I am a C++ coder by tradition. Over the last 12 months or so I have been doing a lot of C# coding, and have been pleasantly surprised by C#'s pragmatic approach (once I stopped trying to code it as if it was "C++ with garbage collection").

We have recently had some graduates in and when helping one of them I realised she was using .Net within C++. After asking her why, she said she had been "told to use C++ by her manager". Obvious communication problem aside, I assume she was using .Net because that's the only framework she's been exposed to.

I then came across an old project by a senior developer who also used C++ to drive a Forms front end. Now this would have been written around the time .Net first appeared, so I assume it was a learning exercise on his part to play around with .Net. It was only a small utility app.

Having had to do some minor modification in this app, it seemed to me that using C++ to drive .Net gives you the worst of both worlds. No garbage collection or memory safety, but no similarly no real speed/optimisation opportunities since you're dealing with a managed framework.

So my question is whether people do use C++ .Net for any large stand alone (ie non-plumbing) production code, and if so what are your reasons for doing so? I freely admit I have never delved deeply into the C++ .Net extensions so I may be doing it a disservice.

1 Answer 1


C++.NET (or, precisely, C++/CLI) does have garbage collection, just like everything else that runs atop .NET. To achieve this while remaining compatible with C++ proper, it uses ^ syntax and gcnew for garbage-collected ('safe') pointers.

C++/CLI is considered an abomination by many, it's significantly more unpleasant to work with than either C# or C++ proper, and also more complicated than either (simply because it brings the complexity of C++ itself to the table and adds what it takes to work with .NET to the mix). Learning C# usually pays off even within the scope of a single medium-sized project. However, there is one thing it can do that neither C# nor native C++ can do: compile existing C++ against .NET and have it talk to other .NET components.

Consequently, it doesn't make much sense to use C++/CLI for a from-scratch project - anything .NET related that can be done with it can also be done in C#, with much nicer syntax and the added safety of not exposing raw pointers by default. Its most prominent raison-d'etre is porting existing codebases to .NET. A company that decides to start using .NET, but unwilling (or unable due to resource and time constraints) to rewrite every piece of software they have produced so far, can use C++/CLI to keep using their existing codebase with only minimal changes, and then rewrite components of their system in C# one by one. At least that's the theory; I have never seen it done in practice myself, so I can't tell how well it works.

Also note that C# itself can interface with native libraries, so even if you have to use existing C++ codebases, you don't necessarily have to recompile them against .NET: often, interfacing with them through COM or P/Invoke is the better solution.

  • 10
    Please note that 'interfacing with native libraries' with P/Invoke is limited to dll with static functions, and COM is a hassle in it's own right. A wrapper in C++/CLR allows you to access a full-size native backend / project cleanly in your C# code with very few limitations. I wouldn't use it for development, but as glue, it's MUCH cleaner than P/Invoke and it's marshalling.
    – Max
    Jul 13, 2012 at 10:27
  • Seconded -- And I think Microsoft have tacitly agreed, judging by the way they have re-aligned C++ to its rightful place in native development. Jul 13, 2012 at 11:38
  • 1
    @Max TBH Microsoft have made everything native. So now, you don't need C++/CLI at all, there's no need to write those nasty wrappers to interface C# to native code - just make sure they're WinRT/COM objects and you're done.
    – gbjbaanb
    Jul 27, 2012 at 22:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.