When building a particularly large system – well, it does not have to be particularly large; sometimes, small projects, too – you may come across incompatible type systems in object-oriented programming languages. For example, objects in an object-oriented programming are almost always non-scalar values, but SQL systems can only store and manipulate scalar values. How can you integrate them all? The technique is called “object relational mapping” (ORM), a technique for converting data between those incompatible type systems. The result is a virtual object database that can be used from within the programming language, allowing you to convert the objects into groups of simpler values that can be stored in the database.
There are two popular solutions for ORM, which are Entity Framework and ADO.NET. However, there have been a lot of questions and discussions about the two. In what ways do Entity Framework and ADO.NET differ from each other? Is it better for you to just use Entity Framework or ADO.NET? Below, we will see more details about the two. So, continue reading!
What is ADO.NET?
Let us start with ADO.NET, as it is essentially the core of the whole discussion. ADO.NET is a proprietary software framework developed for Microsoft Windows, licensed under the MIT License for the BCL portion and under the Microsoft Reference Source License for the source code. ADO.NET is a data access technology that is a part of the base class library included with the Microsoft .NET Framework. It allows communication between relational and non-relational systems by using a common set of components as the ‘bridge’. Programmers can use these components to access data as well as data services from the database. Well, although programmers commonly use ADO.NET to access or modify data stores in relational database systems, it is actually also able to work on non-relational sources. Also, even though ADO.NET can be considered as an evolution of the ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) technology, ADO.NET has undergone extensive changes that it is also sometimes considered as a completely new product.
What is Entity Framework?
On the other hand, Entity Framework is an open-source object relational mapping (ORM) framework for ADO.NET. Well, you can say that it is a framework for a framework in an ironic manner. Of course, ADO.NET has greatly helped programmers and developers in tackling down incompatible type systems, but writing and managing the ADO.NET code for data access is an incredibly tedious, monotonous job. Hence, Microsoft developed an ORM framework to automate database-related activities – that is Entity Framework. It was initially released in August 2008 as a part of the Microsoft .NET Framework. However, since the sixth version, Entity Framework is no longer included in the Microsoft .NET Framework.
Entity Framework vs. ADO.NET: Abstraction
If you read the paragraphs above carefully, you may have noticed that ADO.NET is ‘just’ a framework for communicating with the data layer, whereas Entity Framework is full-blown ORM framework. What that means is that they have different abstraction levels. ADO.NET creates a higher abstract object model over its components, allowing you to work on higher level domain objects instead of dealing with datasets, data tables, commands, and connections. However, the overall process is still long and monotonous.
Entity Framework, on the other hand, still uses ADO.NET somewhere deep below; however, it abstract away the need to write your own procedures and others so that you can have strongly typed collections of objects for data manipulation. With Entity Framework, we work with higher level domain objects. The primary and perhaps only benefit of Entity Framework is that it automatically generates the code for the model layer (middle layer), the data access layer, as well as mapping the code. In other words, Entity Framework may save a lot of time, effort, and resources.
Entity Framework vs. ADO.NET: Flexibility
Even though Entity Framework is generally more efficient due to the abstraction provided, there can be a downside. It is somehow not as flexible. Some programmers and developers prefer to implement their own instances on ADO.NET, especially if the output data greatly depends on the input parameters or the data contained. Though such cases are not very common, you may need to use ADO.NET instead of Entity Framework for better flexibility and control.
Should You Learn ADO.NET before Entity Framework?
There is another question that is often asked. Due to the fact that Entity Framework is built on top of ADO.NET, does that mean you need to learn ADO.NET first, at least to some degree, before learning Entity Framework?
The answer is no, you don’t need to. Entity Framework allows you to work without having to deal with ADO.NET directly, thanks to the abstraction. You can already be highly productive and go far just by using Entity Framework alone. It is easy and fast, and you can go far before having to drop down ADO.NET’s world.
However, if you have an absolute reason that requires you to have direct access to your database, without any mapping or intermediate layer, you can dive to ADO.NET. You can also use LINQ-to-SQL here, which enables you to use LINQ to query the SQL database by converting the LINQ query into an SQL one.
When to Use Entity Framework / ADO.NET
Entity Framework can be very useful in three scenarios. First, you already have an existing database (or you want to design the database first before any other part of the project). Second, you want to focus on the domain classes, and create the database based on these domain classes. Third, you want to create the database schema on the visual designer, and then create the database and classes based on said schema. In all these three scenarios, Entity Framework will create data access classes for the database, allowing you to interact with the database using those classes instead of ADO.NET’s components, saving you a lot of time.
ADO.NET is the way to go if you need low-level configuration and customization. It is also the way to go if you somehow need direct access to the database, without any mapping or intermediate layer.
|- An enhanced ORM framework built on top of ADO.NET||- A framework for ORM|
|- Standalone, open-source; no longer part of Microsoft .NET Framework||- Part of Microsoft .NET Framework|
|- Higher abstraction level||- Lower abstraction level|
|- Much faster and more efficient||- Can give more flexibility and control|
ADO.NET is a framework for ORM, whereas Entity Framework is an enhanced ORM framework built on top of it. Entity Framework is generally more preferred due to the extensive abstraction, allowing you to save a great deal of time, effort, and resources. However, some people may need to use ADO.NET nonetheless in order to gain more low-level flexibility and control.