An assembly is the primary building block of a .NET Framework application. It is a collection of functionality that is built, versioned, and deployed as a single implementation unit (as one or more files). All managed types and resources are marked either as accessible only within their implementation unit or as accessible by code outside that unit.
Assemblies are self-describing by means of their manifest, which is an integral part of every assembly.
The manifest: Establishes the assembly identity (in the form of a text name), version, culture, and digital signature (if the assembly is to be shared across applications).
Defines what files (by name and file hash) make up the assembly implementation.
Specifies the types and resources that make up the assembly, including which are exported from the assembly.
Itemizes the compile-time dependencies on other assemblies.
Specifies the set of permissions required for the assembly to run properly.
This information is used at run time to resolve references, enforce version binding policy, and validate the integrity of loaded assemblies. The runtime can determine and locate the assembly for any running object, since every type is loaded in the context of an assembly. Assemblies are also the unit at which code access security permissions are applied. The identity evidence for each assembly is considered separately when determining what permissions to grant the code it contains.
The self-describing nature of assemblies also helps makes zero-impact install and XCOPY deployment feasible.