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Web skills crucial to iSeries programmer professional development

As System i programming increasingly moves to Web applications, iSeries programmers and administrators need to learn Web languages, such as HTML, Javascript and SQL. Contributor Andrew Borts discusses valuable skills for working in an Internet environment

Andrew Borts
More than 15 years ago, Al Gore invented the Internet, or he got an e-mail address of, and the world changed immeasurably. So my goal right now is to give you a head start in learning how to work in this environment. Why? Everything is on the Internet! No time for shopping? Shop online! Do you need movie show times? Check the Internet! How can you have your partners connect to your system and make updates to the status of their orders? The Internet! We're buying cars, auctioning things, and recording our feelings in blogs. It's all there, so I'm going to lay out what you need to do now to play in this arena!

Get familiar with HTML

More on iSeries Web development:
iSeries Access for Web tutorial

Lazy coder: What does PHP on the i5 mean?

Web-enabling legacy applications
Hypertext Markup Language, HTML, is an easy language that helps you format displays for the Internet. HTML allows you to arrange displays so information is placed where you want it. Start by finding a class, a book or an online course where you can learn this crucial building block.

You don't need a server or a fancy computer to use HTML. The computer you're using to read this tip will work just fine. Use a simple text editor, such as NotePad or WordPad, to edit HTML files.

If you really want to get fancy, it is crucial that you get wise on HTML and understand what's going on behind the curtain. Why? When you start programming using CGIDEV2 or other iSeries tools to output the information, understanding is key.

Clean HTML code is also crucial because there are rules you must follow and it's difficult to adhere to them if the code hasn't been written well. Follow them and your data's format will be fairly consistent across browsers. I say "fairly" because on the Web, the rule is write once, debug many times. Things that seem simple could set you back hours if you don't know what to look for.

Javascript and Java enhances Web options
Not to be confused with Java, Javascript is a scripting language that helps with formatting and editing (by the way, everything on the Web is "text," so to make sure it's a numeric, you need to edit it before that hits iSeries!). Javascript may have an element here and there of Java, but it isn't Java. However, Java does play a role in other neat things, such as Ajax (Asynchronous Javascript) with XML, which enhances your Web sites with a more interactive feel.

Javascript is both a blessing and a curse, and can cause a ton of hair loss. However, if used the right way, you can prevent a lot of headaches. Hint: learn all the methods of debugging this language. Microsoft Office has a Javascript Debugger that you must install to get proper access to this. Look for the settings for this powerful free tool in the "advanced" tab under "Internet Options" in Internet explorer. If you're a Firefox fan, you can find plenty of help in the add-ons.

SQL on i5 increases productivity
SQL is the basis for all online languages. SQL is very powerful and can decrease your coding by thousands of lines when used properly. SQL, like a well-written RPG program, understands how to drill down into a file and get everything needed from it. There are plenty of books out there to help with your initial use of SQL. SQL is inexpensive and available on all i5 systems, so you can quickly become far more productive for little money.

Common Gateway Interface (CGI) allows RPG programming
Common Gateway Interface (CGI) is how the Internet communicates. Your programs can be written in RPG like the group of tools called CGIDEV2 (books about this abound). I've watched this important tool grow since a friend of mine told me about it in 2000. Now he's doing more with it, and other programmers are publishing about it. This tool allows you to program in ILE RPG and RPG Free.

And that's not all! Other free programming tools include Net.Data, an easy-to-use Web scripting language that comes on all i5 systems, and PHP, which is a free download from Zend. PHP is a very popular Web programming language with a many examples to learn from, emulate and build upon. The new version of PHP on iSeries even talks to Microsoft SQL server with drivers – so the i5 can actually serve multi-server databases with a free tool. There are other tools to develop on the Web using iSeries, but let's walk first, run later.

Put all of the above tools together to form an easy-to-use, universally understood project. Let's face the facts: The green screen is the today's punch card. Every time users try to get into our back end system with their emulation package of choice, they first say "You're still using DOS?" That can break a many programmers' hearts. If you can use Web app tools to put widgets on your company intranet, such as a "sign up here for more information" page where users enter information and some marketing muck receives a good-looking report on his browser, eventually you'll see the users' eyes glaze over with glee.

There you have it: lazy professional development. There are many more skills out there to learn, however, the above is the hottest you can get yourself into -- do it now rather than later!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrew Borts is Webmaster at United Auto Insurance Group in North Miami, Fla. He is a frequent speaker at COMMON and is past president of The Southern National Users Group, an iSeries-AS/400 user group based in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

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