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What is .NET MAUI, and How Does it Differ from Xamarin?

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Updated 10th May 2022 on GA of .NET MAUI.

MAUI or more accurately .NET MAUI stands for .NET Multi-platform App UI. It is a bit of a mouthful but essentially all it is is the next iteration of Xamarin… Yes, it’s Xamarin vNext, so instead of there being a Xamarin.Forms 6 we are getting .NET MAUI.

But I know what you’re thinking, Why the name change and surely it’s more than that? and yes you’re right, it is a lot more than just a name change. It is pretty much a re-write of the Xamarin stack, and more than that, it is also finally being pulled into the .NET BCL (Base class library) which means it is going to be a part of .NET and no longer the separate project it was before.

As mentioned by the team many times when thinking about the change to MAUI, it’s important to know that no longer is Xamarin some other thing that is like .NET or has some dependency on .NET, but it IS .NET. This means that you as a .NET developer can write apps that target mobile platforms as well as Blazor, Web, Cloud etc – so how cool is that.

A Quick History Lesson – A Look at .NET MAUI’s Roots in Xamarin

Back in February 2016, Xamarin was purchased by Microsoft and from the annual Microsoft Build conference that followed it was clear that the intention was to fold the Xamarin tooling into .NET and unify all the runtimes, libraries and SDKs into one. This all started coming together with the .NET 5 release in November 2020 but was due to complete with the GA of .NET 6 in November 2021.

For this unification to happen – and the dream of .NET with C# being the language of choice to write an app once and run absolutely anywhere – they needed to bring Xamarin into .NET fully. Instead of relying on the mono implementation of .NET originally written by Miguel de Icaza to bridge from your C# code into the Android or IoS runtime.

As you can see below, the model is complex with Bindings and API’s that allow you to write your C# code to run on the devices supported by Xamarin namely Android and IoS and later others like UWP and Tizen.

Xamarin model

Write Once Run Everywhere

However, as I mentioned, the dream was to write your code once using .NET and C# and it could run on any device. Microsoft, when Announcing .NET 5, used this slide to show the intention of the project.

.NET 5 announcement

Now we, as app developers, are concerned with mobile, and there was an obvious intention in placing mobile centre in this slide when it was first shown. It highlights that Microsoft is pushing this as well.

We have been writing our apps for mobile using Xamarin until now, and hopefully, your projects are on the latest version of Xamarin.Forms, which at the time of writing is 5 Service release 11. This version will keep getting updates and patches until 2023, however, no exact date has been released.

What’s Changed from Xamarin to .NET MAUI?

Well a lot actually. The team at Xamarin built the infrastructure based on Mono with what was available in C# at the time and what they thought was the best way forward. However, over the years and with the rise in popularity of Xamarin they have realised there are lots of areas and scars they wanted to fix. Once Microsoft purchased Xamarin, it was clear that the team wanted to build Xamarin into .Net fully so that they could fulfil the idea of Build Once run everywhere.

BCL Integration is a large part of the change as Xamarin becomes a true part of .NET just like System.IO. So now, Xamarin.Forms becomes Microsoft.MAUI and Xamarin.Essentials is gone with a change to multiple namespaces such as Microsoft.MAUI.Device or Microsoft.MAUI.Media etc. and it is all installed as Workloads using Visual Studio 2022. This last part may seem odd, but it actually makes a lot more sense and drops a Namespace of essentials that only really had meaning to Xamarin.Forms developers that have been doing this for a while and know the history.

.Net MAUI will continue to release on the same 6-week cadence as Xamarin.Forms currently does, it’s still Open Source with a repo here and the same great team behind the scenes.

This all means that the process of targeting the different platforms is now much cleaner and your code is abstracted away from worrying too much about the device. As you can see here, the code targets .NET MAUI and via the target device layer, the correct handlers are used (More on this below!) to then build for that device.

.NET Multi-platform App UI

Fixing the Scars

If you’re a Xamarin Developer at the moment you know about the problems and the dance to make it all work. Not just the tooling, but also the complex way your code is built. One of the biggest of these is that if something is missing from Xamarin or you want to change how something looks on the screen, you have to write your own Custom Renderer and this must be done for each platform and they are tightly coupled to Xamarin.Forms.

Now when you write your code, you target .NET MAUI but do so via a Handler in place of a renderer. The advantage here is that you can change out the Handler for each platform, even for the whole project by moving from the default. For example an Entry control of Microsoft.MAUI.Controls.Entry to a ReactiveEntry. This means the Handler are decoupled so that they are reusable between projects. It is all made possible with the use of these new Handlers which each have an interface layer that your code makes use of. So you can use the default Microsoft.Maui.Controls.Entry or a CometEntry, or if you really want control, you can make your own.

Old vs New

How do Handlers work then?

As we know our C# code, whether we write the UI in code or express it with XAML, needs to be built and then turned into the native UI Element for the device. So taking a button as an example, we can see that our code is mapped via an Interface to the Handler for that platform and finally into the device native element for a Button. As always a picture speaks louder than words so:

Handlers on .NET MAUI

Looking at the 3rd layer in this diagram, we can see there is a ButtonHandler for each of the platforms. It’s this that we can call in our code and change settings or even swap out altogether. We can also set things like colours globally across all controls and even target just one platform. As shown in this example — for Android all backgrounds are set to Cyan and you will notice the use of Compiler PreProcessor Directives.

#if __ANDROID__

Microsoft.Maui.Handlers.ViewHandler.ViewMapper[nameof(IView.Background)] = (h, v) =>

{

(h.NativeView as Android.Views.View).SetBackgroundColor(Microsoft.Maui.Graphics.Colors.Cyan.ToNative());

};

#endif

What Else Should I Know About .NET MAUI?

The other big changes that are new and make for an easier transition for .NET developers from other areas like say ASP.NET is that the start-up of the app now uses the Host Builder pattern. So if you open the MAUIProgram.cs file of a new .NET MAUI program you will see the following:

namespace MauiApp2

{

public static class MauiProgram

{

public static MauiApp CreateMauiApp()

{

var builder = MauiApp.CreateBuilder();

builder

.UseMauiApp()

.ConfigureFonts(fonts =>

{

fonts.AddFont("OpenSans-Regular.ttf", "OpenSansRegular");

});

return builder.Build();

}

}

}

As you can see, this is where you would add in your dependencies and even configure app wide resources like Fonts, Images Sources or even your Handlers from your last MAUI project.

Where do I start With .NET MAUI?

.NET MAUI is GA as of Microsoft Build on the 24th of May, so you can jump in, play and start building right away. There is a fantastic demo app put together by David Ortinau the Principal Program Manager which I think looks amazing. It’s called Weather21. If you want to check out the main .NET MAUI project, then you can find it over at the MAUI GitHub page.

The biggest thing you can do to start – and you would need to build the projects referenced above  – is to install Visual Studio 22 version 17.3.0 Preview 1.1. However, before you race off and install it, I strongly suggest you take a look at the .NET MAUI installation instructions. You can find the latest instructions over at Docs.microsoft.com.

Conclusion

I have been following the previews of .NET MAUI since the start and poked around in the GitHub repo to see how it’s built and how it all came together. Currently, there are some great resources listed on the FAQ for the project, you can check out the .NET MAUI docs over at Docs.Microsoft.com. The latest news can be found on the team’s blog.

I have created more blog posts, taking a deeper dive. In these blogs, I show you other changes like the Multi-Targeting and the new project structures within VS22 as it becomes one project, rather than one for each platform under Xamarin.

Post Terms: .NET MAUI | MAUI | Mobile app development | mobile apps

About the Author

Clifford Agius, writing here as a freelance blogger, is currently a two-time Developer Technologies MVP, specialising in Xamarin/.NET MAUI and IoT. By day, an airline pilot flying Boeing 787 aircraft around the world and when not doing that, Clifford freelances as a .NET developer. An active member of the .NET community, he is a regular speaker at conferences around the world.

Education, Membership & Awards

Clifford graduated as an engineer from the Ford Technical Training Centre in 1995. After 11 years as an electrical/mechanical engineer, he trained to become an Airline Pilot. Clifford became a Microsoft Valued Professional (MVP) in 2020 and went on to earn it again in 2021.

You can find Clifford online at:

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