Like the BASIC programming language, Visual Basic was designed to be easily learned and used by beginner programmers. The language not only allows programmers to create simple GUI applications, but can also develop complex applications. Programming in VB is a combination of visually arranging components or controls on a form, specifying attributes and actions of those components, and writing additional lines of code for more functionality. Since default attributes and actions are defined for the components, a simple program can be created without the programmer having to write many lines of code. Performance problems were experienced by earlier versions, but with faster computers and native code compilation this has become less of an issue.
Although programs can be compiled into native code executables from version 5 onwards, they still require the presence of runtime libraries of approximately 1 MB in size. This runtime is included by default in Windows 2000 and later, but for earlier versions of Windows like 95/98/NT it must be distributed together with the executable.
Forms are created using drag-and-drop techniques. A tool is used to place controls (e.g., text boxes, buttons, etc.) on the form (window). Controls have attributes and event handlers associated with them. Default values are provided when the control is created, but may be changed by the programmer. Many attribute values can be modified during run time based on user actions or changes in the environment, providing a dynamic application. For example, code can be inserted into the form resize event handler to reposition a control so that it remains centered on the form, expands to fill up the form, etc. By inserting code into the event handler for a keypress in a text box, the program can automatically translate the case of the text being entered, or even prevent certain characters from being inserted.
Visual Basic can create executables (EXE files), ActiveX controls, or DLL files, but is primarily used to develop Windows applications and to interface database systems. Dialog boxes with less functionality can be used to provide pop-up capabilities. Controls provide the basic functionality of the application, while programmers can insert additional logic within the appropriate event handlers. For example, a drop-down combination box will automatically display its list and allow the user to select any element. An event handler is called when an item is selected, which can then execute additional code created by the programmer to perform some action based on which element was selected, such as populating a related list.
Alternatively, a Visual Basic component can have no user interface, and instead provide ActiveX objects to other programs via Component Object Model (COM). This allows for server-side processing or an add-in module.
The language is garbage collected using reference counting, has a large library of utility objects, and has basic object oriented support. Since the more common components are included in the default project template, the programmer seldom needs to specify additional libraries. Unlike many other programming languages, Visual Basic is generally not case sensitive, although it will transform keywords into a standard case configuration and force the case of variable names to conform to the case of the entry within the symbol table. String comparisons are case sensitive by default, but can be made case insensitive if so desired.
The Visual Basic compiler is shared with other Visual Studio languages (C, C++), but restrictions in the IDE do not allow the creation of some targets (Windows model DLLs) and threading models.