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CGI RPG IV--Getting Started

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What's keeping you from doing Web-based development? Are you considering it? When I go to a client to train their staff, I'm training them on intermediate to advanced RPG IV. I teach this over a two-day period followed by a third day of hands-on lab. Lately, however, on the last day, I'm being asked to "do a little on Web development with CGI and RPG IV."

I love writing CGI RPG IV. In fact, lately, it is the only RPG IV programming I do. But what is CGI RPG IV? For that matter, what is CGI?

Overview of CGI

Nearly every Web server includes support for the Common Gateway Interface (CGI). The only exception is Apple Computer's Macintosh Web server, but it supports a technology that is somewhat similar to CGI.

In the world of movie-making, CGI stands for Computer Generated Images. But to the World Wide Web, CGI is the interface that provides a Web server with the ability to facilitate program call requests. In other words, it is the interface that allows RPG IV programs to be called as a result of pressing the Submit button on an HTML page. CGI programs can generate dynamic HTML, update databases, and do just about anything a normal program might do.

The best thing about CGI is that it is language-neutral. That is, if you only know one programming language, the odds are pretty good that it can be used for CGI programming. On AS/400 and iSeries systems, any ILE-targeted language can be used as a CGI language. This includes RPG IV, C, C++, COBOL, and even the ILE version of CL. RPG III can be used as a CGI program, but it cannot easily interface with the OS/400 CGI APIs. It is also possible, obviously, to call RPG III programs from CGI programs written in other programming languages.

What Is a CGI Program?

Filling in an HTML form with your name and address and other information seems to be an ongoing theme on most Web sites today. After the data has been typed into the form, the end user typically presses a button marked Submit. The data is sent to the Web server, and your information is forever in someone's data warehouse. But what really happens when the Submit button is pressed?

Pressing the Submit button on an HTML Web page usually causes a program on a server to be called. The Web server itself actually calls the CGI program in response to a request made by a Web browser. The Web browser gathers up the data from the HTML form and makes it available to the called program. The called program retrieves the data entered on the HTML form, processes it, and usually sends the Web server a reply. The program being called on the server is known as a CGI program.

Calling CGI Programs

CGI programs are called by the Web server, but they are requested by the Web browser. Effectively, the Web browser sends the name of the program to be called to the Web server. The Web server then calls the CGI program.

The syntax for calling a CGI program is nearly the same as typing a Web address into a Web browser. This syntax, known as URL encoding, can be either typed in by the end user to evoke a program (rarely) or embedded in an HTML page and called up by some other mechanism. The syntax to call a CGI program is as follows:

http://www.ibm.com/eserver/iseries/mycgi.pgm?USRPRF=COZZI&PWD=STARFISH

This URL-encoded string breaks down as follows:

URL Encoded String Component
Description
http://www.ibm.com
The URL of the server
/eserver/iseries/
The virtual path on the server where the file or CGI program is located. This may or may not be a real path on the server. The HTTP configuration file (on the server) can map this virtual path into whatever real path the application requires.
mycgi.pgm
The CGI Program name to be called
?USRPRF=COZZI&PWD=STARFISH
The data passed to the program. The question mark identifies the start of the parameter list. The USRPRF keyword identifies the name of the first parameter, and COZZI is the value assigned to that parameter. The ampersand (&) between the first parameter's value COZZI and the PWD keyword is a parameter separator. It identifies the start of the next parameter. In this case, the second parameter name is PWD (password), and it is assigned the value STARFISH.

A CGI program can be called by using any of the following methods. Each method uses the same URL-encoded string syntax.

  • In response to the SUBMIT button on an HTML form
  • In response to an end user clicking on a hyperlink
  • As a URL address entered directly by an end user
  • As a server-side include

When a CGI program is called in response to a Submit button request, the compete URL-encoded string is generated by the Web browser. The other methods require the programmer to build the URL-encoded string correctly.

CGI Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)

IBM OS/400 includes a set of APIs that enables RPG IV to function as a CGI programming language. Since CGI programming is based on the UNIX operating system's I/O processing, most programming languages not originating on the IBM midrange product line have CGI functionality built in. These other languages--including C, Java, and C++--can avoid utilizing many of the APIs featured in this section.

The CGI APIs provide a method of communication between a Web browser and programs, through the Web server. In addition, a few utility APIs provide additional functionality directly related to CGI programming issues. The available APIs for CGI programming include the following.

API Name
Description
QtmhGetEnv
Get a value from the CGI environment
QtmhPutEnv
Change a value in the CGI environment
QtmhRdStin
Read a string from the standard-input device (i.e., read data sent to a CGI program from an HTML form)
QtmhWrStout
Write a string to the standard-output device (i.e., write to the Web browser)
QtmhCvtDB
Convert URL-encoded string to an externally described data structure
QzhbCgiParse
Parse the data from an HTML form
QzhbCgiUtils
"Utilities" to create a full HTTP response

These APIs are referred to as bindable APIs. That is, they are procedure calls, not program calls. Consequently, in RPG IV, the CALLB or CALLP operation codes must be used to call these APIs. In addition, the API names are case-sensitive.

These APIs exist in a service program (*SRVPGM) object in OS/400. The service program name is QZHBCGI and is located in the QHTTPSVR library.

To avoid incorrectly specifying the names of the bindable APIs, named constants are often created and referenced instead of the API names themselves. This allows case-insensitive names to be specified in Factor 2 of the CALLB operation code and the EXTPROC keyword. The example that follows illustrates a set of name constants that can be used in place of the API names.

.....DName+++++++++++EUDS.......Length+TDc.Functions+++++++++++++++++++
     D cgiGetEnv                         Const('QtmhGetEnv')
     D cgiPutEnv                         Const('QtmhPutEnv')
     D cgiRdStin                         Const('QtmhRdStin')
     D cgiWrStout                        Const('QtmhWrStout')
     D cgiCvtDB                          Const('QtmhCvtDB')
     D cgiParse                          Const('QzhbCgiParse')
     D cgiUtils                          Const('QzhbCgiUtils')

One of the most frequently used interfaces is the QtmhWrStout API. This API allows you to send HTML or other source to the Web browser. Many of the things you need to send to the Web browser require a line-feed character. For example, the heading for your HTML text usually includes one of the various CGI Headers, such as Content-Type, Status, or Location. Each of these requires a line-feed character to follow them.

Unfortunately, the compiler writers didn't include any native support for CGI programming RPG IV. So even something as simple as a line-feed character needs to be embellished in RPG IV. The line-feed character translates to X'15' in RPG IV, which means concatenation is required. For example, to create "Content-type: text/html" followed by two-line feed characters, the following RPG IV statement can be used:

     C                   Eval      html = 'Content-type: text/html' + X'1515'

In all other CGI languages, the line-feed character is represented by a symbolic "escape" character. That is, if you embed a backslash followed by a lower case n, the symbol is converted into a line-feed character. If this support were provided in RPG IV, the following would be allowed:

     C                   Eval      html = 'Content-type: text/html '

By supporting this symbolic line feed, numerous concatenations can be avoided. Fortunately, I got fed up with constantly doing concatenations and wrote a wrapper API around QtmhWrStout. I call this wrapper STDOUT (Write to Standard Output).

The STDOUT procedure wraps the CGI QtmhWrStout API by allowing the caller to simply specify the HTML text to be sent to the browser without concern for embedding X'15'. It does this by scanning the input text for embedded symbols and translates them into X'15' before sending the HTML text to the QtmhWrStout API.

Syntax and Parameters

html-text-length = STDOUT( 'html-text' )

The first parameter is the HTML text to be sent to the browser. Any valid HTML may be specified. In addition, embedded symbols are automatically translated to X'15' for use by the QtmhWrStout API. The parameter is a VARYING length field, which is used to determine the true length of the data being sent to the browser. This avoids requiring the length to be specified on the STDOUT API itself.

The return value is the length of the text that was sent to the browser.

Rather than post the entire STDOUT procedure's source in this issue, I've made it available for free download as a source member (ASCII text file). To download the source code for the STDOUT procedure, follow this link.

--Bob Cozzi

Robert Cozzi

Bob Cozzi is a programmer/consultant, writer/author, and software developer. His popular RPG xTools add-on subprocedure library for RPG IV is fast becoming a standard with RPG developers. His book The Modern RPG Language has been the most widely used RPG programming book for more than a decade. He, along with others, speaks at and produces the highly popular RPG World conference for RPG programmers.


MC Press books written by Robert Cozzi available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

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    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.