RPG Academy: Database Modernization—Methodology, Part 2

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Older IBM i databases are, typically, databases only in name: They lack the relationships between tables, have duplicate information, and so on. Let’s start the cleanup process.

Modernizing the database is, most times, a tortuous and somewhat difficult process. It’s difficult to organize (there are too many variables to take into account—existing programs, external data accesses, queries, and so on), it’s difficult to justify to upper management (as this necessary process is not seen as an efficiency or profit-increasing process, sometimes it’s not easy to get the green light from the higher-ups) and finally, it’s also not easy to implement (there’s always the risk, albeit marginal if things are done correctly, of data loss or corruption). I don’t mean to discourage you, quite the contrary! However, this requires preparation, careful planning and, naturally, common sense. So let’s begin with a few important preparation steps.

Start Preparing to Tidy Up Your Database

By now, you’ve probably realized that not everything is as it should be: The file-naming conventions changed over the years, the data relations and constraints are built and enforced by the program instead of residing in the database, and so on. It’s time to start the careful and meticulous process of planning the tidying up of the database. You’ll need to follow these steps:

Define or refine your naming conventions for the future database: tables, views, constraints, and primary and foreign keys. Keep in mind that, with SQL objects, you’re not constrained by the 10-character limit. You can use up to 128 characters to name tables, views, indexes, and other SQL “things.” Just don’t forget that, if you don’t specify a shorter name, the system will create one for you—trust me, you don’t want that. Being able to assign shorter names, particularly for tables and views, is a great way to keep compatibility with the existing programs. For instance, the INVMST physical file can be converted to an SQL table named Inventory_Master, but you can create an alias for your programs to use. You can use the ALIAS SQL instruction as a way to access a specific member of a physical file in SQL, but it can also be used to “rename” a table to shorter name. That’s why you can’t lose track of the current names: You’ll need to keep them as aliases in the “new” database to maintain, at least for some time, the programs working as they did in the “old” database. In the previous example, the programs “know” INVMST, the old, shorter name of the inventory master physical file, but they won’t recognize Inventory_Master, the new, longer name that resulted from the conversion. I’ll explain this in more depth when I talk about the actual DDS-to-DDL conversion process in the next TechTip.

Here’s what I usually use for the “new” short name of the file, which will be recognizable by the existing RPG programs: PF and LF are for the first two letters of physical and logical files, respectively, followed by up to six characters that characterize the file content. For example, I’d use PFITMMST for an Item Master physical file/table. The logical files/views use the same six letters as the physical file they’re built over, and they have a numeric suffix that starts with 01 and goes up to 99. For example, I’d use LFITMMST01 for the logical file with the most commonly used key for the item master physical file. From here, you can get creative and use, for instance, JF for join files. Just make sure you are consistent and coherent in the naming conventions you use. With this, you can have the best of both worlds: Keep the existing 10-character logic, making it more coherent where and when you can and, on the other hand, use longer, user-friendlier names for your tables and views.

Create or extend your data dictionary. Define standard data types and lengths for “kinds of data,” such as amounts, dates, and coefficients. This will help in the future when you need to create new tables or columns. You should also document the naming standards and abbreviations that you’ll be using in the “new” database. The Modernizing Data Access Roadmap redbook offers a few interesting suggestions, in section 4.1.3, on establishing naming conventions for SQL objects. Actually, the whole book is a must-read!

Ready, Go!

Once you have all of this ready, you can (finally) start converting the DDS files to DDL. That’ll be the topic of the next TechTip of this series. Until then, feel free to talk about your own experience, naming conventions, and other stuff that can help the community, either in the Comments section below or the usual LinkedIn groups where these TechTips usually end up.

Rafael Victoria-Pereira

Rafael Victória-Pereira has more than 20 years of IBM i experience as a programmer, analyst, and manager. Over that period, he has been an active voice in the IBM i community, encouraging and helping programmers transition to ILE and free-format RPG. Rafael has written more than 100 technical articles about topics ranging from interfaces (the topic for his first book, Flexible Input, Dazzling Output with IBM i) to modern RPG and SQL in his popular RPG Academy and SQL 101 series on and in his books Evolve Your RPG Coding and SQL for IBM i: A Database Modernization Guide. Rafael writes in an easy-to-read, practical style that is highly popular with his audience of IBM technology professionals.

Rafael is the Deputy IT Director - Infrastructures and Services at the Luis Simões Group in Portugal. His areas of expertise include programming in the IBM i native languages (RPG, CL, and DB2 SQL) and in "modern" programming languages, such as Java, C#, and Python, as well as project management and consultancy.

MC Press books written by Rafael Victória-Pereira available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

Evolve Your RPG Coding: Move from OPM to ILE...and Beyond Evolve Your RPG Coding: Move from OPM to ILE...and Beyond
Transition to modern RPG programming with this step-by-step guide through ILE and free-format RPG, SQL, and modernization techniques.
List Price $79.95

Now On Sale

Flexible Input, Dazzling Output with IBM i Flexible Input, Dazzling Output with IBM i
Uncover easier, more flexible ways to get data into your system, plus some methods for exporting and presenting the vital business data it contains.
List Price $79.95

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SQL for IBM i: A Database Modernization Guide SQL for IBM i: A Database Modernization Guide
Learn how to use SQL’s capabilities to modernize and enhance your IBM i database.
List Price $79.95

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