In the ads for Visual Studio and for .NET, Microsoft promised to revolutionize and streamline daily development tasks. While .NET is a vast improvement over past Microsoft development platforms, it still requires a certain level of expertise. Microsoft continues its push to simplify Web development with Volta.

Is it a development IDE or a toolset?

When I was talking to developers about Volta, most of them thought it was a new development IDE; it’s actually a toolkit that takes advantage of Visual Studio 2008. (The current release of Volta is a technology preview.)

Volta is available via download of an installation file. Installing the Volta technology preview includes the Volta compiler and libraries along with several new project types for Visual Studio. These new project types include an application, control, and class library. You may create a new application and choose one of these templates to get going with Volta.

Splitting an application into tiers

When you read about Volta, you’ll come across the concept of the cloud — this refers to the Internet. Volta’s main goal is to simplify the development of Web applications. The crux of the simplification goal is the various tiers used in an application. These tiers often require their own languages when rolling out an application to production.

Volta allows developers to use what they have to build multi-tiered applications; that is, developers can focus on building the presentation and business logic of an application. When those pieces work as planned, Volta can assist with the process of splitting the application into tiers to work in production. This tier splitting step may be divided into three capabilities defined by Microsoft: refactoring, retargeting, and remodulating.


Refactoring takes the single-tier code developed and tested by a developer and converts it into distributed, concurrent code as directed by user-supplied annotations. When developing code, it runs on the development machine, but this model does not work in production. The developer supplies information about various tiers, and the Volta rewriter automatically creates and deploys the marshalling and security code necessary to execute the code on these tiers.

Retargeting converts an application’s Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL) code into code for other virtual machines (i.e., virtual machines that may be used on other tiers). MSIL is a language used as the output of a number of compilers (C#, VB, .NET, and so forth). The goal is for a variety of languages to be available as a target with JavaScript, and MSIL is available in the technology release of Volta. A good example of retargeting is the execution of a portion of application functionality in a client browser using JavaScript.

Remodulating tailors a single piece of code for multiple browsers, and it enables cross browser support in an application. Volta remodulation allows you to utilize certain features only available with specific browser vendors. The feature is integrated within Visual Studio, with the current release offering Internet Explorer and Firefox support.

Putting Volta to use

Once you download and install the Volta technology preview, you can easily put it to use via the Visual Studio 2008 IDE.

First, you select one of the previously mentioned Volta templates and build your application with whatever features you desire. During development, it will be a single tier application that runs completely on your development machine.

After you test it to ensure proper functionality, you may revisit its code via Visual Studio and use Volta to push it to multiple tiers. You simply right-click on code classes that you want to run on different tiers and select the Refactor option with Tier-split To Run At Origin.

Volta makes your decisions easier

Volta is currently only a technical release, so it is not an official product. It remains to be seen whether it will be fully embraced and released as a product via a Visual Studio add-on. It is currently being used by groups within Microsoft — most notably, the Microsoft Live Labs team — to build applications.

I like the fact that Volta simplifies the often difficult architectural and coding decisions. Once you download and install Volta, you’ll find that there are many features to explore.

Do you envision yourself or your organization using Volta? If so, what do you find particularly appealing about the toolset? Share your thoughts with the community.

Tony Patton began his professional career as an application developer earning Java, VB, Lotus, and XML certifications to bolster his knowledge.


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