plapp - How to create ProLine applications


This document describes the procedures recommended for creating applications for use in the ProLine environment.

One of the best things about ProLine is its “extendibility” in the form of user-written programs, and the ease with which they can be created. Not only does this provide custom functions for individual sites, but such extensions can be distributed to others, and everyone benefits. This has already been done, and the Morgan Davis Group (MDG) would like to encourage additional development along with some reasonable guidelines.

Before starting on any new or converted program for ProLine, you should have the ModemWorks Programmer’s Manual, available from MDG. This manual describes all the commands and techniques for managing the communications interface between BASIC programs and the system. MD-BASIC is also highly recommended for doing your ProLine development.

The Hard Way

Creating a ProLine program using Applesoft’s immediate input mode is possible. In fact, until 1990, ProLine was created and maintained for six years in this way. Everyone has immediate mode Applesoft, so anyone can easily create ProLine applications without any special tools — it’s just painfully inconvenient compared to using MD-BASIC.

It also becomes difficult to maintain and support when core functionality in ProLine changes to accommodate new features. ProLine programs written in MD-BASIC using the core set of ProLine library functions need only be recompiled with little or no changes to the program source code. Programs written in Applesoft require extensive changing after analyzing the raw output from newer MD-BASIC-generated programs.

Thus, this method of development is highly discouraged since compatibility with updated versions of ProLine cannot be guaranteed nor easily maintained.

The Easy Way

MD-BASIC comes with a complete subroutine library and interfaces for creating ProLine applications in a very neat and powerful C-like environment for BASIC.

Here is a sample program for ProLine written in MD-BASIC:

#define IDENT_PROG "args" #define IDENT_VERS "1.0" #define IDENT_DATE "30mar94" #define IDENT_NAME "Morgan_Davis"
#include <proline/proline.h> ' Include ProLine interface
gosub AppInit ' Initialize environment for arg = 0 to argc - 1 ' Loop through arguments print argv$[arg] " "; ' Display them next print ' Finish up with a newline goto Exit ' And then exit
#include <proline/proline.lib> ' Include subroutine library

See the proline.h and proline.lib, files for important instructions and handy constant definitions. ProLine developers can also take advantage of additional libraries, such as launch.lib (a simple command line processor that can be used to launch external programs and return back to yours), getopt.lib (a command line option processor making it easy to parse mixed arguments and flags), and more.

Resource Files

If your program includes various settings and adjustments that the user may want to configure, keep them in an external data file. Do not hard-code settings into your program. That’s ugly and gross, and not very friendly. Let the administrator change the operation of your program by editing settings with an editor.

Your external data files, called “resource files”, are stored in the $/etc/rsrc directory, and end with the .rsrc extension. The first part of the resource file name should match the name of your application (e.g. the “sendmail” application has a “sendmail.rsrc” file).

Do not deviate from this naming convention, as a future resource editing utility might expect to find matching “.rsrc” files. The format of your resource file should be fairly simple — one data item per line if possible. Lists of items should include a count line preceding the lines of items.

If your program must store a data file for each user who uses it (e.g. user preference settings), determine if your program should allow the user to edit the file (and possibly mess up its format) if saved in the user’s home directory. Preference files that are changed by your program only should be stored in the user’s $/adm directory ($/adm/username) which is inaccessible to the user.

Input and Output

Using HOME in your program does not clear a caller’s screen. Nor will commands like HTAB and VTAB — they work only on the ProLine host’s display. Refer to the &IOCTL command in the ModemWorks manual for details on local and remote screen manipulation.

Avoid Applesoft’s INPUT statement for getting input, especially for numeric input. This is because Applesoft has some gross error messages that will be displayed if the user enters something it doesn’t like (e.g. ?REENTER or ?EXTRA IGNORED). Plus, INPUT won’t allow the user to enter certain characters. Instead, use AmperWorks’ more powerful &READ statement.

When reading data from a file, use AmperWorks’ &GET statement. &GET is clean. Applesoft’s INPUT does stupid things like clearing the screen from the cursor to the end of the line, and then moving the cursor down one line.

Don’t assume anything about the configuration of other sites. The only directories/volumes that you can reasonably assume to exist are those that are distributed with ProLine. For example, if you provide a program (or script) that makes use of “/ram”, it will fail on any site that doesn’t have a volume named “/ram” online!

Good Programming Tips

Here are some tips for creating good, high-performance code:


Use multiple statements per line. Your program executes faster and occupies less memory. For each line conserved, you save at least six bytes. (MD-BASIC automatically does this.)


Renumber by ones. Line numbers take up one byte per digit. The shorter your line numbers, the more you save. A good renumbering utility is recommended. (MD-BASIC automatically does this.)


Modularize large programs. If your application is larger than 20K in size, you should break it down into modules to leave enough RAM left for variable storage. Smaller programs run faster.


Eliminate unneeded processing in loops. If a statement in a loop is not necessary, move it outside of the loop. For each iteration of the loop, the statement will be executed, slowing things down.


for i = 1 to 100 j = q * 34 / c r = i + j gosub process_r next


j = q * 34 / c for i = 1 to 100 r = i + j gosub process_r next


Place frequently accessed routines at the top. Applesoft searches for program lines starting at the beginning of your program on down to the last line. The closer a referenced line is to the top, the sooner Applesoft finds it. It goes without saying: put the least commonly used routines at the bottom of your program.


Declare commonly used variables and constants at the start of the program. Give them short variable names (unless you’re using MD-BASIC which optimizes long variable names to short ones). Applesoft can evaluate a constant value faster if it is contained within a variable.


Use special (sneaky) effects to hide processing delays. If the program is about to begin some lengthy number crunching, the user perceives the passage of time is faster if there is a diversion (e.g. something to read). What might pass for a friendly delay loop for reading, might actually have been the initialization of a large matrix, or maybe some disk access.


ProLine boasts a powerful and convenient online help system that displays help documents in a programmable format for the best viewing on any screen, dot-matrix printer, or PostScript-compatible laser printer. Always include documentation in “man” formatted text files with your applications. See the man(CT) and manuals(M) entries for more details.

If you are distributing more than one file (e.g. the program file and its “man” file), place them into a ProLine archive (par) file. Be sure the archive retains the standard ProLine directory structure so that it can be easily unpacked on the target systems. To do this, always create ProLine archives from the perspective of the top-level ProLine System Directory ($/). Introduce new subdirectories before any files within it are referenced.

When you distribute your archive, include installation instructions (e.g. in the e-mail letter accompanying transmission of your archive, or secondary text file). This describes how to unpack your archive, be it encoded (uuencode or BinSCII) or compressed (ShrinkIt). If you can’t (or won’t) include installation notes, make sure the file’s suffix is descriptive of what’s inside:

ProLine Archive (par)
ShrinkIt Archive (shk)
Uuencoded (uu)
Uuencoded, compressed archive (shk.uu)

Steps for assembling a typical distribution:


Put all the files into a ProLine archive.


If larger than 10K, put the resulting .par file into a ShrinkIt archive (to take advantage of the compression).


Uuencode the resulting file for transmission via e-mail.


ProLine Application subroutines.

See Also

man(CT), manps(CT), manuals(M), par(C), updates(ADM), uuencode(C)