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Formatting Messages in Java to Communicate with Legacy Systems, Part 1

  • March 22, 2001
  • By Sharath Sahadevan
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A lot of new applications are being written today in Java. Companies also have a vested interest in maintaining their legacy systems. So there is a need for Java applications to communicate with legacy systems through messages that those systems can interpret properly.

This article discusses some of the issues involved in formatting messages to be sent to a legacy system. The legacy system usually expects its messages in a rigid format. We will illustrate how such a message can be built in Java. And we will also show how to construct a byte stream in EBCDIC (Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code) format in a Java application.

I work on a Java application that uses sockets to communicate with the legacy system. Two threads exist, one to write to the legacy system and another to read messages from it. This document is not intended to discuss the architecture. The focus is on building the message that needs to be sent.

The message format:

Here is a sample message format that we will use in this document. Note that this is just a hypothetical message and the goal here is to study how to construct the message.

Bitmap (16 bytes) : 11110000 00000000

Data Item 1 : 6 digit integer
Data Item 2 : ....
Data Item 15 : .....
Data Item 16 : .....

Each bit in the bitmap will indicate whether the data item exists in the message or not. In the above example the bitmap indicates that data items 1, 2, 3, 4 exist, while 5, 6, 7, 8 ... 15, 16 do not exist. If our message only has data item 1, then the bitmap should be 10000000 00000000.

This message format is very flexible and does not require all the different data items to be present in every message. The bitmap identifies the data values that are present in the message.

Building the message:

The following classes were used to build the message.

  1. BuildMsg
  2. InputData
  3. DiDefine

These classes are explained in detail in separate sections to follow. An InputData object is set up for every new message. This object will have all the input data for a particular message. The InputData object has separate set methods for every data item. The processRequest method of the BuildMsg class is called to construct the message in the required format, as shown in Listing 1.

Listing 1.

InputData inpDat = new InputData();
inpDat.setDi1 = "112868" ; // Set Data Item 1
... // Set Other Data Items

BuildMsg msgClass = new BuildMsg() ; msgClass.processRequest(inpDat) ;

After the call to processRequest, our message is built and ready to be sent to the legacy system.

Writing the Message to the Legacy System

The application uses sockets to communicate with the legacy system. A socket connection is established.

Details of establishing a connection with the legacy system are skipped for the sake of brevity. The following line will write the message to the sockets outputStream.

socketWriter.write(msgClass.getMsg() ) ;

SocketWriter is a BufferedOutputStream. The write method of the BufferedOutputStream requires a byte array as input. msgClass is an instance of the BuildMsg class. The previous call to the processRequest method of this class built the message. Its getMsg method returns the message as a byte array. This provides a simple way to write the message to the legacy system.

At this point, you should have a high-level view of how the message is constructed and sent to the legacy system. To understand the details, look at the information about the classes and their methods in the sections that follow.

InputData class:

The InputData class holds all the input values required for a message. It is passed as a parameter to the processRequest method of the BuildMsg class.

The InputData class has a String for all the items needed to form the message. The String di1 is for Data Item 1. There are get and set methods for each data item, as shown in Listing 2.

Listing 2.

public class InputData {
private String di1 ;
private String di2 ;
private String di3 ;
private String di16;
public String getDi1(){
return( di1 ) ;
public void setDi1( String inpDi1 ){
di1=new String ( inpDi1 ) ;

BuildMsg Class:

The BuildMsg class has two critical methods, namely processRequest() and getMsg(). The processRequest method constructs the message. The getMsg method returns the message as an EBCDIC byte array.

In Part 2, we'll look at the BuildMsg.processRequest() and BuildMsg.getMsg() methods and wrap up our discussion.

About the Author

Sharath Sahadevan is a senior software engineer with MasterCard International in St. Louis. His team supports the MasterCard Settlement Account Management application. He has a bachelor's degree in electrical and electronics engineering from P.S.G College of Technology, India (1990). When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, as well as playing tennis, cricket, basketball, and chess.

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