Beginning C#: Getting Started with C#

Friday Jan 8th 2016 by Peter Shaw
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Ready to jump into the exciting world of C# programming? Here are some tips to getting started the right way.

Introduction

Starting this month, I'm beginning a new set of articles in this column. "Beginning C#" is going to start right at the very beginning and teach C# as a language, right from the ground up. We'll start with the obligatory hello world example, and work our way up through variables, loops, decisions, structures, objects, and everything else that makes up the language.

Let's Get Started

So, what do you need to do to start programming in C#?

This is a question I see so frequently in the newsgroups, and on places like Lidnug and Stack Overflow, that it's something that really needs to be addressed.

Many people don't realise that you don't actually need Visual Studio, VS-Code, Sharp develop, or anything like that to actually write C# applications. Granted, these large application suites DO make things easier, but you can get along just fine with the .NET runtime being installed and a simple text editor, such as Notepad.

If you're working on Linux or an Apple Mac, all you need is "Mono" installed. You actually don't need the full Xamarin studio or anything like that.

The very first thing you need to make sure is that you have an up-to-date .NET runtime installed on your PC (if you're using Windows) and the current version of Mono installed if you're running a non-Windows system).

Unfortunately, I don't have time to cover installation on Linux/Unix/Mac in this column, but once you have the tools up and running, most of the language stuff we cover will work without modification.

On Windows, check your system hard drive (the one where your 'Windows' folder is) and look for a folder called 'Microsoft.NET' in your Windows folder:

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Figure 1: The main .NET install folder

If you have this folder on your PC, you're good to go. If you do not, you need to download and install the latest .NET runtime. You can get this from (at the time of writing) https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/download/details.aspx?id=30653.

This URL may change over time, so your best course of action usually is to search for ".NET runtime download" in your favourite search engine.

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Figure 2: .NET Download portal

Simply click the large red download button and follow the instructions. You'll most likely also need to locate your downloads folder and run the installer you downloaded, in case your browser does not allow you to run downloads directly.

Once everything is installed head back to the location shown in Figure 1, that should now be present, and you should now see 'Framework' and 'Framework64' folders. (If you're working on a 32bit machine only, you may not see 'Framework64'.)

If you have 'Framework64', click on that to open its folder. Otherwise, just click 'Framework'. Whichever you choose, you should see something like what's shown in Figure 3:

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Figure 3: Inside the framework folder

In my case, I have .NET versions 2, 3, 3.5, 4, and 4.5 installed.

If you're observant, you'll have noticed that there is no 4.5 folder. That's because 4.5 is installed as an upgrade to v4.0, which, as a result, means the assemblies and tools are installed under v4.0

Click the v4.0 folder (or whichever your highest version is), and you should see something similar to Figure 4:

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Figure 4: MS .NET Tools

Within this folder is everything you need to write and compile .NET applications in C#, Visual Basic, and even JavaScript. (Yes, the .NET framework provides a tool to compile JavaScript into an EXE file.)

You can see the C# compiler in Figure 4; it's called 'csc.exe'. Open a command prompt and browse to the folder you have open. You can do this one of two ways:

  1. Go into Start->All Programs->Accessories and click the command prompt (Windows 7 and below), or press and hold the Windows key while pressing 'r', followed by entering 'cmd' in the run dialog, then pressing ok (all platforms).
  2. Right-click the white space to the right of the file listing in Explorer while holding down the Shift key, and then choosing 'Open command windows here' from the menu.

Whichever method you use, your goal is to end up with a command prompt open, pointing to your V4.0 .NET runtime folder:

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Figure 5: Command prompt open in .NET tools folder

From here, if you type 'csc' and press Return, the C# compiler should announce itself.

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Figure 6: Say hello to the 'csc' C# compiler

You can, if you want, try 'vbc' for Visual Basic and 'jsc' for the JavaScript compiler. For this series, however, we're only interested in the C# one.

At this point, we know we have a functional language compiler, but we're still on our system drive. Because of the various Windows file protections, you'll have a bit of a miserable time if you start compiling C# code here, so to make this more useful, we need to make sure that 'csc.exe' is available in the System path.

What's in a Path?

Under Windows, there is the concept of something called the "System Path" (a similar concept exists in other systems, too). The "System Path" is a list of disk locations to be searched when just a file name is specified for an application to be run.

For example, if you had "C:\folder1", "C:\folder2", and "C:\folder3", and your system path looked like "C:\folder1;C:\Folder2", any .exe files placed in 'folder1' or 'folder2' could be run from 'folder3' or anywhere else on the system just by typing 'appname.exe'. You could not, however, switch to 'folder2' and run an EXE file located in 'folder3' unless you typed the full location; for example, 'C:\folder3\appname.exe'.

By making sure that your .NET v4 folder is added to your Windows System path, you can run 'csc' (and the other tools) from anywhere on your system, and that includes any folders where you might be developing C# programs.

To add a folder to your path, you need to right-click your 'My Computer' icon and choose Properties:

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Figure 7: Right-click 'My Computer'

Upon doing this, you should see the computer Properties window open.

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Figure 8: Windows computer properties

The next thing you need to click is the "Advanced System Settings" entry, which will in turn open the following dialog box:

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Figure 9: The advanced System Settings dialog

And finally, click "Environment Variables" to open up the location where the "System Path" lives.

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Figure 10: The environment variables editor

You'll notice in Figure 10 that there are two 'Path' entries. The top one (marked by the green arrow) affects only the logged-in user's profile (in this case mine, shawty).  The bottom one (marked with the red arrow) affects every user on the system.

I personally use a number of different accounts for different purposes, so I use the system-wide entry. Whichever you use is up to you.

Double-click the 'Path' you want to modify and you'll open the editor for that variable:

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Figure 11: The 'Path' editor

Check that you don't already have your .NET folder in there already (it's much easier by copy and pasting the path into Notepad), and add the folder to the end of the path, if it's not already included.

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Figure 12: Adding our .NET folder to the path

Remember to separate your addition from what's already there with a semicolon ';' so that Windows knows this is a new folder and not part of an existing one.

Once you do this, click 'ok' all the way back out, and you should now be able to open a 'Command Line' anywhere on your system and run the compiler:

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Figure 13: csc.exe now runs from anywhere

To finish this first post off, we're going to create a simple hello world program. Open a command line window in any folder on your system that you want to work in, either by using the Start menu, Windows Run or the right-click + Shift method.

Then, type the following and press Return:

Notepad hello.cs

You should see that Notepad opens. When it does, type the following C# code into Notepad, aand then save it by using File->Save and return back to your already open command line.

using System;

class Program
{
   static void Main()
   {
      Console.WriteLine("Hello World!!");
   }
}

Back at your command line, type:

Csc hello.cs

And press Return. All being well, your program should compile, and produce an EXE file ready to run:

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Figure 14: Compiling and running your first C# program

I'll explain what we did next month, but for now try adding a few more "Console.WriteLine" or "Console.Write" statements and seeing what the difference is.

Remember, a big part of learning a new language is about experimentation, so don't be afraid to change things in the code we've done in this post, and see what happens. A very, very good way of learning how something works is learning how to fix it when it breaks.

Until next month.

Have Fun Playing!

Shawty

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