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Using ClickOnce Deployment in VB.NET

The easiest way to get your apps installed ... and updated

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ClickOnce
Updated January 17, 2010

The first segment of the About Visual Basic series on VB.NET deployment provided an overview of the major .NET options you have for putting your applications into service:

  • XCopy - The "barebones" method
  • ClickOnce - The easiest way to deploy
  • Setup Project - When the defaults don't work

This segment will get into the details of ClickOnce - Microsoft's easiest deployment solution. ClickOnce is the latest demonstration that Microsoft continues to support and develop what are called thick client applications even in this age of networking.

Thick client applications are systems where most of the code actually runs on the user's computer. Rather than use that label, which doesn't really have a lot of ad appeal, maybe we should call it "full featured client" or "robust, flexible client". Or perhaps even "the client that doesn't clog up the server with a lot of user processing". In spite of the efforts of competitors, such as Sun and Oracle (in the process of becoming the same company now) who make a lot more money from their networking products, "thick client" does have a lot to recommend it. And "thick client" is where Visual Basic originated.

But since networking has become the mainstream of data processing, one problem has started to become huge for "thick client" and that is the difficulty of deploying all that software to the clients. Years ago (many years ago) as a network administrator, I can remember running around to a hundred machines with a diskette to install the same module. That kind of inefficiency is simply out of the question today so you have to have a better way. ClickOnce is a better way!

Some of you may have experience with Windows Installer (also called MSI - Microsoft Installer). Although you can solve just about any installation problem with MSI, building and debugging one can also become more difficult than writing the program. VB.NET's Setup Projects are designed to help with that and we'll cover them next in this series. ClickOnce is designed to be the quick and easy solution for everything that doesn't require the advanced features of Setup Projects.

The best way to get started with ClickOnce is to simply create one. It's so easy that you can do it in just a few minutes. After that, we'll discuss the details of just what happened. ClickOnce deployments are a little like ducks swimming on a lake: smooth and tranquil on top but a lot going on underneath.

But without further delay, click the link below to see the two minute ClickOnce application. (Literally! I timed myself. Actually only one minute and thirty seconds. If I had a faster machine, I could have done in in less than a minute.) Then be sure to return here to continue this article about ClickOnce.

Step-by-Step: A First ClickOnce Application

(If you're still using VB.NET 2005, ClickOnce has changed quite a bit. But the VB.NET 2005 Step-by-Step is still available. Click Here to see the VB.NET 2005 version.)

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