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The recent release of Rational Business Developer includes the first generally available version of the Rich UI, and it continues to impress.

 

I've written a lot about Rational Business Developer and the EGL language, and recently I've started telling you about the Rich UI features that have been added to the language. I worked extensively with early releases of the software and even worked with the primary architect of EGL Rich UI, Chris Laffra, to create the first public application using EGL Rich UI and the i. Our scheduler application was quite the hit at the Rational Software Developer's Conference, and the Rich UI portion of the scheduler has gone on to see success at other technology conferences. Unfortunately the i is not an active participant in those other conferences, so the business back-end hasn't gotten the chance to advance with the UI, at least not publicly. I'm planning to change that, and this article is one of the first steps in that effort.

A Green-Screen Mind in a Rich UI World

I'm writing a book on EGL Rich UI and the i. Hopefully, I'll be able to write other books on the wide array of features of this technology, but this first book is going to outline the mechanics of getting i business logic to work with EGL Rich UI technology; basically, it will be a sort of diary of how to get a green-screen mind like mine into the world of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). The project started a long time ago, but as Rich UI evolved, the application had to evolve with it. The speed of maturation of Rich UI was such that major changes had to be made in the design and even in the fundamental architecture of some parts of the application, but with the general availability of the product, I think the underlying foundation of the technology is firm enough to create some best practices that can be translated into a working demonstration application.

 

The real bellwether change, though, has to do with the paradigm shift that is required to successfully implement the rich client. Note that I said "successfully"; you can use Rich UI without changing your approach, but it's a bad idea because the thin client is a completely different tool and is better suited for a different job than the rich client. Thin client applications in the browser world are typically based on a markup language of some type, whether it's ColdFusion or JavaServer Pages (JSP). In the case of EGL, the markup language is a combination of industry-standard JavaServer Faces (JSF) and the powerful extensions IBM has added to support business features such as AJAX requests.

 

Now, despite the fact that AJAX is part of the EGL toolset, the JSF tooling still fits into the basic page-at-a-time paradigm prevalent in the pre-Web 2.0 Internet. When all is said and done, the server displays a page of data, the user enters some information and hits a button, and the server processes that data. Based on the results of that work, the server displays another page and the process repeats. AJAX can be used to make that a little more dynamic: the page can respond to other non-button events such as keystrokes and mouse movements, and the resulting requests can update only a small part of the page. But even so, the overall paradigm is one of a page-based system not so very far removed conceptually from the 24x80 green-screen.

 

Web 2.0 Changes All That

 

As much as I tried to fight it, Web 2.0 changes all of that. And believe me, I fought it. In my first Rich UI application, the basic page was still very much a single page that was laid out in a single form where all the components relied on one another. In case you haven't seen the basic application, here it is:

 

011209PlutaFigure1.png

Figure 1: This is the Rich Internet Application (RIA) I built with EGL Rich UI and RPG. (Click image to enlarge.)

 

While the application managed to modularize the business logic very well (the Rich UI invoked a service on the host, which in turn called an EGL function, which in turn called an RPG program), the UI was anything but modular. In fact, it was still something written by an old 5250 dinosaur: the prompt at the top of the screen was the subfile control record, and the Read Order button acted like a command key to execute the business logic and load the subfile, which was the order grid below it.

 

As I got my hands on each release of the Rich UI technology, I did my best to shoehorn that philosophy into the Rich UI world. And I was good, let me tell you; I managed to keep that fight up right until the GA release of the tool. That release included something called the InfoBus, which was the straw that finally broke the back of my UI architecture, such as it was.

Modularizing Your UI

In the green-screen, you don't think much about modularizing the UI. A display file doesn't lend itself to being broken up into pieces, with the possible exception of popup windows. This "one big UI" idea is compounded by the global nature of RPG variables, in which every display file variable is available to the entire program. Indeed, until the advent of procedures, every field in every RPG program was global, so encapsulation wasn't exactly top on programmers' lists.

 

And that really wasn't an issue. Confined by the 24x80 screen and the command key interface, i developers didn't need a lot of encapsulation. The closest they got was writing a program to talk to the screen, which in turn called another program to perform the business logic (and even that was rare). The closest we got to reuse was copying one subfile program to another and modifying the source code.

 

Graphical UIs, though, are a lot more complex. You may have multiple views of the same data (a table and a graph), or one portion of the display may change based on an event on a different portion. For example, you may have a list of orders on the left of the UI and order detail on the right; clicking on an order in the list on the left displays the detail for that order on the right. On the green-screen, the most modular you will get will be to have a subfile of orders with an action code and have an action code bring up another panel (either full screen or popup window) that displays the detail for the selected order.

 

Welcome to the World of Widgets

 

This is where widgets come into play. EGL Rich UI is built around the concept of a widget, in which a set of UI controls and the associated program logic are encapsulated into a piece of code that can be reused. EGL has two separate concepts: the embedded RUI handler and the RUI widget, but they serve essentially the same purpose--to provide a single place where all the code for a UI widget can reside. I'd go so far as to say that the embedded RUI handler is sort of the "proof of concept" version that you use for testing and polishing your widget; once the logic is stabilized, you apply a few syntactical changes to convert the embedded RUI handler into a RUI Widget, which can then be used more directly within the visual designer.

 

In any case, the idea is pretty radical from a green-screen mindset. With a widget, the idea is to minimize its contact with the outside world. In the case of my application, I designed the widget to be all of the code that displayed the order. This included the grid of order lines, the header information on the top of the grid, the total information below the grid, and the GoogleMap component used to display the ship-to location.

 

One of the issues with Rich UI is that there are more decisions to make; in this case, I had some internal debate as to whether to make the map a separate component, but for simplicity I decided to keep it as part of the order detail. It would not be too difficult to make the map its own widget, which I might do for a different UI. And if I do, I could probably come back and update this widget to use the new map component.

 

In any case, the idea for this application is pretty simple: I simply need to create an order-display widget. That widget then displays the contents of an order and also handles any business logic specific to the order itself. In those situations where the business logic is limited to querying the host for data, the business logic is straightforward. Things get a little more complex when it comes to input-capable widgets.

 

Communicating Between Handlers

 

Breaking the UI into independent components is a great idea in theory. The problem in practice, however, is communication between those components. Traditionally, the way for one piece of logic to asynchronously communicate with another is through the use of a "callback" function. In this design, a procedure or function is written in the controller and its address is passed to the subordinate widget. When a widget event occurs that requires action by the controller, the callback function is invoked. It's not difficult, but it's a bit strange, and some languages don't have the high-level constructs to support it. In RPG, for example, application programmers couldn't use callbacks until the addition of the %PADDR BIF, and even today I'd guess that %PADDR is one of the least-used BIFs in the language. In EGL, the syntax used for that technique is the Delegate, and it works well. The primary issue with the Delegate is that it can get a bit overwhelming to maintain, especially when you have dozens of components, all potentially communicating with one another.

 

An alternate solution to this problem is the "Publish and Subcribe" concept. This programming construct is the same as the one called the Observer pattern in the well-known Design Patterns book. The idea is that a piece of code can be "registered" to be invoked when a certain event occurs; in fact, more than one piece of code can be so registered, resulting in a functional "broadcast" of the event to multiple listeners. In the publish/subscribe terminology used by EGL, one handler "subscribes" to an event, and the other "publishes" to it. The umbrella name for this feature in EGL is "InfoBus" and is based on the OpenAjax Hub specification.

A Short Example

Here's how the system works. It's based on "event names," so the first thing you need to do is to create event names for all the events. This can be a rather daunting task, but I've worked out a way around that. What I do is assign a component ID to each widget in the application and have each widget listen on that ID as the event name. My high-level controller defines the IDs as well as the widgets for the application, like so:

 

// InfoBus - One event per component

eidApp string = "com.pbd.OE0100";

eidOG string = "com.pbd.OE0100.OrderGrid";

widOG OrderGrid = new OrderGrid {};

 

In this case, I have an event ID "com.pbd.OE0100", which identifies the application itself. I use reverse-domain notation to avoid conflicts outside my code and then the application name to avoid internal conflicts. Widgets in the application each get their own ID, which is an extension of the application ID. In this case, I have only one widget, the OrderGrid widget, so that's the name I use. Different widgets would have different names, and if I had multiple OrderGrid widgets, I could easily append ".1" and ".2" or use some other unique naming technique.

 

Now on to the initialization. It's very simple:

 

// Log the startup and initialize the InfoBus

function onConstruction()

       log( _moduleName :: " construction" );

       InfoBus.subscribe(eidApp, listener);

       widOG.setId(eidOG);

end

function listener(eventName String in, object any in)

       ibm InfobusMessage = object;

       case

              when (ibm.action == "*STATUS")

                     status.text = ibm.data;

              when (ibm.src == eidOG)

                     status.text = "";

                     displayBox.children = [ (ibm.data as Box) ];

       end

end

 

The onConstruction function logs the startup and then initializes the InfoBus communications. First, it subscribes the application controller to the application event ID using InfoBus.subscribe(). Any events published to that event name will invoke the listener function. Note that I expect all events to be objects of type InfoBusMessage. InfoBusMessage is a record of my own design, and it looks like this:

 

record InfobusMessage

       src string;

       action string;

       data any;

end

 

Basically, every message has three components: the src, which identifies the component that sent the message; the action to perform; and the data to use to perform that action. It's a simple and elegant concept that allows very loose binding between components; the source (src) value is intended to be the event name of the component that sent the message, allowing the "called" component to send a response back to the "caller."

 

Going back to the listener function, you can see that there are currently two events defined: a *STATUS event, which can come from any widget, and a response from the OrderGrid widget (src == eidOG). The status event can be used by any component in the application to update the status message; this is a generic technique that can be used in any application for status messages, log messages, errors, you name it. The other event is the application-specific message telling the controller to show the order. At that point, it moves the actual UI component of the OrderGrid, which is sent in the data portion of the message, into the displayBox component, which makes the order visible on the page. Simple and clean. The controller actually has no idea what it is showing; it just shows whatever is sent to it.

 

I don't have time to go into all the details of the application. Besides, that would spoil the book, wouldn't it? I do want to show the InfoBus code on the subordinate widget, though. As I noted earlier, I'm using an embedded RUI Handler as opposed to a RUI Widget; in another article I can go into more detail on developing RUI Widgets.

 

The InfoBus code is simple. To handle the incoming events, I use this code:

 

function setId(ibmSrc string in)

       id = ibmSrc;

       InfoBus.subscribe(id, listener);

end

private ibm InfobusMessage;

function listener(eventName String in, eventData any in)

       ibm = eventData;

       case

              when (ibm.action == "SHOW")

                     showOrder(ibm.data);

       end

end

     

The widget simply subscribes to the event name that is passed to it. This is very important; it allows the same widget to be used in different applications easily, and more importantly, it allows two instances of the same widget to appear in one application. The listener stores the inbound message in a private variable and then processes the request. The use of a case is overkill in this particular handler, but you can see how easy it would be to provide support for more options.

 

Finally, the pertinent parts of the order logic:

 

function showOrder(order string)

       sendResponse("*STATUS", data = "Reading Order " :: order } );

       OrderLib.getOrder(order, orderNotify);

end

function sendResponse(action string in, data any in)

       InfoBus.publish(ibm.src,

       new InfobusMessage { src = id, action = action, data = data });

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

Now On Sale

WDSC: Step by Step WDSC: Step by Step
Discover incredibly powerful WDSC with this easy-to-understand yet thorough introduction.
List Price $74.95

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Eclipse: Step by Step Eclipse: Step by Step
Quickly get up to speed and productivity using Eclipse.
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    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic

    IBM’s Steve Will talks AS/400, POWER9, cognitive systems, and everything in between

    Are there still companies that use AS400? Of course!

    IBM i was built on the same foundation.
    Watch this recorded webinar with IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will and IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington to gain a unique perspective on the direction of this platform, including:

    • IBM i development strategies in progress at IBM
    • Ways that Watson will shake hands with IBM i
    • Key takeaways from the AS/400 days

     

  • Ask the RDi Experts

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericWatch this recording where Jim Buck, Susan Gantner, and Charlie Guarino answered your questions, including:

    • What are the “hidden gems” in RDi that can make me more productive?
    • What makes RDi Debug better than the STRDBG green screen debugger?
    • How can RDi help me find out if I’ve tested all lines of a program?
    • What’s the best way to transition from PDM to RDi?
    • How do I convince my long-term developers to use RDi?

    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.