Guru Classic: iSphere Plug-in Expands RSE/RDi Toolset
January 8, 2020 Susan Gantner
My series of three Guru tips on the free iSphere plug-in first appeared in 2015. Since I still find that most RDi users haven’t heard of it, I’ve decided to repeat the series as Guru Classics. I’ve made a few updates to this first one in the series due to enhancements made to both RDi and iSphere in the intervening years.
Followers of my Guru tips know that I’m a big RDi fan. These days I would be lost trying to write or maintain RPG code without things like RDi’s Outline, Error feedback, editor filtering, and Undo. But you know how it is: the more you use a toolset and come to depend on all the great things it can do you for you, the more you also begin to come up with thoughts like “but I sure wish it could do X . . . .”
One of the great things about RDi (and its predecessors, RDP and WDSC) is that it’s based on Eclipse, which was designed from the ground up to be extendable by anyone. That means that we don’t need to wait for IBM to come up with all the bells and whistles we may be wishing for because, if we are lucky, someone else just might beat them to the punch. Such is the case with a set of tools that I have been using called iSphere. Some of these tools have helped to fulfill my wish list for RDi.
iSphere is an open source project from Task Force Consulting in Germany, led by Frank Hildebrandt, and from Thomas Raddatz, author of other free utilities at tools400.de. It is a free collection of tools that plug into RDi to enhance functionality. The current list of tools includes enhanced or new support for things such as:
- Searching and editing messages in message files
- Editing Binding Directories
- Multi-member/file source search
- Data Area and User space designer and editor
- Tasks from tags in source code comments
- Compare and merge source members
- Filter management – import and export
- Spooled file viewer
Some of you may be thinking that you can already do some of those things with the base RDi toolset. But what you’ll find is that the iSphere version of those features is different and often more flexible and/or faster than what you can do with the base code from IBM.
One of my favorite iSphere features isn’t in that list: Remote Systems view object and source decorations. We’re not talking about the kind of decorations to make things pretty. In this case it’s about decorations that make RSE more productive.
Remember in PDM when you look at a list of objects or members you can see the text for each list item? You can get that information with the base RDi toolset: one at a time via the Properties view or for the entire list in the Object Table view. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see the text right there in your Remote Systems view, along with the name and type? That’s what these decorations do for you. Take a look at my Remote Systems view in Figure 1 to see what it looks like.
That’s just one of many improvements that come by installing the iSphere plug-in. There are so many tools in the package that it will take me multiple tips to be able to do justice to them. So I thought I’d whet your appetite with this first tip. For those of you who just can’t wait to get started making RDi even better, I’ll go ahead and tell you how to get iSphere installed for yourself and turn on that text option.
iSphere requires both a client portion of code and a host portion to be installed. Of course, the host code only needs to be installed once for all the iSphere users on that system/partition while the client code is installed on each workstation. Since there is help in the client code for downloading and installing the host code, we’ll start with installing the client side. If you were to run into difficulty, read on for where to get further instructions in the documentation.
The iSphere installation instructions warn that if you install it to c:\Program Files, you must be signed on as Administrator on your workstation. The iSphere authors therefore recommend installing it to c:\IBM\… to avoid problems during installation.
There are now two primary ways to install iSphere. I’ll describe both options that I’ve used here. In both cases, the client code will be installed directly from the internet.
These days, I find the easiest way to both install and update iSphere is by using the Eclipse Marketplace …option from the Help pulldown in RDi. This option wasn’t available when this tip was first published. The original instructions should still work so those earlier instructions remain here, just read on.
When the marketplace dialog comes up, enter “iSphere” into the find box and press the Go button. It will find the iSphere plug-in for you and the dialog will look something like the one in Figure 2.
Since this image came from my RDi installation and I already have iSphere installed, the button on the right shows “Installed.” If I didn’t have it installed, it would say “Install.” Clicking that button will lead you through the process to install the latest version of iSphere, whether or not you previously had it in installed.
Here’s the second primary way to install iSphere — the same as it was in the original tip.
In RDi, take the option to “Install new software” from the Help menu. In the “Available Software” dialog box, click the Add button near the top right corner. Fill in a name — such as iSphere — and the following location from which to download the tool. Use http://isphere.sourceforge.net/eclipse/rdi8.0/ for the location and press OK. It will go out and find iSphere and begin the process of installing the plug-in.
If for some reason you’re not able to install directly from the Internet, there are instructions for installing from a local site (after downloading the appropriate zip file) in the documentation, which you can also find here: http://isphere.sourceforge.net/help/
The instructions above only install the client side of the code. To install the companion code on the host (IBM i) perform the following steps. Only one person needs to do this step.
Look for the new iSphere menu in your RDi after installing the client side and re-starting RDi. If you want to use the defaults for how to download the host library, you can simply use the Transfer iSphere Library option from that menu. However, I’d advise you to look at the preferences first to ensure the settings are appropriate for your environment. You should note that the save file used in the transfer process currently supports IBM i installations at 7.1 or later. If your development host system is earlier than that, check out the documentation mentioned above for guidance in downloading the source and manually compiling the plug-in for releases back to 6.1.
Bring up the RDi Preferences (Window → Preferences). Expand iSphere in the Preferences list on the left, then click on Library. Fill in the network name (or IP address) of your host IBM i system. Normally FTP uses port 21, which is the default, but if you know you need a different port, then fill that in. You may also choose the library name you want iSphere to be installed into on your system if you don’t want to use the default name of ISPHERE. Then press the button to Transfer the library. If all goes well, you will be asked to sign in and it will FTP a save file to your system and restore it. Then you’re ready to go.
There is one last important step in the installation process. If you want to turn on the decorations (i.e., the object and member text) in the Remote Systems view as illustrated earlier, you’ll need to go to RDi Preferences (from the Window menu). This time, expand the General category and then the Appearance category. Click on the Label Decorations item to bring up a list of decorations. Look down the list to find iSphere – Display Object and Source Descriptions (Remote Systems) and check the box next to that. Then click OK. If you use iProjects, you will also want to enable the similar option for … i Projects. You should now have text descriptions appearing! There are some additional preference options you can specify for adding library and/or file names to your iSphere decorations. To see those check out the Label Decorations option in the iSphere section of RDi preferences.
In future tips, I’ll go into more details about some of the other iSphere tools that I find particularly useful. So for those of you who are still not sold enough to download and install iSphere, stay tuned. I feel sure at least one of these tools will capture your attention.
Susan Gantner, an IBM Champion and co-author of the popular Redbook, Who Knew You Could Do That with RPG IV, is one of the top speakers/writers/trainers on IBM i development topics. She is a partner at Partner400 and System i Developer, and she hosts the RPG & DB2 Summit twice per year with partners Jon Paris and Paul Tuohy.