The time is NOW to retire the creaky old bones of fixed-format RPG

I was surprised to recently encounter a fellow veteran RPG developer who insists on using fixed-format despite all the advantages of the completely revamped, modern-language fully free-form version.  For starters, he defended fixed-format for its 1) “easier to read columnar format” and 2) “keeping the senior developers in their comfort zone is important.” All efforts and reasons to switch to free-format were soundly rejected.  Some of my reasons included:

  1. It’s flexible as businesses and technologies continue to evolve.
  2. The new efficient functions are only available in free-format.
  3. Newer coding techniques improve readability.
  4. Improved readability speeds up maintenance understanding.
  5. Maintenance can be done by a wider swath of developers.
  6. A wider swath of developers can deliver critical solutions faster.
  7. Delivering critical solutions faster……

Want more proof of continuous improvements to the language? Visit IBM’s RPG Cafe at Despite the many redeeming qualities of free-format, we continue to propagate the old language simply because we can. All that legacy code “ain’t (necessarily) broke,” and computers are backward-compatible. But that’s no excuse for perpetuating the need for backward-compatibility. That should be considered a bonus, something buying us extra time to get up to speed and future-compatible.

We need to up our game.

In a recent post on LinkedIn ( I asked how many shops and developers are committed to fixed-format RPG, and why. Most, regardless of age and experience, were advocates of free-format, and rightly so. As several commenters noted, the difference between the older and newer forms is not about the ability to write quality code; you can write good or bad code in either fixed or free, or any other language for that matter. They’re correct. It’s really about being comfortable, confident and accountable for the futures of our employers, our customers, our co-workers and our industry. For that, we must be willing to grow. And growth requires change; it demands leaving one’s comfort zone to learn and practice new things.

While my fellow RPG veteran argued perhaps the most “redeeming” quality of fixed format is that it does not require developers to change, I reject that notion. It is incumbent upon leadership to demand high quality code. Moreover, talented newer-generation developers who know free format and understand its virtues may not (or more likely probably not) stick around a shop that forces them into fixed only.

To the “old-timers” resistant to change, I urge: Do not be afraid to venture out. Remember who you are. You started out as the ultimate adventurers, lured by the dare-we-imagine possibilities of what was once the stuff of science fiction. You turned cool concepts into possibilities and imagination into real-world experiences. And you’ve watched — even led — with awe the trends that land us here on the tech-forged cusp of the year 2021. Consider what your employer, peers and customers need from you now. Are you delivering something that sets them up for business growth — or for limitation, frustration, and stagnation?  Choose your legacy.

Published by Charles Guarino

Charles Guarino believes in the “power” of IBM Power Systems. His career reflects his interest in bringing the platform and its solutions to others. Charles started his professional journey as a department of one. Today, he is serving individuals on a worldwide basis though his consulting work and award-winning speaking engagements. Charles is a true people person and can often be found at conferences sharing his expertise in RDi and other IBM i topics. Reach out to Charles through his company, Central Park Data Systems, at [email protected]. He looks forward to hearing from you.