Programmer Conveniences Added to BCD’s WebSmart ILE
June 10, 2008 Dan Burger
Moving RPG applications to the Web is not the aggravation some people make it out to be. The idea of this has been diminished by persistent misconceptions that hover around IBM‘s iSeries shops like mosquitoes on a summer camping trip. You want proof? Business Computer Design Int’l. WebSmart ILE has more than 2,000 organizations with implementation that include B2B, B2C, and e-Commerce sites built by programmers with RPG skills and an understanding of CGI. Those are applications that run on the native HTTP Apache Web Server.
Last week, BCD released WebSmart ILE version 7, the latest version of its iSeries-centric, browser-based application development software. Compatibility with i 6.1 (formerly referred to as V6R1) is one of the up-to-date features added to WebSmart ILE version 7, but there are several other notable additions as well. Being i 6.1 compliant allows WebSmart ILE users to take advantage of IBM’s latest operating system enhancements and the performance improvements that the new Power6 servers will offer.
BCD, with thousands of organizations in its customer base, has begun to see the new Power System servers running i 6.1 in the field. “We have customers who are getting new machines and running 6.1. People are buying the new servers,” says Duncan Kenzie, chief technology officer for BCD. WebSmart ILE version 7 keeps this popular Web application development tool current with IBM’s latest hardware and operating system offerings.
WebSmart ILE generates CGI Web programs that execute on Power System servers running the i OS as well as System i and iSeries servers running earlier versions of the operating system that was known as i5/OS.
The last upgrade to WebSmart ILE came in late 2007 with version 6.6. That’s when BCD introduced cross-platform database capabilities via SQL Server and MySQL databases running on Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Unix servers, which complement the native DB2/400 databases found on Power Systems and their older siblings.
WebSmart ILE version 6.6 also featured an integrated and visual HTML editor that was a major step forward. These version 6.6 features put System i technicians in a position to focus on business logic and productivity rather than design, and with version 7, the emphasis remains on programmer convenience.
For instance, support of Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) in WebSmart ILE version 7 brings the capability to interact with an LDAP server. Most platforms, including the iSeries, have an LDAP server. LDAP acts as a standardized bridge or interface to a directory service. This opens the door to various LDAP data sources and allows users to create, display, modify, and delete entries in those sources.
Because LDAP is a cross-platform client/server protocol, its popularity is on the rise. Most often it is being used for querying and modifying directory information such as authentication of users and passwords. It is also useful in duplicating and storing e-mail addresses.
Several of BCD’s major clients influenced the decision to add LDAP support, Kenzie says. “We provided it by repackaging APIs and making them a native part of WebSmart.”
One of the benefits of LDAP, as Kenzie explains it, is that it provides a common repository of all user IDs and log-ins across disparate systems. “LDAP will become popular because most System i shops have at least some kind of a Windows server–a Web server, a file server, or something–and having one repository for all the log-in information is pretty convenient. Plus, you can have all kind of other information attached to LDAP as well. You can define an LDAP directory to be whatever you want.”
Program development also gets an assist in version 7 with the addition of wizards called SmartSnippets that speed the coding of PML (ProGen Markup Language, which is BCD’s fourth-generation language) and PHP functions. The wizards perform as prompts that guide programmers through the process of creating drop-down boxes and generating Smurf IDs.
Smurf IDs are server-side pieces of information, similar to cookies; Smurfette, Papa Smurf, and Wild Smurf are also smurf IDs, but of a different type. Smurf IDs are stored on the server instead of the client and provide a mechanism for securely storing unique pieces of data associated with a given user of a Web application. Another way of defining a Smurf ID is that it’s a session ID that can be transmitted between the client and the server. It provides a mechanism for maintaining stateful awareness–because in Web development there is no state.
SmartSnippets are sort of an extension of the Intelligent Templates that BCD included in previous versions of WebSmart ILE. The templates, which remain in version 7, are used to create programs by following a series of steps.
“SmartSnippets are for adding pieces of code–server-side or client side–that can be dropped into any part of an application without tweaking it or sort of filling in the blanks,” Kenzie explains. “They provide a series of prompts that leads to the generation of code wherever it is appropriate in the program.”
BCD first used SmartSnippets in its WebSmart PHP product that was introduced in the fall of 2007. The SmartSnippets written for PHP add functionality for that product. The SmartSnippets written for ILE adds functionality for ILE. Some are shared between the two target platforms, which also share the same IDE. They work in a plug-in fashion similar to plug-ins that are built for the Eclipse IDE.
Templates are a convenient tool in any development process and WebSmart users, Kenzie says, often create custom templates families. The software ships with more than 150 application templates that can be used to define the appearance and functionality of a Web page, but custom templates are usually created from one of the BCD-provided templates and a new “Copy Template” feature added in version 7 allows this to happen quickly and easily. It places template files on the user’s PC, puts related CSS files on the IFS, and properly references the new CSS file and directory in the newly created template.
Another WebSmart ILE version 7 convenience comes into play each time the software is installed on a Power System (or System i) server in a multiple-server situation. With each install, it creates a separate repository for all programmatic components used on the server. This allows users to toggle between repositories when development occurs on multiple servers and allows that development to remain organized.
“If you are doing PHP development as well as ILE development, it manages both,” Kenzie says. “It’s a project management tool. It encompasses the change management features that are in the product. We refer to it as an ‘environment.’ It allows connection to multiple database servers, for instance, a MySQL, a standard database, and FTP setups for each, and different places where things are stored within one environment. It’s way of taking care of all the pieces when doing Web development.”
WebSmart ILE version 7 is available now. Licenses have increased in price and now range from $6,750 to $12,750.
For more information on WebSmart ILE–or BCD’s ClearPATH Modernization Suite that includes WebSmart PHP, Clover, Nexus, Catapult, and SmartCharts–visit the company’s Web site at www.bcdsoftware.com.
This article has been corrected. BCD has more than 2,000 WebSmart customers, not 1,500. The new version that is shipping is version 7, not version 6.6. IT Jungle regrets the errors.