S4i Systems Embraces Open Source Project
April 17, 2017 Dan Burger
Open source development on IBM i bodes well for the platform and all those who look to the future as well as recognizing the value of the past. RPG development isn’t threatened by open source options. It’s stimulated by open source. The modernization of RPG, C, or COBOL investments gets a boost from open source. There are people writing applications on IBM i that would not be within shouting distance of the platform if open source language options were not available.
When Web services, mobile applications and other Web technologies become more closely aligned with i, the community benefits. The strengths of IBM i are introduced to a new audience that had no idea we were in the IT galaxy.
Last week my eyes were opened to an open source project that demonstrates a single example of where open source will lead.
Jeff Berman is a senior software engineer at S4i Systems, a content management software vendor in the IBM i community. Until recently, his adventures in open source software (OSS) went only as far as compiling and running OSS on his Mac at home. He went from there to working on a software build system at S4i.
“It’s been like a PASE boot camp for me,” Berman told me in an email exchange. He installed Samba and OpenSSH on the development IBM i at work and learned to use open source tools such as Make, Sed, AWK, and BASH to write the build system and RDi integration pieces.
Each of these tools are part of the GNU Project. Make is a tool that controls the generation of executables and other non-source files of a program from the program’s source files. Sed is a non-interactive command-line text editor. AWK is a programming language designed for text processing and typically used as a data extraction and reporting tool. And BASH the GNU Project’s shell for scripting.
The free open source tools must have made a good impression. He has a request for enhancement (RFE) posted on the IBM RFE Community website that he hopes will persuade the IBM i development team to adding support for AWK, Grep, Make, and Sed to the integrated PASE (AIX) runtime environment.
The RFE Community program for IBM i is available to anyone with a Web browser and a valid IBM ID. Even without the IBM customer credentials, it’s possible to monitor the top vote-getting RFEs. The greater the interest in an RFE, the better the chances that requests will be put into the operating system.
“I love my IBM i, but sometimes being so completely different from the rest of the computing world can get maddening,” he wrote. “At S4i, we’re taking our source code out of source physical files and basically making them no different than PC source files, which unlocks a huge treasure trove of free PC/*nix tools, like code editors, source control like Git, source compare and merge tools.”
“We’ve all done searches where we know we coded something ‘somewhere,’ but we can’t remember where, right?” Berman added. “So, you go to PDM and take option 25 + F13, and then you wait and wait while it slowly makes its way through all the source members. Or maybe you do the search from RDi, which still performs the actual search on the i. At least on the machines I’ve worked on, it has never been very fast. It’s also not very flexible. You can only search on a literal string.”
During the build system project, Berman wanted to discover where a particular database field was being used. All the code – about 4,500 source files – was in the IFS. He used the open source tool, Grep and was “completely blown away when it spit out all the matching lines for our entire codebase in just a few seconds.”
He also discovered the impressive capability to complete complex searches such as show every line in every source file that contains a specific string, but only include those with the third character an ‘A’ or an ‘F,’ and only show matches if the keyword ‘eval’ precedes it on the line.
“It’s really powerful, and all that stuff comes bundled with PASE,” he says. “Plus, now that we have our source code in Git and on our local PCs, using tools like Grep and Sed is even faster.”
Steve Will, the chief architect for the IBM i operating system, is an open source advocate. During his watch, IBM i support for open source software has been greatly enhanced. In a January interview with IT Jungle, Will said interest in open source software within the IBM i community has snowballed.
“The number of people talking about open source on i has grown tremendously. During the past two years one of the biggest areas of new development and one of the areas that affect how app dev is going to be done is open source,” Will claimed.
At the upcoming COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition scheduled for May 7-10 in Orlando, Florida, there will be 29 open source related sessions. That’s almost 10 percent of the total conference educational sessions.