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AddThis Social Bookmark Button O'Reilly Book Excerpts: Programming Visual Basic .NET

ADO.NET, Part 1

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Programming Visual Basic .NET
By Dave Grundgeiger

by Dave Grundgeiger

This excerpt is Chapter 8 from Programming Visual Basic .NET, published in December 2001 by O'Reilly.

A Brief History of Universal Data Access

Database management systems provide APIs that allow application programmers to create and access databases. The set of APIs that each manufacturer's system supplies is unique to that manufacturer. Microsoft has long recognized that it is inefficient and error prone for an applications programmer to attempt to master and use all the APIs for the various available database management systems. What's more, if a new database management system is released, an existing application can't make use of it without being rewritten to understand the new APIs. What is needed is a common database API.

Microsoft's previous steps in this direction included Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), OLE DB, and ADO (not to be confused with ADO.NET). Microsoft has made improvements with each new technology.

With .NET, Microsoft has released a new mechanism for accessing data: ADO.NET. The name is a carryover from Microsoft's ADO (ActiveX Data Objects) technology, but it no longer stands for ActiveX Data Objects--it's just ADO.NET. To avoid confusion, I will refer to ADO.NET as ADO.NET and to ADO as classic ADO.

If you're familiar with classic ADO, be careful--ADO.NET is not a descendant, it's a new technology. In order to support the Internet evolution, ADO.NET is highly focused on disconnected data and on the ability for anything to be a source of data. While you will find many concepts in ADO.NET to be similar to concepts in classic ADO, it is not the same.

Managed Providers

When speaking of data access, it's useful to distinguish between providers of data and consumers of data. A data provider encapsulates data and provides access to it in a generic way. The data itself can be in any form or location. For example, the data may be in a typical database management system such as SQL Server, or it may be distributed around the world and accessed via web services. The data provider shields the data consumer from having to know how to reach the data. In ADO.NET, data providers are referred to as managed providers.

A data consumer is an application that uses the services of a data provider for the purposes of storing, retrieving, and manipulating data. A customer-service application that manipulates a customer database is a typical example of a data consumer. To consume data, the application must know how to access one or more data providers.

ADO.NET is comprised of many classes, but five take center stage:

Connection
Represents a connection to a data source.

Command
Represents a query or a command that is to be executed by a data source.

DataSet
Represents data. The DataSet can be filled either from a data source (using a DataAdapter object) or dynamically.

DataAdapter
Used for filling a DataSet from a data source.

DataReader
Used for fast, efficient, forward-only reading of a data source.

With the exception of DataSet, these five names are not the actual classes used for accessing data sources. Each managed provider exposes classes specific to that provider. For example, the SQL Server managed provider exposes the SqlConnection, SqlCommand, SqlDataAdapter, and SqlDataReader classes. The DataSet class is used with all managed providers.

Any data-source vendor can write a managed provider to make that data source available to ADO.NET data consumers. Microsoft has supplied two managed providers in the .NET Framework: SQL Server and OLE DB.

The examples in this chapter are coded against the SQL Server managed provider, for two reasons. The first is that I believe that most programmers writing data access code in Visual Basic .NET will be doing so against a SQL Server database. Second, the information about the SQL Server managed provider is easily transferable to any other managed provider.

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