AURA Keeps Classic IBM i PHP Toolkit Alive
April 19, 2011 Alex Woodie
IBM i shops that have relied on, and grown to appreciate, the old PHP Toolkit that IBM is replacing with a new open source solution will be pleased to hear that AURA Equipments is keeping the product alive. In fact, the French software company is rolling out a new release of the “classic” PHP toolkit–now called EasyCom for PHP–that addresses some of the shortcomings that led IBM to banish it in the first place.
Five years ago, AURA and Zend Technology formed a partnership whereby AURA’s client-server integration technology, called EasyCom, was OEM’ed and packaged into the PHP offerings that Zend and IBM distributed to IBM i customers. AURA says hundreds of IBM i shops have adopted the software, which allows IBM i-based PHP applications to access native IBM i resources, such as making RPG program calls and accessing DB2/400 and spool files. In addition to continuing to develop the software, AURA also provided technical support to IBM and Zend customers.
Now, IBM is forging ahead with a new PHP toolkit for IBM i that will be developed as open source, allowing anybody to view and modify the software as they see fit. IBM is expected to formally announce the availability of the software, which is currently in beta, at the COMMON conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, next month.
Proponents of the new toolkit say it will perform its job faster, easier, and more transparently than its predecessor. The task of making RPG program calls from PHP applications–one of the core activities IBM i programmers used the PHP toolkit for–will no longer require the programmer to fill in so many parameters.
Sylvain Rubele, CEO of AURA, isn’t so sure that the new open source toolkit will be all that it’s cracked up to be. He tells IT Jungle he expects his toolkit to retain several advantages over the new toolkit, including the capability to perform integration work faster, more securely, and with greater stability, and the capability to run IBM i integration workloads on Window or Linux machines if customers decide to. Further, his company will be rolling out a new version 4 release of the EasyCom for PHP at the COMMON show that he says will address some of the perceived shortcomings in earlier releases.
One of the biggest features in EasyCom for PHP version 4 is the introduction of XML support, which will simplify the process of making program calls to RPG programs from PHP applications running on IBM i. This was one of the perceived weaknesses of older releases of the PHP Toolkit for IBM i.
“EasyCom XML allows us to simplify native program calls and procedure calls …so the programmer does not make any mistakes,” Rubele says. The high-level XML functions don’t require any XML knowledge on the part of developers, although they can get their hands dirty with XML if they want. All developers need to know is the name of the RPG source code they want to call, and EasyCom for XML does the rest.
AURA also introduced its “full state connection” feature, which keeps program calls and database calls running in the same IBM i environment. Running these in the same environment–instead of separate environments, as the new PHP toolkit does–increases application performance, stability, and security, Rubele says.
Running database and program calls in separate jobs takes some capabilities away from the developer’s palette, since temporary files may not be shared across these two environments, Rubele says. Maintaining stateful connections is particularly important in e-commerce applications, and will improve the experience of users as they navigate the site and fill out order forms, for example.
IBM and Zend are expected to address the decision to separate the two environments with the new open source PHP toolkit. In the meantime, developers who have begun to explore the new toolkit are posting their own questions on the Zend user forum. Rubele has noticed some of the responses to questions about how to access temporary files using the new toolkit: “Get the EasyCom for PHP product.”
Another major feature not found in the new toolkit is the capability to run the IBM i to PHP integration workload on separate Windows or Linux servers, instead of the IBM i server that is running PHP and RPG programs. Rubele says many customers must upgrade their IBM i servers’ storage to handle the busy IFS activity that PHP on IBM i generates. Shipping that work off to cheaper X64 iron running Windows or Linux is a very attractive alternative to enterprising IBM i shops, as well as ISVs offering PHP on IBM i applications.
Portability is another benefit of this approach. “A very important point: EasyCom com is compatible with all the platforms,” Rubele says. “Someone writing PHP applications on Linux, and connecting it to IBM i, won’t be able to move the application to IBM i and Zend Server later if they want.”
EasyCom for PHP version 4 brings a couple other notable features, including support for single sign-on and support for PDO/ADO frameworks. For single sign-on, AURA utilizes Windows credentials. Support for the PDO and ADO framework gives the software better traction in the Delphi world.
AURA is eager to get the word out about EasyCom for PHP, and the continuity it will provide customers. Rubele says some IBM i shops will be forced to re-write their PHP on i applications if they adopt the new open source toolkit, and he is more than happy to oblige them with a software license and maintenance contract.
“Programmers who have been developing Web applications with the PHP Toolkit for IBM i may not realize that they’ve been using EasyCom for PHP,” he says. “This is why we will continue support of this original toolkit for PHP.”
Subscriptions for EasyCom for PHP start at about $600 per year for a P05 machine. That price includes maintenance. For more information see the vendor’s website at www.easycom-aura.com.