The CL Corner: Reduce Those Annoying Substring Operations

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It's simple if you use *Defined storage.


A pet peeve of mine is going into a CL program to make some modifications and then encountering long sequences of Change Variable (CHGVAR) commands utilizing %substring operations in order to access, and then update, data stored in the local data area (LDA). The approach of using the LDA for program-to-program communication is, in many companies, done as an alternative to passing parameters to called or submitted programs. And over the years many of these companies have developed standards addressing how the LDA is laid out for this form of communication. Actual usage of the LDA, however, is often left to the individual developer in terms of implementation. In this article, we will review one possible approach to improve programming productivity when using the LDA.


For discussion purposes, we'll have a simple CL program that prompts the user for which of three reports to run. In addition to specifying what report to run, the user provides "from" and "to" dates for the content of the report and can choose to either run the report for a default state and company or override the state and company to be used for the report. The display file used, named LDA_DSPF, is shown below and can be created with the command CRTDSPF LDA_DSPF.



                R PROMPT                                           

                  DEVICE        10   O  1  2                      

                  USER          10   O  1 13                      

                  DIVISION      40   O  1 24                      

                                        1 71DATE                  


                                        2 35'Some Report'         

                                        2 71TIME                  

                                        4  2'State . . . . . .'   

                  STATE          2   B  4 20                      

                                        5  2'Company . . . . .'   

                  COMPANY        3   B  5 20                      

                                        7  2'Option  . . . . .'   

                  OPTION         1   I  7 20VALUES('1' '2' '3')   


                                        9  2'From (MMDDYYYY) .'     

                  FROMDATE       8   I  9 20                        

                                       10  2'To (MMDDYYYY) . .'     

                  TODATE         8   I 10 20                        

                                       23  2'F3=Exit'               


The values for many of the fields used for the display file can be found in the LDA of the job. The company has, for instance, defined some of the following fields to be available through the LDA (in reality, there are often many, many more):


Data                              Start Pos        Length        Data type

Device name                             1             10         Character

User name                              11             10         Character

Division name                          26             40         Character

Reporting organization                196              2         Character

Year                                  230              4         Character

State                                 234              2         Character

Company                               236              3         Character

Order invoice                         239              6         Character

From date (MMDDYYYY)                  301              8         Character

To date (MMDDYYYY)                    309              8         Character


Traditionally, the developer may have written the CL application program, named LDA_TRAD, as shown below.




DclF       File(LDA_DSPF)                            


ChgVar     Var(&Device)   Value(%sst(*LDA   1 10))   

ChgVar     Var(&User)     Value(%sst(*LDA  11 10))   

ChgVar     Var(&Division) Value(%sst(*LDA  26 40))   

ChgVar     Var(&State)    Value(%sst(*LDA 234  2))   

ChgVar     Var(&Company)  Value(%sst(*LDA 236  3))   


SndRcvF    RcdFmt(Prompt)                            

DoWhile    Cond(*not &IN03)                          


           /* Various edit checks on user input */   

           /* If all is OK, then run the report */   


           ChgVar Var(%sst(*LDA 234 2)) Value(&State)     

           ChgVar Var(%sst(*LDA 236 3)) Value(&Company)   

           ChgVar Var(%sst(*LDA 301 8)) Value(&FromDate)  

           ChgVar Var(%sst(*LDA 309 8)) Value(&ToDate)    



              When Cond(&Option = '1') Then( +            

                   Call Pgm(A))                           

              When Cond(&Option = '2') Then( +            

                   SbmJob Cmd(Call Pgm(B)))               

              When Cond(&Option = '3') Then(Do)           

                   Call Pgm(C)                             

                   Call Pgm(D)                            



           SndRcvF RcdFmt(Prompt)                          




The program, after declaring the LDA_DSPF display file, accesses five fields from the LDA—device name, user name, the name of the division the report is being run for, the state most recently used by the user, and the company within the division that the report is for—and loads these values into the variables used by the display file. Other fields available in the LDA—for instance, the current year and most recent invoice number—are not used. The program then prompts the user for how the report should be run, validates that the values entered meet certain criteria (not shown), stores the selections in the LDA, and then either calls or submits to batch the appropriate report-writing program.


A rather straightforward program, but it would be easy to also introduce mistakes when first writing (or later maintaining) this program. The use of substring start positions (such as 236 for the company ID) and substring lengths (3 bytes, starting at position 236, for the company ID) with each CHGVAR command provides one obvious place where errors could be made. The risk of these types of mistakes can, of course, be mitigated by copying previous tested CHGVAR commands from another program (rather than actually typing in the start and length values). I often find, though, that program variable names can differ quite a bit. For instance LDA_TRAD uses the variable &Company to hold the contents of positions 236 through 238 of the LDA, but other programs may refer to this data as &CompCode, &CmpnyCode, or &CompanyNbr. This difference in naming is certainly nothing overwhelming to developers wanting to copy select CHGVAR commands, but it has the potential for slowing them down a bit. A developer, of course, also needs to locate these five specific CHGVARs within the various existing CL application programs that might be using these fields (along with LDA-based fields, such as Year, that aren't need by LDA_TRAD).


Rather than accessing the LDA as shown above, where start and length values are specified with the CHGVAR command, wouldn't it be more productive to just have one set of tested LDA definitions? Definitions with meaningful and consistent CL variable names associated with them? Needless to say, you can.


I have, in previous articles, discussed the use of *Defined storage in the context of working with structured data such as that found with many system APIs. Structured data can exist, though, in many areas of the system. The LDA, for our sample company and its application standards for LDA usage, can certainly be thought of as a form of structured data. If you have standards within your organization on how the LDA is used, you could, using the CL-defined storage capabilities introduced in V5R4, write and test one set of definitions that can be shared by your developers. Using the LDA definition previously shown for our sample application, you could for instance use *Defined storage to provide the following Declare CL Variable (DCL) definitions:


Dcl        Var(&LDA)        Type(*Char) Len(1024)       

  Dcl      Var(&LDA_DevNam) Type(*Char) Len(10) +       

             Stg(*Defined)  DefVar(&LDA 1)              

  Dcl      Var(&LDA_UsrNam) Type(*Char) Len(10) +        

             Stg(*Defined)  DefVar(&LDA 11)             

  Dcl      Var(&LDA_DivNam) Type(*Char) Len(40) +       

             Stg(*Defined)  DefVar(&LDA 26)             

  Dcl      Var(&LDA_RepOrg) Type(*Char) Len(2) +        

             Stg(*Defined)  DefVar(&LDA 196)            

  Dcl      Var(&LDA_Year)   Type(*Char) Len(4) +        

             Stg(*Defined)  DefVar(&LDA 230)            

  Dcl      Var(&LDA_State)  Type(*Char) Len(2) +        

             Stg(*Defined)  DefVar(&LDA 234)                 

  Dcl      Var(&LDA_Cmpny)  Type(*Char) Len(3) +             

             Stg(*Defined)  DefVar(&LDA 236)                 

  Dcl      Var(&LDA_Order)  Type(*Char) Len(6) +             

             Stg(*Defined)  DefVar(&LDA 239)                  

  Dcl      Var(&LDA_FrmDat) Type(*Char) Len(8) +             

             Stg(*Defined)  DefVar(&LDA 301)                 

  Dcl      Var(&LDA_ToDat)  Type(*Char) Len(8) +             

             Stg(*Defined)  DefVar(&LDA 309)                  


Here, we define the CL variable &LDA to represent the entire 1024 bytes of the LDA. You could of course define a smaller &LDA if your company is using only the first n bytes of the LDA. Then, using defined storage, subfields of &LDA are declared. For instance, the CL variable &LDA_Cmpny is defined as the three bytes of &LDA starting at position 236. This in turn enables the developer to set the display file field &Company with the following Change Variable command:


ChgVar     Var(&Company)  Value(&LDA_Cmpny)                  


And, prior to calling or submitting the report-writing program, change the appropriate LDA value to the user-selected company with a similar command:


ChgVar     Var(&LDA_Cmpny)  Value(&Company)


Not exactly earth shattering, but certainly easier to understand (and write) than the equivalent


ChgVar     Var(&Company)  Value(%sst(*LDA 236  3))




ChgVar     Var(%sst(*LDA 236 3)) Value(&Company)


Assuming that you have stored the previous &LDA-related declares in a source member named LDA_CP, you could then utilize them in the new program LDA_NEW as shown below.




Include    SrcMbr(LDA_CP)         


DclF       File(LDA_DSPF)                                  


RtvDtaAra  DtaAra(*LDA)   RtnVar(&LDA)                     

ChgVar     Var(&Device)   Value(&LDA_DevNam)                

ChgVar     Var(&User)     Value(&LDA_UsrNam)               

ChgVar     Var(&Division) Value(&LDA_DivNam)               

ChgVar     Var(&State)    Value(&LDA_State)                

ChgVar     Var(&Company)  Value(&LDA_Cmpny)                


SndRcvF    RcdFmt(Prompt)                           

DoWhile    (*not &IN03)                             


           /* Various edit checks on user input */  

           /* If all is OK, then run the report */  


           ChgVar Var(&LDA_State)  Value(&State)    

           ChgVar Var(&LDA_Cmpny)  Value(&Company)  

           ChgVar Var(&LDA_FrmDat) Value(&FromDate) 

           ChgVar Var(&LDA_ToDat)  Value(&ToDate)   

           ChgDtaAra DtaAra(*LDA)  Value(&LDA)  



              When Cond(&Option = '1') Then( +      

                   Call Pgm(A))                     

              When Cond(&Option = '2') Then( +      

                   SbmJob Cmd(Call Pgm(B)))         

              When Cond(&Option = '3') Then(Do)     

                   Call Pgm(C)                     

                   Call Pgm(D)                     



           SndRcvF RcdFmt(Prompt)                   





These are the changes in LDA_NEW, relative to LDA_TRAD:


  • Use of the Include (INCLUDE) command to imbed the LDA_CP source member at compile time. Note that this command became available with V6R1, so if you are on V5R4, you will need to copy the source of LDA_CP into your source program using your editor of choice.


  • Use of the Retrieve Data Area (RTVDTAARA) command to retrieve the current contents of the LDA to variable &LDA. Note that you could also use the CHGVAR command to retrieve the LDA values to &LDA; it's your choice.


  • Changing the various CHGVAR commands from LDA substring references to simple CL variable name references.


  • Use of the Change Data Area (CHGDTAARA) command to update the LDA prior to calling or submitting the appropriate report-writing application program. As with the previous RTVDTAARA usage, you could elect to update the LDA using a command such as


      ChgVar Var(%sst(*LDA 1 1024)) Value(&LDA)


In return for these changes, you end up with more consistent application programs and program source that is easier to write, debug, maintain, and review.

More CL Questions?

Wondering how to accomplish a function in CL? Send your CL-related questions to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I'll try to answer your burning questions in future columns.

as/400, os/400, iseries, system i, i5/os, ibm i, power systems, 6.1, 7.1, V7,


Bruce Vining

Bruce Vining is president and co-founder of Bruce Vining Services, LLC, a firm providing contract programming and consulting services to the System i community. He began his career in 1979 as an IBM Systems Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri, and then transferred to Rochester, Minnesota, in 1985, where he continues to reside. From 1992 until leaving IBM in 2007, Bruce was a member of the System Design Control Group responsible for OS/400 and i5/OS areas such as System APIs, Globalization, and Software Serviceability. He is also the designer of Control Language for Files (CLF).A frequent speaker and writer, Bruce can be reached at 

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    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.



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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.