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TechTip: Dynamic Menu Using Tree Data Structure

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This method for deploying menus uses only three objects to represent as many menus as needed. And menus can be changed by editing the file's records, instead of the code.


A menu is a list of options from which the user makes a selection. Each option is a brief description of the job that will be run when the user makes that selection. An option can lead to a program or to another menu of options. In IBM i, a menu consists of one display file, one message file, and one *MENU object [1]. In the IBM i environment, the display file contains the menu image, the message file contains the commands, and the *MENU object contains the name of the display file and the message file. In order to create one menu, we have to create a source file for the specified menu, define prompts for the menu image, define the command source for the menu, and finally save and compile the menu and command sources. If we want to change the menu, we have to reedit the code and recompile objects. This method is inconvenient if there's a large amount of menus, if we need to change options, or even if we want to avoid editing code.


Here, we present an alternative method for deploying menus in IBM i. All menus in our system can be stored in one DDS file and displayed by an array-subfile program. Each menu is stored as a tree-like form in the DDS file. Thus, the Dynamic Menu program can assign a menu with its options and can be easily navigated.

Graph and Tree Data Structure Theory

The Tree Data Structure (T-DS) is one of the most powerful data structures; it's often used in advanced tasks such as AI and compiler design [2, 3, 4]. Rooted trees can be used to store data in the computer's memory in many different ways. Unlike array, linked list, stack, and queue, which are linear data structures, tree is a hierarchical data structure. But what exactly is a tree? A graph is considered a set of vertices/nodes, which represent objects, data, or even operations, and edges/links, which represent links between the nodes.


A tree is a special kind of graph that follows a particular set of rules and definitions (Figure 1):

  • ConnectedA graph can be a tree if it is connected. Each node is connected with a link to at least one other node.
  • AcyclicA graph can be a tree if is acyclic. That means there's only one route from any node to any other node.
  • Root: The term root commonly refers to a top-most node. In Figure 1, node F is the root of the tree.
  • DescendantA descendant is a node that is farther away from the root than some other node. The term descendant is always in reference to another node. In Figure 1, nodes I and H are descendants of node G.
  • ParentParent is considered the node that is closer to the root node by one link or vertex. In Figure 1, node B is the parent of nodes A and D.
  • SiblingSibling nodes share the same parent. In the example, nodes A and D are siblings.
  • AncestorAn ancestor is any node between a given node and the root, including the root. In the example, the ancestors of node H are nodes I, G, and F.
  • Leaf or Terminal NodeA node is terminal if it has no children. In the example, node C is a leaf.
  • HeightThe height of a tree is defined as the number of vertices traversed to get to the most distant node. In Figure 1, the height of the tree is equal to three.



Figure 1: This is an example of a tree data structure.

Dynamic Menu

In menus, information naturally forms a hierarchy; objects are ordered "above" or "below" other objects. Tree data structure is a very efficient way to represent this type of information. In the problem at hand, each menu is a rooted tree. Root can represent the base menu while descendants of the nearest lower level can represent the options of the base menu. In this TechTip, nodes represent menu's options and new sub-menus, while leafs represent programs.


To store information in a hierarchical manner, a DDS file with the following fields will be used. Each record in this file represents one vertex (node or leaf) of the tree.

  • DYNFUNCT (not unique key)Since Dynamic Menu is designed to hold all of our system's root menus, we need a field to classify the records and assign them to a specific root menu. This segregation can be done based upon this field.
  • DYNSTYPEThis field holds the record's type. A record can be either node type (new sub-menu) or leaf type (program to be called or command).
  • DYNSCODEThis is the record's code ID. If this record is a leaf type record, it holds the name of the program that will be called. If this record is a node record, it holds the name of the new sub-menu.
  • DYNCFROMThis field displays the node (menu or sub-menu) in which this record belongs. In other words, this field holds the code ID of this record's parent node.
  • DYNLEVELEach record has a level. For example, root record belongs to the first level.
  • DYNSDESC This field is the option's brief description. If the record is a root menu or sub-menu, this description is shown as screen header.
  • DYNSSORTThis is for the menu options order. For example, the record with sort value equal to 2 will be displayed higher than its sibling record with sort value equal to 5.


Listing 1 shows an example of the DDS file code. Of course, the file and the logic can be expanded to deal with authority issues or to call leaf programs with additional input parameters, commands, etc. See the example data displayed in Listing 2.


     A         R DYN0001                   TEXT('Menu Tree file')

     A           DYNSCODE     10A         TEXT('Screen Code (NAME)')

     A           DYNCFROM     10A         TEXT('Called From')

     A           DYNLEVEL       1S 0       TEXT('Screen Level')

     A           DYNSTYPE       1A         TEXT('Screen Type')

     A           DYNSDESC     50A         TEXT('Screen Description')

     A           DYNPARAM       1S 0       TEXT('Program Parameters')

     A           DYNSSORT       3S 0       TEXT('Program Sort List')

     A           DYNFUNCT     10A         TEXT('Calling Function')

Listing 1: DDS file code



DYNSCODE  DYNCFROM DYNLEVEL DYNSTYPE DYNSDESC       DYNPARAM DYNSSORT DYNFUNCT APSMN01                 1       N     Root menu          0         1     950030

PGMNAME1   APSMN01       2       L     Leaf program 1     0         5     950030

APSMN02    APSMN01       2       N     Sub-Menu 1         0         6     950030

PGMNAME2   APSMN01       2       L     Leaf program 2     0         1     950030

PGMNAME3   APSMN01       2       L     Leaf program 3     0         2     950030

APSMN03   APSMN01       2       N     Sub-Menu 2         0         4     950030

APSMN05   APSMN03       3       N     Sub-Menu 2.1       0         1     950030

PGMNAME4   APSMN03       3       L     Leaf program 4     0         7     950030

PGMNAME5   APSMN05       4       L     Leaf program 5     0         1     950030

PGMNAME6   APSMN05       4       L     Leaf program 6     0         2     950030

PGMNAME7   APSMN05       4       L     Leaf program 7     0         3     950030

PGMNAME8   APSMN05       4       L     Leaf program 8     0         4     950030

Listing 2: Example of file's data


The program that manipulates the file's data is in essence an array-subfile program [5]. The dynamic menu (DMenu) program uses one main array as a pool and one screen array to fill the screen subfile. Initially, all records related to the root menu are loaded in a main array. Each time, the dynamic menu program reads the appropriate records from the main array and creates a subfile of output records via the screen array. When the entire subfile is written, the program sends the entire subfile to the display device [6]. The flow diagram is displayed in Figure 2. Please note that this TechTip is not intended to explain how an array-subfile program works.



Figure 2: Dynamic menu flow diagram


As mentioned before, the dynamic menu can be used to display all menus in a system. Thus, DMenu should be called with at least one input parameter (of course, entry parameters can be expanded to return errors or messages to the previous program, etc.) in order to select only the records that are needed for the specified root menu.


Two basic arrays are used. Initially, all records related with the root menu are loaded in the main array. In addition, all option records related with a sub-menu (or root menu) are loaded to the screen array in order to be displayed on screen. The options from the screen array are loaded to the screen subfile. The screen heading is loaded from the description of the submenu's (level one) root record. An example of the arrays definition is shown in Listing 3.


     * Work Array for Main File

     D I               S             5I 0 Inz(*Zeros)

     D SavI           S             5I 0 Inz(*Zeros)

     D WrkMenu         DS                 QUALIFIED

     D ArrAll                       81A   DIM(32676)

     D MenCode                             Overlay(ArrAll)

     D                                    Like(DYNSCODE)

     D MenFrom                             Overlay(ArrAll:*Next)

     D                                     Like(DYNCFROM)

     D MenSort                             Overlay(ArrAll:*Next)

     D                                    Like(DYNSSORT)

     D MenLeve                             Overlay(ArrAll:*Next)

     D                                     Like(DYNLEVEL)

     D MenType                             Overlay(ArrAll:*Next)

     D                                     Like(DYNSTYPE)

     D MenDesc                             Overlay(ArrAll:*Next)

     D                                     Like(DYNSDESC)

     D MenI                               Overlay(ArrAll:*Next)

     D                                     Like(I)

     D MenPara                       1S 0 Overlay(ArrAll:*Next)

     * Work Array for Screen fields

     D SI             S             5I 0 Inz(*Zeros)

     D SavSI           S             5I 0 Inz(*Zeros)

     D WrkScrn         DS                 QUALIFIED

     D ArrSAll                       68A   DIM(32676)

     D ScrSort                             Overlay(ArrSAll)

     D                                     Like(DYNSSORT)

     D ScrSI                               Overlay(ArrSAll:*Next)

     D                                    Like(SI)

     D ScrDesc                             Overlay(ArrSAll:*Next)

     D                                     Like(DYNSDESC)

     D ScrCode                             Overlay(ArrSAll:*Next)

     D                                    Like


Listing 3: Main and Screen arrays definition in D-spec


When a user selects an option, the program will check the field that shows the type (DYNTYPE) of the corresponding record to see if the option is a node (value 'N') or a leaf (value 'L'). When the option is a leaf, DMenu calls the program whose name appears in the code ID field (DYNSCODE) of the option's corresponding record. On the other hand, if the option is a node, screen array is reloaded with root record equal to the corresponding record of the user's option.


Let's look at the following example, which is based on the data of Listing 2. Call the dynamic menu with the appropriate input value (Listing 4):



Listing 4: Calling the dynamic menu


All records from the DDS file are copied to the main array. This is happening because the DYNFUNCT field value is equal to 950030 in all records. Thus, all records in the DDS file belong to only one root menu. The root record's description is displayed in the screen's header, while the records that are assigned to the root menu (e.g., rrn: 2 to 6, DYNCFROM = "APSMN01") are passed to the screen array. The screen array is sorted by the DYNSSORT field. The screen subfile is filled by the screen array (Figure 3).



Figure 3: Root menu


By selecting option 3, the procedure is repeated. The description of the Sub-Menu 2 is displayed in the screen's header, while the records that are assigned to this sub-menu (rrn: 7, 8) are passed to the screen array. The screen array is sorted by the DYNSSORT field, and it fills the screen's subfile (Figure 4).



Figure 4: Sub-Menu 2


When the user presses F12-Cancel, the program searches the main array for the corresponding record of the Sub-Menu 2 node. That is, it searches the record with a DYNSCODE value equal to APSMN03, which is the code ID of the Sub-Menu 2 node. The new menu is defined by the DYNCFROM value. The root menu screen is diplayed again (Figure 3).  

Dynamic Menu Code

Of course, there are many ways to implement the code of a dynamic menu. The following snippets of code constitute a simple DMenu creation example. 


As mentioned before, initially the main array must be loaded with all the root menu's related records. Listing 5 shows a code snippet for loading the main array from the file, where variable InpEntry is the program’s input parameter (e.g., 950030) and DYN00L4 is a logical file with one key (DYNFUNCT). The code ID of the root menu record is stored in the FirstScreen global variable.


     P LoadMainA       B

     D                 PI


     C                   Clear                   I

     C                   Clear                   SavI

     C                   Clear                   WrkMenu

     C                   Clear                   FirstScreen

     C     InpEntry     SetLL     DYN000L4

     C                   DoU       %EoF(DYN000L4) Or InpEntry <> DYNFUNCT

     C                   Read     DYN000L4

     C                   If       Not %EoF(DYN000L4) And

     C                             InpEntry = DYNFUNCT

     C                   If       DYNLEVEL = 1

     C                   Eval     FirstScreen = DYNSCODE

     C                  EndIf

     C                   Eval     I = I + 1

     C                   Eval     WrkMenu.MenCode(I) = DYNSCODE

     C                   Eval     WrkMenu.MenFrom(I) = DYNCFROM

     C                   Eval     WrkMenu.MenSort(I) = DYNSSORT

    C                   Eval     WrkMenu.MenLeve(I) = DYNLEVEL

     C                   Eval     WrkMenu.MenType(I) = DYNSTYPE

     C                   Eval     WrkMenu.MenDesc(I) = DYNSDESC

     C                   Eval     WrkMenu.MenPara(I) = DYNPARAM

     C                   Eval     WrkMenu.MenI(I)   = I

     C                   EndIf

     C                   EndDo

     C                   Eval     SavI = I





Listing 5: Load Main array example.


The screen array's loading procedure can be called with the menu's code ID as an input parameter (e.g., FirstScreen variable). This procedure is divided in two sections (Listing 6). The first section is responsible for filling the screen array if the input node is a root node, while the second section is responsible for filling the screen array in every other case. At the end, the screen array is sorted by the DYNSSORT file's sort field. In addition, a fold/unfold indicator is used to leave a blank between the menu's options. If the menu doesn't have many options (e.g., '7' in this example), then this indicator goes *On and the subfile displays the options with a blank record between them (Figure 3).


     P LoadArray       B

     D                 PI                 Like(SI)

     D InpFrom                             Like(DYNSCODE) Const

     * Local Variables

     D WrkLevel       S                   Like(DYNLEVEL)

     D                                     Inz(*Zeros)

     D TemLevel       S                   Like(DYNLEVEL)

     D                                     Inz(*Zeros)

     D WrkName         S                   Like(DYNSCODE)

     D                                     Inz(*Blanks)

     D TemName         S                   Like(DYNSCODE)

     D                                     Inz(*Blanks)

     D WrkI           S                  Like(I)

     D WrkSI           S                   Like(SI)


     C                   Clear                   SI

     C                   Clear                   SavSI

     C                   Clear                   WrkSI

     C                   Clear                   WrkScrn

     C                   Clear                   WrkI

     C                   Clear                   WrkName

     C                   Clear                   TemName

     C                   Clear                   FoldR

      * Check if Init

     C                   Select

     C                   When     InpFrom = *Blanks

     *         Sort By Level (Care only for Level 1)

     C                   SortA     %SUBARR(WrkMenu.MenLeve:1:SavI)

     C                   Eval     WrkLevel = 1

     C                   DoU       WrkLevel <> TemLevel

     C                   Eval     WrkI = WrkI + 1

     C                   Eval     TemLevel = WrkMenu.MenLeve(WrkI)

     C                   If       TemLevel = WrkLevel

     C                  Eval     SI = SI + 1

     C                   Eval     WrkScrn.ScrSI(SI) = SI

     C                   Eval     WrkScrn.ScrDesc(SI) = WrkMenu.MenDesc(WrkI)

     C                   EndIf

     C                   EndDo

     C                  Eval     SavSI = SI

     C                   Other

     C                   If       SavI > 0

     *         Sort By Name (Code)

     C                   SortA     %SUBARR(WrkMenu.MenFrom:1:SavI)

     *         Find Name (Code) Line

     C                  Eval     WrkI = %LookUp(InpFrom:WrkMenu.MenFrom:1:

     C                                           SavI)

     C                   If       WrkI > 0

     C                   Eval     WrkName = InpFrom

     C                   DoU       WrkName <> TemName

     C                   Eval     TemName = WrkMenu.MenFrom(WrkI)

     C                   If       TemName = WrkName

     C                   Eval     SI = SI + 1

     C                   Eval     WrkScrn.ScrDesc(SI) = WrkMenu.MenDesc(WrkI)

     C                   Eval     WrkScrn.ScrCode(SI) = WrkMenu.MenCode(WrkI)

     C                   Eval     WrkScrn.ScrSort(SI) = WrkMenu.MenSort(WrkI)

     C                   EndIf

     C                   Eval     WrkI = WrkI + 1

     C                  EndDo

     C                   Eval     SavSI = SI

     C                   EndIf

     C                   EndIf

     C                   EndSl

     C                   If       SavSI > 0

     C                   SortA     %SUBARR(WrkScrn.ScrSort:1:SavSI)

     C                   For       WrkI = 1 to SavSI

     C                   Eval     WrkScrn.ScrSI(WrkI) = WrkI

     C                   EndFor

     C                   If       SavSI > 7

     C                   Eval     FoldR = *Off                                

     C                   Else

     C                   Eval     FoldR = *On                                

     C                   EndIf

     C                   EndIf

     C                   Eval     SavCurrPGM = InpFrom

     C                   Return   SavSI




Listing 6: Load Screen array


It must be noted that the input record's code ID is stored in the SavCurrPGM global variable.  


Another important procedure is the Get Previous Sub-Menu procedure (Listing 7). It takes as input the SavCurrPGM global variable and updates the SavPrevPGM global variable. Then the SavPrevPGM variable can be used as an input in the Load Screen Array procedure to load the previous menu.  


     P GetPr           B

     D                 PI                 Like(DYNSCODE)

     D InpCode                             Like(DYNSCODE) Const

     * Local Variables

     D WrkI           S                   Like(I) Inz(*Zeros)

     C                   Eval     WrkI = 0

     C                   Eval     WrkI = %LookUp(InpCode:WrkMenu.MenCode:1:

     C                                           SavI)

     C                   If       WrkI > 0

     C                   Return   WrkMenu.MenFrom(WrkI)

     C                   Else

     C                   Return   *Blanks

     C                   EndIf

     P               E

Listing 7: Get previous sub-menu


The Call Leaf Program procedure takes as an input the code ID of a leaf record and calls the program that the leaf record indicates.


     P CallingPGM     B

     D                 PI

     D InpCode                             Like(DYNSCODE) Const

     * Local Variables

     D WrkI           S                   Like(I) Inz(*Zeros)

     D WrkError       S             7A   Inz(*Blanks)


     *    General Calling Procedure for Programs without I-O Variables

     D PgmName         S             10A   Inz(*Blanks)

     D CallPGM         PR                 EXTPGM(PgmName)


     C                   Eval     WrkI = 0

     C                   Eval     WrkI = %LookUp(InpCode:WrkMenu.MenCode:1:

     C                                          SavI)

     C                   If       WrkI > 0

     C                   If       WrkMenu.MenPara(WrkI) = 0

     C                   Eval     PgmName = WrkMenu.MenCode(WrkI)

     C                   CallP     CallPGM()

     C                  Else

     *If option's leaf program has more than zero inputs we can call it here

     C                   EndIf

     C                   EndIf




Listing 8: Call leaf program


Finally, the following procedure takes as an input the code ID of a record and returns *On if the record is a leaf record.


     P IsTypeL         B

     D                 PI                 Like(WrkInd)

     D InpCode                             Like(DYNSCODE) Const

     * Local Variables

     D WrkI           S                   Like(I) Inz(*Zeros)

     C                   Eval     WrkI = 0

     C                   Eval     WrkI = %LookUp(InpCode:WrkMenu.MenCode:1:

     C                                           SavI)

     C                   If       WrkI > 0

     C                   If       WrkMenu.MenType(WrkI) = 'L'

     C                   Return   *On

     C                   Else

     C                   Return   *Off

     C                   EndIf

     C                   EndIf

     P                 E


Listing 9: Check if a record is a type leaf record


This TechTip presents an alternative method for deploying menus in IBM i. In IBM i, each menu is composed of three different types of objects (*MSGF, *FILE, *MENU). Each time we need to maintain a menu, we have to edit the code and recompile the objects. Instead of creating different objects with different source types for each different menu, by employing the proposed method we need only three objects (one screen, one program, one file) to represent as many menus as we like. All the menus are stored in one DDS file, and we can edit them without an intervention in the code. Finally, this method prevents the repeated programs' call, resulting in better performance and in avoiding the "many calls" limit.


[1]        John Enck, (1997), Navigating the AS/400: A Hands-On Guide, Prentice Hall PTR, ISBN 10: 0138625581

[2]        Gersting,J.L., (2007), Mathematical Structures for Computer Science, W.H. Freeman and Company.

[3]        Diestel, Reinhard, (2005), Graph Theory (3rd ed.), Berlin, New York: Springer-Verlag, ISBN 978-3-540-26183-4.

[4]        Steven S. Skiena, (2008), The Algorithm Design Manual (2nd Edition), Springer, ISBN: 978-1848000698

[5]        Kevin Vandever, (2011), Subfiles in Free-Format RPG, MC Press, ISBN-10: 1583470948

[6]        IBM, (2006), WebSphere Development Studio Client for iSeriesUsing Subfiles, IBM Corporation 1992, 2006



George Karkavitsas

George Karkavitsas is a PhD candidate in Computer Science at University of Piraeus. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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