Powerbuilder: Datawindow – what tier?

In continuation of my recent post about PowerBuilder – what tier, I would like to explore a little more on the technical front. In any books or articles on the power of PowerBuilder, you will always confront a Datawindow. A Datawindow is the heart of the GUI development in PowerBuilder.

By design, a datawindow is truly 2-tier. You design a Datawindow by adding a SQL Statement – from the database tier, the 2nd tier. Then you design the GUI of the database to be displayed in the client – tier 1. This is a datawindow. If you follow MVC pattern, Model is there, View is there and the controller is sort of built into the GUI itself (like validation etc). It’s a great innovation of that time.

dw-pic1

Fig 1. How a (2-tier) Datawindow works – couresy: Hyderabad College

To use a datawindow in such an environment, all you need to do is the following:

dw_employee.DataObject = d_employee
dw_employee.SetTransObject(SQLCA)
dw_employee.Retrieve()

You are done! (I left out details of the datawindow object, connection parameters and Retrieveal parameters for simplicity). In this case, you are directly connecting to the database from the client and the data flows directly into the datawindow control. You could actually share the data on a datawindow with another (using ShareData function). This allows you to retrieve once and show the same data in different formats.

Distributed Datawindows/Datastores

Then came the n-tier or the distributed architecture revolution. With Datawindow being at the heart of PowerBuilder design, how would you get the middle tier in? Particularly, when the middle tier being the one that’s supposed to connect to the Database.

Before going full on to middle tier in the form of an Application Server, PowerBuilder floated the idea of the Distributed PB as early as ver 5.0. They introduced the concept of HTML datawindows. They also introduced the idea of a Datastore, a non-GUI datawindow object. (Before datastore, we used to create a hidden datawindow, which still painted the datawindow behind the scene and thus still the overhead). These were steps in the right direction to distribute an application. (I have a gripe though that Datawindow (control) and Datastore don’t share the same object hierarchy!! So, you constantly have to test for the type of the object. How Sybase missed such a basic thing, beats me!).

Then came the Application Server called, EAServer. To be able to retain the datawindow and still be able to follow a MVC pattern, Sybase introduced the distributed Datawindow. Well, it wasn’t exactly an attribute of the data model, but a method in the datawindow object to synchronize a Datawindow (or datastore) object structure and data across the tiers. To do this, they use Serializing/De-serializing a datawindow using couple of new methods – GetFullState and SetFullState. See here for more detail.

3tierig 2. 3-tier architecture – courtesy: Simcrest

With the distributed Datawindow, you create a Datastore in the Application Server (EAServer) and synchronize it with a client side Datawindow (control) with the same structure.

With the Datawindow control being on the client and that you cannot connect to the database directly, above example requires some code adjustment:
Client

dw_employee.DataObject = d_employee
// Get the blob from the Server
Connection.CreateInstance(iuo_employee)
lblb_dwblob =iuo_employee.RetrieveData()
dw_employee.SetFullState(lblb_dwblob) ...

Where iuo_employee is a non-visual object created on the server.

Server

Function iuo_employee.RetrieveData()

...

ds_employee.DataObject = d_employee ds_employee.SetTransObject(SQLCA) ds_employee.Retrieve() lblb_dsblob = ds.employee.GetFullState()

// Somehow send it to the client.

 

Distributed_DatawindowFig 3. Simple implementation of a distributed Datawindow

There you have it. PowerBuilder somehow, did manage to distribute their GUI object called the datawindow. You essentially create a non-visual Datastore that has the same attribute as the Datawindow control. Retrieve it and send the results as a blob to the client to be shared and shown on the Datawindow control.

Only one problem is that you are sharing both the data and the structure of the Datawindow object between client and server. This is slightly in cotrast with how other platforms would implement this. In Java, for example, your JTable still stays on the client, while the TableModel could be made to use a middle tier object to fetch the data. The middle tier object could then connect to the database to get the actual data.

I would have preferred  if they made the Datastore the data/model portion of the Datawindow, instead of making it a new object as a Datawindow minus GUI. This way we could have reused the ShareData function in a distributed capacity in some way and implement the dealings with blob behind the scene. But that’s crying over a spilled milk. EAServer and the associated architecture is going away and thus the idea of distributed datawindow may disappear from PowerBuilder altogether. (However, Appeon may carry the concept forward. See here).

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