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WebFacing without WebSphere
Author: Craig Pelkie


It's no secret that IBM wants iSeries shops to use WebSphere. A lot of IBM's development, technical and marketing efforts are devoted to making WebSphere Application Server a useful and useable product on the iSeries. What seems to be missing, though, is recognition of what current iSeries and AS/400 developers have to work with. Many of these shops have servers that are quite adequate for RPG workloads, but don't have the horsepower to run WebSphere.

The problem is compounded by IBM's on-again, off-again approach to providing WebSphere to iSeries customers. At one point, WAS version 3.5 (standard edition) was shipped as a no-charge Licensed Program Product (LPP) with each new iSeries and OS/400 upgrade. WAS version 4 did not have a no-charge version, and although it provided a tremendous amount of functionality, was not widely adopted by iSeries developers. With WAS Express version 5, IBM brought back the lighter-weight, easy to configure version of WAS that is the best upgrade path from WAS 3.5. For a while, IBM offered a no-charge upgrade to WAS-Express 5 from WAS 3.5, but that offer is no longer available. WAS-Express 5 is now chargeable for iSeries customers, although in fairness, it is reasonably priced. With the recently announced i5 servers, it looks like IBM will again be providing a no-charge version of WAS-Express with the new servers (but not with V5R3 upgrades).

So you may or may not have WAS-Express. If you're just getting into modernization tools like WebFacing, you may feel that you're missing out. Although it is possible to run WebFacing using WAS 3.5, that is a major step backward from where the tool set is (WebSphere Development Studio Client for iSeries, WDSCi). Also, WAS 3.5 is no longer supported by IBM and it is becoming increasingly difficult to locate personnel who remember how to work with it.

But don't let any of that stop you. There is a perfectly good alternative that is on your iSeries, provided at no-charge with OS/400 V5R1, V5R2 and V5R3. That alternative is the Tomcat server. It ships as part of LPP 5722DG1, IBM HTTP Server. IBM did a really nice job of integrating Tomcat installation and configuration with the HTTP Server administration program. You don't need to know Java to use Tomcat, you just need to learn a little bit more about the HTTP Server administration steps.

Why use Tomcat?

The biggest reason to use Tomcat is: it's free! You don't need to worry about what versions of WebSphere you have or don't have, or figure out IBM's charges for WAS-Express based on various licensing schemes.

Another big reason to consider Tomcat for your iSeries is that it may be less performance intensive than WebSphere. In my limited testing on an iSeries model 270, Tomcat certainly starts up faster than WebSphere. When running a WebFacing application, the performance seems to be about equal.

That being said, there are many valid reasons to choose WebSphere instead of Tomcat, but most of those reasons are applicable only if you're developing your own Java applications. If you want to use WebFacing (which is a Java application), you can get equivalent results when you run your WebFacing application. Your end-users won't be able to tell the difference; all they'll see is the WebFacing application running in their browser.

How to get started
The path to WebFacing is through WebSphere Development Studio Client for iSeries (WDSCi). The current version of this toolset is WDSCi 5.1. There are two editions, the "standard" and "advanced" edition. You can develop WebFacing applications using either edition.

IBM has been shipping WDSCi (standard edition) with OS/400 upgrades and new orders for several years. If your shop has the LPP 5722WDS WebSphere Development Tools, you should have a copy of WDSCi. 5722WDS is the product you install to get the RPG or COBOL compilers on your iSeries. WDSCi is a set of four or five CDs and a DVD, shipped in its own CD wallet. If you don't know where it is, go locate your OS/400 install media; it's probably still in the box.

You install WDSCi on your PC. If possible, you should have at least 512MB RAM in your PC, as WDSCi is a hefty product. Once installed, you start it up and go to the WebFacing Perspective. That leads you through a number of steps to convert display file DDS source members into WebFacing applications. You do need access to the DDS source members; if you don't have the DDS source, you can use the Host Access Transformation Server (HATS) product to "webify" your existing green-screen applications.

One of the great features of WDSCi is its support for test environments. When you install the product, you can select a WebSphere Express test environment in addition to the default WebSphere Application Server test environment. Once in the product, you can also configure a Tomcat test environment. The value of using the test environment is that you can develop, run and test a WebFacing application on your PC before moving it to the iSeries. You need a TCP/IP connection from your PC to your iSeries, because WebFacing calls the RPG programs on your iSeries. If you use Client Access Express or iSeries Access for Windows on your PC, you have the necessary connection.

When you're ready to make your WebFacing application available to your users, you export the application from WDSCi to the Integrated File System (IFS). It turns out that WDSCi provides a fantastic tool called the Remote System Explorer (RSE) that gets you directly into the IFS. You don't need to worry about iSeries NetServer, mapping network drives, or any of those complicated techniques. With RSE, you just point to your iSeries server and start working with the IFS, as easily as you work with files on your PC using the Windows Explorer.

After exporting the WebFacing application to the IFS, you restart your Tomcat server. It detects the new application and automatically configures it. Within a minute or two, you can start accessing your RPG applications through your browser, running as WebFacing applications.

Available now
WebFacing does a pretty good job of putting a new look and feel on your existing programs. I was quite surprised at how easy the tool is to use and how good it does with typical RPG applications. If I was in a position where I needed to get a lot of code converted to a web application in a hurry, I would put WebFacing on the short list of products to evaluate.

WebFacing is included in WDSCi, which is essentially "free" to most iSeries shops. You can use Tomcat, which is provided at no-charge in OS/400. Those two facts make WebFacing one of prime contenders for a web-enablement strategy. The beauty of WebFacing is that as soon as you develop a green-screen RPG program, you can immediately web-face it.

To help get started, you can use a new training course that I've just completed, WebFacing Now! Tomcat Edition. This course shows you step-by-step how to install and use WDSCi, how to configure the Tomcat test environment in WDSCi, how to configure Tomcat on the iSeries, and how to get your WebFacing code from WDSCi over to the iSeries. It will probably take you less than 8 hours to work through everything in the course, so if you have some time spread over a day or two, you'll know exactly how to work with WebFacing. This is not just a boring manual to read; this is hands-on training that shows you exactly which buttons to push to get a result. Hundreds of other shops are already putting WebFacing to good use. WebFacing Now! Tomcat Edition will get you fully into the game and ready to work with modernized web applications.

Want more? Check out Craig's WebFacing Now! training:
WebFacing Now! Tomcat Edition    • WebFacing Now WAS-Express Edition