Unlock Your RPG Applications to Enable Modern Online Experiences

By Dan Magid

What programming languages or frameworks do you think of when you hear web development? Probably JavaScript; maybe PHP or Python. But RPG? Not likely.

Nonetheless, for those who rely on longstanding IBM i systems to support their mission-critical operations, accessing current RPG applications is a necessity for powering fully functional, modern mobile applications. Of course, you might ask how a 60-year-old programming language could possibly handle the demands of modern online interactions.

RPG wasn’t originally built to power the web, but believe it or not, it may just be your fastest, most cost-effective option. With technological advances, it’s not always about what something was decades ago, but rather what it can do for you today.

In fact, RPG-based applications are being repurposed in ways their original developers could not have imagined, with amazing results. There is a significant amount of domain knowledge about the unique way your company does business built into your RPG applications. With the rise of the API economy, developers need that functionality for web, mobile and other applications. While RPG itself was not built with the web in mind, evolutionary technology has turned RPG into a web powerhouse, enabling the creation of web and mobile UIs—and even completely reengineered workflows—using the capabilities of existing RPG applications. And, RPG programs can call APIs from virtually any other application. Now, RPG code from 40 years ago underpins some of the most innovative applications you’ll see for call center and customer self-service applications, for example.

But why go this route when you could replace your old applications with pre-packaged or custom alternatives? The answer is that building upon what you already have—your venerable RPG applications— is faster, lower risk and significantly less expensive than replacing an entire system. Remember that those applications often have decades of business rules that must be replicated by any new system you buy or build from scratch, and that the TCO of your IBM i is on average about 1/3 of the most popular web and mobile platforms.* By keeping the back-end RPG application in place and using APIs or modern UIs, businesses can deliver renewed value from their current investments while still offering the kinds of features and experiences employees and customers need.


* Quark + Lepton, 2017 Study

Guest Blogger

Daniel Magid is Managing Director of Rocket Software’s Application Lifecycle Management & DevOps lab, and is a recognized authority on helping leading organizations achieve compliance through ALM solutions and DevOps best practices. He has written a variety of articles for leading IT publications and is a regular speaker at technology conferences.

How Blockchain Is Relevant to Modern Business

It’s a digital world, and we’re all throwing around terms like “bitcoin” and “cloud computing” without really understanding what’s going on behind the scenes. But these background details are exactly what’s revolutionizing modern industry. Blockchain is one of these critical background features.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a technology that has arrived to shake up digital records as we know them. A type of database, blockchain contains each record, transaction or dataset within a single block, linking all of these blocks to each other with a peer-to-peer network. Each block is dependent on the one before it, and therefore no block can be retroactively edited without drastically editing the rest of the chain, an impossible task.

This is critical because the ledger is both public and completely secure, making it ideal for storage of medical records, monetary transactions or account details. Bitcoin was the first to successfully integrate a blockchain and triumphantly solved the double spending problem (in which a digital currency file is duplicated and counterfeited).

Blockchain Revolution

Currently, the most promising applications of the blockchain are finance applications such as digital wallets and identities. Banks and digital transaction providers would benefit from cutting out middle men, and users would place greater trust in a system that can’t be corrupted.

The beauty of blockchain lies in this: imagine a stock payment. The money can change hands within seconds, but the actual ownership takes longer to determine since the two parties are unable to access each other’s ledger and must instead rely on a middle man to confirm the existence of the stock and update the individual ledgers. But with blockchain, each involved party is part of a larger ledger and confirms ownership immediately. It opens the door to a world of possibilities.

IBM is one of many companies stepping into the world of public ledgers. It currently offers the ability to form an IBM Blockchain network and create ways to take advantage of its offerings through business solutions.


The Strange World of Bug Bounty Hunters

How do software companies find dangerous bugs in their code? Ideally, their own QA departments discover them before it’s released. Sometimes they find out only when customers have problems. That might mean after there’s been a breach. But sometimes they hear about bugs from freelancers who find them in return for a reward. These people are called bug bounty hunters.

Some companies find it worthwhile to offer payment for bug reports. Learning about security holes before anyone can exploit them can save the company’s reputation, which is worth a lot of money. Recently Google paid $112,500 to a researcher for discovering a flaw that could have let a website push arbitrary code into an Android device. Having to deal with it after criminals found out could have been far more expensive.

The Mind of the Bounty Hunter

Bug hunting makes up half or more of some people’s income. They spend hours every day looking for flaws in websites. How different are they, really, from those who do the same thing and use their discoveries to steal information? Sometimes the same person plays both sides of the fence, depending on which one is paying better.

It’s the challenge, perhaps even more than the money, which motivates them. Anyone with those skills could get a well-paying job in QA. But they’d rather be on their own, chasing down bugs without reporting to a boss. Their attitude is, “So you think I can’t break this code? I’ll show you!”

The Benefit to Users

A bounty may encourage hackers to stay within the law. It can even motivate them to work harder at what they like to do. It’s easier to explain their income when it comes from Google rather than the Shadow Brokers, and there’s less chance of blackmail afterward. When they report bugs, the software publisher can fix them before anyone is harmed.

Software bounty hunters are a strange breed, there’s no question. But they do all of us some good.

Need to learn more about IT security? Take a look at POWERUp18 security sessions.

Completely Free ILEditor and IBM Technology Refresh Recap

Today I’ll look at a powerful open source (and completely free!) IDE for ILE programs (CL, C/C++, Cobol or RPG) named ILEditor that is being actively developed by Liam Allan who is one of the brightest minds in the industry. In fact, last week Allan added a new GUI interface to the editor that makes it feel much more professional, while keeping it easy to use. I’ll also give you a quick overview of the announcement IBM made last week about updates to IBM i 7.2 and 7.3.

The IBM Announcement

On February 13th, just in time for Valentine’s Day (because IBM wants to be my valentine!), IBM announced new Technology Refreshes. These include support for POWER9 processors, which look incredible – but, alas, I’m not a hardware guy. They also include updates to Integrated Web Services (IWS), Access Client Solutions (ACS), RPG and more.
Here are links to the official announcements:

IBM i 7.2 Technology Refresh 8 (TR8)

IBM i 7.3 Technology Refresh 4 (TR4)

You should also check out Steve Will’s blog post.

My Thoughts

The most exciting part of this announcement for me is the introduction of the new DATA-INTO opcode in RPG. Here’s the sample code that IBM provided in the announcement:

DATA-INTO myDs %DATA(‘myfile.json’ : ‘doc=file’) %PARSER(‘MYLIB/MYJSONPARS’);

It appears that this will work similarly to Open Access, where the RPG compiler will examine your data structure and other variables that it has all the details for and work together with a back-end handler that will map it into a structured format. Open Access refers to the back-end program as a “handler”, whereas DATA-INTO seems to call it a “parser”, but the general idea is the same.

As someone who has written multiple open source tools to help RPG developers work with XML and JSON documents, this looks great! One of the biggest challenges I face with these open source projects is that they don’t know the details of the calling program’s variables, so they can’t ever be as easy to use as a tool like XML-INTO. For example, the YAJL tools that I provide to help people read JSON documents require much more code than the XML-INTO opcode, because XML-INTO can read the layout of a data structure and map data into it, whereas with YAJL you must map this data yourself. However, DATA-INTO looks like it will solve this problem, so that once I’ve had time to write a DATA-INTO parser, you’ll be able to use YAJL the same way as XML-INTO.

Unfortunately, as I write this, the PTFs are not yet available, so I haven’t been able to try it. I’m very excited, however, and plan to blog about it as soon as I’ve had a chance to try it out!

What is ILEditor?

ILEditor (pronounced “I-L-Editor”) came from the mind of Liam Allan, who is one of the best and the brightest of the 2018 IBM Champions. I have the privilege of working with Liam at Profound Logic Software, and I can tell you that his enthusiasm for computer technology and IBM i programming know no bounds. In fact, one day last week after work, Liam sent me a text message about his new changes to ILEditor, sounding very excited. When I factored in the time zone difference, I realized it was 1:00 a.m. where he lives!

For many years, one of the most common laments in the IBM i programming community has been about the cost and performance of RDi. Please don’t misunderstand me. I love RDi, and I use it every day. I believe RDi is the best IDE for IBM i development that’s available today. That said, sometimes we need something else for various reasons. Some shops can’t get approval for the cost of RDi. Others might want something that uses fewer resources or something they can install anywhere without needing additional RDi licenses. Whatever the reason, ILEditor is very promising alternative! I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually is able to compete with RDi.

Why Not Orion? Or SEU?

The concept of Orion is a great. It’s web-based, meaning that you don’t have to install it and it’s available wherever you go. Unfortunately, it’s not really a full IDE – at least not yet! I hope IBM is working to improve it. It does not know how to compile native ILE programs or show compile errors. Its interface is designed around the Git version control software, which makes it tricky to use unless you happen to store your code in Git. And quite frankly, it’s also a little bit buggy. I hope to see improvements in these areas, but right now it’s not a real option.

The most popular alternative to RDi today is SEU. In fact, historically this was the primary way that code was written for IBM i. So, you may think it’s still a good choice. However, I don’t think it’s viable today for two reasons:

  1. The green-screen nature makes it cumbersome to use. This is no problem for a veteran programmer, because they’re used to it. But for IT departments to survive, they need to bring in younger talent. Younger talent is almost always put off by SEU. I even know students who gave up the platform entirely because they thought SEU seemed so antiquated, and they wanted no part of it.
  2. SEU hasn’t received any updates since January 2008. That means all features added to RPG in the past 10 years – which includes three major releases of the operating system –will show as syntax errors in SEU.

About ILEditor

ILEditor is open source, runs on Windows and was released as open source under the GNU GPL 3.0 license. That means it is free and can be used for both private and commercial use. If you like, you can even download the source code and make your own changes. It can read source from source members or IFS files. In addition to editing the source, it can compile programs, show you the errors in your programs, work with system objects and display spooled files. It even has an Outline View (like RDi does) that will show you the variables and routines in your program.

The main web site for ILEditor is: worksofbarry.com/ileditor/.

If you want to see the source code, you’ll find the Github project here.

You do not need to install any software on your IBM i to use ILEditor. Instead, the Windows program uses the standard FTP server that is provided with the IBM i operating system to get object and source information and to run compile commands. An FTPES (FTP over SSL) option is provided if a more secure connection is desired.

Connecting for the First Time

When you start ILEditor, it will present you with a box where you can select the host to connect to. Naturally, the first time you run it there will be no hosts defined, so the box will be empty. You can click “New Host” to define one.

Once you have a host defined, it will be visible as an icon, and double-clicking the icon will begin the connection.

When you set up a new system, there are five fields you must supply, as shown in the screenshot below:

Alias name = You can set this to whatever you wish. ILEditor will display this name when asking you the host to connect to, so pick something that is easy to remember.

Host name / IP address = the DNS name or IP address of the IBM i to connect to.

Username = Your IBM i user profile name.

Password = Your IBM i password – you can leave this blank if you want it to ask you every time you connect.

Use FTPES = This stands for FTP over Explicit SSL. Check this box if your IBM i FTP server has been configured to allow SSL and you’d like the additional security of using an encrypted connection.

The Main IDE Display

Once you’ve connected, you’ll be presented with a screen that shows the “Toolbox” on the left and a welcome screen containing getting started information and developer news, as shown in the screenshot below.

Any of the panels in ILEditor, including these two, can dragged to different places on the display or closed by clicking the “X” button in the corner of the panel. There is also an icon of a pin that you can click to toggle whether a panel is always open or whether it is hidden when you’re not using it. If you look carefully on the right edge of the window, you’ll see a bar titled “Outline View”. This is an example of a hidden panel. If you click on the panel title, the panel will open. If you click the pin, it will stay open. You can adjust the size of any panel by dragging its border.

When you open source code, it will be placed in tabs in the center of the display (just as the welcome screen is initially.) These can also be resized or moved with the mouse. This makes the UI very flexible and simple to rearrange to best fit your needs.

The Toolbox

Perhaps the best place to start is with the toolbox.  Here’s what that panel looks like:

Most of the options in this panel are self-explanatory. I will not explain them all but will point out a few interesting things that I discovered when using ILEditor:

  • The “Library List” is primarily used when compiling a program. This is the library list to find file definitions and other dependencies that your program will need.
  • The “Compile Settings” lets you customize your compile commands. Perhaps you have a custom command you use when compiling. Or perhaps you use the regular IBM commands but want to change some of the options used. In either case, you’ll want to look at the Compile Settings.
  • As you might expect, “Connection Settings” has the host name, whether to use FTPES and other settings that are needed to connect to the host. In addition to that, there are some other useful options hidden away in the connection settings:
    • On the IFS tab, you’ll find a place to configure where your IFS source code is stored and which library it should be compiled into.
    • On the Editor tab, there is a setting to enable the “Outline View”. You’ll want to make sure this is checked, otherwise you’ll be missing out on this feature.
    • On the ILEditor tab, there’s a setting called “Use Dark Mode”. This will change the colors when it displays your source code to use a black background (as opposed to the default white background), which many people, myself included, find easier on the eyes.
  • When you change something in the “Connection Settings” (including the options described above), you will need to disconnect from the server and reconnect so that the new settings take effect.

Opening Source Code from a Member List

ILEditor allows you to open source code from either an IFS file or a traditional source member. You can use the Member Browser or IFS Browser options in the toolbox to browse your IBM i to find the source you wish to open and open it.

The Member Browser opens as a blank panel with two text fields at the top. At first, I wasn’t sure exactly what these were for as there wasn’t any explanation. I guessed that this was where you specified the library (on the left) and the source physical file (on the right) that you wanted to browse. Iit turned out that I was correct. If you type the library and filename and click the magnifying glass, it will show you all the members in that file.

I have a lot of source members that I keep in my personal library, and I often get impatient waiting for the member list to load in RDi. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the member browser in ILEditor loads considerably faster.

There is also a “hidden” feature where you can press Ctrl-P to search the list of recent members that you listed in the member browser. Just press Ctrl-P and start typing, and it’ll show the members that match the search string. This was a very convenient way to find members.

Once you’ve found the member (in either the regular member browser or the “search recent” dialog), you can double-click on the member name to open it.

Create or Open a Member Without Browsing

In the upper-left of the ILEditor window, there is a File menu that works like the file menus found in most other Windows programs. You can click File/New to create a new member or IFS file or File/Open to open an existing member or IFS file when you know the name and therefore don’t need to browse for it.

The File Menu also offers keyboard shortcuts to save time. You can press Ctrl-O for Open, or Ctrl-N for New to bypass the menu.

One thing that I found a little unusual is that you must specify the source type when you open an existing member. I expected this when creating a new member, since the system doesn’t know what it is. But when opening an existing member, I expected it to default to the source type of the member so that you don’t have to specify it every time. I discovered that if you do not specify the type, it will default to plain text. I spoke to Liam about this, and he assured me that this is something he plans to improve in the future. Thankfully, this is not the case when using the member browser. It only happens when opening the member directly.

Working with IFS Files

The IFS Browser can be used to browse the IFS on your IBM i and find the source code that you’d like to open. It will begin browsing the IFS in the directory that you’ve specified in the IFS tab in your connection settings. Any subdirectories found beneath that starting directory can be expanded as well to see the files inside of it.

Like the member browser, double-clicking on an IFS file will open it in the editor.

The File menu also has options for creating a new IFS file or opening an existing IFS file when you know the exact path name. In that case, you do have to type the entire IFS path. There is no option to browse folders as you’d find in the open dialogs of other Windows software. That didn’t seem like a problem to me. If I wanted to see the folders, I’d use the IFS browser instead.

The Source Editor

I found the editor to be very intuitive, since it works the same as you’d expect from a PC file editor. It provides syntax highlighting and an outline view that make the source code very easy to read. In the screenshot below, I’m using “dark mode”, so you’ll see that my source code has a black background.


Syntax highlighting worked very nicely in free format RPG, CL and C/C++ code, including code that used the embedded SQL preprocessor.

Unfortunately, it did not work in fixed format RPG code. Liam tells me that fixed format RPG is especially difficult to implement because he codes ILEditor’s syntax highlighting using regular expressions, and regular expressions are difficult to make work for position-dependent source. However, he assured me that he does plan to support fixed format RPG code and is working on solving this problem.

I noticed that I could still type fixed format code and make changes to it, and aside from the source not being colored correctly, it worked fine.

The Outline View was a pleasant surprise, because I wasn’t really expecting an editor other than RDi to have one. It does not have as many features as the RDi outline view, but it worked very nicely for what I needed it for. I was also pleasantly surprised that the Outline View worked with CL code.

Compiling Programs

The compile option can be run by using the Compile menu at the top of the screen, the compile icon (shown in the picture below) or by pressing Ctrl-Shift-C.

I discovered that the compile option does not ask for any parameters. Instead, it uses the options that you specified in your connection and compile settings options in the toolbar. So if you want to change one of the default compiler options, you need to change them in the compile settings each time.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. The advantage is that it’s very quick and easy to compile a program. When you’re developing software, you often have to compile it many times, and it’s very nice to be able to skip the dialog and just have it compile. The disadvantage is when you want to do something different in a one-off situation. You have to go into the compile settings to change it, so that’s a little bit of extra work. However, I find that I don’t need to do that very often, so this wasn’t a big deal to me.

When an error occurs during the compile, an error listing will open showing you what went wrong, very similar to what you’d find in RDi. Like RDi, you can click on the error and it will position the editor to the exact line of code where the error was found.

One thing that surprised me about the compile and the error message dialog was that it is considerably faster than RDi. That seems strange to me, since both tools are connecting to the IBM i and running the same IBM compiler for RPG. However, I found that depending on the size of the member, the ILEditor compile was 10-20 seconds faster than the RDi one.

RPG Fixed Format to Free Format Converter

One feature of ILEditor that simply did not work well was the RPG converter. Some of the fixed format code in my program would convert, but other things (including things that should’ve converted easily) did not. Code that spanned multiple lines did not convert at all.

In my opinion, the converter needs a lot of work before it will be useful. I pointed this out to Liam, and he told me that he agrees and has a complete rewrite of the converter on his to-do list.

Other Features

I’d like to mention some of the other features of ILEditor that I did not have time to try out before writing this article. Since I didn’t have time, I can’t review them and give my opinion – but, I wanted to mention them. That way, if you’re looking for these features, you can give them a try yourself and see what you think.

  • Source Diff = compares two sources (members or IFS files) and highlights what is different about them.
  • Spooled File Viewer = Lets you view spooled files that are in an output queue
  • SQL Generator = Generates SQL DDL code from an existing database object
  • Offline mode = lets you download source from the IBM i to store on your PC and work on it while you are not connected (for example, when traveling on a plane or train without good internet access), uploading the results later.

My Conclusion

I was extremely impressed by ILEditor. RDi has more features, such as debugging, refactoring and screen/report design, but I was surprised at just how many features ILEditor has, considering it was written by one man in his free time and costing nothing. I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of ILEditor, which was consistently faster than RDi while using far less memory.

Unfortunately, the lack of syntax highlighting for fixed format RPG will be a problem for many RPG developers, and I sincerely hope that does not discourage them from at least trying ILEditor.

If a lot of people try it, and some of them donate money or give their time to help with development, this tool could easily become a serious competitor to RDi.

San Antonio

The San Antonio Story

Courtesy of VisitSanAntonio.com

At COMMON, we are excited to host POWERUp18 in San Antonio. Learn more about this beautiful, historic and fun city below and then tell us in the comments what you look forward to experiencing in the city while attending POWERUp18.

Few destinations provide a sense of place like San Antonio. San Antonio’s River Walk, Spanish colonial architecture and parks and plazas make it one of America’s most picturesque cities. Also as one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, San Antonio offers modern convenience in the middle of a historic city with diverse culture, ethnic cuisine and exciting attractions.

Much of the city’s unforgettable landscape has grown along the banks of the River Walk (also referred to as the “World’s Largest Hotel Lobby”) where stone paths run aside the San Antonio River connecting hotels, restaurants, shops and the newly transformed state-of-the-art Henry B. González Convention Center in the downtown core. The 15-mile River Walk also links Spanish Colonial Missions (a World Heritage Site, along with the Alamo), museums, public art and the Pearl, a former brewery reborn into an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and entertainment.

Famed for Tex-Mex, San Antonio is gaining attention for Tex-Next as the nation’s next big culinary destination. From notable restaurants to the Culinary Institute of America, there’s something to satiate every palate. Plus, with sunny weather, over 50 golf courses and theme parks like SeaWorld San Antonio and Six Flags® Fiesta Texas, San Antonio is a destination unlike any other.

When you meet in San Antonio, you’ll have an unforgettable experience that stretches beyond the conference room. As a top travel destination in Texas, San Antonio is a big draw for visitors thanks to its accessibility of location, downtown’s walkability, price and wide variety of options.

3 Things to Consider When Selecting an IT Vendor

Selecting an IT vendor is an important decision for any organization. Choosing an IT vendor that fails to meet the needs of your company can lead to unnecessary stress and can limit the productivity of each employee. Here are three things to consider when you are looking to partner with an IT vendor in today’s work environment.

#1 Do they fit your needs?

The first step in considering an IT vendor is to determine if they fit the unique needs of your company. For example, if you are in need of IT security, do they offer a security plan to keep your business protected from the vast amounts of cyber threats? Creating a list of your needs can be helpful in determining if an IT vendor is a good fit or if you need to move on to another one.

#2 Do they have a good reputation?

One of the best ways to learn about a company is from past or current clients of an IT vendor. An IT vendor with an excellent reputation is much more likely to benefit your company than choosing one with a poor reputation. Reading customer reviews and talking with other clients can help you determine if an IT vendor will be an asset to your organization or if you need to look elsewhere.

#3 What is the price of their services?

It is essential to compare the prices of their services to other IT vendors. Comparing prices will give you a good idea of the fair market value and can help you avoid overpaying for these services. While it may not be beneficial to choose the lowest price, it is still important to take the extra time to find a fair rate. Ultimately, finding an IT vendor that offers excellent services at an affordable rate is a win-win scenario for everyone involved.

Attend POWERUp18 and meet with numerous product and solutions vendors all in one place. It’s the largest Power Systems expo this year.

A Powerful Way to Run Unix and Open Source Tools from a Program

Perhaps the biggest area of growth in IBM i programming over the past several years has been the Open Source languages. There are thousands of utilities, mostly designed for Unix, that you can run in the QShell and PASE environments, and these have become very popular on IBM i! However, running these tools from your RPG and CL programs can be tricky. This post will introduce you to a free utility called UNIXCMD that makes it much easier.

Why is it Tricky?

It’s tricky because there’s a difference in the way IBM i and Unix systems run programs. When a program is called on Unix, a new “process” is created, this is very much like a new job on IBM i, except that it is created each time a program is called. This gives the calling program a choice, it can either stop and wait for the called program to finish, or it can continue and run simultaneously with the program it called. In a way, this is similar to submitting a batch job on i, but it’s different in that both programs can interact with the user’s display.

There are two common ways of running Unix programs, PASE via the QP2SHELL API and QShell via the STRQSH (or it’s alias QSH) CL command.

The QP2SHELL API runs a PASE program directly in the current job, which will cause problems if the job expects to be able to run simultaneously with the caller. Programs that use multiple threads, in particular, can have strange problems that are very hard to troubleshoot. The fix is to spawn a child job to run QP2SHELL so that it’s not in the same job as the caller. To enable input and output, you need to connect pipes to that child job. This is a lot of work, and often more than a programmer bargained for. (In fact, my description is somewhat oversimplified, to keep this brief!)

The STRQSH CL command solves this by always spawning its own child job and connecting pipes to it. It does all of this for you. The problem with this is that you are limited in how you can interact with the input and output streams. For a program to work with them, the only real option is to read and write from temporary files. This works, but it cumbersome, you have to create the file, clear it, redirect the I/O, and can only read the output once the whole process has finished.

Scott’s Solution

My solution is to create tools that do the work of submitting the child job for you, and connecting the pipes to a simple interface that is easy to use from your program. For a CL program, I’ve provided simple commands that open, read, write and close the connection, allowing you to read and write in a natural way. In RPG, I’ve used the Open Access interface so that you can open the connection with RPG’s native file interface, and read and write using the standard open, read, write and close opcodes.

The RPG Interface

Let’s take a look at RPG first. My initial examples use the newer “all-free” approach to writing RPG, but if you’re unable to use newer RPG, don’t fret – see the section titled “Older RPG Code”, below.
This example switches to the /QIBM directory in the IFS, lists the files in that directory, and prints them to the spool:

Notice the HANDLER keyword on the DCL-F statement. This tells RPG to access this file through the Open Access interface. When you run any of RPG’s file opcodes against this file, it will (under the covers) call routines in the UNIXCMDOA program, that allows my tool to take control and handle all of the work for you.

The command to run is provided in the second parameter to the HANDLER keyword. Since I’m setting that command in calculations in my program, I do not open the file until the command variable is set. For that reason, the file is declared with the USROPN keyword, and I open it explicitly with the OPEN opcode.

Unix utilities allow you to run multiple commands on a single line if you separate them with a semicolon. In this example, the cd command is used to switch to the /QIBM directory, and then the ls command is run afterwards to get the output.

To get the output from the Unix ls (list directory) command, I simply use the READ opcode. Since this is a program-described file (there are never any defined fields in a Unix input or output stream) I am using RPG’s feature that lets me read program-described data into a data structure.

When I’m done, I use the CLOSE opcode to shut down the Unix process. One thing that surprises people who are new to UNIXCMD is that any errors that occur in the background Unix program will be reported on the CLOSE opcode rather than the OPEN, READ or WRITE. This is because the Unix program has the opportunity to write error messages, and will not report that it has failed until the program has ended. Catching errors can be done easily with RPG’s MONITOR and ON-ERROR opcodes.

By default, the UNIXCMD utility runs your program using the QShell interface. If you prefer to run the PASE interface and avoid the QShell environment, you can do that by prefixing the command string with “pase:”, as shown in the next example.

The examples so far have only read output from a Unix command. In the next example, I’d like to demonstrate sending data both ways. In this case, I’m calling a PHP script that calls a web service to Geocode and address. In other words, I pass an address as input, and the script returns the latitude and longitude coordinates where that address can be found. To do that, I’ve written a PHP script that receives the address from it’s “standard input” (that is, the pipe that is connected to its input stream) and write the coordinates to standard output. (If you’re interested in the PHP code, it is included in the downloadable examples on my web site.) To call it from RPG, I can simply write my data to it, and then use the READ opcode to get the results.

The first thing you’ll notice in this statement is that it sets the Unix PATH variable. This is done because many people don’t have the PHP command in their PATH. PATH is very much like a library list, except that it is a list of IFS directories that the Unix environment uses to find a command. The PATH statement adds the directory where we’ve placed the php-cli command (CLI stands for “command line interface”) so that QShell can find it.

Another important thing to note is that data sent as input through the pipe is not automatically converted from EBCDIC to ASCII or Unicode. To solve that problem, I added a call to the QShell iconv utility, which can translate between different CCSIDs. In this case, will convert between 0 (a special value that means “this job’s CCSID”) and iso-8859-1 which is CCSID 819 and is a flavor of ASCII.

A Note About Input and Output

UNIXCMD assumes that you will write all the data that is sent as input to the Unix command first, before the first time you read its output. When you read the Unix output, it will shut down the Unix input stream to signal the Unix program that no more data is coming. This works well in most applications.

However, if you would prefer that it not close the stream, this can be made with a very simple code change to the UNIXCMD utility. If this would be useful to you, please e-mail me at commonblog@scottklement.com and I’ll be glad to show you how to change it.

Older RPG Code

Sadly, not everyone has a current version of RPG. To help those people, I’ve provided a way of using UNIXCMD that’s compatible with even the oldest versions of RPG IV using the SPECIAL file interface. Here is the last example rewritten to use that approach.

Notice that the command is passed to the SPECIAL file through the PLIST. The second parameter in the PLIST is not shown in this example, but you can add a 1 character second parameter and set it to P if you want to run in the PASE environment. If you do not pass this parameter (or set it to a Q) it will run QShell instead. Here is an excerpt of code that does that:

Since the SPECIAL file approach does not require Open Access, it will work all the way back to V5R3.

Using the UNIXCMD Tool from CL

Since the CL programming language does not support Open Access, there is no way to use the standard IBM supplied SNDF or RCVF opcodes that you are used to using for a normal file. Instead, I have created my own CL commands named OPNPIPE, SNDPIPE, RCVPIPE and CLOPIPE that handle the open, send, receive and close functions, respectively. The OPNPIPE command accepts the command to run, and lets you designate whether it is PASE or QShell. Aside from these differences, the UNIXCMD utility works the same from CL as it does from RPG.

Here’s an example of listing files (like the first RPG example) using the CL interface:

Get the UNIXCMD Utility

UNIXCMD is an open source tool that is available at no charge. You can download it, the examples given in this article, and a few more examples from my web site at the following link:


IBM i and the API Economy

By Dan Magid

The API economy is a new frontier for companies seeking to get the most out of their data. With the right API, you can transform rigid workflows into the intuitive web-based and mobile experiences that today’s users demand, using modern programming languages to access real-time transactional data. This way, users can harness the value of information from the transactional systems that fuel their businesses without unnecessary time, cost, and risk.

According to Coleman Parkes Research, 88% of all businesses employ APIs. But our internal research shows that only 38% of IBM i users are enjoying the benefits of the API economy. Perhaps this disparity is due to the lack of API expertise among IBM i shops, where most developers use RPG and COBOL vs. modern tools like Node.js or GO, or the time and resource constraints that are common among IBM i shops.

However, the fact is that APIs are the most effective way for IBM i shops to expose real-time transactional data for access by modern web, mobile and IoT applications, so bridging the knowledge gap between modern application development and the languages that power your critical IBM i applications should be a top priority. But it must be done without hurting productivity, blowing the IT budget or risking catastrophic application errors.

These goals—building and deploying APIs without negatively affecting organizational performance—may appear to be contradictory, but they don’t have to be. How do you do it? I recommend a two-pronged approach:

  • Look for tools to build APIs directly from the host-based application that run your business—but without needing to modify the codebase that runs your business
  • Ensure that your API functionality is easily tested against any other host-based application changes that occur, vastly reducing the resources required to ensure that APIs continue to work in a world of ever-changing user and IT requirements

Following this approach will enable you to not only extend the value of your IBM i platform, but also unlock the value of your applications to a world of new uses. And without the need to modify source code, it will also help you bridge the knowledge gap between your IBM i applications the web and mobile applications that need their functionality.

I’ll finish with the results of a recent study by Quark and Lepton, which showed that the IBM i platform typically costs about one-third as much budget to operate over a three-year period compared to Oracle/Linux or SQL Server/Windows platforms. IBM i is by far the most cost-effective, and with the right API approach, it can serve you effectively for years to come.

Guest Blogger

Daniel Magid is Managing Director of Rocket Software’s Application Lifecycle Management & DevOps lab, and is a recognized authority on helping leading organizations achieve compliance through ALM solutions and DevOps best practices. He has written a variety of articles for leading IT publications and is a regular speaker at technology conferences.

Work Experience as Part of a College IT Education

Students learn important theoretical and practical concepts in the classroom as a part of a college-level degree in information technology. Work experience can supplement this education providing industry-specific skills and access to the type of environment they may work in after graduation. There are several common ways IT students get work experience while they are still students, including internships, part-time jobs and capstone classes.


There are many companies, organizations and government agencies that offer internships to students in technical fields. A student will need a level of skill typically obtained through a few semesters of IT coursework. Internships may occur during summer or in place of a semester. In IT, students usually receive payment for their work as an intern. College credit, however, may also be an option at some institutions. The student should intern at the type of place they are most interested in eventually working at so they can decide if they like it.

Part-time Job

Students in IT may have many options for part-time technical jobs they can do during the school year in addition to taking classes. Jobs can include on-campus positions working for specific departments, professors or units. Off-campus jobs with local companies are another option. As there is great demand for IT work, companies close to universities often will hire students to work part-time.

Capstone Classes

As a part of some college IT curriculums, there is a required capstone class. This can give students the opportunity to do work for real companies as part of a structured course. Often, students work in teams on projects and learn how to interact effectively with a client. The students receive credit and grades in the course and can include it on their resume as a project they worked on.

Practical work experience while in school can help a student figure out what kind of IT career they want to pursue. It helps them stand out when applying for jobs after graduation and gives them valuable skills that will help them succeed in a future workplace.

Are you a student interested in a career working on IBM Power Systems? If so, learn more about the opportunities the COMMON Education Foundation offers.

IT in the Banking Industry: Checking the Box Is Not Enough

Advances in digital technology have changed the way the world conducts business — and that includes cybercriminals. Unfortunately for the banking industry, cybercriminals’ favorite targets are financial institutions. In this post, we explore banking compliance efforts and why checking the compliance box is not enough. So read on for ideas on attaining true security.

PWC’s Global Economic Crime Survey

According to the PWC 2016 survey, cybercrime is now the second most reported economic crime. To improve on proactive security measures, financial institutions must evaluate threats and determine their imminence in real time. PWC says that cybercrime is not just an IT problem. Responsibility for keeping data secure starts in the C-Suite and trickles down to all staff.

The findings of this study are fascinating. Respondents said:

  • About 50 organizations had cybercrime losses above $5 million
  • One-third of those reported cybercrime losses in excess of $100 million
  • Survey respondents considered the loss of the business’s reputation the most damaging impact of a cybersecurity breach

Checking the Compliance Box Is Not Enough

There are many standards and guidelines, some on a national or global level, directed at helping financial institutions assess their cyber risk and improve their management of that risk.

These guidelines are good initial steps, but stopping sophisticated cybercriminals requires a more hands-on process. For instance, the ECB requires banks to disclose cyberthreat information to a real-time alert database. Since 2016, the agency has collected such information with the goal of instituting an early warning system for banks. ECB expects to provide the database to its 129 member banks sometime in 2017. ECB will also share the information collected with the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of England (BoE).

BoE also has a cyber-stress test program that performs hacking exercises with U.S. regulators to imitate a large-scale attack on the global financial system and gauge the attacks’ impact on financial networks.

Conduct Insider Threat Assessments

One way to protect against insider security threats is to analyze behaviors within the network.

  1. Identify the various roles that employees play within the organization and the network authorizations assigned to them
  2. Assess the data access rights for each employee and list each piece of equipment they have authority to use
  3. Analyze usage to determine unauthorized use of equipment or to identify anyone trying to access data they are not authorized to access

Penetration Testing

Cybercriminals take advantage of network vulnerabilities. It follows then that cybersecurity involves knowing what and where those vulnerabilities lie. Penetration testing means your IT staff — or a third-party provider if you outsource the task — gathers information about your system in order to identify possible points that a hacker might use to gain entry. Once you’ve identified potential entry points, IT staff will conduct penetration testing — which means they will try to break into the system through the entry point to determine the vulnerability threat level.

  • IT staff can test penetration manually or by using special software
  • Penetration testing can also tell you how well your employees comply with your security policies and how well they understand their roles in the organization’s security
  • Penetration tests are sometimes referred to as “white hat” tests because the good guys are doing the testing

Learn more about penetration testing tips: read the betanews.com article entitled Three Penetration Testing Tips to Out-hack Hackers.