IBM is now shipping its WebSphere Development Studio Client (WDSC) for iSeries development product. It includes the WebSphere Studio Site Developer Advanced edition (WSSDa), several tools like CODE/400 to leverage your traditional RPG and COBOL development, Visual RPG, and the incredible new version of WebFacing.
Although many of the tips in this column have focused on specific WebSphere development and administration topics, this one is a bit different. If you are a typical iSeries shop, you probably have thousands of existing 5250 applications developed over many years. Those applications aren't going away anytime soon and represent the core business processes of your business. What if you could Web-enable those applications without modifying a single line of code? What if you could extend the reach of your system via a simple Web browser? That's exactly what IBM's iSeries tools developers have done for you with WebFacing. WebFacing was first released at V4R5 in the WebSphere Development Tools (WDT) package, and it has been greatly enhanced in the WDSC -- which is free and with unlimited user license if you have a software subscription that includes the iSeries development tools.
WebFacing your applications is an incredibly simple task. If you have the WDSC installed on your PC, you select File, New, Other, WebFacing and follow the steps in the wizard to build your WebFaced application.
You will need to know how to call the initial program in your system, and you will need to know the DDS display file names of the display files used in the system you are building.
The first step in the process is selecting the DDS display files you wish to convert as part of the application. You may then specify any UIM help files that support your application (if you use UIM). You specify a simple CALL statement with parameters to your initial program, select a template to define the desired look and feel of your Web pages, and click finish.
The tool then retrieves the DDS source files, examines them and generates JSPs and Servlets that will implement a Web version of your 5250 applications. You select the display files from the Navigator view in the WebFacing Perspective, right click and select convert. Then switch to the Web or Server perspective, select the index.html file that was generated, right click and select "Run on Server." This starts the WebSphere Test Environment on your PC and lets you run your WebFaced applications in the test environment immediately and view the results, which will astonish you.
You may use the code exactly as generated or you may modify the generated JSP files to customize the look and feel -- and perhaps replace some of the generated code with simple hyperlinks. (One weakness in the tool is the fact that IBM makes the screens look like the 5250. But that's no big deal. It looks good and works just like your 5250 applications.)
If we look under the covers, IBM has done some amazing things and totally hidden the technology from us. They have a WebFacing server that manages standard interactive 5250 jobs for you. WebFacing works by intercepting the 5250 data stream in the terminal buffer of a standard job. It maps the fields in the buffer to fields to which it passes attributes in the JSPs. IBM implements a very strict Model/View/Controller model. The Model is your RPG/COBOL program. The controller is IBM-generated Servlets and support classes (you probably will never want to touch these), and the View is the JSPs they generate.
Unlike the various screen scraper products out there, WebFacing leverages WebSphere and iSeries technology. If you pre-compile your generated JSPs to avoid the first-time penalty of compiling JSPs at runtime, you will see response times that rival your 5250 applications. You will not notice any appreciable CPU utilization or resource consumption caused by WebFacing.
This is one of the finest tools ever developed by IBM. It hides the technology from the user, exposing only a simple, easy-to-use wizard. It also makes the Java product produced by the tool available to the experienced Web designer or Java programmer to enhance and open up unlimited opportunities to leverage your investment in legacy technology and extend the reach of your legacy code.
Learn more about WebFacing at these links:
About the author: Bob Cancilla is managing director of IGNITe/400, an electronic iSeries 400 Internet users group. He is also author of the book Getting Down to e-business with AS/400 and IBM eServer iSeries: Built for e-business.
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