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LINQ to DataSet Overview

The DataSet is one of the more widely used components of ADO.NET. It is a key element of the disconnected programming model that ADO.NET is based on, and it enables you to explicitly cache data from different data sources. For the presentation tier, the DataSet is tightly integrated with GUI controls for data-binding. For the middle-tier, it provides a cache that preserves the relational shape of data, and includes fast simple query and hierarchy navigation services. A common technique used to lower the number of requests on a database is to use the DataSet for caching in the middle-tier. For example, consider a data-driven ASP.NET Web application. Often, a significant portion of the application data does not change frequently and is common across sessions or users. This data can be kept in memory on the Web server, which reduces the number of requests against the database and speeds up the user’s interactions. Another useful aspect of the DataSet is that it allows an application to bring subsets of data from one or more data source into the application space. The application can then manipulate the data in-memory, while retaining its relational shape.

Despite its prominence, the DataSet has limited query capabilities. The Select method can be used for filtering and sorting, and the GetChildRows and GetParentRow methods can be used for hierarchy navigation. For anything more complex, however, the developer must write a custom query. This can result in applications that perform poorly and are difficult to maintain.

LINQ to DataSet makes it easier and faster to query over data cached in a DataSet object. These queries are expressed in the programming language itself, rather than as string literals embedded in the application code. This means that developers do not have to learn a separate query language. Additionally, LINQ to DataSet enables Visual Studio developers to work more productively, because the Visual Studio IDE provides compile-time syntax checking, static typing, and IntelliSense support for LINQ. LINQ to DataSet can also be used to query over data that has been consolidated from one or more data sources. This enables many scenarios that require flexibility in how data is represented and handled. In particular, generic reporting, analysis, and business intelligence applications require this method of manipulation.

Before you can begin querying a DataSet object using LINQ to DataSet, you must populate the DataSet. There are several ways to load data into a DataSet, such as using the DataAdapter class or LINQ to SQL. After the data has been loaded into a DataSet object, you can begin to query it. Formulating queries using LINQ to DataSet is similar to using Language-Integrated Query (LINQ) against other LINQ-enabled data sources. LINQ queries can be performed against single tables in a DataSet or against more than one table by using the Join and GroupJoin standard query operators.

LINQ queries are supported against both typed and untyped DataSet objects. If the schema of the DataSet is known at application design time, a typed DataSet is recommended. In a typed DataSet, the tables and rows have typed members for each of the columns, which makes queries simpler and more readable.

In addition to the standard query operators implemented in System.Core.dll, LINQ to DataSet adds several DataSet-specific extensions that make it easier to query over a set of DataRow objects. These DataSet-specific extensions include operators for comparing sequences of rows, as well as methods that provide access to the column values of a DataRow

N-tier data applications are data-centric applications that are separated into multiple logical layers (or tiers). A typical N-tier application includes a presentation tier, a middle tier, and a data tier. Separating application components into separate tiers increases the maintainability and scalability of the application. For more information about N-tier data applications, see Working with Datasets in N-Tier Applications.

In N-tier applications, the DataSet is often used in the middle-tier to cache information for a Web application. The LINQ to DataSet querying functionality is implemented through extension methods and extends the existing ADO.NET 2.0 DataSet.

The following diagram shows how LINQ to DataSet relates to the DataSet and fits into an n-tier application:

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