|Initial release||July 1992|
PowerBuilder 2017 R3 / July 2018
|Written in||C++ and C#|
|Operating system||Microsoft Windows|
|Available in||English, Japanese for the IDE (numerous languages supported for deployed applications)|
PowerBuilder is an integrated development environment owned by SAP since the acquisition of Sybase in 2010. On July 5, 2016, SAP and Appeon entered into an agreement whereby Appeon would be responsible for developing, selling, and supporting PowerBuilder.
PowerBuilder has been in use since 1991, peaking around 1998 with around 100,000 users. While PowerBuilder's market share has declined over the years, many applications created with it are still in use today.
Over the years, PowerBuilder has been updated with new standards. In 2010, a major upgrade of PowerBuilder was released to provide support for the Microsoft .NET Framework. In 2014, support was added for OData, dockable windows, and 64-bit native applications. In 2017, support was added for iOS and Android app development.
PowerBuilder 2018 provides new targets to enable developers to rapidly create RESTful Web APIs and non-visual .NET assemblies, in a test-driven manner, with the native PowerBuilder IDE and C#. A preview version is currently available for select customers.
PowerBuilder has a native data-handling object called a DataWindow, which can be used to create, edit, and display data from the database. This object gives the programmer a number of tools for specifying and controlling user interface appearance and behavior, and also provides simplified access to database content and JSON or XML from Web services. To some extent, the DataWindow frees the programmer from considering the differences between Database Management Systems from different vendors. Datawindow can display data using multiple presentation styles and can connect to various data sources.
PowerBuilder is used primarily for building business CRUD applications.
Although new software products are rarely built with PowerBuilder, many client-server ERP products and line-of-business applications built in the late 1980s to early 2000s with PowerBuilder still provide core database functions for large enterprises in government, higher education,, manufacturing, insurance, banking, energy, and telecommunications.
Job openings for PowerBuilder developers are readily available but often revolve around maintaining existing applications.
PowerBuilder was originally developed by Powersoft in 1991. Powersoft went public in 1993 and was acquired by Sybase for $904 million in Sybase stock in 1995. In May 2010, SAP announced that it would be acquiring Sybase for $5.8 billion. PowerBuilder languished for a long time for several reasons:
- Sybase's stock plummeted in 1996 after discovery of inflated sales reports, and many members of the original Powersoft development team left Sybase.
- Competition from rival tools for building GUIs to databases such as Microsoft Visual Basic, Microsoft Access, and Delphi reduced PowerBuilder's market share.
- PowerBuilder was slow to move to the Web: long after rivals began to support Web development, it continued to be based on two-tier (traditional fat-client-server) technology. Two-tier approaches, while allowing more rapid development, are inherently less scalable than N-tier solutions (such as Web-based database solutions).
PowerBuilder 12, through compatibility with Web technologies such as ASP.NET and Web services, represented an attempt to regain market share. In order to move developers to newer versions, PowerBuilder 12 provided utilities that attempt to simplify migration.
In December 2013 SAP announced the new version going directly to number 15 and released a beta version. Key features included support for the .NET Framework v4.5, SQL Server 2012, Oracle 12, Windows 8, OData and Dockable Windows. SAP later released this as version 12.6.
On July 5, 2016 Appeon signed an agreement with SAP to develop a new generation of the PowerBuilder development platform. Appeon announced plans for major innovations, ranging from mobile and cloud deployment to test-driven development and continuous integration. Under the terms of the agreement with SAP, Appeon will be responsible for developing, selling and supporting its own offering powered by PowerBuilder technology.
On June 30, 2017 PowerBuilder 2017 was launched by Appeon. This release is the first new installment of PowerBuilder from Appeon and is the first release of PowerBuilder to support Windows 10, iOS, and Android app development.
Summary of PowerBuilder features
Powerscript is an object-oriented programming language. Nearly all of the visual and non-visual objects support inheritance, polymorphism, and encapsulation. The programmer may utilize a common code framework such as PowerBuilder Foundation Classes, also known as PFC, to inherit objects from and leverage pre-existing code.
The DataWindow is the key component (and selling point) of PowerBuilder. The DataWindow offers a visual SQL painter which supports outer joins, unions and subquery operations. It can convert SQL to visual representation and back, so the developer can use native SQL if desired. DataWindow updates are automatic — it produces the proper SQL at runtime based on the DBMS to which the user is currently connected. This feature makes it easier for developers who are not experienced with SQL.
The DataWindow also has the built-in ability to both retrieve data and update data via stored procedures. The user picks the stored procedure from a visual list.
PowerBuilder offers native interfaces to all major databases, as well as ODBC and OLE-DB, in the Enterprise version. There are many connectivity options that allow performance monitoring and tuning, such as:
- Integrated security
- Tracing of all SQL
- Isolation level
- Password expiration dialog
- Blocking factor
- Number of SQL statements to cache
- Use connection pool
- Thread safety
- Trace ODBC API calls
Due to the information about the database schema (such as primary key information) that are stored in PowerBuilder's data dictionary, the code required to implement data display and browsing is greatly simplified, because the dictionary information allows generation of the appropriate SQL behind the scenes.
PowerBuilder supports the following ways of interacting with a database:
DataWindow: this is the simplest approach, relying on automatically generated SQL.
- "Embedded SQL"
- Embedded SQL supports SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE and cursors. This option is used when the developer desires more control than is available with the DataWindow option. Example:
UPDATE my_employee SET STATUS = 'A'; IF sqlca.sqlcode<>0 THEN ...
- "Dynamic SQL"
- This is a form of parameterized SQL, where the user builds a string that may optionally have bind variables. Dynamic SQL may be used to create cursors as well.
Integration with third-party software
PowerBuilder supports ActiveX and OCX controls, both visible and non-visible. It also can use OLE Automation as a client. However, PowerBuilder supports only late binding, not early binding. Therefore, when using OLE Automation, a dropdown of possible actions is not provided. PowerBuilder can also act as a DDE client or server, providing a further mechanism to interoperate with other applications.
PowerBuilder can make Windows and third-party API calls, and, in general, works well with third-party libraries in DLL files, however it does not directly support callback functions.
Compilation and debugging
PowerBuilder offers a "/pbdebug" (or variants: "-pbdebug", "-pbd", "/debug", "-debug", "-deb") runtime switch, which creates a log file. This can help track down a bug "in the field", as the user simply emails this log file to the developer. It has another feature which can log all SQL statements to a file. It also has built-in performance profiling, an integrated debugger, context-sensitive help, and an active newsgroup to provide support.
PowerBuilder applications are typically compiled to p-code, which is then interpreted by the PowerBuilder run time. Although it can be compiled to machine code (called c-code), a typical business application does not run a lot faster. However, applications which do an unusually large number of computations (I/O, DBMS interaction, etc.) are likely to benefit up to 4,000x faster from compiling to machine code. The main reason why compiling to machine code was not used is an enormous number of errors in PowerBuilder especially in machine code generation.
Extensibility of the language was rather limited for older versions of PowerBuilder. The technologies provided to overcome this (ex. PowerBuilder Native Interface, or PBNI) is rather tricky. To develop a solution that includes external C++ code may not only require a competent C++ developer, but also a PowerBuilder expert to guide the developer through the myriad subtleties of the language and the PowerBuilder Virtual Machine.
Inheritance and object-oriented features are limited to some object types (Windows, Userobjects and Menus). In particular, it is not possible to inherit from a Datawindow. A Powerbuilder user cannot open a descendant and a parent at the same time in the painter, though they can see all ancestors' code while working on the descendant.
To address these criticisms, Appeon has set a new roadmap for PowerBuilder, which it publishes openly on the Appeon Website. The (classic) PowerScript language itself, which is still available for compatibility reasons, is known as "a language built around the DataWindow" amongst developers with PowerBuilder being the "IDE built around the DataWindow". C# development centered around a new C# DataWindow with automated migration of existing DataWindows is scheduled to be introduced in PowerBuilder 2018.
Since Appeon took over PowerBuilder, it has launched a new official community website for PowerBuilder developers. This community website offers technical articles, webinars, and Q&A, which are authored by community users. Appeon also hosts an annual user conference called Appeon Elevate, and recordings of the conference sessions are available from the conference website. There are a number of local user groups around the world that cooperate with Appeon to deliver abridged versions of the conference in seminar format and local language. 
There are also a variety of grass roots community groups and resources for PowerBuilder developers to share and convene. PowerBuilderTV is series of webinars by PowerBuilder users and vendors that tend to focus on third party add-ons. PowerBuilder Central is a community initiative to create a single source for third party add-ons and services. PowerToTheBuilder is a social platform for PowerBuilder developers.
- Appeon PowerServer Mobile - Develop native mobile applications with PowerBuilder that runs on iOS (iPad and iPhone) and Android (tablets and phones) with support for the mobile device APIs and Apache Cordova plugins.
- Appeon PowerServer Web - Deploys existing or new PowerBuilder projects as Web applications that runs natively on either .NET or Java servers with support for most PowerBuilder features.
- Visual Expert for PowerBuilder - Visual Expert helps in sharing the knowledge of your applications. It also automates impact analysis and checks code quality.
- Enable Multilingual - Enable makes PowerBuilder applications multilingual quickly and easily. Using Enable, developers can only need to make a few small changes to the original PowerBuilder code to go from monolingual to multilingual.
- ProDiff for PowerBuilder - ProDiff is designed to highlight the differences between versions of PowerBuilder development source code.
- Visual Guard for PowerBuilder - Visual Guard is an access control and application-level permissions tool. It helps you centralize view and control of users and their rights in PowerBuilder applications.
- Customization Studio for PowerBuilder - Customization Studio allows end-users to modify the executable version of a PowerBuilder application without changing the source code.
- STD Framework for PowerBuilder - A Free object oriented development framework for PowerBuilder Classic, Web Services, Appeon PowerServer Web and Mobile.
- PB Ultimate Suite - A suite of controls, written in PowerScript, that modernizes the GUI of PowerBuilder applications; PB Ultimate Suite gives applications a contemporary look and makes them more user-friendly.
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