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What is Silverlight?

Microsoft’s Silverlight application framework is designed to facilitate the delivery of multimedia content and also assist in the coding of feature-rich user interfaces (UI) and other immersive elements of web design and mobile applications.

Rich Web Browser Applications

Silverlight is a front-end web application development framework from Microsoft. It is used to build media-rich experiences inside of a web browser. It can also be used to build applications for the Windows Phone.

Web browsers (and the internet, generally) were not originally intended for running applications. They were designed, early on, for viewing and (in a limited way) manipulating text documents.

Of course, we've come a long way since the early days of the internet, and we now expect to be able to do almost anything in a web browser, from checking our email to watching videos to playing games. Unfortunately, the underlying technology of web browsers is still geared toward a document-centric approach, rather than an application-centric one.

There have been a number of approaches to solving this problem, with SilverLight being the solution offered by Microsoft.

Microsoft Silverlight

Microsoft Silverlight is an attempt to bring the capabilities of a desktop application into a web browser. It works as a browser plugin, which then extends the capabilities of the browser to display media rich, interactive content. Silverlight apps are delivered over the internet like static media files, and then run by the browser plugin. Silverlight client apps typically communicate with a server-side application created in Silverlight or .NET.

Developing with Silverlight

Silverlight applications are built very differently than other web pages and most web apps. An application's graphical user interface (GUI) is defined using Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML), and application control logic can be written in one of several .NET languages (C#, VB.NET, J#, etc). Additionally, an XML document can be loaded into the DOM and manipulated in an AJAX-like fashion.

Silverlight is essentially a subset of the .NET application framework, so development tools that work for .NET will work for Silverlight, including Eclipse and Microsoft Visual Studio.

Silverlight Features

Silverlight applications are built in fully featured programming languages, and almost any DLL can be compiled into a web-delivered Silverlight application. So the possibilities for application features are, truly, limitless.

Silverlight provides easy, built-in support for a number of a features that are especially useful for a rich, interactive, browser-based application.

  • IIS Smooth Streaming provides support for high definition streaming media.

  • PivotViewer is powerful set of tools for working with large data sets, providing interactive visualization and manipulation features.

  • SketchFlow, part of Blend for Visual Studio 2013, is an iterative wireframing and storyboarding tool for rapid application prototyping.

  • Silverlight Deep Zoom provides unbelievably smooth, rapid, and infinitely scalable deep zoom and visual exploration.

  • Pixel Shader provides a wide range of built ins, configurable visual effects such as drop shadows and blurring. It also allows you to write your own effects.

  • Support for a wide variety of audio and video formats, including third-party codecs.

  • 3D Graphics

  • Skinning and Styling

Supported Platforms

The Silverlight browser plugin is supported in several browsers available on Mac OS X and Windows. Chrome for Mac no longer supports Silverlight (though Chrome on Windows does). Opera support is unofficial for version 1 of Silverlight, and official for version 2+. Current desktop versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari all support Silverlight.

Support for Silverlight on Linux was provided through the Moonlight project, but that project has stopped active development and is no longer supported. Another Linux adaptation, Pipelight, is now available. Even with this, Silverlight support on Linux should be considered very unreliable.

Silverlight can be used to build mobile apps for Windows Phones and Windows Mobile devices. However, Internet Explorer for Windows Phone does not support Silverlight. Silverlight is also not available for any browsers on the Android or iOS platforms.

Alternatives to Microsoft Silverlight

It is important to realize that Silverlight is not the only way to bring media-rich, interactive applications into web browsers. There are many other development options available, with varying degrees of cross-browser support.

  • Adobe Flash (well supported in desktop browsers, but not on iOS)
  • Java (well supported in most environments, but updates and versioning issues tend to annoy users)
  • HTML5, CSS4, and JS (almost universally supported, though the standards haven't officially hardened)

Microsoft Silverlight Hosting

Server-side Silverlight applications must be run on a Windows server, with support for ASP (Active Sever Pages). Most shared and discount web hosting plans (and most higher-quality managed hosting and VPS plans also) run Linux, not Windows, so you will need to specifically look for Windows-based web hosting to run your Silverlight application.

Client-side resources are static assets and can be delivered from any server, including a Content Delivery Network.

Silverlight Frequently Asked Questions

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