Open Source Development on the IBM i: Getting Started with Ruby

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Pete Helgren lays out the basics of Ruby, a popular open source programming language for building IBM i applications

by Pete Helgren

Editor's note: This article is excerpted from chapter 6 of Open Source Starter Guide for IBM i Developers.

Most of the Ruby language constructs follow a predictable pattern that we, as programmers, are familiar with. It is the implementation of those constructs that can make the "getting started" step a bumpy ride. So, let's get on the horse and ride!


Unlike RPG and more like JavaScript (if you are familiar with it), Ruby is a dynamically typed language. That is, you don’t have to declare a type when you declare a variable.

You could assign a variable this way:

the_meaning_of_life = 42

If you do, Ruby will see the variable as a number (Fixnum class, actually). Later, you could assign the same variable to a different type:

the_meaning_of_life = 'Money, fame and fortune'

Ruby won't even blink. If you happened to capitalize the first character of the variable, Ruby will define it as a constant. And, although you can change the value of a constant, Ruby will complain about it with a warning about the change.

bash-4.2$ irb

irb(main):001:0> the_meaning_of_life = 42

=> 42

irb(main):002:0> the_meaning_of_life = 'Money, fame and fortune'

=> "Money, fame and fortune"

## Note no complaint about the change.....

irb(main):003:0> The_meaning_of_life = 42

=> 42

irb(main):004:0> The_meaning_of_life = 'Money, fame and fortune'

(irb):4: warning: already initialized constant The_meaning_of_life

(irb):3: warning: previous definition of The_meaning_of_life was here

=> "Money, fame and fortune"


We also have variables that can be of local, global, class, or instance scope.

Local scope is pretty much what you would expect, and global variables are pretty much the same in Ruby as in other languages. Each variable will have a scope that it is declared in based on its location in the code.

You probably have not come across class and instance variables either because, well, RPG isn't object-oriented, so the concept of classes and instances of classes are not part of your nomenclature in RPG. Very quickly, in most cases a class represents a template or a "mold" of what an object should look like from the standpoint of the design of variables and function. It's a prototype of what the object would look like if you created one. So, a class variable would be a variable that would hold a value across instances of that class. This could come in handy if you are creating many instances of a class and want an aggregate count or total across all instances of that class. An instance variable would be, ahem, a variable that is unique to only that instance of the class. No mystery. But the declaration of each of the variables has some convention to it:

  • Local variables: start with a lowercase letter or an underscore "_".
  • Global variables: start with a $ sign.
  • Class variables: start with a double "at" sign: @@
  • Instance variables: start with a single "at" sign: @

The best way to demonstrate how each of these work is to demonstrate them (!).

### Start with a global that will persist for the session

$aGlobalVariable = 5

## Then create a class to demonstrate class and instance differences

class Demo

## class Variable

@@classVariable = 0

      ## We need to initialize the variable or else it will be nil when we

      ## add it to itself in the add_me method. Initialization will happen when we

      ## invoke "New" on the class to create the instance  

      def initialize()

            @instanceVariable = 0


      ## a simple function to output these variables

      def add_me()

            @@classVariable += 1 # increment the class variable

            @instanceVariable += 1 # increment the instance variable


            puts "Global total is now #$aGlobalVariable"

            puts "My instance variable is now #@instanceVariable"

            puts " "


      def add_me_twice()

            ## Run this guy to see what happens to a global variable




      def output_class_var

            puts "Class total is now #@@classVariable"



# Create the class instances (objects), which will initialize the instance variable

i1 =

i2 =

# invoke the methods




i3 =


The output will be this:

Class total is now 1

Global total is now 5

My instance variable is now 1

Class total is now 2

Global total is now 5

My instance variable is now 1

Class total is now 3

Global total is now 6

My instance variable is now 2

Class total is now 3

The first invocation is predictable. Those values were set in the instance. But in the next invocation of add_me in a different instance of the class, we see the magic start to happen. Even though i2 knows nothing about i1 and what it is doing, it is affected by the method that updates the global variable. And if we create a new object instance after the class variable has been updated, we get the new total along with it, as you can see when i3 invokes the output_class_var method.

Trying to keep track of the variables and their scope can be a challenge, but what I like here is that we can use the underscore (_), dollar sign ($), at sign (@), and double at signs (@@) as part of the variable name to help us keep track of what is what. Normally, I would have to resort to using special naming conventions to remind me of the scope. This way, I can know exactly what the scope is by the name used.

Built-in Functions

At the simplest level, there are math functions:

irb(main):005:0> 1+1

=> 2

Fortunately, it can also do math correctly: 1 + 1 is 2.

Ruby math follows the correct order of precedence rule rather than the "calculator" (sequence) rules.

irb(main):006:0> 20-10*10

=> -80

Multiplication has a higher order of precedence than subtraction. And you can "force" calculations into a higher precedence by using parentheses:

irb(main):007:0> (20-10)*10

=> 100

Beyond the "primitive" math functions of add, subtract, multiply, and divide are a whole host of math functions found in the Math module, such as square root (sqrt).

irb(main):008:0> Math.sqrt(25)

=> 5.0

Or you could just include the Math module and then execute the functions directly:

irb(main):009:0> include Math

=> Object

irb(main):010:0> sqrt(25)

=> 5.0

OK. We have seen a couple of things here. We've seen the native arithmetic functions and those contributed by the Math modules (we'll be jumping into modules and classes shortly). We still have a few more commonly used features of the Ruby language that are worth exploring.


Back to the workbench that contained many items, including my underwear.

Arrays and hashes are typical containers. The RPG language has arrays, but hashes are a bit different. Let’s start with arrays. You can define them with literals using brackets ([]) or by declaring an object type: Array.

The elements do not have to all be the same type. You can mix and match:

irb(main):011:0> a = [123,'cat','bird',6,'dog']

=> [123, "cat", "bird", 6, "dog"]

irb(main):012:0> puts a[3]


So we have an array of four items, strings, and numbers and have assigned them to the variable a. From that context, we know we have an array type. Let's check that:

irb(main):013:0> a.class

=> Array

It confirms what we already know.

We can also create a new array object:

irb(main):014:0> b =

=> []

You can assign values:

irb(main):015:0> b[0]=123

=> 123

irb(main):016:0> b[1]='cat'

=> "cat"

irb(main):017:0> b[2]='bird'

=> "bird"

irb(main):018:0> b[3]=6

=> 6

irb(main):019:0> b[4]='dog'

=> "dog"

And you can output those arrays. More importantly, you can iterate through them, which is what you commonly do with arrays. Here is an example of iterating through an array:

irb(main):020:0> b.each{|i| puts i}






=> [123, "cat", "bird", 6, "dog"]

What might blow your mind a bit is the {|i| puts i} part. I know it did for me the first time I saw the syntax. What you are seeing is a "block," which is a way of defining an anonymous function or closure. In RPG, we generally define each of the functions we"ll call in the RPG program. In Ruby (and not just Ruby, but several other languages, such as JavaScript and Python), you can execute a function without naming it. So, in the example above, b, an array, has an each method that, when invoked, iterates through the array passing "each" element. Passing "each" to what? Passing to a block function, in this case. The function takes a parameter (| |), and then the rest of the function block defines what to do with that parameter puts i. A single-line function is easily represented with the { | | } syntax. But if you have a complex block, you can use the do ... end syntax, which basically defines what to "do" between do and end.

On the face of it, it's pretty simple, but you don't often see a simple block like this. Very often, blocks are passed to methods, and then things get a little more wiggy.

Take a look at something like this:

def say_stuff

yield ("Pete", "ruby")


say_stuff do |name, lang|

puts "#{name} loves to program #{lang}"


We have a method called say_stuff, which takes no parameters and has a yield method that is passing two parameters.

Below that, we have a call to the say_stuff method, which is passing a block. So what is going on here? Le's start with yield. Yield basically says, "Stop here and call whatever was passed in as a block." Frankly, at this point, the POLA (Principle of Least Astonishment) is completely broken IMHO because my head exploded the first time I tried to puzzle out the code. Ruby allows a block to be passed to any method, even if it isn't used. But, if there is a yield, then you have to pass it a block or it will raise an exception. (Well, almost. You can use the block_given? method to test to see whether a block was passed and then act accordingly.)

The other thing that strikes me as bass-ackwards in this approach is that most of the magic is in the block that is called rather than the method. So, things take a while to sink in. And here is the result:

bash-4.2$ ruby block_stuff.rb

Pete loves to program ruby

So, we invoke the say_stuff method, passing in our block (the stuff between the do and end). We run line number 2, which yields to the block passed in, passing in the two parameters that the block uses. The function in the block runs, and then the function returns, and then the method returns. Done.

You see plenty of this in Ruby, so get used to it. The Internet has many examples of blocks and methods. This example barely scrapes the surface. But my goal is to get you familiar with the language and expose you to Ruby stuff so your head stays intact, not teach you everything you need to know.


Our little trip down the array path got us diverted on to blocks. But blocks are used extensively with arrays because normally you are iterating through the array to do something with each value in the array or at least examine each value. Hashes are similar to arrays. There really isn't an equivalent data type in RPG that I can think of (a data structure, maybe). But, in principle, hashes are arrays of name-value or key-value pairs, and sometimes key:value or name:value. And the advantage to the hash design is that basically anything can be the key, so it becomes a great way to store stuff with arbitrary keys and values. In an array, your values are stored in sequential buckets. In a hash, they could be stored anywhere; you have to find it by key. That is also a disadvantage of hashes: they have no order like an array would have, so finding the value by key can be slow.

But a key-value pair is highly flexible. In fact, when we look at Rails and a few other Web technologies later on, the key-value pair will raise its head in the form of JSON. So, this isn't just an intellectual exercise; there is some goodness here!

To create a hash, you can do it two ways (just like arrays). You can use literals or use to create a "new" object of "type." Option #1 will let us use symbols and "rocket" nomenclature to assign key-value pairs:

h = {'cat'=>'unlikeable','dog'=>'best friend','horse'=>'giddy up','pig'=>'squeal!'}

And as a side note, you can use symbols for keys as well:

h = {:cat=>'unfriendly',:dog=>'best friend',:horse=>'giddy up',:pig=>'squeal'}

Option 2 is to invoke the new method on a hash object:

creatures =

And then assign the key-value pairs:


creatures['dog']='best friend'

creatures['horse']='giddy up'


How to access the values? Refer to the key, and the value will be returned. This is how to iterate though the hashes:

creatures =


creatures['dog']='best friend'

creatures['horse']='giddy up'


creatures.each {|creature,appeal| puts "#{creature} is #{appeal}" }

The result of the above code would be this:

cat is unlikeable

dog is best friend

horse is giddy up

pig is squeal!

Really it just comes down to referencing the key to return the value:

puts creatures['cat'] would output "unlikeable".

When it comes to hashes, if you can keep the concept of key-value pair in your head, you'll do fine. With simple syntax, working with hashes is a breeze, and in Ruby (and Rails in particular), you'll use a lot of them.

Peter Helgren

Peter Helgren is programmer/team lead at Bible Study Fellowship International. Pete is an experienced programmer in the ILE RPG, PHP, Java, Ruby/Rails, C++, and C# languages with more than 25 years of system 3X/AS400/iSeries/IBM i experience. He holds certifications as a GIAC certified Secure Software Programmer-Java and as an MCSE. He is currently executive vice president on the COMMON Board of Directors and is active on several COMMON committees. His passion has always been in system integration, and he focuses on open-source applications and integration activities on IBM i. Pete is a speaker/trainer in RPG modernization, open-source integration, mobile application development, Java programming, and PHP and actively blogs at

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  • 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 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.



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave 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.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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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.