PHP and IBM i: Ten Years of Magic
September 28, 2016 Amy Anderson
The online world recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. Young adults entering the workforce today have never known life without it. But for those who were working on green screen terminals in the mid-1990s and saw for the first time what a modem-connected PC could deliver, the World Wide Web was indistinguishable from magic.
And the ability to deliver magic exploded with the emergence of a development language originally called PHP/FI. Originally created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1994, PHP stood for personal home pages and form interpreter. It gave a new class of developers, called webmasters, a relatively easy way to build dynamic, interactive web pages. Since many webmasters migrated to the job role from desktop publishing and not computer science, PHP did not require a deep understanding of programming principles.
Within a few years, college students Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans took on PHP as a semester project. They rewrote the scripting engine and changed the language’s name to professional homes pages indicating the robustness and business-readiness of the language. Later on the project name evolved once again, this time to a recursive acronym PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor, which remains the name today. The revised scripting engine, called PHP 3, launched in June 1998. PHP’s popularity soared, and in 1999 Suraski and Gutmans started a new rewrite of PHP’s core that became the Zend Engine. Zend stands for the combination of Zeev and Andi’s first names. Also in 1999, they jointly founded Zend Technologies (now Rogue Wave Software) in Israel with the goal of providing commercial backing to the open-source PHP language.
Today, PHP is the world’s most popular development language for Web and mobile development. An ecosystem of tools, frameworks, IDEs, and developer communities has grown up around PHP. And although PHP is still relatively easy to learn, being a PHP developer is a far more prestigious–and lucrative–job than being a webmaster.
Magic in a Box
For practically anyone who has dug into the IBM i enough to understand its basic design, there have been at least a few moments of feeling the magic. From SLIC through the object-based operating system all the way to one of the world’s most sophisticated database optimizers, the IBM i has always been sufficiently advanced.
There are plenty of articles extolling the features of IBM i, especially those features that were far ahead of the industry: single-level store as an early example of flash storage, for example. As far back as the late 1990s, IBM was beating Oracle in database bake-offs by leveraging the system’s ability to hold indexes in memory. The capability was so advanced that most competitors didn’t have any idea how IBM won.
Bringing the Magic Together
By the early 2000s, it was clear that despite the magic inside the box, the AS/400 was underwhelming when it came to the user interface. Although the green screen terminal was–and continues to be–ridiculously efficient for manual data entry, the connected world wanted drop down lists, checkboxes, and dynamic content based on temporal conditions such as location, time of day, and who was in front of the screen.
At the same time, open source software was an emerging business model for delivering innovation faster. Although attractive, it was fraught with peril for IBM, who became entangled in a lawsuit over license infringement and open source software in 2003. IBM needed a nimble, innovative approach to application modernization, but a wholesale adoption of open source was unrealistic.
Zend represented an ideal solution. As the primary contributor to PHP, Zend also sold Zend Server, a commercial version of PHP. Zend Server would provide a valid, commercial license while delivering a popular open source environment for modernization. Thus, in 2006, IBM and Zend began their partnership that has enabled thousands of customers to move into the future while protecting their strongest IT assets.
In the last decade PHP has provided customers a smooth transition from procedural programming to object-oriented development. RPG and Cobol developers who are accustomed to building large monolithic applications, can start developing PHP applications in a procedural style, and over time adapt to the framework approach.
Keeping the Magic Alive
Looking ahead there is no doubt that a wave of mobile development is on the doorstep of every IBM i shop. When the client server movement hit the industry and users demanded graphical user interfaces, AS/400 shops had several options for transitioning the traditional green screen interface to a desktop monitor. Unfortunately, many of these techniques proved to be temporary fixes.
PHP, on the other hand, has withstood the test of time. Through a worldwide community that’s more than two million strong, PHP has evolved along with the world’s rapid adoption of mobile devices. Zend Server provides technologies, including Apigility, a highly prescriptive tool for building APIs, to simplify the development of mobile applications. This next wave of application development requires an adaptable development environment like PHP. Zend helps development teams adopt a mobile-first approach to building applications.
Zend, as part of Rogue Wave Software, makes it easy for IBM i shops to move into these latest interfaces and devices while leaving their data and business logic on the IBM i. Modernization techniques that require a massive migration off of the IBM i fail to recognize the value–actually, the magic–of the system. As ongoing partners, Rogue Wave and IBM intend to continue providing an environment for new and existing applications that is secure, reliable, and highly performant for years to come.