More often than not, it is possible to customise these plans by adding solid-state storage, more RAM or just more speed and bandwidth, depending on your needs.
Both the cheapest shared plans and dedicated plans tend to cover all the basics. They come with all the necessary building blocks for ASP.NET 4.5.x hosting, IIS 8, the latest versions of ASP.NET, MSSQL hosting (usually 2012 and 2014 releases), Visual Studio compatibility and just about everything else you would expect on a Windows server.
Points to remember
While most hosts offer the latest versions of all relevant frameworks, it is always a good idea to check whether the host you are considering has a good track record when it comes to updates. Also, it is always a good idea to look for hosts that offer multiple versions of Microsoft frameworks, as they can come in very handy.
Do your homework and make sure you check all the necessary versions are supported, not just the latest version of ASP.NET. Check the MSSQL edition, OS version (typically Windows Server 2012R2 or Windows Server 2012, ASP.NET trust level, availability of add-ons and popular control panels like Plesk.
As always, hardware requirements depend on your needs, but in case you are building a site that could experience rapid growth, make sure to inquire about the possibility of adding more RAM, SSD storage or migrating to a better plan - make sure the host is ready to keep up.
Good tech support is equally important, but there is one thing to consider. If you are not new to the business and already use Linux-based LAMP plans, and you are happy with the level of support provided by your host, that does not necessarily mean you will get the same quality of tech support when it comes to Microsoft technology.
Basically, if your current host specializes in LAMP plans and offers a few Windows plans on the side, this may be a red flag - make sure to check the host's track record on the Windows front, too.