Is RPG Dead? The Wake

In a previous post called Is RPG Dead? The Autopsy, I suggested I’d probably have more to say on the subject. This offering is in response to Scott Klement’s editorial, RPG is Dead? Are You Serious?! I’d like to respond to a couple of points he makes.

First, he brings up the fact that people have been debating RPG’s death for the past 20 years, and yet RPG is still around. But why bring up the question at all if there was any doubt as to RPG’s future? Does anyone ask if Python is dead? Or PHP? Of course not! No one has to.

Next, he raises the point that most application development on IBM i is done in RPG. No one is denying that. However, no one can deny that IBM i is a platform in decline. The numbers just don’t lie. The fortunes of RPG are intimately tied to the fortunes of the platform. As IBM i slowly dies, so does RPG. (I said more on this theme in my blog posting Is RPG Dead? Do We Still Have To Ask?.)

Skipping past some history, Scott talks about what’s important to programming business logic. Let’s look at each in turn:

Business logic uses numbers heavily. Well, this is not unique to business applications. However, most arithmetic in any business application, like in any other domain, is integer arithmetic. Business logic does make use of decimal numbers, but even there, most operations involving decimal numbers are simply the movement of data. Actual decimal arithmetic is a small part of the logic, and in most business apps, could be implemented fully in SQL code. That said, other languages do have support for decimal arithmetic. Scott mentions Java for one. Python is another. Even PHP has support for decimals.

Business logic uses databases heavily. Business applications don’t have a monopoly on using databases. Many different domains, from gaming to on-line social networking to statistical analysis make at least moderate use of databases. And so you can find support for databases in practically every programming language out there. RPG gives you two choices: built-in I/O operations and pre-processed SQL. Other languages often provide higher-level access to databases. For example, in CakePHP, you define your high-level relationships (1-1, n-1, 1-n, n-n) between your tables, and one find() operation can bring in all related data for a transaction. That is, the framework figures out the SQL for you, including joins. Among the available RPG frameworks, which one can provide that level of power?

Business logic uses dates frequently. And so do many other types of programs. And so you can find date support in practically all modern programming languages. RPG is certainly not unique. Python has the datetime class. PHP has an extensive list of date/time functions and classes.

Business logic uses a lot of string manipulation. I disagree with that assertion since strings are most commonly needed in the presentation layer of an application. But let’s assume it’s true for business logic. Again, what modern programming language lacks support for strings? Languages like Python, Perl, and PHP (to name a few) all have very powerful string support. Much more powerful than RPG’s support. In those other languages, strings are all objects, with a rich set of methods. RPG, in comparison, has a rather limited choice of string operations. Consider the ease of doing regular expression matching in Perl, Python, and PHP. And compare that to what you need to do in RPG.

If these four categories define what’s important in programming business logic, there are clearly languages other than RPG that have a definite advantage. Whenever I see someone claim that RPG is the best language for business logic, I always interpret that to mean that the author simply knows RPG best. And Scott certainly is an expert on RPG.

Finally, Scott makes the point that RPG is still being enhanced and supported. True. However, other languages have long ago surpassed RPG in terms of features and capabilities. In my previous missive, I listed half a dozen features common to other programming languages that are still lacking in RPG. And I could have listed more. And other languages continue to grow and gain in popularity.

RPG will not disappear overnight. To say that RPG is dead is an exaggeration. However, it is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the I.T. world. I’m reminded of a job interview I had back in 2008 where the interviewer looked at my resume and asked: “What’s an iSeries?”. (RPG wasn’t discussed at all in that interview.)

Cheers! Hans

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