What Does IBM Need to Do with RPG?

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

I never thought I'd see the day when I felt that IBM needed to slow down its development of RPG IV, but that day has come.

All the traditional languages--such as COBOL, FORTAN, and PL/I--have had enhancements added to them. However, enhancements to those languages have been done on a scheduled basis. Enhancements were planned on a periodic basis and were based on public comment.

RPG, on the other hand, had few enhancements between the early 1970s and the mid-1990s when RPG IV was shipped. Sure RPG III was "better" than RPG II, which led to wide use of RPG, but there weren't significantly new features added to the language itself.

But since 1994, RPG IV has been enhanced in nearly every other release of OS/400. Today, RPG IV is being enhanced in consecutive releases of OS/400.

The problem is that this development schedule is both fragmenting the OS/400 (iSeries and AS/400) application development community and giving the technical trade press the ability to publish code fragments that people are not able to use.

For example, within the RPG community, the use of the OS/400 Version 5 /FREE (free-format) RPG is relatively insignificant. Yet you see it frequently illustrated in trade publications. This is, of course, because it is new; to some people, continuing to write about "older" code or language syntax is boring.

What is wrong, in my view, is that enhancing RPG IV with each new release is creating incompatibility within the OS/400 community. For example, if I were to publish a procedure in RPG IV that utilized the /FREE syntax, it would be useless to about 85% of the iSeries marketplace (254,000 iSeries customers with about 35,000 installations of V5R1). If I write a piece of code that utilizes a V5R1 built-in function, that code cannot be used on V4R5 or earlier. Again, nearly 85% of the RPG IV users out there would not be able to take advantage of it.

Adding new features to each release of OS/400 has become counterproductive. Many of the new features in RPG IV are inconsistent with previous features. This situation has created an environment in which learning those new features has become complex--not to mention teaching them. Don't get me wrong; we can still teach RPG just fine, but it is downright embarrassing to have to illustrate the inconsistencies between versions.

Here's an example, and although I've talked with the RPG developers about this, the following problem is too confusing. The new %KDS built-in function was created to allow the use of data structure subfields as key fields on the CHAIN operation code. So now there are three distinct free-format syntaxes for the CHAIN operation, in addition to the traditional fixed-format CHAIN opcode (four in all). Here are the three free-format syntaxes:

  1. CHAIN keylist myFile allows you to CHAIN to a file using a traditional key list or a single field that matches the key of the file. The key list must be declared with the fixed-format KLIST and KFLD opcodes.
  2. CHAIN (field1, field2, field3) myFile allows you to CHAIN to a file using any fields as an ad hoc key list. These fields must be enclosed in parentheses.
  3. CHAIN %KDS(data-structure) myFile allows you to CHAIN to a file using the subfields of a data structure by enclosing the data structure name in the %KDS built-in function. This is new with V5R2.

So in the first context, you just specify the key value; in the second, you specify the key value enclosed in parentheses; in the third, you need to enclose the key value in a built-in function.

Previous to free-format, you simply read the syntax diagram for the CHAIN opcode and you were done. Today, special conditions apply to each of these three new syntaxes, so selecting the correct syntax is no longer a no-brainer.

Another example is the UPDATE operation code. In V5R2, IBM added a feature that allows you to update a select group of fields. The WRITE operation code (which has a similar structure) did not receive that field selection capability. IBM has said this functionality will be available in a future release of RPG, but that just means another level of inconsistency. If you're on V5R2, you can use this new feature on the UPDATE opcode but not on the WRITE opcode. Then, when you upgrade to V5Rx, both UPDATE and WRITE will support the new feature. It is getting very frustrating.

The quintessential example is the roll-out of the compiler directives for conditional compiling. When they were introduced in V3R7, they did not allow you to, for example, check which release of OS/400 was being targeted with the compiler. In a later release of OS/400, IBM introduced that functionality, but, of course, it wasn't backward-compatible, so it was of little value to targeting a previous release with conditional compiling. In the casual, unscientific surveys I do when I teach RPG IV, I have found a total of two people using compiler directives. (I guess that makes three if you count me.)

These are just a few of the many areas in which unnecessary complexity has been introduced into the language in recent years. By fragmenting the delivery of new features, IBM is creating incompatibility.

What's the Solution?

The solution to this problem is, in a word, planning. IBM needs to plan timely releases (i.e., enhancements) to RPG IV on a scheduled basis, not on an OS/400-release-level basis. It is my belief that IBM needs to do the following:

  • Schedule releases of RPG IV (or "RPG V") on a periodic basis, such as a 3- to 4-year cycle--regardless of the OS/400 version or release schedule--and include much more complete features in those releases.
  • Design enhancements for RPG and then publish a request for comments (RFC) on those enhancements far enough in advance of the release so that public comments can be considered.

By coming out with new releases of RPG every few years--as opposed to every OS/400 release or two--IBM will help stabilize the language and encourage consistency.

Hurrying through the development cycle to match the OS/400 cycle is not the most beneficial development methodology. Instead, IBM should be designing releases with complete, consistent, important features and allowing public comment on those features and their design. After all, that technique has been proven time and time again.

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.

Get this jam-packed resource of quick, easy-to-implement RPG tips!
List Price $65.00

Now On Sale

The Modern RPG IV Language The Modern RPG IV Language
Cozzi on everything RPG! What more could you want?
List Price $99.95

Now On Sale



Support MC Press Online





  • White Paper: Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization

    SB Profound WP 5539

    If your business is thinking about modernizing your legacy IBM i (also known as AS/400 or iSeries) applications, you will want to read this white paper first!

    Download this paper and learn how Node.js can ensure that you:
    - Modernize on-time and budget - no more lengthy, costly, disruptive app rewrites!
    - Retain your IBM i systems of record
    - Find and hire new development talent
    - Integrate new Node.js applications with your existing RPG, Java, .Net, and PHP apps
    - Extend your IBM i capabilties to include Watson API, Cloud, and Internet of Things

    Read Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization Now!


  • Profound Logic Solution Guide

    SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation.
    Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects.
    The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the companyare not aligned with the current IT environment.

    Get your copy of this important guide today!


  • 2022 IBM i Marketplace Survey Results

    Fortra2022 marks the eighth edition of the IBM i Marketplace Survey Results. Each year, Fortra captures data on how businesses use the IBM i platform and the IT and cybersecurity initiatives it supports.

    Over the years, this survey has become a true industry benchmark, revealing to readers the trends that are shaping and driving the market and providing insight into what the future may bring for this technology.

  • Brunswick bowls a perfect 300 with LANSA!

    FortraBrunswick is the leader in bowling products, services, and industry expertise for the development and renovation of new and existing bowling centers and mixed-use recreation facilities across the entertainment industry. However, the lifeblood of Brunswick’s capital equipment business was running on a 15-year-old software application written in Visual Basic 6 (VB6) with a SQL Server back-end. The application was at the end of its life and needed to be replaced.
    With the help of Visual LANSA, they found an easy-to-use, long-term platform that enabled their team to collaborate, innovate, and integrate with existing systems and databases within a single platform.
    Read the case study to learn how they achieved success and increased the speed of development by 30% with Visual LANSA.


  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Why Migrate When You Can Modernize?

    LANSABusiness users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.
    In this white paper, you’ll learn how to think of these issues as opportunities rather than problems. We’ll explore motivations to migrate or modernize, their risks and considerations you should be aware of before embarking on a (migration or modernization) project.
    Lastly, we’ll discuss how modernizing IBM i applications with optimized business workflows, integration with other technologies and new mobile and web user interfaces will enable IT – and the business – to experience time-added value and much more.


  • UPDATED: Developer Kit: Making a Business Case for Modernization and Beyond

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Having trouble getting management approval for modernization projects? The problem may be you're not speaking enough "business" to them.

    This Developer Kit provides you study-backed data and a ready-to-use business case template to help get your very next development project approved!

  • What to Do When Your AS/400 Talent Retires

    FortraIT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators is small.

    This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn:

    • Why IBM i skills depletion is a top concern
    • How leading organizations are coping
    • Where automation will make the biggest impact


  • 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 as a pre-built development environment



  • 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.

  • 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.



  • Encryption on IBM i Simplified

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDB2 Field Procedures (FieldProcs) were introduced in IBM i 7.1 and have greatly simplified encryption, often without requiring any application changes. Now you can quickly encrypt sensitive data on the IBM i including PII, PCI, PHI data in your physical files and tables.
    Watch this webinar to learn how you can quickly implement encryption on the IBM i. During the webinar, security expert Robin Tatam will show you how to:

    • Use Field Procedures to automate encryption and decryption
    • Restrict and mask field level access by user or group
    • Meet compliance requirements with effective key management and audit trails


  • Lessons Learned from IBM i Cyber Attacks

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDespite the many options IBM has provided to protect your systems and data, many organizations still struggle to apply appropriate security controls.
    In this webinar, you'll get insight into how the criminals accessed these systems, the fallout from these attacks, and how the incidents could have been avoided by following security best practices.

    • Learn which security gaps cyber criminals love most
    • Find out how other IBM i organizations have fallen victim
    • Get the details on policies and processes you can implement to protect your organization, even when staff works from home

    You will learn the steps you can take to avoid the mistakes made in these examples, as well as other inadequate and misconfigured settings that put businesses at risk.



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    SB PowerTech WC GenericWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • 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.

  • Comply in 5! Well, actually UNDER 5 minutes!!

    SB CYBRA PPL 5382

    TRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms.

    Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product.

    Request your trial now!

  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    FortraRobot 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

    FortraRobot 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.