#1. And the best reason to code in free-format syntax is: We can finally see the structure of our code as we work with it!
Just a few more words on that last point. Free-format is just that - free. A programmer can choose to start a statement in any column after column 7 and continue through to column 80. So nested logic can now be indented, allowing us to craft code that conveys an immediate and intuitive sense of the order and conditions of execution. Nested fixed-format code can be difficult to work with, and if it’s deeply nested it can be an outright nightmare. This problem is removed in free-format RPG. Properly indented nested control structures tell the story at a glance. It simply takes less mental energy to understand the intent of well-written free-format code.”
Before we go too deeply, note the use of “weasel” words. Weasel words are words that you can use to show, if someone questions you on the validity of a claim, that you qualified it so that it didn’t say what he thought it said. (I learned the expression in a book on advertising.) Note- nested fixed-format CAN BE (not IS) difficult to work with. PROPERLY INDENTED (not ALL) control structures tell the story at a glance. And the reference to WELL-WRITTEN free-format code. This allows you to say that if the nested code is obscure, it was not properly indented or well-written. Somewhat different than the common unqualified claims that free-format code IS easier to understand.
We are not under the illusion that what follows will convince people to use fixed format instead of free-format RPG. What we do hope is that a free-format advocate will look at the whole situation with a more open-minded attitude than he does now, that it is not an open-and-shut case that free-format is easier or more usable.
But to proceed:
1. Note that word “intuitive” used again. As with our previous posts, we ask: Intuitive for whom? And the answer is the same- intuitive for the person who has been trained on block-structured code.
Brian Kelly, a noted ex-IBM Systems Engineer, author, and lecturer, gave these comments in a discussion of what he did and didn’t like about RPG IV:
“Hey, I liked RPG IV when it came out with the larger field sizes and the D: spec and the date operations. I am not as fond of the new RPG with its ILE connotations, difficult to understand procedure prototyping, and Java like built-in functions. I would have been happy without those. I liked being able to debug a customers code by looking on the right side of the RPG page looking for where a variable was changed or an indicator was turned on.” In other words, he liked fixed format, where he could expect to see result fields and indicators on the right side of the page. Free-format is not so easy or comfortable for those who are used to fixed-format code.
But perhaps you would expect that. These old stick-in-the-mud, died-in-the-wool coders are just too set in their ways, aren’t they? So let’s look at it a little more deeply. (more…)