By: John Kaster
Abstract: Its official designation is "Delphi 8 for the Microsoft NET Framework", and Cary Jensen, Ph.D. has the complete scoop
By Cary Jensen, Ph.D.
Okay - it's not really named Delphi.NET; its official designation is
Delphi 8 for the Microsoft NET Framework . It's here nonetheless, and
Cary Jensen, Ph.D. has the complete scoop on the most eagerly
anticipated new version of Delphi in years. Now you can program for
the .NET platform at the speed of Delphi!
There is something poetic about the version number of Borland's first
release of Delphi for the Microsoft .NET Framework, Delphi 8. If you
enjoy coincidences, you'll be interested to know that the original
release of Delphi, Delphi 1, was also an eighth version.
Specifically, it was the eighth version of Borland's Pascal compiler;
Borland Pascal with Objects version 7.0 was the immediate ancestor of
I find this coincidence fascinating for another reason; Delphi 1
represented a major advance in Borland's Pascal technology without
making existing Borland Pascal code obsolete. The parallels are
uncanny. Delphi 8 for the Microsoft .NET Framework, which from this
point on I will refer to simply as Delphi 8 for .NET, represents
another major advance in the language we now call Delphi, without
sacrificing your investment in Borland technology.
Consider this. Any current Delphi developer can build applications
for the .NET Framework today using Delphi 8 for .NET, in some cases
merely by opening an existing Delphi application in Delphi 8 for .NET
and pressing [Ctrl][F9] to compile it. Even most of the tools you use
on a daily basis, including the Code editor, object inspector, and
integrated debugger, to name a few, are immediately recognizable, if
not identical, to the Win32 version of Delphi.
But while Delphi 8 for .NET maintains an unprecedented amount of
backward compatibility with Delphi for Win32, it simultaneously
introduces the necessary new features to make it not only a first
class .NET language, but also an exceptional development environment
for defining, designing, building, testing, and maintaining .NET
This article is designed to give you a broad overview of what you'll
find in Delphi 8 for .NET. Keep in mind, however, that this article
was written based on a pre-release version of the software.
Similarly, the names of the various Delphi 8 for .NET technologies
described in this article are based on early drafts of Borland's
documentation. The corresponding names in the shipping product may
For a detailed listing of the features of the shipping product, as
well as in which edition (Architect, Enterprise, or Professional)
those features appear, see the feature matrix available at http://www.Borland.com/Delphi.
The most obvious new feature in Delphi 8 for .NET is its IDE, shown
in Figure 1. This IDE, which made its first appearance in Borland's
C#Builder, appears similar to the IDE of Microsoft's Visual Studio
for .NET. It has a nice, clean layout, and is highly configurable,
giving you a wide range of options with respect to where your various
tools float or are pinned. (Pinning is what many Borland developers
would refer to as docking. In the .NET world docking refers to
A closer inspection, however, reveals its unmistakable Borland
heritage. Anyone familiar with the Delphi 7 IDE will quickly find
themselves at home. The tools, options, and dialog boxes are
generally accessed through the same or similar menu selections. For
example, the Run menu, shown in Figure 2, is almost indistinguishable
from that found in Delphi 7.
The Code editor is another place where you'll find all your favorite
coding support tools. In particular, Code Insight, code templates,
the todo list, and editor key bindings are all available. For
example, Figure 3 shows Code Completion, one of the Code Insight
features, operating within the editor.
On a similar note, the various key combinations and menu items
related to the Code editor are consistent with the previous version
of Delphi. For example, press [F5] to Add Source Breakpoint , [F9] to
Run , [F7] to Trace Into , and even [Ctrl][R] to Record Keystroke
Macro (if you're using the default key mapping).
But there are differences. One of the more notable changes can be
found in the Tool Palette, shown in Figure 4, which replaces the
Component palette in Delphi 7. Objects can be added to your projects
either by dragging and dropping from the Tool Palette, or by entering
the object name in the provided text box. With each letter of an
object's name you enter into this text box, the list of objects that
appears in the Tool Palette shrinks to include only those whose names
match the entered characters.
Objects in the Tool Palette are organized by category, and individual
categories can be collapsed and expanded as needed. In addition, you
can quickly go to a particular category by clicking the Category
button and selecting from the displayed drop-down menu.
The Tool Palette is context sensitive, displaying only those
components that are appropriate for the particular type of object on
which you're working. For example, if you're designing a Windows
Form, the Tool Palette displays those components that you can use to
build GUI Windows applications. By comparison, if you're designing a
Web Form, only Web-related objects appear.
Initially, the Tool Palette contains only a small, but well-chosen,
collection of the objects that can be configured within the IDE. For
example, although the 1.1 version of the NET Framework includes
approximately 4,500 different classes, the Tool Palette initially
contains less than 100 components.
You add or remove components from the Tool Palette by selecting
Components | Installed .NET Components , or by right-clicking in the
Tool Palette and selecting Installed .NET Components . This displays
the Installed .NET Components dialog box, shown in Figure 5. The
corresponding object will appear in the specified category in the
Tool Palette when the check box to the left of a class name is
As you can see from Figure 5, this is also where you install
unmanaged COM or ActiveX objects that you want to use in your
application, as well as components from the VCL.NET (the visual
component library for .NET; more about this later in this article).
Unmanaged code in DLLs can also be used in Delphi 8 for .NET
applications, but those are accessed using a different technique.
Another aspect of the IDE that looks a little different are the
various options dialog boxes, including the Options dialog box (for
general IDE options) and the Project Options dialog box. In this
case, while the interface is a little different (a tree view on the
left side of this dialog box displays the categories, instead of a
tabbed notebook interface), the various frames within these dialog
boxes are, again, familiar. The Options dialog box is shown in Figure
There are many new features, as well. The Model View, similar to
Delphi 7's Diagram page, provides you with a diagram of the various
objects that you employ in your application. Borland calls this code
visualization. But if you're using the Architect version of Delphi 8
for .NET, the Diagram page becomes a sophisticated, synchronized UML
diagram editor. A sample of code visualization for a medium-sized
project is shown in Figure 7.
Another new tool is the Data Explorer, shown in Figure 8. This dialog
box provides you with a convenient browser for inspecting available
connections using Borland Data Providers, or BDP.NET. (BDP.NET is
described later in this article.) You can even drag tables, views, or
stored procedures from the Data Explorer and drop them on any WinForm
or WebForm application to have Delphi 8 for .NET add and configure
the required BDP.NET classes to your application.
No discussion of the new IDE would be complete without a few words
about the WebForms designer. This designer, which is very similar to
both the WinForms and VCL.NET form designer, permits you to build
your Web page interfaces visually.
As you drop the various WebForm components into the WebForms
designer, Delphi generates the corresponding HTML, inserting it into
the .aspx file associated with that form. Similarly, if the component
is one that has event handlers, such as a Button, Delphi adds the
class reference to the WebForm class in the code-behind file, the
file that contains the Delphi statements that will be executed on the
server. An example of a WebForms in the designer is shown in Figure
Although there are many welcome similarities between the Delphi 7 and
Delphi 8 IDEs, there can be no doubt about Delphi 8's .NET
credentials. Delphi 8 for .NET is a .NET IDE, and the Delphi language
is a full-fledged .NET language.
Unlike Borland's C#Builder, which uses Microsoft's C# compiler under
license, Delphi 8 for .NET employs Borland's new .NET compiler for
the Delphi language. When you compile a Delphi 8 for .NET project,
this new compiler emits Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL), the
CPU-independent instructions that are converted to native code,
typically by a just-in-time (JIT) compiler. This MSIL is equivalent
to that generated by any of Microsoft's compilers, including those
for C# and Visual Basic for .NET.
Because Delphi 8 for .NET includes a full-fledged .NET language, it
has access to the entire .NET Framework Class Library (FCL), a
comprehensive library of classes, types, and symbols that constitutes
the .NET equivalent of Delphi's VCL. Classes in the FCL provide
extensive support for data access (ADO.NET), WebForms (ASP.NET and
Web Services), WinForms (Windows GUI development), XML development,
and much more. In short, as a .NET developer using Delphi 8 for .NET,
you're making no sacrifices.
Also as a result of its true .NET nature, Delphi 8 for .NET
developers have transparent access to any public classes declared in
legitimate .NET assemblies. This means that all third-party .NET
components are easily accessible to Delphi 8 for .NET developers,
regardless of the language in which those components were developed.
To accommodate many of the features of .NET, Borland introduced
significant enhancements to the Delphi language. These include the
addition of attributes (descriptive declarations that are used to
identify the characteristics of programmatic elements), unit
namespaces, operator overloading, and new visibility identifiers. For
example, class declarations now support both strict private and
strict protected visibility.
What is particularly exciting about these enhancements to the Delphi
language is that Borland has indicated that these new features will
also be added to future versions of the Delphi Win32 compiler. This
will be done to ensure that your code continues to be compatible with
the various Delphi language compilers.
Although Delphi 8 for .NET provides full support for the FCL, it goes
well beyond, making the Delphi language an especially attractive
solution for .NET development. Specifically, Borland has included in
Delphi 8 for .NET a number of technologies that extend and/or
complement the FCL. Borland refers to these technologies as Borland
Data Providers (BDP.NET), RTL.NET, VCL.NET, dbExpress.NET, IBX.NET,
DataSnap.NET, and BDE.NET.
The first two of these technologies, BDP.NET and RTL.NET, can be used
in standard WinForms, WebForms, and console .NET applications that
employ the FCL. BPD.NET is a collection of concrete classes that
implement the ADO.NET interfaces used for data access. These concrete
classes differ from the corresponding FCL concrete classes in that
they provide an open, portable solution for accessing a variety of
different database servers, including Microsoft SQL Server,
InterBase, Oracle, and DB2. (Note that BDP.NET is available only in
the Architect and Enterprise editions of Delphi 8 for .NET.)
The RTL.NET is a .NET version of Delphi's runtime library, the
collection of pure functions and procedures (and their associated
constants, variables, and types) that you can use from your custom
code. RTL.NET maintains a tight source code compatibility with Win32
versions of Delphi, smoothing the migration path of your existing
Win32 code to .NET, as well as permitting you to write routines that
easily compile under your platform of choice.
In my opinion, the presence of RTL.NET alone provides a compelling
argument to use Delphi as your preferred .NET language. RTL.NET
includes literally hundreds of useful routines, including those in
the Borland.Vcl.SysUtils, Borland.Vcl.StrUtils,
Borland.Vcl.DateUtils, and Borland.Vcl.Math units, to name a few.
Another Borland technology, Db Web Controls for ASP.NET, is available
for use when you're building WebForms. These are visual, data-aware
Web controls that you can use with ADO.NET and BDP.NET classes to
quickly and easily build database Web applications.
The remaining technologies listed earlier in this section are
designed to simplify the process of migrating existing applications
from Win32 to .NET, as well as to permit developers to leverage their
current skill sets when building new .NET applications. These
technologies can be broadly referred to as VCL.NET, with
dbExpress.NET, IBX.NET, DataSnap.NET, and BDE.NET being subsets of
VCL.NET is a component framework that provides extensive source code
compatibility between Delphi Win32 and Delphi for .NET. The classes
and types available in VCL.NET represent a rich subset of the Win32
VCL. Furthermore, these classes and types sport interfaces that are
essentially identical to their VCL counterparts, permitting you to
easily create single source projects that can be compiled either to
the .NET platform or Win32, as well as to provide a greatly
simplified migration path to .NET.
At first glance, VCL.NET is truly remarkable. If one of your existing
applications makes use of common Delphi VCL components (Edit, Label,
DBGrid, MainMenu, and the like), you may be able to simply open that
project in Delphi 8 for .NET and compile it to MSIL.
For example, if you've installed both Delphi 8 for .NET and Delphi 7,
use Delphi 8 for .NET to open the ConvertIt project, which by default
is located in the DemosConvertIt folder under the Delphi 7
directory. Press [F9] to compile and run this project as a .NET
assembly without changing a single line of code. Amazing, isn't it?
As for dbExpress.NET (dbExpress for .NET), IBX.NET (InterBase Express
for .NET), DataSnap.NET (for building DataSnap clients under .NET),
and BDE.NET (Borland Database Engine for .NET), these are .NET
implementations of the associated VCL classes for data access. As
with other parts of the VCL.NET, these classes provide a nearly
seamless upgrade path to .NET for most existing database
applications. Here you will find such classes as TSqlDataSet,
TIBConnection, TClientDataSet, TDataSetProvider,
TDCOMConnection, TDataSource, and even TTable .
(Only the Architect and Enterprise editions ship with dbExpress.NET
Take a look at Figure 10. This is the FishFact.drp project, which is
located in the DemosDBFishFact folder located under the Delphi 7
directory. What you see in Figure 10 is a VCL.NET application that
uses BDE.NET to access a Paradox table. Like the ConvertIt project,
all I did was open FishFact.dpr in Delphi 8 for .NET and hit [F9] .
And voil` ! I get a running .NET managed code assembly.
I suspect that VCL.NET will be particularly important to two groups
of Delphi developers: those who need to run existing applications
under .NET with a minimum of changes (or future maintenance), and
those who need to create quick and dirty .NET applications without
having to learn the FCL.
For most other developers, it's probably best to bite the bullet and
learn the FCL. This will take time, but you won't be alone - nearly
every other developer using .NET is going through the same thing.
After all, the FCL is the native class library of .NET. It's a good
For more than a year now, Borland has been enhancing their
best-of-breed programming environments with a rich collection of
tools that help manage nearly all aspects of the application
lifecycle, from requirements management, to UML modeling tools, to
source code version control, to defect tracking.
Although most of these tools can be purchased separately, the
high-end editions of Delphi 8 for .NET include some or all of these
tools. Delphi 8 for .NET Enterprise includes all the features
available in the Professional edition, as well as CaliberRM and
StarTeam Standard Edition Client and Server (in addition to BDP.NET,
DataSnap.NET, and dbExpress.NET). The Enterprise edition includes all
of the tools that ship with the Enterprise edition plus ECO
(Enterprise Core Objects), a sophisticated two-way tool for building
and maintaining applications using UML class diagrams, as well as
OptimizeIt, Borland's .NET profiler.
Most Delphi developers will find Delphi 8 for .NET very exciting.
First of all, it permits you to build .NET applications today using
the tools you know and the language you love. Let's face it, if you
build applications for Windows, you will eventually need to be
working in .NET. Delphi 8 for .NET makes it easy.
If you're a Delphi developer, but aren't using Delphi 7, you'll be
interested to know that Delphi 8 for .NET includes a copy of Delphi 7
(for Win32). Even if you have only a passing interest in .NET
development at this time, the offer to get Delphi 7 bundled with
Delphi 8 for .NET should provide you with a pretty compelling
argument for upgrading.
For developers who aren't using Delphi at all, I personally think
Delphi 8 for .NET deserves a good look. As I pointed out earlier,
Delphi 8 for .NET includes RTL.NET, quite possibly the richest set of
.NET routines available. That, coupled with one of the easiest to
write and maintain languages available (I'm talking about the Delphi
language), and with Borland's outstanding compiler and support tools,
make Delphi 8 for .NET a very attractive .NET solution. And if you
must build applications for both Win32 and .NET, you'll find no other
language that makes this inter-platform migration as easy.
Cary Jensen, Ph.D. is president of Jensen Data Systems, Inc.,
a training and consulting company that won the 2002 and 2003
Delphi Informant Magazine Readers Choice Awards for Best
Training. Cary is the co-author of 19 books, including Advantage
Database Server: The Official Guide (McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2003),
Building Kylix Applications (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 2001),
JBuilder Essentials (Osborne/McGraw-Hill,1997), and Delphi
in Depth (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 1996). He is the author and
trainer for the Delphi Developer Days tours, a Contributing Editor of
Delphi Informant Magazine , and a featured Web columnist on
the Borland Developer Network. For more information about Cary and
his company's services, including Delphi Developer Days 2004
workshops and seminars, visit http://www.JensenDataSystems.com.
This article originally appeared in Delphi Informant Magazine, http://www.DelphiZine.com, and appears with permission of Informant Communications Group, Inc
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