Systems Administration and Operations Analysis: Add Search Capability to Your AS/400-based Web Site!

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If your company is anything like the rest of corporate America, it’s probably trying to find a way to get on the Internet bandwagon. Perhaps your company handed down the directive that you need to get your applications Web-enabled, and you’ve been scrambling to find a way to do that. Or maybe you’ve been more proactive and have dedicated a part of your staff to design a Web site with all the bells and whistles. Whichever the case may be, if you’re like the rest of us, you’ve had to face this new business direction and all the inherent problems it brings.

Are You Missing Something?

One area you may not have given much thought to yet is allowing your customers (users) the ability to search your AS/400-based Web site. By this time, pretty much everyone has used one search engine or another on the Internet. Whether you were searching for information on wooden wagon wheel usage in the Ukraine or looking for superhero items for sale on eBay, you’ve typed in your request and let some nameless search engine return your search results. Wouldn’t this type of capability be useful for your Web site, too? I’ll give you an example.

Imagine that your company sells 37 different services for humor-impaired CEOs. All of your information is stored on your AS/400, and you’ve created a really nifty Web site crammed full of dazzling HTML forms with animation, music, and videos. Everything anyone would need is there. The only problem is, the customer has to know the exact path or navigational links to follow to get to that one piece of information. This will never work.

When customers log on to your Web site in search of a seminar on, say, “How to Make Your CEO Smile Without Breaking His Face,” you don’t want them to have to sift through page after page of HTML hyperlinks until they eventually find the page containing the seminar information. What you’d rather do is have them enter their search criteria (“face”; “smile”; “break”) on the first page of your site and then give them a list, with

hyperlinks, that will let them jump directly to the page of information they’re interested in. This is the kind of service your customers have come to expect from the Internet.

To Be or Not to Be

Fortunately, you are in luck. IBM introduced a new product with V4R2 of OS/400 called NetQuestion. Not to be confused with Net.Data, NetQuestion is a free licensed program from IBM that you install on your AS/400. This product will allow you to create and store indexes to your AS/400-based HTML documents on your AS/400. The index is then used by the NetQuestion search engine to return a list of matches based on the user’s search request. NetQuestion uses the Internet Secure Connections Server and the HTTP configuration on your AS/400 to allow you to maintain a secure, viable site for your AS/400 users.

One of the nicest things about NetQuestion is its price; it’s free! You can download a copy of NetQuestion by pointing your browser to toolindx.htm and following the links. If you are at an earlier release than V4R2, not to worry. NetQuestion will also run on V4R1 and V3R7. After you’ve downloaded the file and unzipped it, move it to your AS/400 and install it. NetQuestion is a licensed program, and it will need to be installed using the Restore Licensed Program (RSTLICPGM) command. NetQuestion runs under Qshell on the AS/400, so if you’re not familiar with this environment, it’d probably be a good idea to read up on it in the IBM manuals or in any of the great Qshell articles Midrange Computing has published. For example, look at “Qshell and Java” in the April/May 1999 issue of AS/400 NetJava Expert or “AS/400 Finally Gets a UNIX Face” in the February 1999 issue of Midrange Computing.

Using NetQuestion

As its input, NetQuestion uses *.txt files stored on the AS/400 in the Integrated File System, which contain a list of search words. It’s up to you to manually build and maintain these lists, along with the appropriate links. Although the interface for NetQuestion is fairly kludgy at this point, don’t despair. It’s still a good alternative for building a native, full-text search engine on your AS/400, and it’s flexible, too.

NetQuestion supports both simple and complex searches. For example, you might display the simple search form first to allow the user to search for, say, “Aardvark.” If users find too many matches on your site containing the word Aardvark (which begs the question, “What are you selling anyway?!?”), they can jump over into the complex search engine form and enter a new request (e.g., “Aardvark + Stuffed + Toy”).

Each default NetQuestion form is fully customizable. That means you can add your own company logo, text, links, and so forth so that the HTML form your customers see is unique to your little piece of the Internet. While it’s true that a certain amount of overhead is involved in setting up and configuring all the pieces to make NetQuestion work, the payoff is worth it. Once your customers begin to see that they can easily search your AS/400- based Web site for information, they’ll start using it more often. The more often they use it, the more they’ll come to depend on it. That translates into more business for you, and after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?