ASP.NET Web Matrix

ASP.Net Web Matrix is a free tool released by Microsoft for the rapid development of web applications running on servers which support ASP.NET. It is a managed application written in C#.


Web Matrix grew out of a pet project started by Nikhil Kothari. It was originally conceived as a test bed for working with ASP.NET controls in a designer environment. The ASP.NET team saw a number of benefits for a tool of this type, and used it to try out a variety of additional ideas for creating an IDE that could act as a lightweight alternative to Visual Studio. The project was developed into a product (originally code-named "Saturn") that was released in the summer of 2002 as free download on the Web site, without official support (only community support) and with only word-of-mouth marketing. The original release supported only Microsoft SQL Server, which was bundled with Web Matrix in the form of MSDE, a desktop version of the database engine. A subsequent release of Web Matrix ("Web Matrix Reloaded") in June of 2003 included support for Microsoft Access .mdb files, which simplified deployment.

Web Matrix included a number of features that made it an appealing alternative to Visual Studio 2003:

It was a comparatively small download and was fast and easy to install.

It was specific to Web applications, thus avoiding some of the complexities required in Visual Studio to support the different tools, languages, and application types in Visual Studio.

It used a folder-based model, rather than the project model used in Visual Studio. (For more information, see Scott Guthrie's blog entry VS 2005 Web Project System: What is it and why did we do it?.

It did not require design-time compilation into a single deployable .dll. Instead, developers could deploy the source code for their ASP.NET pages and rely on ASP.NET to dynamically compile the pages on first request.

It included a small Web-server tool ("Cassini") that ran on the local computer and enabled the developer to test ASP.NET Web pages without requiring Internet Information Services. This feature made it appealing to developers who could not run IIS due to corporate policy or because they did not have a version of Microsoft Windows that includes IIS.

It included FTP support, rather than requiring FrontPage Server Extensions (FPSE). This feature made it a practical development tool for hobbyists and students who could develop and test on their own computer, and then deploy their files to a hosted server.

It was free.

Many of these features were incorporated into Visual Studio 2005, and the Web Matrix style of web application development became the default. The success of the Web Matrix project, both in terms of features and in the appeal to the community of a free IDE with a limited feature set, also helped the Visual Studio team decide to release free lightweight versions of Visual Studio 2005 -- Visual Web Developer Express Edition for Web development, and similar Express versions of Visual Basic, C#, and SQL Server.

Visual Studio Express

While Web Matrix provided a number of firsts and innovations that made their way into the Visual Studio product line, it lacked important features required by professional web developers, such as IntelliSense, integration with the debugger, an integrated compiler for developing class libraries, and support for the ASP.NET code-behind page model. The Express editions of Visual Studio 2005 did include most of these features, and although Web Matrix is still available, its role has been taken by Visual Web Developer Express Edition.


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