the REXX Files- by Paul Monaghan

I've done it, I think that I am now a convert. Converted to what you may ask? Well NetREXX of course!

What is NetREXX? NetREXX is a new programming language, a "flavor" of REXX if you will, written by Mike Cowlishaw at the IBM U.K. laboratories. With NetREXX you can create Java Applets and programs in a REXX-like language instead of in JAVA. I must admit that I don't fully understand it, but after looking at the source to some of this, I said to myself "I can do this, this is REXX!"

At first glance a NetREXX program doesn't look much different than REXX. Take this for instance:

   /This is a NetREXX program /
        say 'This is a NetREXX program'
The above is REXX. It's also NetREXX when compiled by the NetREXX compiler. "Easy," you say? But of course! NetREXX also gives the programmer access to Java Classes. That's right, program a NetREXX program, and then you can convert it to a Java applet, or Java Program to be run within your favorite browser such as the IBM WebExplorer Java Demo, or within JavaPM for OS/2. Your NetREXX program, once "caffeinated" (converted to Java) keeps its portability. That means that any Java applets you create can be run on any operating system that can run Java.

"What are the REAL benefits?" you may be asking. Well to put it bluntly, ease of use. Java is similar to the C programming language, which leaves it in the hands of seasoned programmers, making it difficult to learn. NetREXX, on the other hand, takes its lead from REXX, which was designed to be easy to use, and not require too much brain-beating. If you already know REXX, then NetREXX should be a breeze.

I must admit that NetREXX is a little overwhelming at first, and some knowledge of Java does help. Also, you need more than just NetREXX for NetREXX to work; you need the IBM OS/2 Java Developers Kit, or JDK for short, but don't worry, IBM has made this available as a FREE download on the WWW. You can get all the info you need to start with NetREXX and Java at the NetREXX homepage.

I started playing with NetREXX the second the download was finished, and I must admit that it is a little weird at first.

First off you have to write an "NRX" file, or NetREXX file, that is the NetREXX source code. Once you've done this you then have to compile it. (The NetREXX compiler is actually written in REXX; Mr. Cowlishaw promises that a coming version will be written in Java, which means that anyone on any platform will be able to run NetREXX.) What the compiler does is break down the file and figure out what it has to pass to the Java compiler, which then makes your Java Class file which is the finished Java program. Yes, this does get a little confusing, but I think that anyone who has played with REXX can figure much of this out without loosing much hair.

Still, I don't want to make it sound like anyone can sit in front of their computer and snap off a Java Applet with NetREXX is two seconds. This isn't the case. But you will make Applets faster with NetREXX than having to learn all of Java.

I must admit that my attempts have been dismal, but keep in mind I've only just started using NetREXX -- I'd say around 5 hours -- so I'm not exactly fully versed in its abilities yet. I played with a few of the example applets that come with NetREXX, trying to edit them, and while some of the parameters to some of the functions are easy to figure out, some have me completely baffled.

I encourage anyone interested in REXX and JAVA to give NetREXX a try. It's an interesting new language that gives the programmer multiplatform distribution abilities. Keep in mind that while I've talked about Java and NetREXX as a way to add to WWW pages, Java and NetREXX can create real "live" programs that run independently of a WWW browser. So take a look, and go check out the NetREXX homepage for more info and to download the software.

Next time I will be back with more regular REXX. I'm eager to try some sort of visual REXX environment, as I mentioned last time. I will, however, drop a few updates from time to time on this new incarnation of REXX, NetREXX, and see where it hopes to go.


Paul Monaghan is a Network Manager for ICAN a Montreal ISP. He also maintains a web page on How to make a BBS Telnetable and is a member of Team OS/2.

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