Quick Overview:
The .NET software development consists of numerous tasks, under which one is bridging the gap between managed and unmanaged code. The blog supports understanding of both these types of codes and the methods provided, such as P/Invoke, COM interop, and C++/CLI for enabling interaction between them.

Managed and Unmanaged Code in .NET Framework

While developing a performance-oriented application, dotnet developers have to work with both managed and unmanaged code. Both these codes are entirely different from each other, which makes it difficult for the development team to integrate them.

Also, when .NET was newly launched, using managed and unmanaged code in the .NET framework was considered a roadblock. But, it’s not the case now, as you can eliminate the gap between them within minimal time. The role of CLR in interoperability is quite impactful, but this blog offers you accurate detail, leading communication between managed and unmanaged code.

What is Managed Code in .NET Framework?

When the source code gets compiled by the common language runtime (CLR) and aligned with the CTS-defined protocols, it’s known as managed code. This type of code is easy to understand by the machine, leading to smooth, secure, and streamlined execution of the dotnet application.

In addition, the managed code gets efficiently handled by the machine, as it’s easy to manage its memory consumption, garbage values, and data security. Moreover, the managed code memory management gets conducted automatically, which reduces the efforts of developers and also minimizes the memory leaks, corruption, and fragmentation risks.

Furthermore, the garbage collection for managed code is highly advanced, as it ensures that there are always resources for its execution. Lastly, the type safety feature of CTS assures that managed code aligns with required regulations and unauthorized access is prevented upon it.

Additionally, managed code  also offers some exclusive advantages, such as:

  • The underlying machine easily understands the logic and functionality of managed code, resulting in higher performance, execution, and productivity.
  • You can configure multiple security mechanisms with managed code, such as access security, cryptography, encryption, and role-based security. It helps to maintain data confidentiality and integrity.
  • Managed code is easy-to-debug which helps in saving time and additional resources. If you use Visual Studio for it, you can use dedicated features such as call stacks, breakpoints, watch windows, and more.

What is Unmanaged Code in .NET Framework?

When the code is not compiled, and it directly gets executed on the underlying system, it’s known as unmanaged code. The part of common language runtime (CLR) to compile the code is entirely terminated for this. In addition, C and C++ languages are mostly utilized for writing this type of code, unlike the dotnet programming languages, which are C#, VB, and F#.

Furthermore, the main reason to use C and C++ for unmanaged code is their closeness with the hardware or the machine level. The dotnet languages are not able to interact as raw source code with machines, due to which they are only preferred for managed code purposes.

Additionally, in comparison to managed code, developers have to manually configure the memory and garbage management for the unmanaged code. In the .NET environment, they have to use malloc() and free() functions as applicable. Due to this, if the code is lacking at any point, the application can degrade its performance, ROI, productivity, and stability.

However, there are also some advantages of unmanaged code, such as:

  • It’s easier to operate with machine-level devices, such as kernel modules, drivers, and embedded systems.
  • You can efficiently interoperate with native libraries, including OpenGL, DirectX, and Win32 API.

Mechanisms Supporting the Managed and Unmanaged Code Bridging

The managed and unmanaged code in the .NET framework has its own advantages for a business. Where managed code improves performance, unmanaged code helps to interact with drivers and kernels. To leverage all these benefits with a single application, you have to bridge the gap between them using the following mechanisms.

1: P/Invoke

Platform invocation service allows the managed code in your dotnet application to communicate with unmanaged dynamic link libraries. Primarily, it uses the C# attribute “DllImport” to define every function.

In addition, its configuration is quite streamlined. As a developer, you only have to declare the prototype function by defining the DLL name and associated parameters. Following it, when the CLR compiles the code, the managed code will fetch the unmanaged code DLL as applicable.

2: COM Interop

The Component Object Model supports the .NET applications to interact with components written in C++ programming language. As you know, C++ code is unmanaged, which means that COM interop bridges the gap.

Further, it enables you to use “tlbimp” and “regasm,” the top tools for specifying .NET as a COM object. As a result, the unmanaged code is able to interact with the managed code of your application.

3: C++/CLI

It’s a managed extension for the code written in C++ programming language. It helps you utilize the mixed assemblies that enable interaction between unmanaged and managed code. However, you should only use this while transitioning the C++ code to the .NET application. In addition, you can also prefer it for applications with performance and data-critical operations.

The Managed and Unmanaged Code Bridging Best Practices

Furthermore, besides the mechanisms, you should also focus on the below best practices for removing the gap.

  • To ensure that relevant memory management and type conversion, you should manually configure the marshaling.
  • You must test the entire code using automated and manual approaches to handle every exception gracefully.
  • You need to ensure the performance and profile optimization of your .NET application.
  • You must configure relevant security controls in focus with both managed and unmanaged code. It’s recommended to test the codes individually and together for better results.

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Concluding Up

According to the application requirements, you have to use managed and unmanaged code. However, the CLR provides you only with managed code, but it does offer the components that help you bridge the gap with unmanaged ones. You can take leverage of the P/Invoke service, C++/CLI, and COM interop. With all these three mechanisms you can enable your .NET application to use both managed and unmanaged code while retaining its performance, security, and productivity.

Parag Mehta

Verified Expert in Software & Web App Engineering

Parag Mehta, the CEO and Founder of Positiwise Software Pvt Ltd has extensive knowledge of the development niche. He is implementing custom strategies to craft highly-appealing and robust applications for its clients and supporting employees to grow and ace the tasks. He is a consistent learner and always provides the best-in-quality solutions, accelerating productivity.

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