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Compare ASP.NET Hosts
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.
ASP.NET Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
What is ASP.NET?
ASP.NET is an Open Source web application framework for developing dynamic websites, services, and apps.
What operating systems does ASP.NET work on?
ASP.NET only works on Windows IIS.
Can I run an ASP.NET application on Linux?
Not officially. However, the Mono project has created an Open Source, cross-platform implementation of the .NET framework. It is compatible with ASP.NET and can be run on Linux. (Not all features are supported, so be sure to consult the Mono documentation before deciding to go in that direction.)
What languages can be used in ASP.NET applications?
ASP.NET can be used to create HTML, CSS, JS, XML, and any other client-side markup or scripting language. ASP.NET uses the Common Language Runtime infrastructure, which means that server-side programming can be done in any of the CLI languages. These include C#, Visual Basic, and C++.
What is the difference between ASP and ASP.NET?
Just about everything.
The original ASP (Active Server Pages) was an early web development framework released by Microsoft in the mid-1990s. Programming was done mostly in the VBscript or JScript languages, with other languages being made available through third-party engines.
ASP.NET is an entirely new (in 2002, that is) web development framework built on their .NET platform.
How are ASP.NET applications structured?
ASP.NET applications can be built using any number of coding paradigms.
Microsoft recommends a code organization strategy they call the "code behind" model, where template code is held in .aspx files, with functional code in separate files with doubled extensions (like .aspx.cs) and the same base file name as the templates they are associated with.
User controls that have an associated GUI are thus created using a markup file that stores presentational information and controller files.
Controllers used internally do not have separate markup files but are compiled into DLLs (dynamically linked libraries) for consumption by other application code.
How are states handled in ASP.NET?
The web is an inherently stateless environment, so every application framework has to find its own solution to persisting state through a user session.
ASP.NET offers multiple options. Developers can take advantage of Application State features, which are persistent global variables accessible to all users.
Session variables, specific to a user, can be managed in several ways. They can be stored in memory on the server, outside the ASP.NET process, within the larger .NET structure. They can also be stored in the database, which provides persistence across clustered architecture at the cost of slowing down access.
Alternatively, session variables can be handled in more conventional ways such as browser cookies or HTTP request variables.
What are the benefits of using ASP.NET compared to other web application frameworks?
Most web application frameworks are built on scripting languages, and app features have to be built in that scripting language. This eliminates the ability to use other languages, or tools written in other languages.
With ASP.NET, development can be done in multiple languages. This is beneficial because certain types of tasks are easier to accomplish in some languages than in others. Also, even if your development team is only going to code in a single language, DLLs, and other tools written in other languages can still be included.
Moreover, web applications written in scripting languages are interpreted at run time. ASP.NET code is compiled, which makes it run much faster than interpreted code.
Are there disadvantages to using ASP.NET instead of application frameworks like Ruby or PHP?
ASP.NET only runs on Microsoft servers, so if you start down the road with it, you'll be tied to paying for your operating system and web server forever. This commitment can significantly increase the lifetime cost of your project.
Another issue is that, as compared to more "fun" tools like Ruby on Rails or Node.js, it may be harder to find qualified developers over time, because the bulk of the talent tends to gravitate to more popular languages.
Are there any alternatives to ASP.NET?
There are a number of web application development frameworks available. Most of them — like Ruby on Rails, Django (Python), and Zend (PHP) — require all or most programming be done in a single language and rely on scripting rather than compiled code.
For these reasons, most of the popular web development frameworks are not functionally equivalent alternatives.
Maverick.NET is an MVC framework for .NET applications. The Entity Framework is an alternative to ASP.NET, from Microsoft, which also runs on the .NET platform. ASP.NET MVC is an Open Source framework also made by Microsoft, which extends the platform to include MVC features.
When is ASP.NET a good platform choice?
ASP.NET is a good option for building complex web applications that need to interact heavily with existing Microsoft components. Typically, a certain level of operational complexity needs to be required before ASP.NET is a better option than simpler web development frameworks.
Who should use ASP.NET?
ASP.NET is a good platform for engineers who have a lot of experience with building desktop applications in a Windows environment, and relatively little experience doing web applications development.