ANALYSIS: Powerful Data Access with Net.Data

By Mark Buchner

The AS/400 is a great application platform and you have first-rate data stored on it. Now, you would like to have your browser access your data--because everyone hates your 5250 emulation. What's an IT manager to do?

Have a look at IBM's Net.Data. It provides a powerful rapid development tool set that can create dynamic Internet and Intranet web pages. With Net.Data, it's possible to quickly create web applications with dynamic content, using data from an AS/400 DB2 Universal Database, as well as using the programming languages you have already have.

To create a Net.Data application, you will need to create a macro file. A macro file is simply a text file that resides on your AS/400 web server. Macro files contain a script like language, known as Net.Data interpreted macro language. When a macro is invoked, Net.Data interprets the macro files sequentially to create dynamic web-enabled applications. Web pages can be based upon input from the user, state of the database or system, or on business logic.

Macro files can also contain statements that can access your AS/400 Universal Database using SQL statements. From an SQL statement, Net.Data can automatically generate HTML reports without additional coding. Net.Data has built in support to handle SQL result sets so that you can customize your reports into an HTML table, or manipulate the data to suit your application needs. Net.Data can access data from both relational and non-relational databases residing in any ODBC-enabled database, including DB2, IMS, Sybase, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server.

Net.Data is an ideal choice for web application development because it can use the languages you already know. These languages can be added to an application by simply referencing the language straight inside your code. You can access programs, databases and programming languages through the language environment interface.

Language environments are accessed as a shared library on the AS/400. They provide access to the necessary functions and utilities or your business application. Net.Data provides language environments for RPG, the AS/400 System, C, C++, COBOL, Java, Java Applets, Oracle, Sybase, ODBC, REXX, Perl, SQL and other languages, as well as user-developed environments.

Net.Data supports many industry standards to deliver dynamic web page functions and logic, including Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). HTTP is the protocol used to deliver web pages from the web server to a browser. Net.Data also supports Common Gateway Interface (CGI). CGI supplies the middleware between a web server and external databases and information sources. CGI applications perform specific information processing, retrieval, and formatting tasks on behalf of the web server. Net.Data also supports FastCGI. FastCGI is a language independent, scalable, open extension to CGI that provides high performance without the limitations of server specific APIs. NetData can also interface to Java Beans, Lotus Domino Go Web Server and Netscape API.

With Net.Data you can create transaction-based processes with persistent macros. A persistent macro is one that contains functions enabling it to run as a part of a single CGI process. This allows multiple macros to run as a single transaction and as a single unit. Net.Data can then either commit the transaction when it is finished or rollback the transaction when it cannot be completed. This is a very important feature when dealing with sensitive data requiring high level completion because it ensures the continual integrity of your data.

Net.Data is the ideal tool to develop your Internet or Intranet application--it helps you bring the best features of your AS/400 business system together to develop net-enabled applications--without the need for specialized programming skills.

With its multi-linguistic capabilities, it is possible to develop applications with multiple programming languages thereby reducing the learning curve and taking advantage of the strongest aspects of each language.

Net.Data is shipped with OS/400 in V4R2 and earlier in the TCP/IP Connectivity Utilities for OS/400 and in V4R3 and beyond with the IBM HTTP Server for AS/400.

Mark Buchner is president and founder of Astech Solutions Inc. (Aurora, Ontario), which applies technology to the practical needs of the AS/400 market.

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