AWS open sources porting assistant for .NET: Early days for ‘a broad problem’

AWS has published its Porting Assistant for .NET – which is supposed to help those wishing to convert .NET Framework projects to .NET Core – as open source on GitHub.

Microsoft’s .NET Framework is the old Windows-only version, while .NET Core, soon to be known just as .NET once version 5.0 appears, is cross-platform and open source. There are several reasons for wanting to migrate .NET Framework applications, one being the fact that the current version 4.8 “will be the last major version of .NET Framework,” according to Microsoft’s Director of Program Management Scott Hunter. The other is the ability to deploy on Linux, as opposed to the more costly Windows Server.

This visualization of project dependencies is a neat way to see how the pieces of an application link together.

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Microsoft’s Hunter said that: “If you have existing .NET Framework applications that you are maintaining, there is no need to move these applications to .NET Core.”

There is no talk of deprecation as such: .NET Framework will continue to ship with Windows, and Microsoft itself continues to use it, both in the operating system and in applications including Visual Studio itself. The gap between .NET Framework and .NET Core will grow though, and developers who want the best performance or to take advantage of otherwise unavailable features will want to migrate.

AWS seems particularly keen on this, perhaps wanting to reduce the need for Windows Server on its cloud. The official line from AWS developer advocate Steve Roberts is “to take advantage of future investments in .NET, reduced license spend, and innovations to improve application scaling and performance on Linux.”

Back in July 2020 the cloud giant released the first version of a porting assistant tool, and it has now gone one step further, publishing the source code and describing its future plans.

The focus of the Porting Assistant is on analysing dependencies, based on a database of package information. A framework called Codelyzer, also now open source, collects metadata on C# source code ready for the Porting Assistant assessment functions.

The Assistant can also convert a .NET project file, updating references where possible to packages compatible with .NET Core. AWS warned though that: “When a project is ported, it might not be entirely .NET Core compatible because there may be other APIs, packages, and code blocks that must be substituted and refactored for compatibility.”

AWS assured us there has been “positive reaction to [Porting Assistant] from the .NET community” though it is by no means comprehensive. Microsoft also offers porting tools, including the Portability Analyzer which has its own dependency viewer and can identify incompatible assemblies, but which is less capable than the AWS tool when it comes to recommending alternatives.

There is also a project called try-convert which can work on simple applications; it was “built by members of the .NET team in their spare time,” which is perhaps an indication that Microsoft is not giving this problem sufficient attention. The .NET Framework was first released in 2002 and there is a huge legacy of applications which will have a constrained future unless converted.

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As for the AWS tool, the company said it is working on improvements including IDE integration, extensibility, and better support for scanning code repositories. “Porting .NET Framework applications to .NET Core is a broad problem space,” Roberts said, and there is plenty more that could be done to speed up the process.

AWS regularly comes under fire for its half-hearted support and acknowledgement of open source, most recently in the case of a Chrome extension where it failed to publicly acknowledge the author of code it forked. No doubt it is happy now to remind us that it does have some open source engagement, and in this case Roberts made a point of saying that the project “benefits from multiple open source projects and contributions, and we appreciate their support and contribution.” This one seems like safe territory.

How about if AWS now worked with cloud rival Microsoft on improving .NET porting tools, rather than the fragmented efforts that currently exist? ®

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