The iSeries Blog

May 12 2009   4:42PM GMT

Web development on IBM i, what’s important to learn?

Leah Rosin Leah Rosin Profile: Leah Rosin

On my way to COMMON in Reno, Nev. I happened to be sitting in a seat near another attendee. He found out who I was and unleashed a series of questions about IBM i, specifically with an interest in figuring out how to prioritize the sessions he would attend at the meeting. Some reading and past initiatives had left him a bit bewildered as to what development tools he should focus on learning, and which were disappearing into the ether. I passed the questions on to a couple of our site contributors, Jim Mason and Andrew Borts, as well as COMMON attendee and owner and founder, David Gibbs.

Is IBM’s WebFacing Tool replaced now by HATS, or has it been de-emphasized, or is something else going on?

Borts: WebFacing is now enhanced by HATS – or Host Access Transform Services. This isn’t your mothers “Screen Scraping” software. This is a server based system that takes 3270/5250 applications (e.g., “legacy”) using a macro language with the screen’s behind them and can serve them on a multitude of clients including mobile phones, Firefox, smart phones, and more – not just Web. This option should be considered any time a legacy application needs a little kick for the user communities, giving the ability to make Web-based screens more logical for the users.

Mason: Changes in IBM product managers change strategies. To use WebFacing and HATS now you have to license the server from IBM. HATS is the default dynamic translation of 5250 screens for the Web. You can do customization of screens with WebFacing tools and deploy the customized screens.

Is the “Rational” product something I need to use, or is it more for larger projects that involve multiple people developing and testing?

Borts: Rational Software Solutions were designed to manage large software projects where change control, requirements management, and QA management are combined.

Mason: Rational products are purchased. They are also an option. You don’t need to buy them if you don’t want to. The alternative to RDI for building RPG applications is to do it the old way using SEU and the RPG compiler. The alternative to Rational Application Developer for i to build Web applications is using the free Eclipse BIRT or Web Tools suites. With these, you can do Web reporting, build Web applications, Web services etc.

Is RPG ILE also not a major emphasis anymore? I read the paper by Sharon Hoffman from 2006 that seemed to say the direction was away from RPG and toward JAVA. Does that say time would be better spent working with JAVA than RPG?

Borts: Well, yes and no. Yes, if you have the time and energy, Java is an emerging technology and anything written has some relationship to it. But, learning all the Web technologies – starting with HTML and Javascript, then after those skills are learned (not perfected) you can address the Web technologies such as AJAX applications utilizing CGI back-end software such as RPG (which can run CGI applications), Net.Data, Java (via JSP) and PHP can serve on an iSeries. Ajax allows for partial page refreshes, which makes a Web browser to act more like a PC application. RPG has had major enhancements over the past few years. We have RPG FREE, which is being used more and more (I call this language Java Junior cause it looks like Java!).

Mason: IBM doesn’t have a direction for development for System i. They have options. Sometimes they push one more than the other but there is not a clear strategic direction, just choices available. Your choices are RPG, PHP and Java.

RPG is fine for traditional RPG applications. Despite IBM’s attempts to do better, it’s not a great choice to do Web, Web services or XML applications – newer Java tools are much better.

PHP is a decent environment for building basic Web applications and more and it has good access to i5 OS features in the PHP toolkit for System i. the PHP runtime is OK.

Traditional Java development for i5 OS uses either Rational or Eclipse Web or BIRT tools and the Java Toolkit for the System i. Eclipse and the Java toolkit are both free and very good choices. Java runtime is better than PHP. Now Java development has moved ahead of other options with Groovy and Grails. New Java based on Groovy/Grails is easier to learn and faster to build many types of applications than the other choices. I’ll start covering more on Groovy/Grails for System i in search400 and the Virtual WebSphere Community Edition user group. You can find out general Groovy info and Grails info at the linked websites. I did a hands-on lab at COMMON building a Grails Web database application that created, updated, searched books and authors in a database. All students were RPG with no Web experience and completed the lab in one hour. I also do QuickWeb workshops for companies trying to make transitions to Web technologies quickly.

Gibbs: IMO, RPG and Java best work hand in hand. Java (JSP, servlets) work best for the general user interface with RPG doing the heavy lifting for database and business rules.

How many of these products cost extra? Web application Server? Rational Developer?

Borts: As far as costs, you can serve a Web page with an IBM i for free – all built in. However, many technologies are free. PHP, Net.Data, and CGI are all technologies that require no money up front to load onto the AS/400. Net.Data is actually supplied with the operating system, then RPG CGI can be downloaded from G.B. Peroti’s Web site,, then PHP can be installed on ANY i5 with V5R4 and above (V5R3 is back level supported, but not as many toys as Version meant for V5R4) for free – which fits into any budget. JSP pages can be served using Tomcat, which is supplied with the iSeries in the base OS. To run WebSphere, you need a paid license for the developer seat, and the server.

Mason: Rational tools cost more. The Eclipse suites (based on new Galileo base) for BIRT and Web tools are free. You also need to copy the jt400.jar file from the IFS folder. It connects Java to everything on the System i.

Your application server choices include WebSphere (billable), Apache Tomcat (free) and IBM WebSphere Community Edition (a full JEE server that is free but has options for IBM support plans if you need it for your production environments).

If you ever have questions that you would like to get a few opinions on, don’t forget that you can ask them via IT Knowledge Exchange, or ask a question of a specific expert or send me an email and I’ll shepherd it to the appropriate folks to provide you with answers. Also, please add your input on these questions below.

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  • RazLeeSecurity
    Our trip to [B]COMMON[/B] also sparked some thoughts on [B]IBM i, COMMON and the industry[/B]. Visit us at for Raz-Lee Security's impressions from COMMON.
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