ARCAD’s Free-Format Conversion Tool Passes Real World Test
October 21, 2014 Dan Burger
The conversion of fixed-format RPG to free-format RPG has created a great deal of interest in the IBM i community since support was added in Technology Refresh 7 of IBM i 7.1 late in 2013. Barbara Morris, a member of the RPG compiler development team at IBM‘s Toronto lab has been the IBM spokesperson on the topic, drawing crowds to technical sessions online and at local user groups and technical conferences.
One of the benefits free-format RPG offers is that it modernizes RPG to the extent that it is understandable to programmers familiar with Java and .NET, but who get lost or confused with the old column-oriented, fixed-format style. This proved to be a very big benefit for a Texas-based company with ERP software written in a mix of RPG III and RPG IV.
Letsos is a construction company with corporate headquarters in Houston. Its construction projects include large office structures hospitals, hotels, research facilities, football stadiums, schools and manufacturing facilities, and research laboratories. Its core business applications are customized from a third-party ERP package from a software company no longer in business.
The green-screen application consists of several thousand objects and requires maintenance and updates just like any other packaged or home-grown application. The company has a considerable investment in its software and protecting that investment was a top priority.
IT manager Jason Feng was trained and gained professional experience in Java and Microsoft .NET languages and development environments. The IBM i operating system and green-screen RPG development using PDM/SEU proved challenging to Feng, who only knew graphical interfaces and modular development. And by the way, the current IT staff at Letsos has no IBM i experience, so he had no insider to lean on.
Feng’s goal was to improve the maintainability of the RPG code and modernize the ERP application by integrating it with Java and .NET in composite applications. To accomplish that objective, he recognized the old fixed-format RPG code and the programming tools needed updating. That meant Rational Developer for i (RDi) and coding in RPG ILE.
The other option–teaching Java and .NET programmers to use green-screen development tools and fixed-format RPG–was not seriously considered.
The amount of code requiring conversion from fixed-format code to free-format would have been a long and tedious endeavor if done manually. So discovering an automated conversion tool ARCAD-Transformer RPG from ARCAD Software was an important first step. (This tool is also available from IBM Rational, where it is referred to as ARCAD Converter.)
Feng downloaded a trial version of the tool from ARCAD’s website and converted several RPG programs that were causing problems. After the conversion, Feng says the program logic was much easier to read and corrections were easier to make. He saved the free-format source code (Letsos purchased the source code from the ERP software company), which was ready for compilation in the next application build.
ARCAD-Transformer RPG features integrated plug-ins for the Eclipse-based RDi development environment. Using RDi and ARCAD-Transformer RPG, Feng continues to convert programs on an as-needed basis.
Since purchasing the ARCAD tool and converting fixed-format code to free-format, Feng says software maintenance is being performed by non-IBM i experts. He also says software updates have been expedited and response time to fix bugs in the code has been reduced.
Some organizations looking at a similar situation may choose to do a rip a replace involving greater expense and operational disruptions. Letsos considered the value of the RPG investment and the relative ease of modernizing their existing code. The productivity gain for the investment made seems like a pretty good deal.