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Weaving WebSphere: The Data Perspective

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"Data is not information, Information is not knowledge, Knowledge is not understanding, Understanding is not wisdom."
--Cliff Stoll and Gary Schubert

In the past, I've often tried to explain the difference between data and information. It's especially important these days as we see more and more tools designed to show data, usually in a browser. The difference is in how much business logic you can put into place: A person's hire date is data, but how long he's worked for the company is information. Different tools allow different levels of business logic to be included.

I intend to tell you about the Data Perspective of the WDSc tool, while also introducing a number of other tools for displaying data (and in some cases, information). In this article, I'll touch on...



  • DSPPFM
  • DSPF
  • UPDDTA
  • Query/400
  • Query Management
  • STRSQL
  • WRKDBF
  • iSeries Navigator
  • WDSc's Data Perspective
  • Open-source alternatives

 

The Green-Screen Data Display Tools

If all you need is to dump the contents of a table, you already have a number of green-screen tools at your fingertips.

Raw Data Dumps

One of the oldest OS/400 commands and one of the newest can be used to dump raw data to the screen. DSPPFM is the older command, and as such it understands the concept of records. It will show all the data in a file in a nice subfile display, one line per record. You can see the data in character representation, hex, or both. DSPF is one of the newer OS/400 tools, and it sees everything as stream files, much as UNIX utilities do. Since DSPF's focus is on the IFS, it expects files to have EOR (end of record) information like CR/LF. Because DB2/400 files don't have such information, you can get some strange results if you use DSPF on a typical database file in the QSYS file system. And unlike DSPPFM, DSPF has an update-capable cousin known as EDTF; I suggest you never use EDTF on a QSYS file.

The Old Standby

UPDDTA is a long-standing utility that has gone through a number of name changes. You might recognize this command as DFU (Data File Utility). If you run UPDDTA on a file, it will build a default display that will then allow you to add, change, and delete records.

Query/400 and Query Manager

Query/400 is a perfect tool for making reports of simple to moderate complexity. As long as you can live within its processing and formatting constraints, you can do some pretty cool stuff. This is the first tool that lets you start turning data into information by providing a little business logic, selecting records based on their contents, summing, averaging, and all that sort of stuff. It lets you select level breaks and the associated text, and you can even create derived fields.

One level higher than Query/400 is Query Manager. It is entirely SQL-based, so its query and calculation capabilities are more powerful, and it also gives you more control over the report formatting.

I still get a little confused about the difference between Query Management and Query Manager. Query Management is included with the base operating system and is the runtime support for Query Management queries. With Query Management, you can place a single SQL statement in a source physical file and use CRTQMQRY to create a QMQRY object and then STRQMQRY to run the query, using the QMQRY object you created. You can also retrieve QMQRY objects from Query/400 queries using the RTVQMQRY and RTVQMFORM commands.

Query Manager is a user interface to Query Management that allows a user to develop Query Management queries in a manner similar to working with Query/400 queries. It provides a "wizard"-style interface to the QMQRY source members. Query Manager is not free, but it is part of the 5722ST1 product (Query Manager and SQL Development Toolkit). The SQL pre-processor also requires 5722ST1, so if you're compiling (not just running!) programs with embedded SQL (SQLRPG or SQLRPGLE), you also have Query Manager.

STRSQL

Query Manager leads us right into STRSQL. STRSQL is the OS/400 command that gives you direct access to the SQL command-line interface. When you execute the STRSQL command, you are presented with what is essentially a new command line. This command line, though, understands SQL statements. You can type in almost any SQL statement you want and see the results. There are limitations; you can only execute single-statement commands such as UPDATE and SELECT. No cursors allowed.

On the positive side, F13 (function key 13) brings up a display with a number of session attributes, many of which are iSeries-specific. For example, you can easily select the sort sequence to treat uppercase and lowercase letters the same (this can be a lifesaver). You can also direct the output of a SELECT statement to a printer or an output file, rather than the screen. I could devote entire columns to STRSQL, but that's not the purpose of today's column. I hope these couple of paragraphs will whet your appetite enough to do some research on your own.

WRKDBF

This free utility is one if the gems of the iSeries world. Those who know it love it and are continually impressed by the huge heart of the tool's author, Bill Reger. WRKDBF is a really powerful database display tool that combines the capabilities of UPDDTA and STRSQL with the ease of use of DSPPFM. Simply type in WRKDBF MYLIB/MYFILE, and you can edit, copy, and delete records or execute SQL statements on the fly. And it's free. If you don't already have this great utility, visit the WRKDBF Web page and get yourself a copy.

A little side note: I hear a lot of complaining in the mailing lists and so on about how IBM doesn't do this and iSeries programmers don't do that and therefore the iSeries is going to fail as a platform. If the people who spent all that time complaining did like Bill and turned that energy into something positive and then gave to the community something as creative and helpful as this utility, we'd be in a lot better shape. In a lot of ways, that's what the open source community is about, and it's something that's sorely lacking in the iSeries world. So, if you see someone griping, tell 'em to do something positive. And if you see someone doing something positive, please bring it to my attention either in the forums or in email, and I'll be sure to mention it here and on the IAAI Web site.

Out of the Green-Screen and Into the GUI

As you can see, you have a plethora of green-screen tools to access data on your iSeries. Now, I'll introduce a couple of GUI tools that help you do the same.

iSeries Navigator

iSeries Navigator is the tool people love to hate. It's a GUI for iSeries administration that continues to evolve. Some people complain that the interface is a thick client and is somewhat slow and clunky. I've seen the agility of the interface increase with each release, and as of V5R3, IBM has even added a Web interface to the tool. To find out more about the V5R3 version of iSeries Navigator, you can start with this excellent article by Greg Hintermeister of IBM.

But even now iSeries Navigator has a lot of features. I'll focus on the one most important to this particular column, which is the database access. To access data on the iSeries, you select the Database entry under the appropriate iSeries connection. Once you've done that, you can access libraries and, in turn, the files within those libraries. A simple double-click on a file gives the results in Figure 1.

http://www.mcpressonline.com/articles/images/2002/050206%20-%20DataV4--02140500.jpg

Figure 1: This is the default view of the file QCUSTCDT in QIWS. (Click images to enlarge.)

You can also execute SQL scripts, as shown in Figure 2.

http://www.mcpressonline.com/articles/images/2002/050206%20-%20DataV4--02140501.jpg

Figure 2: iSeries Navigator also allows you to run an SQL statement and see the results.

WDSc's Data Perspective

This being the "Weaving WebSphere" column, this should be the centerpiece of the article. Unfortunately, the Data Perspective of WDSc just doesn't have that much functionality. In its default state, the Data Perspective is largely unfinished. You can access a table and dump the contents, but that's about it, and even that takes a little bit of doing. This is because, unlike iSeries Navigator, which is focused on the iSeries, the WDSc Data Perspective allows you to connect to just about any type of database. Thus, before you even start, you need to fill in a wizard with a bunch of information about the location and type of the data you wish to access and the method (the JDBC driver) you want to use to access it. Figure 3 shows the setup screen.

http://www.mcpressonline.com/articles/images/2002/050206%20-%20DataV4--02140502.png

Figure 3: WDSc's Data Perspective requires some information before you get started.

More than that, though, is the fact that the Data Perspective really doesn't have much in the way of features. Even after you access a DB2/400 database, all you'll see is the tables, which represent the physical files, as shown in Figure 4.

http://www.mcpressonline.com/articles/images/2002/050206%20-%20DataV4--02140503.png

Figure 4: Most of the folders in the DB Servers view are empty and non-functional.

Even though there are a bunch of folders named "Aliases" and "Triggers" and so on, none of them actually work. They don't pull anything down from the host. You can import a schema from the host into a project, but even then you are severely limited. Just for the fun of it, I tried to create a new stored procedure, and I received the message, "This option is disabled." After a little more futzing around, I got the message, "To use this feature, you must install the DB2 Application Development Client." Well, I've never heard of the DB2 Application Development Client; evidently, this is something that non-iSeries DB2 developers need. Apparently, in order to use WDSc with my iSeries database, I have to purchase additional non-iSeries tools. This seriously reduces the usefulness of the tool, in my opinion.

It's fairly late in the article cycle to get input from IBM on this. Frankly, I didn't dream that I'd run into something like this, so I left this part of the article (what I thought would be the fun part!) until the end. I'll request some clarification from the powers that be and then post a follow-up in the forum. Keep an eye out for updates.

One Last Bullet in the Gun: Open-Source SQL Clients

Interestingly, the very weakness that causes a thumbs down for WDSc for the time being turns out to be a gateway to another concept that might have some very cool ramifications. I hope that WDSc will someday allow us to do all the database design we need, including triggers and UDFs and all the advanced relational database features. In the meantime, there is some hope, at least from the query side, which is what this column is about.

WDSc provides a JDBC driver that will access DB2/400 data (this driver is also available as part of the JTOpen Java Toolkit). Since a JDBC driver exists, that means Java programs can access DB2/400 like they would any other database. That being the case, there are quite a few open-source database query programs (they're typically called "SQL clients"). Any one of these should, in conjunction with the appropriate JDBC driver, allow you to access your iSeries data.

I've had some problems with a couple of these in the past, so I chose other routes to access my data (primarily STRSQL, iSeries Navigator, and occasionally exporting to XML). But even though I can't personally recommend any of them, I can at least point you to a whole slew of open-source SQL clients. Use them in conjunction with the JDBC drivers above, and you should have graphical access to your DB2 data.

Wrapping It Up

Aren't you glad I managed to resist the impulse to call this section "putting it in perspective"? Anyway, it's pretty clear that there are a lot of ways to access your data. And truthfully, as SQL becomes more common, it's also easier to turn that data into information. SQL allows you to do things like date arithmetic (which solves the hire date vs. years employed issue) as well as complex joins to bring in data from other files. This is a great help when doing ad hoc queries.

And it's a good thing to learn SQL. SQL isn't just for ad hoc reporting. For a sizable segment of the inquiry and reporting requirements for a normal business, SQL can reduce your programming load. There are caveats: For example, SQL requests tend to use table and column names (file and field names) across application layers, making the application less flexible. But there are ways around that as well; maybe we'll address that in another column.

For now, enjoy the many tools at your disposal. The MC Press store has a number of books on the various subjects mentioned here. And if this article convinces you to go out and get Bill Reger's remarkable WRKDBF utility, then with that alone my work is done!

Joe Pluta is the founder and chief architect of Pluta Brothers Design, Inc. He has been working in the field since the late 1970s and has made a career of extending the IBM midrange, starting back in the days of the IBM System/3. Joe has used WebSphere extensively, especially as the base for PSC/400, the only product that can move your legacy systems to the Web using simple green-screen commands. Joe is also the author of E-Deployment: The Fastest Path to the Web, Eclipse: Step by Step, and WDSc: Step by Step. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Joe Pluta

Joe Pluta is the founder and chief architect of Pluta Brothers Design, Inc. He has been extending the IBM midrange since the days of the IBM System/3. Joe uses WebSphere extensively, especially as the base for PSC/400, the only product that can move your legacy systems to the Web using simple green-screen commands. He has written several books, including Developing Web 2.0 Applications with EGL for IBM i, E-Deployment: The Fastest Path to the Web, Eclipse: Step by Step, and WDSC: Step by Step. Joe performs onsite mentoring and speaks at user groups around the country. You can reach him at joepluta@plutabrothers.com.


MC Press books written by Joe Pluta available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

Developing Web 2.0 Applications with EGL for IBM i Developing Web 2.0 Applications with EGL for IBM i
Joe Pluta introduces you to EGL Rich UI and IBM’s Rational Developer for the IBM i platform.
List Price $39.95

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WDSC: Step by Step WDSC: Step by Step
Discover incredibly powerful WDSC with this easy-to-understand yet thorough introduction.
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    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.