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The goal of this book is to help you come up to speed with the Visual Basic 2005 language even if you have never programmed before. You will start slowly and build on what you learn. So take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and tell yourself you can do this. No sweat! No kidding!
Programming a computer is a lot like teaching a child to tie his shoes. Until you find the correct way of giving the instructions, not much gets accomplished. Visual Basic 2005 is a language in which you can tell your computer how to do things. But, like a child, the computer will understand only if you explain things very clearly. If you have never programmed before, this sounds like an arduous task, and sometimes it is. However, Visual Basic 2005 gives you a simple language to explain some complex things. Although it never hurts to have an understanding of what is happening at the lowest levels, Visual Basic 2005 frees the programmer from having to deal with the mundane complexities of writing Windows programs. You are free to concentrate on solving problems.
Visual Basic 2005 helps you create solutions that run on the Microsoft Windows operating system. If you are looking at this book, you might have already felt the need or the desire to create such programs. Even if you have never written a computer program before, as you progress through the Try It Out exercises in this book, you will become familiar with the various aspects of the Visual Basic 2005 language, as well as its foundation in Microsoft's .NET Framework. You will find that it is not nearly as difficult as you have been imagining. Before you know it, you will be feeling quite comfortable creating a variety of different types of programs with Visual Basic 2005. Also (as the name .NET implies) Visual Basic 2005 can be used to create applications for use over the Internet. You can also create mobile applications for Pocket PCs and SmartPhones. However, when learning any new technology, you have to walk before you can run, so in this book you will begin by focusing on Windows applications before extending your boundaries to other platforms.
In this chapter, we will cover the following subjects:
The installation of Visual Basic 2005
A tour of the Visual Basic 2005 Integrated Development Environment (IDE)
How to create a simple Windows program
How to use and leverage the integrated help system
Windows Versus DOS Programming
A Windows program is quite different from its ancient relative, the MS-DOS program. A DOS program follows a relatively strict path from beginning to end. Although this does not necessarily limit the functionality of the program, it does limit the road the user has to take to get to it. A DOS program is like walking down a hallway; to get to the end you have to walk down the hallway, passing any obstacles that you may encounter. A DOS program would only let you open certain doors along your stroll.
Windows, on the other hand, opened up the world of event-driven programming. Events in this context include, for example, clicking a button, resizing a window, or changing an entry in a text box. The code that you write responds to these events. To go back to the hallway analogy: In a Windows program, to get to the end of the hall, you just click on the end of the hall. The hallway can be ignored. If you get to the end and realize that is not where you wanted to be, you can just set off for the new destination without returning to your starting point. The program reacts to your movements and takes the necessary actions to complete your desired tasks (Visual Basic 2005).
Another big advantage in a Windows program is the abstraction of the hardware; which means that Windows takes care of communicating with the hardware for you. You do not need to know the inner workings of every laser printer on the market just to create output. You do not need to study the schematics for graphics cards to write your game. Windows wraps up this functionality by providing generic routines that communicate with the drivers written by hardware manufacturers. This is probably the main reason that Windows has been so successful. The generic routines are referred to as the Windows Application Programming Interface (API).
Before Visual Basic 1.0 was introduced to the world in 1991, developers had to be well versed in C and C++ programming, as well as the building blocks of the Windows system itself, the Windows API. This complexity meant that only dedicated and properly trained individuals were capable of turning out software that could run on Windows. Visual Basic changed all of that, and it has been estimated that there are now as many lines of production code written in Visual Basic as in any other language.
Visual Basic changed the face of Windows programming by removing the complex burden of writing code for the user interface (UI). By allowing programmers to draw their own UI, it freed them to concentrate on the business problems they were trying to solve. Once the UI is drawn, the programmer can then add the code to react to events.
Visual Basic has also been extensible from the very beginning. Third-party vendors quickly saw the market for reusable modules to aid developers. These modules, or controls, were originally referred to as VBXs (named after their file extension). Prior to Visual Basic 5.0, if you did not like the way a button behaved, you could either buy or create your own, but those controls had to be written in C or C++. Database access utilities were some of the first controls available. Version 5 of Visual Basic introduced the concept of ActiveX, which allowed developers to create their own ActiveX controls.
When Microsoft introduced Visual Basic 3.0, the programming world changed again. Now you could build database applications directly accessible to users (so-called front-end applications) completely with Visual Basic. There was no need to rely on third-party controls. Microsoft accomplished this task with the introduction of Data Access Objects (DAO), which allowed programmers to manipulate data with the same ease as manipulating the user interface.
Versions 4.0 and 5.0 extended the capabilities of Version 3.0 to allow developers to target the newWindows 95 platform. Crucially they also made it easier for developers to write code, which could then be manipulated to make it usable to other language developers. Version 6.0 provided a new way to access databases with the integration of ActiveX Data Objects (ADO). The ADO feature was developed by Microsoft to aid Web developers using Active Server Pages to access databases. All of the improvements to Visual Basic over the years have ensured its dominant place in the programming world. It helps developers write robust and maintainable applications in record time.
With the release of Visual Basic .NET in February 2002, most of the restrictions that used to exist have been obliterated. In the past, Visual Basic has been criticized and maligned as a "toy" language, as it did not provide all of the features of more sophisticated languages such as C++ and Java. Now, Microsoft has removed these restrictions and made Visual Basic .NET a very powerful development tool. This trend continues with Visual Basic 2005. Although not as drastic a change as from Visual Basic 6 to Visual Basic .NET, there are enough improvements in the language and integrated development environment that Visual Basic 2005 is a welcome upgrade and is a great choice for programmers of all levels.
Installing Visual Basic 2005
You may own Visual Basic 2005 in either of the following forms:
As part of Visual Studio 2005, a suite of tools and languages that also includes C# (pronounced "C-sharp"), J# (pronounced "J-sharp"), and Visual C++. The Visual Studio 2005 product line includes Visual Studio Standard Edition, Visual Studio Professional Edition, Visual Studio Tools for Office, and Visual Studio Team System. All of these versions come with progressively more tools for building and managing the development of larger, enterprise-wide applications.
As the Express Edition, which includes a reduced set of the tools and features that are available with Visual Studio 2005.
Both enable you to create your own applications for the Windows platform. The installation procedure is straightforward. In fact, the Visual Studio Installer is smart enough to figure out exactly what your computer requires to make it work.
The descriptions in the Try It Out exercise that follows are based on installing Visual Studio 2005 Architect Edition. Most of the installation processes are very straightforward, and you can accept the default installation options for most environments. So, regardless of which edition you are installing, the installation process should be smooth when accepting the default installation options.
Try It Out Installing Visual Basic 2005
1. The Visual Studio 2005 CD has an auto-run feature, but if the Setup screen does not appear after inserting the CD, you have to run setup.exe from the root directory of the CD. To do this, go to your Windows Start menu (usually found right at the bottom of your screen) and select Run. Then type d:\ setup.exe into the Open box, where d is the drive letter of your CD drive. After the setup program initializes, you will see the screen as shown in Figure 1-1.
2. This dialog box shows the order in which the installation takes place. To function properly, Visual Basic 2005 requires that several updates be installed on your machine, such as Service Pack 1 for Windows XP. The setup program will inform you if these updates are not installed. You should then install any required updates before proceeding with the installation of Visual Studio 2005. Step 1 installs Visual Studio 2005, so click the Install Visual Studio link.
3. After agreeing to the End User License agreement, click Continue to proceed to the next step.
4. As with most installations, you will be presented with an option list of components to install (see Figure 1-2). You can choose to install only the features that you need. For example, if your drive space is limited and you have no immediate need for Visual C++ 2005, you can exclude it from the installation. You will also be given the chance to select the location of items (although the defaults should suffice unless your particular machine has special requirements). Any option that is not chosen at the initial setup can always be added later as your needs or interests change. However, if you plan on developing database applications such as those discussed in Chapter 16, you should choose to install SQL Server 2005 Express, which is the last option in the list.
Three sections of information are given for each feature:
The Feature description box gives you an outline of each feature and its function.
The Feature Install path section outlines where the required files will be installed.
Finally, the Space Allocation section illustrates how the space on your hard drive will be affected by the installation as a whole.
When you are running Visual Basic 2005, a lot of information is swapped from the disk to memory and back again. Therefore, it is important to have some free space on your disk. There is no exact rule for determining how much free space you will need, but if you use your machine for development as well as other tasks, anything less than 100MB free space should be considered a full disk.
5. After you have chosen all the features you want, click Install. Installation will begin and you can sit back and relax for a bit. The setup time varies depending on how many features you chose to install. As a reference, the installation process took around 20 minutes on a 2.4-GHz computer with 512 MB RAM running Windows XP Professional.
6. When installation is completed, you will see a dialog informing you that the installation has completed.
Here you will see any problems that setup encountered along the way. You are also given the chance to look at the installation log. This log provides a list of all actions taken during the installation process. Unless your installation reported errors, the installation log can safely be ignored. The Visual Studio 2005 setup is nearly complete. Click Done to move on to installing the documentation.
7. The MSDN Library installation is simple and straightforward, and this section covers the highlights. The first screen that you will see is the initial welcome screen. Click Next to proceed.
8. You will be allowed to select the amount of the documentation you want to install, as shown in Figure 1-3. Click Next to start the installation process.
If you have the spare hard drive space, it is a very good idea to install the full documentation. That way you have access to the full library, which will be important if you choose a limited set of options during the install and later add more features.
9. After the MSDN documentation has been installed, you are returned to the initial setup screen again, and the Service Releases option is available.
It is a good idea to select Service Releases to check for updates. Microsoft has done a good job of making software updates available through the Internet. These updates can include anything from additional documentation to bug fixes. You will be given the choice to install any updates via a Service Pack CD or the Internet. Obviously, the Internet option requires an active connection. Since updates can be quite large, a fast connection is highly recommended.
Once you have performed the update process, Visual Studio 2005 is ready to use. Now the real fun can begin! So get comfortable, relax, and let us enter the world of Visual Basic 2005.
The Visual Basic 2005 IDE
You don't actually need the Visual Basic 2005 product to write applications in the Visual Basic 2005 language. The actual ability to run Visual Basic 2005 code is included with the .NET Framework. You could actually just write all of your Visual Basic 2005 using a text editor such as Notepad. You could also hammer nails using your shoe as a hammer, but that slick pneumatic nailer sitting there is probably a lot more efficient. In the same way, by far the easiest way to write in Visual Basic 2005 is by using the Visual Studio 2005 Integrated Development Environment, also known as the IDE. This is what you actually see when working with Visual Basic 2005-the windows, boxes, and so on. The IDE provides a wealth of features unavailable in ordinary text editors-such as code checking, visual representations of the finished application, and an explorer that displays all of the files that make up your project.
The Profile Setup Page
An IDE is a way of bringing together a suite of tools that makes developing software a lot easier. Fire up Visual Studio 2005 and see what you've got. If you used the default installation, go to your Windows Start menu and then Programs (All Programs on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003) [right arrow] Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 [right arrow] Microsoft Visual Studio 2005. A splash screen will briefly appear, and then you should find yourself presented with the Choose Default Environment Settings dialog box. Select the Visual Basic Development Settings option and then click Start Visual Studio. The Microsoft Development Environment will appear, as shown in Figure 1-4.
By now, you may be a bit eager to start writing some code. But first, begin your exploration of the IDE by looking at the toolbar and menu, which, as you will learn are not really all that different from the toolbars and menus you have seen in other Microsoft software such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Visual Studio 2005's menu is dynamic, meaning that items will be added or removed depending on what you are trying to do. While you are looking at the blank IDE, the menu bar will consist only of the File, Edit, View, Data, Tools, Window, Community, and Help menus. When you start working on a project, however, the full Visual Studio 2005 menu appears as shown in Figure 1-5.
Excerpted from Beginning Visual Basic 2005 by Thearon Willis Excerpted by permission.
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Chapter 1: Welcome to Visual Basic 2005.
Chapter 2: The Microsoft .NET Framework.
Chapter 3: Writing Software.
Chapter 4: Controlling the Flow.
Chapter 5: Working with Data Structures.
Chapter 6: Building Windows Applications.
Chapter 7: Displaying Dialog Boxes.
Chapter 8: Creating Menus.
Chapter 9: Debugging and Error Handling.
Chapter 10: Building Objects.
Chapter 11: Advanced Object-Oriented Techniques.
Chapter 12: Building Class Libraries.
Chapter 13: Creating Your Own Custom Controls.
Chapter 14: Programming Custom Graphics.
Chapter 15: Accessing Databases.
Chapter 16: Database Programming with SQL Server and ADO.NET.
Chapter 17: Web Forms.
Chapter 18: Forms Authentication.
Chapter 19: Visual Basic 2005 and XML.
Chapter 20: Web Services and .NET Remoting.
Chapter 21: Deploying Your Application.
Chapter 22: Building Mobile Applications.
Appendix A: Where To Now?
Appendix B: Implementing the Microsoft Solutions Framework.
Appendix C: An Introduction to Security.
Appendix D: Solutions.