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Whatever you may think of its business practices, Microsoft has always been top-notch when it comes to developer tools. Visual Studio is widely hailed as the best IDE out there, and .Net is an intelligently designed platform that borrows the best of what Java has to offer and takes it a few steps further.
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Nothing could be further from the truth. Looking past the Metro hype, the Build conference also revealed promising road maps for C#, Visual Studio, and the .Net platform as a whole.
Perhaps the most exciting demo of the conference for .Net developers, however, was Project Roslyn, a new technology that Microsoft made available yesterday as a Community Technology Preview (CTP). Roslyn aims to bring powerful new features to C#, Visual Basic, and Visual Studio, but it's really much more than that. If it succeeds, it will reinvent how we view compilers and compiled languages altogether.
Deconstructing the compiler
Roslyn has been described as "compiler-as-a-service technology," a term that's caused a lot of confusion. I've even seen headlines heralding the project as "Microsoft's cloud compiler service" or "bringing .Net to the cloud." None of that is correct. Technically, it would be possible to offer code compilation as a cloud-based service, but it's hard to see the advantage, except in special circumstances.
Roslyn isn't services in the sense of software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), or similar cloud offerings. Rather, it's services in the sense of Windows services. Roslyn is a complete reengineering of Microsoft's .Net compiler toolchain in a new way, such that each phase of the code compilation process is exposed as a service that can be consumed by other applications.
As Microsoft's Anders Hejlsberg explained in a Build conference session, "Traditionally, a compiler is just sort of a black box. On one side you feed it source files, magic happens, and out the other end comes object files, or assemblies, or whatever the output format is."
Internally, however, there's a lot more going on. Typically, first the compiler parses your source code and breaks it down into a syntax tree. Then it builds a list of all the symbols in your program. Then it begins binding the symbols with the appropriate objects and so on.