Since Microsoft's announcement at the Professional Developer's Conference (PDC) in July, the computing world has been abuzz with .NET. A major part of the .NET Framework is Active Server Pages + (ASP+). This technology, although it won't ship in production for many months, is exciting to ASP developers and IIS administrators alike. For ASP developers, ASP+ looks similar to ASP; however, it's more structured than the ASP 3.0 that runs in IIS 5.0. For IIS administrators, ASP+ looks much different under the hood.

Until the .NET Framework, ASP was just an OS add-on, an Internet Server API (ISAPI) DLL, and a few system components. ASP+ sits on top of the core OS and is almost entirely component based and modularized. Every page, object, and HTML element you use can be a runtime component object. All that said, let's jump into some of the major features of ASP+.

New Programming Model
ASP+ pages have a programming model similar to Visual Basic (VB) forms. (You might have heard these called ASP+ Web forms.) ASP+ pages use server-side controls to facilitate state management, which lets developers retain form values between pages.

Cleaner, Easier Code
How many times have you gasped when trying to read the spaghetti code of a long ASP page that contains server-side VBScript, client-side JavaScript, and HTML smattered all the way through? ASP+ encapsulates code in server controls and has event-handling techniques that facilitate a more structured architecture in pages. This encapsulation results in a page that is much easier to read and develop.

Rich Server Controls
ASP+ already includes a number of rich server controls that you can leverage to create more complex HTML elements. These controls let you write code to set the properties of these controls at runtime. A calendar control and a variety of grid, table, and list controls are a few examples of controls already included in the .NET prerelease.

XML Configuration Files
Components now use XML configuration files in ASP+ so you no longer need to register components on the server. You can deploy applications using File-Copy commands, Microsoft FrontPage Server Extensions, or FTP.

Easy-to-Maintain Session State
By seamlessly managing hidden form variables on the client side, ASP+ lets you easily maintain a user's session state even across Web farms.

Solid Error-Handling Architecture
ASP+ finally gives developers a solid error-handling, debugging, and tracking architecture. Debugging is now seamless across disparate languages. You can now step from one language, such as VB, straight into a C++ component, back to VB, and then to a C# (C sharp) component.

Security-Management Features
New security-management features in ASP+ provide IIS administrators and developers with many different kinds of authentication, including HTML forms-based authentication in which ASP+ creates and manages custom logon pages. You are no longer pigeonholed by the default browser logon prompt (e.g., with Windows 2000 Integrated and Windows NT 4.0 NT LAN Manager—NTLM—authentication).

Server-Side Caching
ASP+ has server-side caching, which lets developers persist all types of data and objects for reuse in ASP+ pages. In addition, the ASP+ runtime can also cache output from ASP+ pages, facilitating lightning-quick performance.

Class Libraries
A rich set of class libraries comes with ASP+, which makes writing powerful Web applications easier. These libraries include data-access components, components for reading and writing the event log, components for Microsoft Message Queue Server (MSMQ), SMTP components, and encryption components.

In short, Microsoft is designing ASP+ from the ground up to overcome the limitations of ASP. ASP+ combines the power to build more complex Web applications with the reduced requirements of developer time. For more information about ASP+, visit the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Web site, where you'll also find the .NET Framework software development kit (SDK), which includes ASP+.