It’s TR Time: What’s Next For The IBM i Database?
April 20, 2015 Dan Burger
Web application development depends on two document formats for the interchange of business data: XML and JSON. The smaller (lighter weight), quicker to transmit, and more efficient is JSON. XML has been a good choice and has served its purpose well. It continues to do so. However, the popularity of JSON indicates it is the new favorite in IBM i shops, just as it is on other platforms. JSON has done well enough to get noticed on the IBM radar. It showed up in the release of IBM i 7.2 in October and it’s certain to make some noise with the soon to be released Technology Refresh 2 for IBM i 7.2 and Technology Refresh 9 for IBM i 7.1.
Those new technology refreshes are expected to be announced at the COMMON Annual Meeting and Expo, which takes place next week in Anaheim, California.
XML, no doubt, is being used for more often than JSON because years of inertia have propelled it. IBM has been adding to XML support as it continues to enhance 7.1 and 7.2, but companies that are just getting started with Web services are more likely to use JSON and that trend will continue. You’ll find some debate on this, but when the dust clears it’s the award for easiest to use goes to JSON.
If JSON wasn’t a really popular option to XML, would IBM be investing time and money in adding it to the list of IBM i enhancements? It’s already apparent DB2 for i gets the most love as the IBM i roadmap gets unfolded. The next TR will prove that to be true again. Not that DB2 for i is a leader in JSON support, but that’s not the point. The point is that JSON is being supported and that IBM i shops that looked at XML, and didn’t like what they saw, have another option when it comes to Web services and exchanging data.
Without being specific about JSON-related enhancements to DB2 for i, chief scientist Steve Will hinted that we’d be seeing more of that data-related technology. The timing of that remark seems to indicate sooner rather than later. In his blog, Will wrote mostly about XML integration with IBM i and how over the course of five years the IBM i support went from basic to advanced. With the 7.1 release of the operating system, XML support integrated directly into the database. It has been extended several times since then.
The implication is that we’ll see a similar expansion of support for JSON, but perhaps on a faster track.
“XML is still necessary, of course. Plenty of people use it. But these days, it’s not the only ‘big deal’ in data description,” Will wrote. “XML is powerful, but pretty complicated when comparing it to at least one other popular technology.”
JSON as an option to XML also comes into play when comparing REST-based Web services and SOAP-based Web services. REST-based services are preferred over SOAP-based services. JSON is used in the former and XML in the later.
In a conversation earlier this year with Tim Rowe, the IBM i business architect for application development and systems management, Rowe noted REST-based engines have become the industry choice, while also noting SOAP-based services are not going away and companies using SOAP services have no cause for alarm. According to Rowe, it was the SOAP-based server users that asked for REST services. “That’s been a request for four years,” he said, while noting there are thousands of IBM i users equipped with SOAP-based engines.
IBM has been singing the Web services tune for years and by enhancing its support for JSON it shows it is keeping up with the times. Noting the inclusion of a JSON Web services container in IBM i 7.2 last fall, Will brought attention to the Web services strategy being aligned with modern and popular thinking.
The IBM i ISV community is a factor in the DB2 for i enhancements. Supporting technologies that are being used by solution providers today and in the future is a key element of our strategy, Will said in an email exchange with IT Jungle. The IBM i solution providers should have options that allow them to more easily interact with other solutions.
The discussion about XML and JSON options could take a turn toward the idea of external files either XML or JSON that would replace DDS files. A short list of benefits would include the elimination of the 32K limit for record format data, the introduction of new data types, support for Unicode constants, and the elimination of the 9999 record limit for load-all subfiles. A change in the RPG compiler to read an external XML or JSON file instead of a traditional DDS object doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal.
The chief scientist steered clear of any such thoughts saying XML support was never described or implemented as a replacement for DDS.
“Might there be situations where customers would want to use XML, when in the past their most natural option would have been DDS? Sure–especially if they are building data for exchange with other services, or via Web services. The same holds true for JSON. Web services are being created using both data description methods, and it seems from our vantage point that JSON, being lighter weight, is growing in usage. But that does not signal a replacement. It’s another option,” Will said. “The support we have for JSON right now is useful, for certain, and there’s more to come.”
In the coming weeks when the official announcement for IBM i 7.2 TR2 and 7.1 TR10, there’s a very good chance we’ll see more enhancements that take DB2 for i farther down the road to data-centric management, which is all about having DB2 do more things and developers do less.