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The Midrange Manager: More About Field Names

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In the last issue, I wrote about field-naming conventions in your database files. I got a number of letters concerning this, and a few people posted comments in our online forums.

Thank you for taking the time to write in. Believe me, I read every one of these forums postings as well as the email you send me.

It appears to me that the issue of naming conventions is much deeper than database fields. There are the fields in the programs themselves, work fields, local fields, global fields, parameters, fields from a data area, and the list goes on.

While we all have our own view on field names, a recent conversation on an RPG IV list server that I monitor spawned an idea that, at first, was simply a matter of taste. But truth be told, it's really a serious issue.

That idea has become the Blue Ribbon Campaign Against @ # $ in Field Names.

This campaign may seem silly, but those three characters that are so widely used in RPG code are probably one of the biggest challenges to a shop when they have to go international. Many other national language character sets do not support these characters. In fact, many RPG programs won't even compile on other machines if these symbols are used in the source code. So it can be a real problem.

I would like to propose that you evaluate the use of these three symbols in your shops. There is no reason to continue to use such symbols that have no inherent meeting. Oh sure, the programmer who wrote the code knows that if a field name has a pound sign in the second position, it is a work field. But come on, do we still write code for ourselves, or do we write it for the person who has to come in after us and make changes?

RPG IV supports 10-position field names in the database, display, and printer files. Outside of those three areas, RPG IV supports 14-position field names for all areas of the language and even longer field names for some of the newer components (such as the EVAL opcode and the free-format specifications).

There is no reason to use a @ # $ in a field name today. Take the following example field name from a reader:


This was described as a local variable in a subprocedure, a work field holding the Amount value. I somehow believe that people who come up with these kinds of naming conventions were always perplexed as to why we needed 80 columns on those old punch cards when they could get it done in 40 columns.

But seriously, how could you make this more understandable to a follow-on programmer? How about naming the field something like this?


You still have that "L" in front of it, the underscore is an internationally recognized character, and the world AMOUNT is arguably more clear. If you don't like the underscore, leave it out.

This Blue Ribbon Campaign Against @ # $ in Field Names is an interesting idea. So what I'm going to do is run a contest for the campaign logo. Here are the rules:

Submit your idea (in final form or nearly final form) to me no later than July 5, 2003. Send the entries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. All entries must be text-only, graphical, or a combination of both. All entries become the property of MC Press, LLC and may be used in future publications and promotions. I will select the top three or four best entries and submit them to the readership of this newsletter for a vote. The winner will have the honor of being the one who designed the logo, and I will throw in a free copy of the new edition of The Modern RPG IV Language, Third Edition as an incentive. But hurry; you don't want to waste your Fourth of July weekend working on this stupid idea.

Bob Cozzi has been programming in RPG since 1978. Since then, he has written many articles and several books, including The Modern RPG IV Language--the most widely used RPG reference manual in the world. Bob is also a very popular speaker at industry events such as COMMON and RPG World and is the author of his own Web site, www.rpgiv.com, and of the RPG ToolKit, an add-on library for RPG IV programmers.


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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