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  Confessions of a Language Polygamist

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Jon Bradley
Software Engineer

ome programmers continually experiment with new languages and feel comfortable using multiple languages, even on the same day. I am not one of those people. I have always regarded myself as a language monogamist. In the same way that some people can chart their lives by the music albums they listened to in different periods of their lives, I can divide my life into stages based on the language in which I programmed. As a young rookie, I programmed in QBasic, then C. Somewhere in college I began to experiment, going from C to PERL. After a summer job tricked me into switching from PERL to Java, I thought Java was my “one and only - ‘til death us do part.”

My Confession
Well I was wrong. Over the course of several years as a BASIS Java engineer, BBj® began to move ahead and take its place as my second workhorse language. It all came as a bit of a surprise, but often BBj was the fastest way I could think of to implement some random application, be it a test harness, or a mortgage calculator. In many ways, BBj meets or beats Java by providing a sophisticated environment, an easy to use GUI, and some great development tools. This makes sense when you stop to think about it. BASIS wrote BBj in Java. The BBj project has many hundreds of thousands of lines of code; many of which specify improvements in Java functionality, or simplify tasks that are more difficult in Java.

At TechCon2006, an attendee asked me “If I don’t have any old PRO/5® code or data and if I’m starting from scratch, why would I use BBj instead of just using Java?” It then occurred to me that we do not highlight the improvements BBj makes upon Java. So, I took the mission upon myself to do just that – expose, in this article, the many ways that developing in BBj is BETTER than or AS good as developing in Java.

Simpler Code
In many cases, BBj code is simpler and shorter than Java. For instance, compare the standard Hello program in BBj (Figure 1) with Java (Figure 2):

Figure 1. HelloName.src code sample in BBj
Figure 2. HelloName.src code sample in Java

An even more revealing example is in a small GUI application illustrated in the next two figures. Compare the incredibly large amount of complex Java code in Figure 3 with the smaller amount and far simpler BBj code in Figure 4. Two very different programs, one almost triple the size of the other, result in identical output.

Figure 3. Pushme code written in Java to create the sample GUI output
Figure 4. Pushme code written in BBj to create the sample GUI output

As you can see from these small examples, the BBj code in Figure 4 is more succinct. BBj provides a host of language functionalities that other languages, such as Java, typically leave to the developer. For instance, Databound GUI controls make the process of displaying and updating table/file information significantly less complicated in BBj.

Objects
An area in which BBj used to lag was its object oriented capabilities. No more. BBj 6.0 introduces custom objects that provide the developer with a robust object system. In addition to custom objects, BBj has always been able to embed Java objects including the extensive core libraries, or custom Java classes.

Database Management System
Out of the box, Java does not provide any keyed table or file types or database capabilities. BBj, however, provides transaction tracking, extremely fast keyed look-ups, table/file locking, and full DBMS functionality. BBj provides SQL access via both the SELECT verb, and JDBC/ODBC access. As of version 6.0, BBj provides triggers and stored procedures to ease implementation of a host of data-centric issues. In addition, both trigger and stored procedure logic is coded with the BBj language.

Deployment Choices
Using 3-tier BASIS architecture, developers can deploy BBj in many different ways. Thin Client allows the data and processing to occur on a remote server, while the GUI or CUI presentation occurs on the client machine. Deploying through Web Start can update client machines automatically with the latest BBj.

Interactive Interpreter
In BBj, the developer can debug/edit a running application within our fully interactive interpreter. This greatly speeds development and maintenance of applications due to the ability to load or run arbitrary code at the command prompt. There simply is no >READY prompt in Java. For many of our developers this feature has been the essential enabler for delivering exceptional end-user support and troubleshooting capability.

Program Format
BBj can load or save both ASCII and tokenized programs. Furthermore, a developer can load a program as ASCII and save it as tokenized, or vice versa. In Java, not only is the source program always flat text, (with a required .java extension), but Java can only run a compiled .class file. BBj also provides SAVEP protection to protect your source code from prying eyes.

Figure 5. Configuring a database using the BASIS IDE

Developer Tools
BASIS facilitates development of applications with the BASIS IDE as shown in Figure 5. From within the IDE, you can edit and debug programs, configure Data Dictionary tables/files, create resource files to specify GUI forms, view data within BASIS-keyed tables/files, or quickly create full applications using AppBuilder.

Developer Support
Anyone active on the BBj developer list knows that BASIS provides very responsive support to developers. While Java does have a developers’ forum, you can measure responsiveness to a bug report in ‘months.’ BASIS often provides turnaround from a support and sales standpoint the same day. Our engineering department frequently incorporates suggestions from the development community in upcoming releases.

Summary
So, it is no secret that I still program in Java, but there are so many situations where BBj’s interactive interpreter, easy table/file access, and GUI system make it the easiest language to use. The BASIS IDE allows me to create GUI screens and full applications faster than I could in Java. With backward compatibility to legacy Visual PRO/5® code and data, BBj certainly has its own share of strengths when standing up against Java. I guess this does make me a language polygamist…enjoying the best of both worlds.

 

For additional information, read Using Triggers to Maintain Database Integrity and Using Stored Procedures to Add Business Logic to the Database in this issue.

For more information about deployment choices, read Choices, Choices, Choices.

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