The Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) is an open specification (technical standard) developed by Microsoft and standardized by ISO and Ecma that describes executable code and a runtime environment that allows multiple high-level languages to be used on different computer platforms without being rewritten for specific architectures. This implies it is platform agnostic. The .NET Framework, .NET Core, Mono, DotGNU and Portable.NET are implementations of the CLI.
Among other things, the CLI specification describes the following four aspects:
All compatible languages compile to Common Intermediate Language (CIL), which is an intermediate language that is abstracted from the platform hardware. When the code is executed, the platform-specific VES will compile the CIL to the machine language according to the specific hardware and operating system.
Microsoft and its partners hold patents for CLI. Ecma and ISO require that all patents essential to implementation be made available under "reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) terms." It is common for RAND licensing to require some royalty payment, which could be a cause for concern with Mono. As of January 2013, neither Microsoft nor its partners have identified any patents essential to CLI implementations subject to RAND terms.
As of July 2009, Microsoft added C# and CLI to the list of specifications that the Microsoft Community Promise applies to, so anyone can safely implement specified editions of the standards without fearing a patent lawsuit from Microsoft. To implement the CLI standard requires conformance to one of the supported and defined profiles of the standard, the minimum of which is the kernel profile. The kernel profile is actually a very small set of types to support in comparison to the well known core library of default .NET installations. However, the conformance clause of the CLI allows for extending the supported profile by adding new methods and types to classes, as well as deriving from new namespaces. But it does not allow for adding new members to interfaces. This means that the features of the CLI can be used and extended, as long as the conforming profile implementation does not change the behavior of a program intended to run on that profile, while allowing for unspecified behavior from programs written specifically for that implementation.