IBA Group Releases Smart Mainframe Plugins

April 15, 2022

IBA Group developed plugins that enable those familiar with modern Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) to work comfortably with mainframes. The For Mainframe IntelliJ IDEA plugin leverages z/OSMF to interact with mainframe data sets and USS files. The Zowe Explorer for IntelliJ plugin provides support for browsing, editing, and creation of data on z/OS via z/OSMF REST API.

The goals of the mainframe plugins are:

  • Connect mainframes to the modern tech stack and development tools
  • Make mainframes more accessible and appealing to a wider developer audience
  • Improve user experience when developing for mainframes
  • Bring open source principles and tools to mainframes
  • Provide flexibility to IT teams coding in Java or Python
  • Encourage development teams to use IntelliJ IDE for mainframes

Background

After half a century, mainframes are a necessary reality for a variety of large businesses. Although viewed by many as an outdated technology, mainframes are still processing data for airlines, government agencies, financial institutions, and others. The mainframe platform remains unbeaten in terms of security and performance.

However, mainframes are also notorious for having unfriendly user interface, which is hard to learn and use, especially for young developers who prefer well-documented and intuitive technologies.  The mainframe tech stack looks fundamentally different from the modern tech stack and is outdated in many ways. Addressing the problem, IBA Group came up with the plugins built on the IntelliJ IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and Zowe, an open source software framework that bridges the divide between modern applications and the mainframe.

The development team set the following requirements for the plugins.

  1. No complex configurations, just a connection to the mainframe and a working set
  2. Follow the IntelliJ user flow to make the interface as modern as possible

After the winter SHARE 2021 conference, where IBA Group presented the first version of the For Mainframe plugin, developers from Broadcom joined the project and the two companies began cooperating to produce a Zowe client Kotlin SDK and a Zowe plugin for the Intellij platform.

Why IntelliJ and Zowe?

  • IntelliJ with the For Mainframe plugin solves mainframe’s UI/UX problems
  • IntelliJ provides a modern way to interact with the mainframe
  • For Mainframe uses the z/OS management facility (z/OSMF) for many tasks:
    • Task-oriented, web browser-based UI with integrated user assistance
    • Includes Rest API to perform this functionality using http/https protocols
  • The Zowe community created SDKs to send http requests to z/OSMF

These tools significantly improve the quality of code and increase productivity of developers.

Core Features

The solutions provide the following core features that make them powerful, easy to use, and above the existing options in the mainframe world.

  • Low Requirements: only an IntelliJ-based editor and internet access
  • Accessibility: installed directly from the JetBrains marketplace.
  • Foolproof File Systems: low probability of breaking any files when using the solutions
  • Ease of Use: drag and drop operations in both directions between OS and z/OS
  • Strong Safety: enable developers to call z/OSMF functions correctly
  • Easy Configuration: a single configuration file shared across the team
  • Free and Open Source

Next Steps: Roadmap and Community

Working in close collaboration with Zowe development teams, IBA Group is planning to add many new features to the existing plugins, including:

  • Closer integration with the Zowe platform
  • Code highlighting for COBOL, PL/1, JCL, and REXX
  • Dataset presets and edit/view modes
  • Capability to copy between different remote systems
  • Support for VSAM (Virtual Storage Access Method), DFSMS (Data Facility Storage Management Subsystem), and other cool features that are available only for mainframes

Currently, IBA Group is working to improve the For Mainframe and Zowe Explorer for IntelliJ plugins, as well as on development of an SDK in the Kotlin language. In addition, the IBA team is developing a Jenkins DevOps plugin with z/OSMF API support based on Zowe client Kotlin SDK.

The developer community can benefit from the IBA plugins in multiple ways, including using these for their everyday work, contributing to the plugins’ development and improvement, and bringing their own ideas to the community and exploring them.

Try out For Mainframe plugin

Try out Zowe Explorer for IntelliJ

 

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