The Future of RPG

The emergence of the Internet and its flashy GUI applications has left us with one question in regards to the AS/400: What does the future hold for RPG?

Internet applications have made it easier for customers to perform transactions and enter their own personal information directly into your database, thereby reducing the chance for error. Slowly, with all this automation, there is less and less work for an old RPG application to perform. Also, with the many recent advancements in GUI development suites making it easier to develop interactive applications, old “green-screen” applications start to look outdated and out of place with all this new technology. It makes us wonder where this leaves RPG?

No one can argue the importance of RPG in the history of the AS/400. It is, after all, the dominant language in use on AS/400s—it’s on over 75 percent of all AS/400 development systems and in most of its applications. There is no other language that can be used to develop an application that takes advantage of the AS/400 that can compare to an effectively written RPG program. But there are limitations to existing RPG applications, most of which are written for character-based green screens and are not attractive.

Probably the biggest obstacle RPG faces is the emergence of Internet-based applications. No one can argue the benefits of boosting your Internet profile with slick graphical Web-based applications. They are becoming more and more necessary in opening your business to customers around the world and opening your doors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Having staff available to key in phone orders 24x7 is very expensive and a costly method of availability.

Also, the Internet provides a means for customers to view their purchases online and view each item to confirm its accuracy. With a tool such as IBM’s Net.Commerce, wizards can develop online storefronts that tie into your existing database. And to complete the Internet transaction, IBM’s Payment Gateway can authorize credit card purchases from your financial institution. The problem with RPG is that it cannot perform these tasks.

When the time comes to modernize your applications, what will you use—a suite that allows you to customize your interface and use the most up-to-date visual components, or a language that is highly restrictive in its visual development? GUI applications provide a visually attractive application as an interface to your AS/400 data. These applications can be written using a wide variety of development tools and can provide functionality that is impossible with RPG. But this additional functionality is usually a visual feature such as “drag and drop” and is not always necessary except for visualization of the action being performed.

With all these advancements in other tools, it is becoming harder to justify creating new applications using RPG. Even with the traditional benefits of using RPG on the AS/400, developing portable and visually attractive RPG applications is difficult, if not impossible.

To make use of RPG in an Internet world, you must take advantage of the benefits it offers, even if that includes changing the role from which it came. RPG was used to create both the interface to the application as well as the mechanism used to access the AS/400 as the back-end. To make use of it today, you will have to eliminate RPG as the means to develop the interface and use it as the back-end workhorse, leaving the visual presentation of the data to the GUI or Internet application.

This type of architecture uses the record access ability of the AS/400, as well as access to any other AS/400 resources needed for the application. This will allow you to divide the application’s processing between the HTTP server and the RPG application.

RPG may not fit like it used to with today’s technology, but it still has a place. It just has to fit by changing the role in which it works. This new role might require two sets of programmers, but it will give you the best of both worlds: the flashy GUI application and rock solid back-end processing.

Mark Buchner is president and founder of Astech Solutions Inc. (Aurora, Ontario).

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