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Distributing Mobile Apps Within Your Enterprise

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Creating mobile apps is one technical challenge. Getting them onto users' devices is another.…

 

As mobile apps become more prevalent in day-to-day business operations and your IT staff begins mastering the process of creating such apps, eventually you'll be confronted with a distribution challenge: How will these apps get loaded onto your users' smartphones and tablets?

 

One common approach for getting mobile apps out to your corporate users' devices is to simply create mobile Web apps--Websites designed explicitly for smartphones that can be accessed by a standard internal URL on any smartphone browser. To see a working example of this, point your smartphone's browser to the iAdmin demo.

 

Bookmarks pointing to sites like this can be placed on the smartphone's homepage, thereby emulating an "app" to some degree. This technique works fine for straightforward applications such as inquiries and basic data entry. However, as your apps become more sophisticated, you'll eventually find cases where the mobile Website approach to app distribution won't cut it. For example, we recently needed to create an iPad app that would use use an attached laser barcode scanner for performing inventory transactions. Interfacing the iPad with a scanner or any other external device would have been impossible to do via a browser-based app.

 

So when you find a native app is needed, and you've waded through the process of creating a functioning mobile Web app, how do you get the final product pushed out to your users' devices as a native app? Many developers assume they must push their apps through the Apple App Store or Google Play. But if you're merely deploying apps within your own enterprise, you can skip the App Store rigmarole and use your own internal resources to deliver apps to your users. The process entails placing the app with appropriate credentials onto an internal server from which users can download and install it.

 

What follows are the steps to get a mobile app — in this case developed through the Sencha Touch mobile framework — pushed out to your internal users directly from your own internal server. We'll use PhoneGap Build and Sencha Command as the mechanisms for packaging up a Sencha Touch Web app and making it work as a standalone app on the various platforms. All of these tools can be used for free.

 

In the interest of space, I won't be talking about the technical details behind creating the app (that would merit a series of articles itself), but even without any Sencha Touch experience you should still be able to follow these instructions to create a generic app, install it on your iPhone or iPad, and launch it. I should also note that while this will be an iOS-specific demonstration of pushing out an app, many of these steps would apply to Android-based devices as well.

Registering Your Company and your App(s) with Apple Inc.

Before we get into the application packaging and PhoneGap build process, you'll need credentials from Apple in order to distribute the app to iOS devices, with or without the App Store. These Apple credentials are applied as part of the build, which you'll see shortly.

 

The key point to convey is that Apple's Developer Enterprise Program allows you as a developer to deploy apps within your company without going through the rigmarole of the App Store. The process entails going to the Apple Developer site and registering for an Apple ID for a nominal fee (about $300 per year).


It can take a few days to get your company approved (for CNX, it took two days). Once registered, you'll have a user ID that allows you to log in to the Apple Developer Site and navigate to the "Certificates, Identifiers & Profiles" page listing your production certificates for iOS distribution, as shown here:                         

 

092513Swansonfigure1 Apple Certificate

Figure 1: This is the Apple Developer Certificates page.

 

Once you have an approved and registered company ID, the next step is to create an App ID for the app we're going to create here. For sake of example, we'll refer to it as MyFirstApp going forward. Click on "App IDs" and then hit the plus (+) icon up top. This gives you a form for entering basic information about your app. Enter a basic name (i.e., MyFirstApp for this example) and an explicit App ID suffix, which Apple recommends be done in a "reverse-domain name" style. For us, this works out to com.cnxcorp.myfirstapp. No need to change anything else, just click Continue to generate a formal ID for you app.

 

Lastly, you'll need to get two special files to process your app through the PhoneGap build process: a ".p12 certificate" file and a "mobile provisioning" file.

 

The .p12 certificate is associated with your corporate registration, so you'll only need to do this one time. The .p12 must be created from a .cer file that you download from the Apple Developer site. This is achieved by going to the Certificates section, clicking on Production, selecting your certificate, and hitting Download. If you're using a Mac, you can then open up the downloaded .cer in your KeyChain app and export it as a .p12 document. For Windows users, it's slightly more involved and requires downloading an Open SSL utility, but you can find many how-to examples on the Internet.

 

To get the mobile provisioning file, click on Distribution under the Provisioning Profiles section; then choose In House as your distribution type. When you hit Continue, it will ask you which App ID you're distributing, at which point you'll select the App ID you just created. Hit Continue again and select the certificate (you should have only one). Hit Continue once more, give the app a profile name (i.e., MyFirstApp), and finally generate the mobile provisioning profile.

 

With the .p12 and .mobileprovision files in hand, you're ready to proceed to the build process.

Making Your PC Work as a Local Web Server

For some of the following steps, you'll need a local Web server running on your PC. You can tell if you have one operating by typing localhost in your Web browser URL and seeing if anything comes up. If not, you likely need to install and/or start the server, the process for which will vary depending on your type of computer and which operating system you're using. On Windows, you may find it easiest to activate Internet Information Server (IIS), but there are many other choices available as well. On my Mac running Mountain Lion (OSX 10.8), I typically go to a command line (via the Terminal app) and type sudo apachectl start to get my built-in Apache Server running.

 

It'll be important that you know the location in your file directory from which the Web server is serving its files. On my Mac, it's serving from /Library/WebServer/Documents, and this is where I'll be working from as I proceed through the subsequent steps. I will be referring to this as the "root" path.

Installing Sencha Touch and Sencha Command

Another prerequisite for this process is to install Sencha Touch on your PC, if it's not already there. Sencha Touch is available for free for open-source projects and is a great framework for developing cross-platform mobile apps. Even without knowing anything about using this framework, you should still be able to follow these steps and get a crude app working on your phone (you can learn the nitty-gritty of the development process later). So download the zip file from the Sencha Website and unzip it in your Web server's root path.

 

092513Swansonfigure2 Download Sencha Touch

Figure 2: Download Sencha Touch 2.2.1.

 

In conjunction with Sencha Touch, you'll also need to install Sencha Command, as this tool will be used to generate the app. Read up on the process at http://docs.sencha.com/touch/2.2.1/#!/guide/command. Then, scroll down to the System Setup section and follow the instructions.

 

With these prerequisite steps behind you, you're ready to build and deploy your first app. The following four steps will give you the rote process for pushing an app out to an iPhone.

 

Step 1: Create Your App Shell

The first step is to create the shell for your app. This shell will serve as the template for your app, to which you can come back later and add more functionality as you learn the ins and outs of Sencha Touch.

 

From a command line on your PC, go to the directory of your newly installed "touch" folder (in my case, cd /Library/WebServer/Documents/touch-2.2.1) and then type sencha generate app MyFirstApp [path]/MyFirstApp. The path can be anywhere on your PC, but it should be somewhere that can be served to your browser by your local Web server. So in my case I used Library/WebServer/Documents as my path.

 

Next, verify everything is working on your PC by launching your shell app in a WebKit-enabled browser (such as Google Chrome). You should see something like this:

 

092513Swansonfigure3 Run MyFirstApp

Figure 3: MyFirstApp is now running in your browser.

 

Not much to this app, of course. But this gives you a great starting point for building on to the app later. For now, we'll leave it like this and move on to the packaging process.

 

Step 2: Package It

When you "package" your app, you're basically preparing your source files so they're ready for distribution to mobile devices. We'll use Sencha Command to do this step, which will result in a folder containing just the pieces necessary to run this app. That can mean a substantial reduction in file size (in this case, a 25-to-1 reduction).


So go back to the command line on your PC and navigate to the root of your app folder (i.e., cd /Library/WebServer/Documents/MyFirstApp). From within that folder, run the following command:

 

sencha app build production

 

Note: You could also do "sencha app build testing" to create a larger distribution file with debugging functions, which goes beyond the scope of this article, but it's good to know for future reference.

 

If all goes as expected with the build command, you should see a new production folder in build/MyFirstApp like this:

 

092513Swansonfigure4 After Sencha Build

Figure 4: New folders will appear after the build process completes.

 

This production directory should be zipped down so it can be uploaded as a single file to PhoneGap Build in the next step.

 

Step 3: Build It

PhoneGap is the key to getting your mobile Web apps deployed as standalone apps that will work on multiple platforms. PhoneGap Build is the online tool we'll be using here to convert your packaged files from step 2 into an app you can upload to your iPhone (or just about any other smartphone or mobile device, for that matter).

 

Navigate over to the PhoneGap Build site, click on Get Started, and select the free plan. You'll need to create an account, which PhoneGap steps you through quite nicely. We recommend registering through GitHub, as you'll likely be using GitHub in the future for pulling in source for your apps (though you won't need it for the steps we're doing here).

 

Once registered and logged in with PhoneGap Build, you'll be presented a page from which you can start packaging your app for deployment. Simply click on the New App button, select the Private tab, and then upload the zip file of your app. Once uploaded, you can click on the app to see the six platforms PhoneGap Build will build to. Select the drop-down box beside the iOS to apply your "key" for the app. This is where you upload the .p12 and .mobileprovision files generated from the Apple Developer site. Once this is done, you can proceed to build the app. As PhoneGap Build churns through the build process, you should see a screen like this:

 

092513Swansonfigure5 PhoneGap Build

Figure 5: PhoneGap Build is crunching on MyFirstApp.

 

When the "pending" in the iOS section turns into an "ipa" download button, then you're where you need to be, and you're ready to deploy the app to your users.

 

Step 4: Deploy It

The final step is to get the app out to your users' devices. As we're bypassing the App Store for this process, you'll need a company server from which your users can download the app directly to their phones. For sake of brevity, I'm going to assume you already have a server available for this purpose. If you don't have one, see this accompanying blog post for instructions on setting up your IBM i to distribute apps using the free Valence Framework.

 

There are three files required to allow users to download the app to their iPhones:

(1)  The .ipa file created via PhoneGap Build in step 3

(2)  A .plist file for configuring the install

(3)  A simple .html file to which users can navigate to start the install

 

As a starting point, I recommend creating a directory named the same as your app (MyFirstApp). Place your .ipa file into this directory and then create a MyFirstApp.plist file and an install.html file. The code for these files is listed below:

 

<?xml version="1.0"   encoding="UTF-8"?>

<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD   PLIST 1.0//EN"   "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">

<plist version="1.0">

   <dict>

       <key>items</key>

         <array>

           <dict>

               <key>assets</key>

               <array>

                   <dict>

                       <key>kind</key>

                       <string>software-package</string>

                       <key>url</key>

                       <string>http://MyServerPath/MyFirstApp/MyFirstApp.ipa</string>

                   </dict>

               </array>

               <key>metadata</key>

               <dict>

                   <key>bundle-identifier</key>

                   <string>com.cnxcorp.myfirstapp</string>

                   <key>kind</key>

                   <string>software</string>

                   <key>title</key>

                   <string>MyFirstApp</string>

               </dict>

           </dict>

         </array>

   </dict>

</plist>

Figure 6: This is your code for MyFirstApp.plist.

 

<html>

<body style="font-size:4em;">

<a   href="itms-services://?action=download-manifest& url=http://MyServerPath/MyFirstApp/MyFirstApp.plist">Install   MyFirstApp</a>

</body>

</html>

Figure 7: This is your code for install.html.

 

Be sure to replace the bolded text with values specific to your install. Specifically:

  • In both files, replace the      MyServerPath strings with the appropriate path to your .ipa file.
  • In the plist file, replace the      bundle-identifier (com.cnxcorp.myfirstapp) with the ID you used in      creating your Apple ID.

 

With these steps done, you should be able to point users to the URL serving these files, and your users can install the app onto their devices.

 

092513Swansonfigure8 Install Run MyFirstApp

Figure 8: With step 4 completed, you can navigate to a simple installation link on your iPhone (left). Once installed, the new app can be executed as if it were downloaded from the App Store (right).

Next Steps…

With the packaging and deployment process worked out, you're now free to start developing out your Sencha Touch app and publishing updates for download by re-running through steps 2 and 3 above. If you're not already familiar with Sencha Touch, the shell app created in step 1 is a great foundation for honing your mobile app development skills. Getting your standalone app to interface with your IBM i will be fodder for a future article.

 

Robert Swanson

Robert Swanson has worked as a developer on IBM i (and its predecessors of various names) since 1992, with an early emphasis on extending legacy ERP functionality beyond traditional office settings and into shop floor environments, where computer terminals tended to be less conventional.

 

With a background in industrial engineering, Rob spent many years championing the concept of weaning manufacturing and distribution operations from "off-line" reports and spreadsheets to real-time IBM i-based applications that enabled plant workers to interact electronically with office personnel. As the web world evolved and matured, the medium of choice has gradually switched from green-screen programs to browser-based applications.

 

Now a Senior Partner at CNX Corporation in Chicago, Rob works as an advocate for introducing Web 2.0-style desktop and mobile apps to IBM i shops, not only to increase user productivity but to bolster the image of IBM i as a world-class application server. CNX is behind the Valence Web Framework for IBM i, available for free download to the IBM i community as a tool for RPG programmers to interface their programs with Ext JS and Sencha Touch-based front ends. 

 

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    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericToo much paper is wasted. Attempts to locate documents in endless filing cabinets.And distributing documents is expensive and takes up far too much time.
    These are just three common reasons why it might be time for your company to implement a paperless document management system.
    Watch the webinar to learn more and discover how easy it can be to:

    • Capture
    • Manage
    • And distribute documents digitally

     

  • IBM i: It’s Not Just AS/400

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic

    IBM’s Steve Will talks AS/400, POWER9, cognitive systems, and everything in between

    Are there still companies that use AS400? Of course!

    IBM i was built on the same foundation.
    Watch this recorded webinar with IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will and IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington to gain a unique perspective on the direction of this platform, including:

    • IBM i development strategies in progress at IBM
    • Ways that Watson will shake hands with IBM i
    • Key takeaways from the AS/400 days

     

  • Ask the RDi Experts

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericWatch this recording where Jim Buck, Susan Gantner, and Charlie Guarino answered your questions, including:

    • What are the “hidden gems” in RDi that can make me more productive?
    • What makes RDi Debug better than the STRDBG green screen debugger?
    • How can RDi help me find out if I’ve tested all lines of a program?
    • What’s the best way to transition from PDM to RDi?
    • How do I convince my long-term developers to use RDi?

    This is a unique, online opportunity to hear how you can get more out of RDi.

     

  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using NodeRun.com as a pre-built development environment

     

     

  • Inside the Integrated File System (IFS)

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.

     

  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.