.NET Standard

.NET Standard is a formal specification of .NET APIs that are available on multiple .NET implementations. The motivation behind .NET Standard was to establish greater uniformity in the .NET ecosystem. .NET 5 and later versions adopt a different approach to establishing uniformity that eliminates the need for .NET Standard in most scenarios. However, if you want to share code between .NET Framework and any other .NET implementation, such as .NET Core, your library should target .NET Standard 2.0. No new versions of .NET Standard will be released, but .NET 5, .NET 6, and all future versions will continue to support .NET Standard 2.1 and earlier.

For information about choosing between .NET 5+ and .NET Standard, see .NET 5+ and .NET Standard later in this article.

.NET Standard versions

.NET Standard is versioned. Each new version adds more APIs. When a library is built against a certain version of .NET Standard, it can run on any .NET implementation that implements that version of .NET Standard (or higher).

Targeting a higher version of .NET Standard allows a library to use more APIs but means it can only be used on more recent versions of .NET. Targeting a lower version reduces the available APIs but means the library can run in more places.

Select .NET Standard version

.NET Standard 1.0 has 7,949 of the 37,118 available APIs.

.NET implementation Version support
.NET and .NET Core 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 3.0, 3.1, 5.0, 6.0
.NET Framework 4.5, 4.5.1, 4.5.2, 4.6, 4.6.1, 4.6.2, 4.7, 4.7.1, 4.7.2, 4.8
Mono 4.6, 5.4, 6.4
Xamarin.iOS 10.0, 10.14, 12.16
Xamarin.Mac 3.0, 3.8, 5.16
Xamarin.Android 7.0, 8.0, 10.0
Universal Windows Platform 8.0, 8.1, 10.0, 10.0.16299, TBD
Unity 2018.1

For more information, see .NET Standard 1.0. For an interactive table, see .NET Standard versions.

Which .NET Standard version to target

We recommend you target .NET Standard 2.0, unless you need to support an earlier version. Most general-purpose libraries should not need APIs outside of .NET Standard 2.0. .NET Standard 2.0 is supported by all modern platforms and is the recommended way to support multiple platforms with one target.

If you need to support .NET Standard 1.x, we recommend that you also target .NET Standard 2.0. .NET Standard 1.x is distributed as a granular set of NuGet packages, which creates a large package dependency graph and results in developers downloading a lot of packages when building. For more information, see Cross-platform targeting and .NET 5+ and .NET Standard later in this article.

.NET Standard versioning rules

There are two primary versioning rules:

  • Additive: .NET Standard versions are logically concentric circles: higher versions incorporate all APIs from previous versions. There are no breaking changes between versions.
  • Immutable: Once shipped, .NET Standard versions are frozen.

There will be no new .NET Standard versions after 2.1. For more information, see .NET 5+ and .NET Standard later in this article.

Specification

The .NET Standard specification is a standardized set of APIs. The specification is maintained by .NET implementers, specifically Microsoft (includes .NET Framework, .NET Core, and Mono) and Unity.

Official artifacts

The official specification is a set of .cs files that define the APIs that are part of the standard. The ref directory in the (now archived) dotnet/standard repository defines the .NET Standard APIs.

The NETStandard.Library metapackage (source) describes the set of libraries that define (in part) one or more .NET Standard versions.

A given component, like System.Runtime, describes:

  • Part of .NET Standard (just its scope).
  • Multiple versions of .NET Standard, for that scope.

Derivative artifacts are provided to enable more convenient reading and to enable certain developer scenarios (for example, using a compiler).

Package representation

The primary distribution vehicle for the .NET Standard reference assemblies is NuGet packages. Implementations are delivered in a variety of ways, appropriate for each .NET implementation.

NuGet packages target one or more frameworks. .NET Standard packages target the ".NET Standard" framework. You can target the .NET Standard framework using the netstandard compact TFM (for example, netstandard1.4). Libraries that are intended to run on multiple implementations of .NET should target this framework. For the broadest set of APIs, target netstandard2.0 since the number of available APIs more than doubled between .NET Standard 1.6 and 2.0.

The NETStandard.Library metapackage references the complete set of NuGet packages that define .NET Standard. The most common way to target netstandard is by referencing this metapackage. It describes and provides access to the ~40 .NET libraries and associated APIs that define .NET Standard. You can reference additional packages that target netstandard to get access to additional APIs.

Versioning

The specification is not singular, but a linearly versioned set of APIs. The first version of the standard establishes a baseline set of APIs. Subsequent versions add APIs and inherit APIs defined by previous versions. There is no established provision for removing APIs from the Standard.

.NET Standard is not specific to any one .NET implementation, nor does it match the versioning scheme of any of those implementations.

As noted earlier, there will be no new .NET Standard versions after 2.1.

Target .NET Standard

You can build .NET Standard Libraries using a combination of the netstandard framework and the NETStandard.Library metapackage.

.NET Framework compatibility mode

Starting with .NET Standard 2.0, the .NET Framework compatibility mode was introduced. This compatibility mode allows .NET Standard projects to reference .NET Framework libraries as if they were compiled for .NET Standard. Referencing .NET Framework libraries doesn't work for all projects, such as libraries that use Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) APIs.

For more information, see .NET Framework compatibility mode.

.NET Standard libraries and Visual Studio

In order to build .NET Standard libraries in Visual Studio, make sure you have Visual Studio 2022, Visual Studio 2019, or Visual Studio 2017 version 15.3 or later installed on Windows, or Visual Studio for Mac version 7.1 or later installed on macOS.

If you only need to consume .NET Standard 2.0 libraries in your projects, you can also do that in Visual Studio 2015. However, you need NuGet client 3.6 or higher installed. You can download the NuGet client for Visual Studio 2015 from the NuGet downloads page.

.NET 5+ and .NET Standard

.NET 5 and .NET 6 are single products with a uniform set of capabilities and APIs that can be used for Windows desktop apps and cross-platform console apps, cloud services, and websites. The .NET 5 TFMs, for example, reflect this broad range of scenarios:

  • net5.0

    This TFM is for code that runs everywhere. With a few exceptions, it includes only technologies that work cross-platform. For .NET 5 code, net5.0 replaces both netcoreapp and netstandard TFMs.

  • net5.0-windows

    This is an example of an OS-specific TFM that add OS-specific functionality to everything that net5.0 refers to.

When to target net5.0 or net6.0 vs. netstandard

For existing code that targets netstandard, there's no need to change the TFM to net5.0 or net6.0. .NET 5 and .NET 6 implement .NET Standard 2.1 and earlier. The only reason to retarget from .NET Standard to .NET 5+ would be to gain access to more runtime features, language features, or APIs. For example, in order to use C# 9, you need to target .NET 5 or a later version. You can multitarget .NET 5 or .NET 6 and .NET Standard to get access to newer features and still have your library available to other .NET implementations.

Here are some guidelines for new code for .NET 5+:

  • App components

    If you're using libraries to break down an application into several components, we recommend you target net5.0 or net6.0. For simplicity, it's best to keep all projects that make up your application on the same version of .NET. Then you can assume the same BCL features everywhere.

  • Reusable libraries

    If you're building reusable libraries that you plan to ship on NuGet, consider the trade-off between reach and available feature set. .NET Standard 2.0 is the latest version that's supported by .NET Framework, so it gives good reach with a fairly large feature set. We don't recommend targeting .NET Standard 1.x, as you'd limit the available feature set for a minimal increase in reach.

    If you don't need to support .NET Framework, you could go with .NET Standard 2.1 or .NET 5/6. We recommend you skip .NET Standard 2.1 and go straight to .NET 6. Most widely used libraries will multi-target for both .NET Standard 2.0 and .NET 5+. Supporting .NET Standard 2.0 gives you the most reach, while supporting .NET 5+ ensures you can leverage the latest platform features for customers that are already on .NET 5+.

.NET Standard problems

Here are some problems with .NET Standard that help explain why .NET 5 and later versions are the better way to share code across platforms and workloads:

  • Slowness to add new APIs

    .NET Standard was created as an API set that all .NET implementations would have to support, so there was a review process for proposals to add new APIs. The goal was to standardize only APIs that could be implemented in all current and future .NET platforms. The result was that if a feature missed a particular release, you might have to wait for a couple of years before it got added to a version of the Standard. Then you'd wait even longer for the new version of .NET Standard to be widely supported.

    Solution in .NET 5+: When a feature is implemented, it's already available for every .NET 5+ app and library because the code base is shared. And since there's no difference between the API specification and its implementation, you're able to take advantage of new features much quicker than with .NET Standard.

  • Complex versioning

    The separation of the API specification from its implementations results in complex mapping between API specification versions and implementation versions. This complexity is evident in the table shown earlier in this article and the instructions for how to interpret it.

    Solution in .NET 5+: There's no separation between a .NET 5+ API specification and its implementation. The result is a simplified TFM scheme. There's one TFM prefix for all workloads: net5.0 or net6.0 is used for libraries, console apps, and web apps. The only variation is a suffix that specifies platform-specific APIs for a particular platform, such as net5.0-windows or net6.0-windows. Thanks to this TFM naming convention, you can easily tell whether a given app can use a given library. No version number equivalents table, like the one for .NET Standard, is needed.

  • Platform-unsupported exceptions at run time

    .NET Standard exposes platform-specific APIs. Your code might compile without errors and appear to be portable to any platform even if it isn't portable. When it runs on a platform that doesn't have an implementation for a given API, you get run-time errors.

    Solution in .NET 5+: The .NET 5+ SDKs include code analyzers that are enabled by default. The platform compatibility analyzer detects unintentional use of APIs that aren't supported on the platforms you intend to run on. For more information, see Platform compatibility analyzer.

.NET Standard not deprecated

.NET Standard is still needed for libraries that can be used by multiple .NET implementations. We recommend you target .NET Standard in the following scenarios:

  • Use netstandard2.0 to share code between .NET Framework and all other implementations of .NET.
  • Use netstandard2.1 to share code between Mono, Xamarin, and .NET Core 3.x.

See also