Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The difference between projects, namespaces, assemblies, and physical source code files.

[This was originally posted at http://timstall.dotnetdevelopersjournal.com/the_difference_between_projects_namespaces_assemblies_and.htm]

When creating simple applications, the project, namespace, assembly, and physical source code file usually are all related. For example, if you create a project "ClassLibrary1", it compiles to an assembly "ClassLibrary1.dll", creates a default class in namespace "ClassLibrary1", creates a folder "ClassLibrary1", and places the source code within that folder. Everything is consistent and simple.


However, simple is not always enough. These four things can all be independent.

  • Project - The visual studio project that contains all the source code (and other build types like embedded resources), which gets compiled into the assembly. A project can reference any file - including files outside of its folder structure. By opening the project in notepad, you can manually edit the include path to be an external reference: . The file icon will now look like a shortcut.

  • Assembly -  The physical dll that your code gets compiled to. One assembly can have many namespaces.

  • Namespace - The namespace is used to organize your classes. You can change the namespaces to anything you want using the namespace keyword. It does not need to match the assembly or folder structure.

  • Source Code - This does not need to be stored in the same directory as the project. So, you could have several projects all reference the same source code file. For example, you may have one master AssemblyInfo file that stores the main version, and then all your projects reference that file.

So, if you have an aspx page referencing "ClassLibrary1.Class1.DoStuff()", it doesn't care if that class is in Assembly "ClassLibrary1.dll" or "ClassLibrary1Other.dll", as long as it has access to both assemblies and the namespace is the same.


This can be useful for deployment, or sharing global files across multiple projects, or just neat-to-know trivia.

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