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There have been seven significant releases of the .NET Framework, excluding service packs. The framework includes the compilers, runtime, and libraries. Additionally, there are other profiles such Silverlight which complicate matters.
1.0 – released in 2002
1.1 – released in 2003
2.0 – released in 2005, with a new CLR (to handle generics and nullable types) and compilers for C# 2 and VB 8.
3.0 – released in 2006, this is just 2.0 plus new libraries: Windows Presentation Foundation, Windows Communication Foundation, Workflow Foundation, and Cardspace
3.5 – released in 2007, this is 3.0 plus new libraries (primarily LINQ and some extra “base” libraries such as TimeZoneInfo) and new compilers (for C# 3 and VB 9)
4 – released in 2010, this includes a new CLR (v4), new libraries, and the DLR (Dynamic Language Runtime)
4.5 – released in 2012, this allows for WinRT development on Windows 8 as well as extra libraries – with much wider async APIs
C# language versions
There are five significant language versions:
C# 2, introducing generics, nullable types, anonymous methods, iterator blocks and some other more minor features
C# 3, introducing implicit typing, object and collection initializers, anonymous types, automatic properties, lambda expressions, extension methods, query expressions and some other minor features
C# 4, introducing dynamic typing, optional parameters, named arguments, and generic variance
C# 5, introducing asynchronous functions, caller info attributes, and a tweak to foreach iteration variable capture
For a long time, releases of Visual Studio were closely tied to framework releases. The picture has become a bit more flexible and complicated, however:
VS.NET 2002 – support for C# 1 and .NET 1.0
VS.NET 2003 – support for C# 1 and .NET 1.1
VS 2005 – support for C# 2 and .NET 2.0, and .NET 3.0 with an extension
VS 2008 – support for C# 3 and .NET 2.0, 3.0 and 3.5 (multi-targeting)
VS 2010 – support for C# 4 and .NET 2.0, 3.0, 3.5 and 4
VS 2012 – support for C# 5 and .NET 2.0 to 4.5 (including WinRT on Windows 8), and portable class libraries
That’s all the theory. Here are the practical limitations and working configurations. Note that this assumes you want to use Visual Studio – if you’re happy to use just the command line compiler, that’s a slightly different story which I’ll avoid for simplicity’s sake. (At some point I’ll return to this page to talk about C# 4 and C# 5 features, but not just now…)
You can’t use C# 2 features without at least VS 2005
You can’t use C# 3 features without VS 2008
You can’t ask VS 2005 or VS 2008 to target .NET 1.0 or 1.1 (there’s an extension for it, but I haven’t used it – expect some pain for debugging etc)
You can’t force VS 2008 to restrict you to only C# 2 features, or force VS 2005 to restrict you to C# 1 features
Each version of Visual Studio has its own project file format and will upgrade your older projects when you first load them in that version. (The differences between VS 2003 and VS 2005 were significant; the differences between VS 2005 and VS 2008 are much smaller.)
VS 2008 has special support (in project properties) for which framework version you want to target: 2.0, 3.0 or 3.5
You can use most C# 3 features when targeting .NET 2.0 or 3.0, but not quite all
You may found that there is no update on C# in VS2013. Yes, this is correct.