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August 18, 2011

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Can I get an AMEN, Sister!

Laura's story is wonderful but amazingly not unique. Thousands around the world are rediscovering the value of their IBM i investment by leveraging the PHP experience. From Prada to Starbucks companies are succeeding where they struggled for so long. The fact that recovering RPG developers can develop in the same language as recovering Java and recovering .Net developers brings us all back to the days I recall of the "RPG shop." Before the class wars start I am not advocating abandoning any technology. Just add PHP.

But, I recall learning RPG in an RPG shop where there was a senior RPG developer, two RPG developers and me as a associate RPG developer (associate = reports only). When we went to lunch, we talked about things and when we talked about tech we talked about RPG, CL and AS/400 (that was the name at the time, Trevor) and so on. It was organic. It was synergistic. And it worked! Guess what, I just left a company in St. Louis where it's working again. Six developers of varying levels working to understand, appreciate and succeed with PHP and not in defense of any of their technologies which include RPG III/IV, COBOL, .Net, Cold Fusion and more.

I had wondered if the entry level jobs have disappeared because no one has funding or bandwidth to foster training. Maybe not. In the new model of the PHP shop we are starting to see the entry level jobs come back to life. Very nice. This is what we call organic IBM i growth. We all need to GROW this community and stop lamenting its demise! This is what Laura has done and it is paying back HUGE! Yes, she invested in an entry level Goddess who is now kicking it with PHP, RPG and IBM i!

No more excuses, off you go!

Thanks Laura, Amanda and all!!!

Laura great story - I would agree we have also been working on the IBM i and creating PHP Applications. We have created a PHP supplier portal integrated into a Legacy ERP system for foundries. Including SICS, on time-delivery performance, PO acknowlegements and more. Other PHP apps that we have also created are, Material Safety Data Sheet compliance, LDAP integration to Lotus Notes and Windows Active directory for email lookup and user authentication. Creation of PDF's on the fly to generate Order Acknowlegements, Invoices and Statements. A recent PHP application was the generation of Process Sheets for the plant on demand (images, text etc.), with links to Shop Orders.

Like Laura we have found that PHP on the IBM i is more than just a smoking gun - it is a viable language to meet just about any need. This includes calling existing RPGLE programs from PHP to run a back office app, calling PHP from RPGLE programs to access a Windows MS SQL database - so yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus and on the IBM i PHP is here to stay.

Over the years we have tried Net.data, Java, .Net and more and then came PHP. I have been programming in RPG longer than I would like to admit and Mike is right "no more excuses" - so take a chance and write that first PHP application, it will be an exciting experience.

I couldn't be happer about my decision to specialize in PHP in 2005. In the time since Zend introduced its first server product on IBM i (in 2006), PHP on "i" has grown stronger and more widely used every year.

Another milestone was the introduction of Zend Framework (ZF), helping to raise professional PHP standards and making PHP more attractive to those with an enterprise sensibility. ZF was the framework I used when developing an IBM i-based e-commerce application for Allied Beverage Group, which won COMMON's 2009 award for best web application.

Being a PHP consultant for the IBM i community is a rewarding profession because I can show people a career path that allows them to stay on the "i" and also be in the forefront of open source web technology.

I've been unable to find a decent set of prototype PHP business applications I can use for learning and testing. The PHP books I've seen show you how to create a blog application or upload and image; I need to see practical examples--not necessarily "i" specific--of how to create lookup programs, customer master maintenance programs, and printing programs. I'd be grateful for suggestions or pointers to a repository. And if somebody wants to write the code, I'll write great documentation. Thank you!

There are a lot of great sources for PHP. It isn’t difficult to find snippets or complete sets of code surfing. There aren’t as many i examples but definitely you are starting to see more IBM i specific examples popping up as more organizations begin to use PHP on i. I highly recommend the following books if you are looking for i specific; “The IBM i Programmer’s Guide to PHP” written by Jeff Olen and Kevin Schroeder. Also, “You Want To Do What With PHP?” By Kevin Schroeder. The book Kevin Forsythe and I wrote – HTML For The Business Developer has a nice chapter on PHP with some examples. All 3 books are published through MCPress.


You will undoubtedly be visiting the zend PHP site www.zend.com and also www.php.net. Both awesome PHP sites you’ll want to add to your favorites list. If you are just starting out with PHP I’d recommend using some of the free training sites. Simply surf using “free php training online” or something similar and you’ll find a bunch of sites. One of my favorites is www.w3schools.com. W3 schools has free online training for HTML, HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and much more. These sites provide a good starting point and enough to get the gears moving. If you are serious - you may want to engage in more formal training through Zend. Zend offers a variety of classes and also PHP certifications for a cost. Many local colleges are now offering PHP courses some online and most working with MySQL not Db2 but often a good learning experience.


Linkedin has a lot of great open source and PHP groups. If you aren’t a Linkedin member sign up and join some of the PHP groups. You will find this very beneficial to learn and converse with other PHPers. Reaching out and making connections with others coding PHP on i is of great value. We can’t thank many of our connections enough including Erwin Early, Larry Nies, Alan Seiden, Mike Pavlak, Kevin Schroeder and Brian Mays. Consider your local user group. Many of the user groups across the Country have meetings dedicated to PHP and many also provide PHP at annual 1 day and 2 day conference events (even hands on). My local user group www.semiug.org is currently kicking off an effort to provide group members an opportunity to gain hands on experience working on a live project. We decided to start with a PHP project. You are welcome to join in. Common is also a great place to learn about PHP. Many of the presentations include code examples. The Common fall event includes PHP within the agenda. See www.common.org.


You will want to download and configure Zend Server and Zend Studio. You may download CE at no charge. Zend also provides an i5 toolkit. The toolkit has great i specific tools that are also great fun to work with. Once you have learned the basics of the language and have some small projects under your belt you will want to learn about frameworks. Not every project fits with use of a framework but many can be completed more quickly, with great results, using a framework. You’ll find there are a wealth of tools available to use with PHP (jQuery, CakePHP, Zend Framework, Zend i5 toolkit……….) and just about as much debate and personal opinion on which ones are the best. Personally I’m pleased there are so many options and enjoy the discussion. The best tools are those you are comfortable using that help you accomplish your goal - a great finished application delivered on time and on budget.


Laura Ubelhor

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