QB CULT MAGAZINE
Vol. 2 Iss. 2 - May 2001

Ordinary editor: Christopher S. Charabaruk
Email: evilbeaver@tekscode.com

This issue's editor: Mikael Andersson (Sane)
Email: sane@telia.com

Official QBCM website: http://www.blaksoft.com/qbcm/

Subscribe to QB Cult Magazine! E-mail <qbcm@tekscode.com> with subject "SUBSCRIBE QBCM" (without quotes) and recieve QBCM each month in your inbox!

Copyright © 2000-2001 Christopher S. Charabaruk and Matthew R. Knight. All rights reserved. All articles, tutorials, etc. copyright © by the original authors unless otherwise noted. QB Cult Magazine is the exclusive property and copyright of Christopher Steffan Charabaruk and Matthew R. Knight.



Editor's Note

Welcome to the second issue of our second year, with our third editor :) I hope you'll enjoy this issue, and that all of you will find something useful.

I guess I'd better tell you some of who I am...

My name is Mikael Andersson (more known as Sane), some of you might know me, most of you probably don't, and I will be your QBCM editor in a couple of issues from now on. I think that's about as much you'd like to know about me :)

I hope you'll like this issue, and the coming issues I'll edit, and that you will continue supporting QBCM, even though there's a new guy editing this. I'm trying to do my best, please don't flame me all too much :) However, I'd appreciate any comments/constructive criticism (which isn't the same as flames, mind you :). This is all I have to say in this issues Editor's Note, I guess...

Mikael Andersson (Sane), editor

Note: Regarding BASIC Techniques and Utilities, it was originally published by Ziff-Davis Press, producers of PC Magazine and other computer related publications. After ZD stopped printing it, they released the rights to Ethan Winer, the author. After communicating with Ethan by e-mail, he allowed me to reproduce his book, chapter by chapter, in QBCM. You can find a full text version of BASIC Techniques and Utilities at Ethan's website <www.ethanwiner.com>, or wait until the serialization is complete, when I will have an HTML version ready.

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BASIC Techniques and Utilities, Chapter 7
Network and Database Programming

By Ethan Winer <ethan@ethanwiner.com>

In Chapter 6 you learned the principles of accessing files with BASIC, and saw the advantages and disadvantages of each of the various methods. This chapter continues the coverage of file handling in BASIC by discussing the concepts of database application programming. In particular, this chapter will cover database file structures--including fixed and variable length records--as well as the difference between code- and data-driven applications.

This chapter also provides an in-depth look at the steps needed to write applications that can run on a network. This is an important topic that is fast becoming even more important, and very little information is available for programmers using BASIC. I will discuss the various file access schemes and record locking techniques, and also how to determine if a program is currently running on a network and if so which one.

This chapter examines common database file formats including the one used by dBASE III Plus, and utility programs are provided showing how to access these files. I will explain some of the fundamental issues of database design, including relationships between files. Also presented is a discussion of the common indexing techniques available, and a comparison of the relative advantages and disadvantages of each. You will also learn about the Structured Query Language (SQL) data access method, and understand the advantages it offers in an application programming context. Finally, several third-party add-on products that facilitate database application programming will be described.

Data Files versus Data Management

Almost every application you create will require some sort of file access, if only to store configuration information. Over time, programmers have developed hundreds of methods for storing information including sequential files, random files, and so forth. However, this type of data file management must not be confused with database management in the strict sense. Database management implies repeated data structures and relationships, with less importance given to the actual data itself.

In Chapter 6 you learned two common methods for defining the structure of a random access data file. But whether you use FIELD or TYPE, those examples focused on defining a record layout that is known in advance. When the data format will not change, defining a file structure within your program as FIELD or TYPE statements makes the most sense--a single statement can directly read or write any record in the file very quickly. But this precludes writing a general purpose database program such as dBASE, DataEase, or Paradox. In programs such as these, the user must be allowed to define each field and thus the record structure.

The key to the success of these commercial programs is therefore in their flexibility. If you need to write routines for forms processing, expression evaluation, file sorting, reports, and so forth, you should strive to make them reusable. For example, if you intend to print a report from a data file whose records have 100 fields, do you really want to use 100 explicit PRINT statements? The ideal approach is to create a generic report module that uses a loop to print each selected field in each of the selected records. This is where the concept of data-driven programming comes into play.

Data-Driven Programming

Data-driven programming, as its name implies, involves storing your data definitions as files, rather then as explicit statements in the program's BASIC source code. The advantage to this method of database programming lies in its flexibility and reusability. By storing the data definitions on disk, you can use one block of code to perform the same operations on completely different sets of data.

There are two general methods of storing data definitions on a disk--in the same file as the actual data or in a separate file. Storing the record definition in a separate file is the simplest approach, because it allows the main data file to be comprised solely of identical-length records. Keeping both the record layout and the data itself in a single file requires more work on your part, but with the advantage of slightly less disk clutter. In either case, some format must be devised to identify the number of fields in each data record and their type.

The example below shows a typical field layout definition, along with code to determine the number of fields in each record. Please understand that the random access file considered here is a file of field definitions, and not actual record data.

TYPE FldRec
  FldName AS STRING * 15
  FldType AS STRING * 1
  FldOff  AS INTEGER
  FldLen  AS INTEGER
END TYPE

OPEN "CUST.FLD" FOR BINARY AS #1
TotalFields% = LOF(1) \ 20
DIM FldStruc(1 TO TotalFields%) AS FldRec

RecLength% = 0
FOR X% = 1 TO TotalFields%
  GET #1, , FldStruc(X%)
  RecLength% = RecLength% + FldStruc(X%).FldLen
NEXT
CLOSE #1

In this program fragment, 15 characters are set aside for each field's name, a single byte is used to hold a field type code (1 = string, 2 = currency, or whatever), and integer offset and length values show how far into the record each field is located and how long it is. Once the field definitions file has been opened, the number of fields is easily determined by dividing the file size by the known 20-byte length of each entry. From the number of you fields you can then dimension an array and read in the parameters of each field as shown here.

Notice that the record length is accumulated as each field description in read from the field definition file. In a real program, two field lengths would probably be required: the length of the field as it appears on the screen and the number of bytes it will actually require in the record. For example, a single precision number is stored on disk in only four bytes, even though as many as seven digits plus a decimal point could be displayed on the data entry screen. Therefore, the method shown in this simple example to accumulate the record lengths would be slightly more involved in practice.

Once the number and size of each field is known, it is a simple matter to assign a string to the correct length to hold a single data record. Any record could then be retrieved from the file, and its contents displayed as shown following.

OPEN "CUST.DAT" FOR RANDOM AS #1 LEN = RecLength%
Record$ = SPACE$(RecLength%)
GET #1, 1, Record$
CLOSE #1

FOR X% = 1 TO TotalFields%
  FldText$ = MID$(Record$, FldStruc(X%).FldOff, FldStruc(X%).FldLen)
  PRINT FldStruc(X%).FldName; ": "; FldText$
NEXT

Here, the first record in the file is read, and then the function form of MID$ is used to extract each data field from that record. Assigning individual fields is just as easy, using the complementary statement form of MID$:

MID$(Record$, FldStruc(FldNum).FldOff, FldStruc(FldNum).FldLen) = NewText$

Understand that the entire point of this exercise is to show how a generic routine to access files can be written, and without having to establish the record structure when you write the program. Although you could use FIELD instead of MID$ to assign and retrieve the information from each field, that works only when the field information is kept in a separate file. If the field definitions are in the same file as the data, you will have to use purely binary file access, to account for the fixed header offset at the start of the file.

When you tell BASIC to open a file for random access, it uses the record length to determine where each record begins in the file. But if a header portion is at the beginning of the file, a fixed offset must be added to skip over the header. Since BASIC does not accommodate specifying an offset this way, it is up to you to handle that manually. However, the added complexity is not really that difficult, as you will see shortly in the routines that create and access dBASE files.

dBASE--and indeed, most commercial database products--store the field information in the same file that contains the data. This has the primary advantage of consolidating information for distribution purposes. [For example, if your company sells a database of financial information, this minimizes the number of separate files your users will have to deal with.] Modern header structures are variable length, which allows for a greater optimization of disk space. In fact, most header structures mimic the record array shown above, but also store information such as the length of the header and the number of fields. This is needed because the number of fields cannot be determined from the file size alone, when the file also holds the data.

The dBASE III File Structure

The description of the dBASE file structure that follows serves two important purposes: First, it shows you how such a data file is constructed using a real world example. Second, this information allows you to directly access dBASE files in programs of your own. If you presently write commercial software--or if you aspire to--being compatible with the dBASE standard can give your product a definite advantage in the marketplace. Table 7-1 identifies each component of the dBASE file header.

OffsetContents
1dBASE version (3, or &H83 if there's a memo file)
2Year of last update
3Month of last update
4Day of last update
5-8Total number of records in the file (long integer)
9-10Number of bytes in the header (integer)
11-12Length of records in the file (integer)
13-32Reserved
The remainder of the header holds the field definitions, built from a repeating group of 32-byte blocks structured as follows:
33-42Field name, padded with CHR$(0) null bytes
43Always zero
44Field type (C, D, L, M, or N)
45-48Reserved
49Field width
50Number of decimal places (Numeric fields only)
51-64Reserved

Notes:

  1. The end of the header is marked with a byte value of 13.
  2. The possible field types at byte 44 are Character, Date, Yes/No, Memo, and Numeric.
Table 7.1: The Structure of a dBASE III File Header

To obtain any item of information from the header you will use the binary form of GET #. For example, to read the number of data records in the file you would do this:

OPEN "CUST.DBF" FOR BINARY AS #1
GET #1, 5, NumRecords&
CLOSE #1

And to determine the length of each data record you will instead use this:

OPEN "CUST.DBF" FOR BINARY AS #1
GET #1, 1, RecordLength%
CLOSE #1
PRINT "The length of each record is "; RecordLength%

In the first example, GET # is told to seek to the fifth byte in the file and read the four-byte long integer stored there. The second example is similar, except it seeks to the 11th byte in the file and reads the integer record length field. One potential limitation you should be aware of is BASIC does not offer a byte-sized variable type. Therefore, to read a byte value such as the month you must create a one-character string, read the byte with GET #, and finally use the ASC function to obtain its value:

Month$ = " "
GET #1, 3, Month$
PRINT "The month is "; ASC(Month$)

Likewise, you will use CHR$ to assign a new byte value prior to writing a one-character string:

Month$ = CHR$(NewMonth%)
PUT #1, 3, Month$

With this information in hand, it is a simple matter to open a dBASE file, and by reading the header determine everything your program needs to know about the structure of the data in that file. The simplest way to do this is by defining a TYPE variable for the first portion of the header, and a TYPE array to hold the information about each field. Since both the record and field header portions are each 32 bytes in length, you can open the file for Random access. A short program that does this is shown below.

TYPE HeadInfo
  Version  AS STRING * 1
  Year     AS STRING * 1
  Month    AS STRING * 1
  Day      AS STRING * 1
  TRecs    AS LONG
  HLen     AS INTEGER
  RecLen   AS INTEGER
  Padded   AS STRING * 20
END TYPE

TYPE FieldInfo
  FName AS STRING * 10
  Junk1 AS STRING * 1
  FType AS STRING * 1
  Junk2 AS STRING * 4
  FLen  AS STRING * 1
  Dec   AS STRING * 1
  Junk3 AS STRING * 14
END TYPE

DIM Header AS HeadInfo

OPEN "CUST.DBF" FOR RANDOM AS #1 LEN = 32
GET #1, 1, Header
TFields% = (Header.HLen - 32) \ 32
REDIM FInfo(1 TO TFields%) AS FieldInfo

FOR X% = 2 TO TFields%
  GET #1, X%, FInfo(X%)
NEXT
CLOSE #1

dBASE File Access Tools

The programs that follow are intended as a complete set of toolbox subroutines that you can add to your own programs. The first program contains the core routines that do all of the work, and the remaining programs illustrate their use in context. Routines are provided to create, open, and close dBASE files, as well as read and write data records. Additional functions are provided to read the field information from the header, and also determine if a record has been marked as deleted.

The main file that contains the dBASE access routines is DBACCESS.BAS, and several demonstration programs are included that show the use of these routines in context. In particular, DBEDIT.BAS exercises all of the routines, and you should study that program very carefully.

There are two other example programs that illustrate the use of the dbAccess routines. DBCREATE.BAS creates an empty dBASE file containing a header with field information only, DBEDIT.BAS lets you browse, edit, and add records to a file, and DBSTRUCT.BAS displays the structure of an existing file. There is also a program to pack a database file to remove deleted records named, appropriately enough, DBPACK.BAS.

When you examine these subroutines, you will notice that all of the data--regardless of the field type--is stored as strings. As you learned in earlier chapters, storing data as strings instead of in their native format usually bloats the file size, and always slows down access to the field values. This is but one of the fundamental limitations of the dBASE file format. Note that using strings alone is not the problem; rather, it is storing the numeric values as ASCII data.

'********** DBACCESS.BAS, module for access to DBF files

'Copyright (c) 1991 Ethan Winer

DEFINT A-Z

'$INCLUDE: 'dbf.bi'
'$INCLUDE: 'dbaccess.bi'

SUB CloseDBF (FileNum, TRecs&) STATIC

  Temp$ = PackDate$
  PUT #FileNum, 2, Temp$
  PUT #FileNum, 5, TRecs&
  CLOSE #FileNum

END SUB

SUB CreateDBF (FileName$, FieldArray() AS FieldStruc) STATIC

  TFields = UBOUND(FieldArray)
  HLen = TFields * 32 + 33
  Header$ = SPACE$(HLen + 1)
  Memo = 0

  FldBuf$ = STRING$(32, 0)
  ZeroStuff$ = FldBuf$
  FldOff = 33
  RecLen = 1

  FOR X = 1 TO TFields
    MID$(FldBuf$, 1) = FieldArray(X).FName
    MID$(FldBuf$, 12) = FieldArray(X).FType
    MID$(FldBuf$, 17) = CHR$(FieldArray(X).FLen)
    MID$(FldBuf$, 18) = CHR$(FieldArray(X).Dec)
    MID$(Header$, FldOff) = FldBuf$
    LSET FldBuf$ = ZeroStuff$
    FldOff = FldOff + 32
    IF FieldArray(X).FType = "M" THEN Memo = -1
    RecLen = RecLen + FieldArray(X).FLen
  NEXT

  IF Memo THEN Version = 131 ELSE Version = 3
  MID$(Header$, 1) = CHR$(Version)
  Today$ = DATE$
  Year = VAL(RIGHT$(Today$, 2))
  Day = VAL(MID$(Today$, 4, 2))
  Month = VAL(LEFT$(Today$, 2))

  MID$(Header$, 2) = PackDate$
  MID$(Header$, 5) = MKL$(0)
  MID$(Header$, 9) = MKI$(HLen)
  MID$(Header$, 11, 2) = MKI$(RecLen)
  MID$(Header$, FldOff) = CHR$(13)
  MID$(Header$, FldOff + 1) = CHR$(26)

  OPEN FileName$ FOR BINARY AS #1
  PUT #1, 1, Header$
  CLOSE #1
END SUB


FUNCTION Deleted% (Record$) STATIC
  Deleted% = 0
  IF LEFT$(Record$, 1) = "*" THEN Deleted% = -1
END FUNCTION


FUNCTION GetField$ (Record$, FldNum, FldArray() AS FieldStruc) STATIC
  GetField$ = MID$(Record$, FldArray(FldNum).FOff, FldArray(FldNum).FLen)
END FUNCTION


FUNCTION GetFldNum% (FieldName$, FldArray() AS FieldStruc) STATIC
  FOR X = 1 TO UBOUND(FldArray)
    IF FldArray(X).FName = FieldName$ THEN
      GetFldNum% = X
      EXIT FUNCTION
    END IF
  NEXT
END FUNCTION


SUB GetRecord (FileNum, RecNum&, Record$, Header AS DBFHeadStruc) STATIC
  RecOff& = ((RecNum& - 1) * Header.RecLen) + Header.FirstRec
  GET FileNum, RecOff&, Record$
END SUB


SUB OpenDBF (FileNum, FileName$, Header AS DBFHeadStruc, FldArray() AS _
  FieldStruc) STATIC

  OPEN FileName$ FOR BINARY AS FileNum
  GET FileNum, 9, HLen
  Header.FirstRec = HLen + 1
  Buffer$ = SPACE$(HLen)

  GET FileNum, 1, Buffer$
  Header.Version = ASC(Buffer$)
  IF Header.Version = 131 THEN
    Header.Version = 3
    Header.Memo = -1
  ELSE
    Header.Memo = 0
  END IF

  Header.Year = ASC(MID$(Buffer$, 2, 1))
  Header.Month = ASC(MID$(Buffer$, 3, 1))
  Header.Day = ASC(MID$(Buffer$, 4, 1))
  Header.TRecs = CVL(MID$(Buffer$, 5, 4))
  Header.RecLen = CVI(MID$(Buffer$, 11, 2))
  Header.TFields = (HLen - 33) \ 32

  REDIM FldArray(1 TO Header.TFields) AS FieldStruc
  OffSet = 2
  BuffOff = 33
  Zero$ = CHR$(0)

  FOR X = 1 TO Header.TFields
    FTerm = INSTR(BuffOff, Buffer$, Zero$)
    FldArray(X).FName = MID$(Buffer$, BuffOff, FTerm - BuffOff)
    FldArray(X).FType = MID$(Buffer$, BuffOff + 11, 1)
    FldArray(X).FOff = OffSet
    FldArray(X).FLen = ASC(MID$(Buffer$, BuffOff + 16, 1))
    FldArray(X).Dec = ASC(MID$(Buffer$, BuffOff + 17, 1))
    OffSet = OffSet + FldArray(X).FLen
    BuffOff = BuffOff + 32
  NEXT
END SUB


FUNCTION PackDate$ STATIC
  Today$ = DATE$
  Year = VAL(RIGHT$(Today$, 2))
  Day = VAL(MID$(Today$, 4, 2))
  Month = VAL(LEFT$(Today$, 2))
  PackDate$ = CHR$(Year) + CHR$(Month) + CHR$(Day)
END FUNCTION


FUNCTION Padded$ (Fld$, FLen) STATIC
  Temp$ = SPACE$(FLen)
  LSET Temp$ = Fld$
  Padded$ = Temp$
END FUNCTION


SUB SetField (Record$, FText$, FldNum, FldArray() AS FieldStruc) STATIC
  FText$ = Padded$(FText$, FldArray(FldNum).FLen)
  MID$(Record$, FldArray(FldNum).FOff, FldArray(FldNum).FLen) = FText$
END SUB


SUB SetRecord (FileNum, RecNum&, Record$, Header AS DBFHeadStruc) STATIC
  RecOff& = ((RecNum& - 1) * Header.RecLen) + Header.FirstRec
  PUT FileNum, RecOff&, Record$
END SUB

Each of the routines listed above performs a different useful service to assist you in accessing dBASE files, and the following section describes the operation and use of each routine. Please understand that these routines are intended to be loaded as a module, along with your own main program. To assist you, a file named DBACCESS.BI is provided, which contains appropriate DECLARE statements for each routine. You should therefore include this file in your programs that use these routines.

A second include file named DBF.BI is also provided, and it contains TYPE definitions for the header and field information. You may notice that these definitions vary slightly from the actual format of a dBASE file. For efficiency, the OpenDBF routine calculates and saves key information about the file to use later. As an example, the offset of the first record's field information is needed by GetRecord and SetRecord. Rather than require those procedures to calculate the information repeatedly each time, OpenDBF does it once and stores the result in the Header TYPE variable.

Similarly, the field definition header used by these routines does not parallel exactly the format of the information in the file. The modified structures defined in DBF.BI are as follows:

'********** DBF.BI - Record declarations for the dbAccess routines

TYPE DBFHeadStruc
  Version  AS INTEGER
  Memo     AS INTEGER
  Year     AS INTEGER
  Month    AS INTEGER
  Day      AS INTEGER
  FirstRec AS INTEGER
  TRecs    AS LONG
  RecLen   AS INTEGER
  TFields  AS INTEGER
END TYPE

TYPE FieldStruc
  FName AS STRING * 10
  FType AS STRING * 1
  FOff  AS INTEGER
  FLen  AS INTEGER
  Dec   AS INTEGER
END TYPE
CreateDBF

CreateDBF accepts the name of the file to create and a field definition array, and then creates the header portion of a dBASE file based on the field information in the array. The file that is created has no data records in it, but all of the header information is in place. The calling program must have dimensioned the field information TYPE array, and filled it with appropriate information that describes the structure of the records in the file. The DBCREATE.BAS program shows an example of how to set up and call CreateDBF.

OpenDBF And CloseDBF

OpenDBF is used to open a DBF file, and to make information about its structure available to the calling program. It fills a TYPE variable with information from the data file header, and also fills the field definition array with information about each field. When you call it you will pass a BASIC file number you want to be used for later access, the full name of the file, a TYPE variable that receives the header information, and a TYPE array. The array is redimensioned within OpenDBF, and then filled with information about each field in the file.

CloseDBF is called when you want to close the file, and it is also responsible for updating the date and number of records information in the file header.

GetRecord And SetRecord

GetRecord and SetRecord retrieve and write individual records respectively. The calling program must specify the file and record numbers, and also pass a string that will receive the actual record data. GetRecord assumes that you have already created the string that is to receive data from the file. A Header variable is also required, so GetRecord and SetRecord will know the length of each record. Both GetRecord and SetRecord require the file to have already been opened using OpenDBF.

GetField, GetFldNum, SetField, and Padded

These routines are used to retrieve and assign the actual field data within a record string. The dbAccess routines cannot use a TYPE variable to define the records, since they must be able to accommodate any type of file. Therefore, the Record$ variable is created dynamically, and assigned and read as necessary. However, this also means that you may not refer to the fields by name as would be possible with a TYPE variable.

GetField returns the contents of the specified field, based on the field number; the complementary function GetFldName returns the field number based on the field name. SetField is the opposite of GetField, and it assigns a field into the Record$ variable. Padded$ serves as an assistant to SetField, and it ensures that the field contents are padded to the correct length with trailing blanks.

Deleted

Deleted is an integer function that returns a value of -1 to indicate that the record string passed to it holds a deleted record, or 0 if the record is not deleted. The very first byte in each dBASE record is reserved just to indicate if the record has been deleted. An asterisk (*) in that position means the record is deleted; otherwise the field is blank. Using a function for this purpose lets you directly test a record using code such as IF Deleted%(Record$) THEN or IF NOT Deleted%(Record$) THEN.

Marking deleted records is a common technique in database programming, because the amount of overhead needed to actually remove a record from a file is hardly ever justified. The lost space is recovered in one of two ways: the most common is to copy the data from one file to another. Another, more sophisticated method instead keeps track of which records have been deleted. Then as new data is added, it is stored in the space that was marked as abandoned, thus overwriting the old data. The DBPACK.BAS program described later in this chapter uses the copy method, but uses a trick to avoid having to create a second file.

dBASE Utility Programs

Several programs are presented to show the various dbAccess routines in context, and each is described individually below. DBSTRUCT.BAS displays the header structure of any dBASE file, DBCREATE.BAS creates an empty database file with header information only, and DBEDIT.BAS lets you browse, edit, and add records to an existing data file. These programs are simple enough to understand, even without excessive comments. However, highlights of each program's operation is given.

DBSTRUCT.BAS

DBSTRUCT.BAS begins by including the DBF.BI file which defines the Header TYPE variable and the FldStruc() TYPE array. A short DEF FN-style function is used to simplify formatting when the file date is printed later in the program. Once you enter the name of the dBASE file to be displayed, a call is made to OpenDBF. OpenDBF accepts the incoming file number and name, and returns information about the file in Header and FldStruc(). The remainder of the program simply reports that information on the display screen.

'********* DBSTRUCT.BAS, displays a dBASE file's structure

DEFINT A-Z
'$INCLUDE: 'dbf.bi'
'$INCLUDE: 'dbaccess.bi'

DEF FnTrim$ (DateInfo) = LTRIM$(STR$(DateInfo))
DIM Header AS DBFHeadStruc
REDIM FldStruc(1 TO 1) AS FieldStruc

CLS
LINE INPUT "Enter the DBF file name: ", DBFName$
IF INSTR(DBFName$, ".") = 0 THEN
  DBFName$ = DBFName$ + ".DBF"
END IF

CALL OpenDBF(1, DBFName$, Header, FldStruc())
CLOSE #1

PRINT "Structure of " + DBFName$
PRINT

PRINT "Version:     "; Header.Version
PRINT "Last Update: "; FnTrim$(Header.Month);
PRINT "/" + FnTrim$(Header.Day);
PRINT "/" + FnTrim$(Header.Year)
PRINT "# Records:   "; Header.TRecs
PRINT "Rec Length:  "; Header.RecLen
PRINT "# Fields:    "; Header.TFields
PRINT
PRINT "Name", "Type", "Offset", "Length", "# Decimals"
PRINT "----", "----", "------", "------", "----------"

FOR X = 1 TO Header.TFields
  PRINT FldStruc(X).FName,
  PRINT FldStruc(X).FType,
  PRINT FldStruc(X).FOff,
  PRINT FldStruc(X).FLen,
  PRINT FldStruc(X).Dec
NEXT
END
DBCREATE.BAS

The DBCREATE.BAS program accepts the name of a data file to create, and then asks how many fields it is to contain. Once the number of fields is known, a TYPE array is dimensioned to hold the information, and you are prompted for each field's characteristics one by one. As you can see by examining the program source listing, the information you enter is validated to prevent errors such as illegal field lengths, more decimal digits than the field can hold, and so forth.

As each field is defined in the main FOR/NEXT loop, the information you enter is stored directly into the FldStruc TYPE array. At the end of the loop, CreateDBF is called to create an empty .DBF data file.

'********** DBCREATE.BAS, creates a DBF file

DEFINT A-Z

'$INCLUDE: 'dbf.bi'
'$INCLUDE: 'dbaccess.bi'

CLS
LOCATE , , 1

LINE INPUT "Enter DBF name: "; DBFName$
IF INSTR(DBFName$, ".") = 0 THEN
  DBFName$ = DBFName$ + ".DBF"
END IF

DO
  INPUT "Enter number of fields"; TFields
  IF TFields <= 128 THEN EXIT DO
  PRINT "Only 128 fields are allowed"
LOOP

REDIM FldStruc(1 TO TFields) AS FieldStruc

FOR X = 1 TO TFields
  CLS
  DO
    PRINT "Field #"; X
    LINE INPUT "Enter field name: ", Temp$
    IF LEN(Temp$) <= 10 THEN EXIT DO
    PRINT "Field names are limited to 10 characters"
  LOOP
  FldStruc(X).FName = Temp$

  PRINT "Enter field type (Char, Date, Logical, Memo, ";
  PRINT "Numeric (C,D,L,M,N): ";
  DO
    Temp$ = UCASE$(INKEY$)
  LOOP UNTIL INSTR(" CDLMN", Temp$) > 1
  PRINT
  FldStruc(X).FType = Temp$
  FldType = ASC(Temp$)

  SELECT CASE FldType
    CASE 67                     'character
      DO
        INPUT "Enter field length: ", FldStruc(X).FLen
        IF FldStruc(X).FLen <= 255 THEN EXIT DO
        PRINT "Character field limited to 255 characters"
      LOOP

    CASE 78                     'numeric
      DO
        INPUT "Enter field length: ", FldStruc(X).FLen
        IF FldStruc(X).FLen <= 19 THEN EXIT DO
        PRINT "Numeric field limited to 19 characters"
      LOOP
      DO
        INPUT "Number of decimal places: ", FldStruc(X).Dec
        IF FldStruc(X).Dec < FldStruc(X).FLen THEN EXIT DO
        PRINT "Too many decimal places"
      LOOP

    CASE 76                     'logical
        FldStruc(X).FLen = 1

    CASE 68                     'date
        FldStruc(X).FLen = 8
     
    CASE 77
        FldStruc(X).FLen = 10

    END SELECT
NEXT

CALL CreateDBF(DBFName$, FldStruc())
PRINT DBFName$; " created"
END
DBEDIT.BAS

DBEDIT.BAS is the main demonstration program for the dbAccess subroutines. It prompts you for the name of the dBASE file to work with, and then calls OpenFile to open it. Once the file has been opened you may view records forward and backward, edit existing records, add new records, and delete and undelete records. Each of these operations is handled by a separate CASE block, making the code easy to understand.

'********** DBEDIT.BAS, edits a record in a DBF file

DEFINT A-Z
'$INCLUDE: 'dbf.bi'
'$INCLUDE: 'dbaccess.bi'

DIM Header AS DBFHeadStruc
REDIM FldStruc(1 TO 1) AS FieldStruc

CLS
LINE INPUT "Enter .DBF file name: ", DBFName$
IF INSTR(DBFName$, ".") = 0 THEN
  DBFName$ = DBFName$ + ".DBF"
END IF

CALL OpenDBF(1, DBFName$, Header, FldStruc())

Record$ = SPACE$(Header.RecLen)
RecNum& = 1
RecChanged = 0

GOSUB GetTheRecord

DO
  PRINT "What do you want to do (Next, Prior, Edit, ";
  PRINT "Delete, Undelete, Add, Quit)? ";
  SELECT CASE UCASE$(INPUT$(1))
    CASE "N"
      IF RecChanged THEN
        CALL SetRecord(1, RecNum&, Record$, Header)
      END IF
      RecNum& = RecNum& + 1
      IF RecNum& > Header.TRecs THEN
        RecNum& = 1
      END IF
      GOSUB GetTheRecord
      
    CASE "P"
      IF RecChanged THEN
        CALL SetRecord(1, RecNum&, Record$, Header)
      END IF
      RecNum& = RecNum& - 1
      IF RecNum& < 1 THEN
        RecNum& = Header.TRecs
      END IF
      GOSUB GetTheRecord
      
    CASE "E"
Edit:
      PRINT
      INPUT "Enter the field number:"; Fld
      DO
        PRINT "New "; FldStruc(Fld).FName;
        INPUT Text$
        IF LEN(Text$) <= FldStruc(Fld).FLen THEN EXIT DO
        PRINT "Too long, only "; FldStruc(Fld).FLen
      LOOP
      CALL SetField(Record$, Text$, Fld, FldStruc())
      RecChanged = -1
      GOSUB DisplayRec
      
    CASE "D"
      MID$(Record$, 1) = "*"
      RecChanged = -1
      GOSUB DisplayRec
      
    CASE "U"
      MID$(Record$, 1, 1) = " "
      RecChanged = -1
      GOSUB DisplayRec

    CASE "A"
      Header.TRecs = Header.TRecs + 1
      RecNum& = Header.TRecs
      LSET Record$ = ""
      GOTO Edit
      
    CASE ELSE
      EXIT DO
  END SELECT
LOOP

IF RecChanged THEN
  CALL SetRecord(1, RecNum&, Record$, Header)
END IF

CALL CloseDBF(1, Header.TRecs)
END


GetTheRecord:
  CALL GetRecord(1, RecNum&, Record$, Header)

DisplayRec:
  CLS
  PRINT "Record "; RecNum&; " of "; Header.TRecs;
  IF Deleted%(Record$) THEN PRINT " (Deleted)";

  PRINT
  PRINT
  FOR Fld = 1 TO Header.TFields
    FldText$ = GetField$(Record$, Fld, FldStruc())
    PRINT FldStruc(Fld).FName, FldText$
  NEXT
  PRINT

RETURN
DBPACK.BAS

DBPACK.BAS is the final dBASE utility, and it shows how to write an optimized packing program. Since there is no reasonable way to actually erase a record from the middle of a file, dBASE (and indeed, most database programs) reserve a byte in each record solely to show if it has been deleted. The DBPACK.BAS utility program is intended to be run periodically, to actually remove the deleted records.

Most programs perform this maintenance by creating a new file, copying only the valid records to that file, and then deleting the original data file. In fact, this is what dBASE does. The approach taken by DBPACK is much more intelligent in that it works through the file copying good records on top of deleted ones. When all that remains at the end of the file is data that has been deleted or abandoned copies of records, the file is truncated to a new, shorter length. The primary advantage of this approach is that it saves disk space. This is superior to the copy method that of course requires you to have enough free space for both the original data and the copy. Because the actual data file is manipulated instead of a copy, be sure to have a recent backup in case a power failure occurs during the packing process.

DBPACK.BAS is fairly quick, but it could be improved if records were processed in groups, rather than one at a time. This would allow more of the swapping to take place in memory, rather than on the disk. However, DBPACK was kept simple on purpose, to make its operation clearer.

There is no BASIC or DOS command that specifically truncates a file, so this program uses a little-known trick. If a program calls DOS telling it to write zero bytes to a file, DOS truncates the file at the current seek location. Since BASIC does not allow you to write zero bytes, CALL Interrupt must be used to perform the DOS call. Note that you can also use this technique to extend a file beyond its current length. This will be described in more detail in Chapter 11, which describes using CALL Interrupt to access DOS and BIOS services.

'********* DBPACK.BAS, removes deleted records from a file

'NOTE: Please make a copy of your DBF file before running this program.
'      Unlike dBASE that works with a copy of the data file, this program
'      packs, swaps records, and then truncates the original data file.

DEFINT A-Z
'$INCLUDE: 'dbf.bi'
'$INCLUDE: 'dbaccess.bi'
'$INCLUDE: 'regtype.bi'

DIM Registers AS RegType
DIM Header AS DBFHeadStruc
REDIM FldStruc(1 TO 1) AS FieldStruc

LINE INPUT "Enter the dBASE file name: ", DBFName$
IF INSTR(DBFName$, ".") = 0 THEN
  DBFName$ = DBFName$ + ".DBF"
END IF

CALL OpenDBF(1, DBFName$, Header, FldStruc())

Record$ = SPACE$(Header.RecLen)
GoodRecs& = 0

FOR Rec& = 1 TO Header.TRecs
  CALL GetRecord(1, Rec&, Record$, Header)
  IF NOT Deleted%(Record$) THEN
    CALL SetRecord(1, GoodRecs& + 1, Record$, Header)
    GoodRecs& = GoodRecs& + 1
  END IF
NEXT

'This trick truncates the file
RecOff& = (GoodRecs& * Header.RecLen) + Header.FirstRec
Eof$ = CHR$(26)
PUT #1, RecOff&, Eof$
SEEK #1, RecOff& + 1

Registers.AX = &H4000          'service to write to a file
Registers.BX = FILEATTR(1, 2)  'get the DOS handle
Registers.CX = 0               'write 0 bytes to truncate
CALL Interrupt(&H21, Registers, Registers)
CALL CloseDBF(1, GoodRecs&)

PRINT "All of the deleted records were removed from "; 
PRINT DBFName$
PRINT GoodRecs&; "remaining records"

Limitations of the dBASE III Structure

The primary limitation of the DBF file format is it does not allow complex data types. With support for only five basic field types--Character, Date, Logical, Memo, and Numeric--it is very limited when compared to what BASIC allows. However, you can easily add new data types to the programs you write using extensions to the standard field format. Since a byte is used to store the field type in the dBASE file header, as many as 256 different types are possible (0 through 255). You would simply define additional code numbers for field types such as Money or Time, or perhaps other Logical field types such as M and F (Male and Female).

Another useful enhancement would be to store numeric values in their native fixed-length format, instead of using the much slower ASCII format that dBASE uses. You could also modify the header structure itself, to improve the performance of your programs. Since BASIC does not offer a single byte numeric data type, it would make sense to replace the STRING * 1 variables with integers. This would eliminate repeated use of ASC and CHR$ when reading and assigning single byte strings. You could also change the date storage method to pack the date fields to three characters--one for the year, one for the month, and another for the day. Of course, if you do change the header or data format, then your files will no longer be compatible with the dBASE standard.

Indexing Techniques

At some point, the number of records in a database file will grow to the point where it takes longer and longer to locate information in the file. This is where indexing can help. Some of the principles of indexed file access were already described in Chapter 5, in the section that listed the BASIC PDS ISAM compiler switches. In this section I will present more details on how indexing works, and also show some simple methods you can create yourself. Although there are nearly as many indexing systems as there are programmers, one of the most common is the sorted list.

Sorted Lists

A sorted list is simply a parallel TYPE array that holds the key field and a record number that corresponds to the data in the main file. By maintaining the array in sorted order based on the key field information, the entire database may be accessed in sorted, rather than sequential order. A typical TYPE array used as a sorted list for indexing would look like this:

TYPE IndexType
  LastName AS STRING * 15
  RecNum   AS LONG
END TYPE
REDIM IArray(1 TO TotalRecords) AS IndexType

Assuming each record in the data file has a corresponding element in the TYPE array, locating a given record is as simple as searching the array for a match. Since array searches in memory are much faster than reading a disk file, this provides an enormous performance boost when compared to reading each record sequentially. To conserve memory and also further improve searching speed, you might use a shorter string portion for the last name.

The following short program shows how such an index array could be sorted.

FOR X% = MaxEls TO 1 STEP -1
  FOR Y% = 1 TO X% - 1
    IF IArray(Y%).LastName > IArray(Y% + 1).LastName THEN
      SWAP IArray(Y%), IArray(Y% + 1)
    END IF
  NEXT
NEXT

Here, the sorting is based on the last name portion of the TYPE elements. Once the array is sorted, the data file may be accessed in order by walking through the record numbers contained in the RecNum portion of each element:

DIM RecordVar AS IndexType
FOR X% = 1 TO MaxEls
  GET #1, IArray(X%).RecNum, RecordVar
  PRINT RecordVar.LastName
NEXT

Likewise, to find a given name you would search the index array based on the last name, and then use the record number from the same element once it is found:

Search$ = "Cramer"
FOR X% = 1 TO MaxEls
  IF IArray(X%).LastName = Search$ THEN
    Record% = IArray(X%).RecNum
    GET #1, Record%, RecordVar
    PRINT "Found "; Search$; " at record number"; Record%
    EXIT FOR
  END IF
NEXT

Chapter 8 will discuss sorting and searching in detail using more sophisticated algorithms than those shown here, and you would certainly want to use those for your program. However, one simple improvement you could make is to reduce the number of characters in each index entry. For example, you could keep only the first four characters of each last name. Although this might seem to cause a problem--searching for Jackson would also find Jack--you would have the same problem if there were two Jacksons. The solution, therefore, is to retrieve the entire record if a partial match is found, and compare the complete information in the record with the search criteria.

Inserting an entry into a sorted list requires searching for the first entry that is greater than or equal to the one you wish to insert, moving the rest of the entries down one notch and inserting the new entry. The code for such a process might look something like this:

FOR X% = 2 TO NumRecs%
  IF Item.LastName <= Array(X%).LastName THEN
    IF Item.LastName >= Array(X% - 1).LastName THEN
      FOR Y% = NumRecs% TO X% STEP -1
        SWAP Array(Y%), Array(Y% + 1)
      NEXT
      Array(X%) = Item
      EXIT FOR
    END IF
  END IF
NEXT

Understand that this code is somewhat simplified. For example, it will not correctly handle inserting an element before the first existing entry or after the last. Equally important, unless you are dealing with less than a few hundred entries, this code will be extremely slow. The loop that inserts an element by swapping all of the elements that lie beyond the insertion point will never be as efficient as a dedicated subroutine written in assembly language. Commercial toolbox products such as Crescent Software's QuickPak Professional include memory moving routines that are much faster than one written using BASIC.

Finally, you must have dimensioned the array to at least one more element than there are records, to accommodate the inserted element. Many programs that use in-memory arrays for indexing dimension the arrays to several hundred extra elements to allow new data to be entered during the course of the session. Since BASIC 7.1 offers the REDIM PRESERVE command, that too could be used to extend an array as new data is added.

Expression Evaluation

Expression evaluation, in the context of data management, is the process of evaluating a record on the basis of some formula. Its uses include the creation of index keys, reports, and selection criteria. This is where the application of independent file structures such as the dBASE example shows a tremendous advantage. For example, if the user wants to be able to view the file sorted first by zip code and then by last name, some means of performing a multi-key sort is required.

Another example of expression evaluation is when multiple conditions using AND and OR logic are needed. You may want to select only those records where the balance due is greater than $100 *and* the date of last payment is more than 30 days prior to the current date. Admittedly, writing an expression parser is not trivial; however, the point is that data-driven programming is much more suitable than code-driven programming in this case.

Without some sort of look-up table in which you can find the field names and byte offsets, you are going to have a huge number of SELECT CASE statements, none of which are reusable in another application. Indeed, one of the most valuable features of AJS Publishing's db/LIB add-on database library is the expression evaluator it includes. This routine lets you maintain the data structure in a file, and the same code can be used to process all file search operations.

RELATIONAL DATABASES

Most programmers are familiar with traditional random access files, where a fixed amount of space is set aside in each record to hold a fixed amount of information. For very simple applications this method is sensible, and allows for fast access to each record provided you know the record number. As you learned earlier in this chapter, indexing systems can eliminate the need to deal with record numbers, instead letting you locate records based on the information they contain. Relational databases take this concept one step further, and let you locate records in one file based on information contained in another file. As you will see, this lets you create applications that are much more powerful than those created using standard file handling methods.

Imagine you are responsible for creating an order entry program for an auto parts store. At the minimum, three sets of information must be retained in such a system: the name, address, and phone number of each customer; a description of each item that is stocked and its price; and the order detail for each individual sale. A simplistic approach would be to define the records in a single database with fields to hold the customer information and the products purchased, with a new record used for each transaction. A TYPE definition for these records might look like this:

TYPE RecordType
  InvoiceNum AS INTEGER
  CustName   AS STRING * 32
  CustStreet AS STRING * 32
  CustCity   AS STRING * 15
  CustState  AS STRING * 2
  CustZip    AS STRING * 5
  CustPhone  AS STRING * 10
  Item1Desc  AS STRING * 15
  Item1Price AS SINGLE
  Quantity1  AS INTEGER
  Item2Desc  AS STRING * 15
  Item2Price AS SINGLE
  Quantity2  AS INTEGER
  Item3Desc  AS STRING * 15
  Item3Price AS SINGLE
  Quantity3  AS INTEGER
  Item4Desc  AS STRING * 15
  Item4Price AS SINGLE
  Quantity4  AS INTEGER
  TaxPercent AS SINGLE
  InvoiceTot AS SINGLE
END TYPE

As sensible as this may seem at first glance, there are a number of problems with this record structure. The primary limitation is that each record can hold only four purchase items. How could the sales clerk process an order if someone wanted to buy five items? While room could be set aside for ten or more items, that would waste disk space for sales of fewer items. Worse, that still doesn't solve the inevitable situation when someone needs to buy eleven or more items at one time.

Another important problem is that the customer name and address will be repeated for each sale, further wasting space when the same customer comes back a week later. Yet another problem is that the sales personnel are responsible for knowing all of the current prices for each item. If they have to look up the price in a printout each time, much of the power and appeal of a computerized system is lost. Solving these and similar problems is therefore the purpose of a relational database.

In a relational database, three separate files would be employed. One file will hold only the customer names and addresses, a second will hold just the item information, and a third is used to store the details of each invoice. In order to bind the three files together, a unique number must be assigned in each record. This is shown as a list of field names in Figure 7-1 below.

How a relational database ties related data in separate files
using a unique value in each record.
Figure 7-1: How a relational database ties related data in separate files using a unique value in each record.

Now, when Bob Jones goes into the store to buy a radiator cap and a case of motor oil, the clerk can enter the names Jones and see if Bob is already a customer. If so, the order entry program will retrieve Bob's full name and address from the customer file and display it on the screen. Otherwise it would prompt the clerk to enter Bob's name and address. When Bob tells the clerk what he wants to buy, the clerk would enter the part number or name, and the program will automatically look up the price in the products file. (A smart program would even subtract the number of radiator caps from the "Quantity on Hand" field, so a report run at the end of each day can identify items that need to be ordered.) Once the sale is finalized, two new records will be written to the invoice file--one for the radiator cap and one for the motor oil.

Each invoice record would store Bob's customer number, a program- generated sequential invoice number, the product number, the quantity of this product sold, and the unit price. There's no need to store the subtotal, since that information could be recreated at any time from the quantity and unit price fields. If sales tax is charged, that field could hold just the rate. Again the actual tax amount could be computed at any time. The beauty of this organization is that there is never a need to store duplicated information, and thus there is no wasted disk space.

The relational aspect of this system becomes clear when it is time to produce a report. To print an invoice, the program searches the invoice file for every record with the unique invoice number. From the customer number field the customer's name and address are available, by searching for a match between the customer number in the invoice record and that same unique number in the customer file. And from the part number field the part name can be retrieved, based on finding the same part number in the products file. Thus, the term relational is derived from the ability to relate information in one file to information in a different file, based on unique identifying values. In this case, those values are the invoice number, the customer number, and the part number.

SQL: the Black Box

An important current trend in data processing is the use of Structured Query Language (SQL). The appeal of SQL is that it eliminates explicit coding in a conventional high-level language such as BASIC. Instead, SQL is an even higher-level language that performs most of the low-level details for you. SQL is based on passing SQL commands--called requests-- as strings, which are evaluated by the SQL engine. The short example program below shows some typical SQL commands in context.

select lastname, firstname, accountcode, phone
from customers
where unpaid > credit * .75
  and today - duedate > 30
order by accountcode

When these commands are sent to the SQL server, the server responds by filling in an array with the resultant data. The beauty of SQL, therefore, is that it eliminates the SELECT CASE statements that you would have to write, and that would be specific to a given data file. In SQL, the data fields are accessed by name instead of by numeric offsets. The SQL program does not have to specify which data is double precision, and which is text, and so forth. Rather, all that is needed is the name of the data being reported on, the selection criteria, and the order in which the data is to be returned.

This program asks to report on the lastname, firstname, accountcode, and phone fields of the data set (file) named customers. It then specifies that only those customers who owe more than 75 percent of their available credit and are more than 30 days overdue should be listed. Finally, the customers are to be listed in order based on their customer account code number.

As a further example of the power of the SQL language, imagine you have written an application to manage a publishing business. In this hypothetical situation, three of the tables in your database are Stores, Titles, and Sales, which hold the names of each retail store, the book titles offered for sale, and the details of each sale.

Now, consider the problem of producing a report showing the total sales in dollars, with individual subtotals for each store. This would first require you generate a list of stores from the Stores table. You would then have to examine each sale in the Sales table, and each entry there would refer to a title which must be looked up in the Titles file to determine the price. You would then multiply this price by the quantity and add that to a running total being kept for each store, perhaps storing the result in a multi-dimensional array.

As you can see, this is potentially a lot of coding if you attempt to tackle the job using BASIC. While the sequence of SQL commands necessary to retrieve this information is not trivial either, it is certainly less work than writing an equivalent report in BASIC. Here are the SQL commands that perform the store sales report described above:

select stores.storename, sum(sales.qty * titles.price)
from stores, titles, sales
where stores.store_id = sales.store_id
  and titles.title_id = sales.title_id
group by storename

As you can see from these short examples, SQL is a simple and intuitive language, and it may well be worth your effort to learn if you specialize in database programming or plan to. One excellent product you may wish to become familiar with is DataEase, a popular PC database product. One of the earliest adopters of SQL-style methods, DataEase lets even the novice user create sophisticated data entry forms and reports in a very short time. Contrast that with procedural languages such as that used by dBASE which require as much effort as programming in BASIC.

There are several good books that go into far greater detail about SQL than can possibly be offered here. One I recommend is "The Practical SQL Handbook: Using Structured Query Language" by Emerson, Darnovsky, and Bowman; Addison-Wesley Publishing Company; 1989. This book is clearly written, avoids the use of jargon, and contains numerous good explanations of what SQL is all about without getting bogged down in esoteric details.

Programming for a Network

Although network file access has been supported since QuickBASIC version 1.0, many programmers do not fully understand how to use this important feature. However, the concepts are simple once you know the commands. In the earlier auto parts store example, it was assumed that only one computer would be used to enter sales information. But when there are many sales people entering information all at once, some means is needed to let each computer access simultaneously a single group of files from a remote file server.

In this section I will discuss two methods for sharing files--one which is supported by BASIC, and the other supported only indirectly. I will also discuss methods for protecting data across the network and detecting which type of network is being used.

File Sharing and Locking

BASIC offers three commands to allow multiple programs to share files from a central, remote computer: OPEN, LOCK, and UNLOCK. Chapter 6 discussed the OPEN command in great detail, but mentioned the various file sharing options only briefly. OPEN provides four variations that let you specify what other processes have access to the file being opened. For simplicity, the discussions that follow assume the files are being opened for random access; this is the most common access method when writing databases. But only very slight changes are needed to adapt this information for use with binary file access as shown in the earlier dBASE examples.

When you add SHARED to the list of OPEN arguments, you are telling the operating system that any other program may also open the file while you are using it. [Without SHARED, another program that tries to open a file you have opened will receive an "Access denied" error message.] Once the other programs have opened the file they may freely read from it or write to it. If you need to restrict what operations other programs may perform, you would replace SHARED with either LOCK READ, LOCK WRITE, or LOCK READ WRITE. LOCK READ prevents other program from reading the file while you have it open, although they could write to it. Likewise, LOCK WRITE lets another process read from the file but not write to it. LOCK READ WRITE of course prevents another program from either reading or writing the file.

Because of these complications and limitations, you will most likely use SHARED to allow full file sharing. Then, the details of who writes what and when can be handled by logic in your program, or by locking individual records.

Note that with most networks you cannot open a file for shared access, unless you have previously loaded SHARE.EXE that comes with DOS 3.0 and later versions. SHARE.EXE is a TSR (terminate and stay resident) program that manages *lock tables* for your machine. These tables comprise a list showing which portions of what files are currently locked. A short utility that reports if SHARE.EXE is installed is presented later in this chapter. Some networks, however, require SHARE to be installed only on the computer that is acting as the file server.

Record Locking

The most difficult problem you will encounter when writing a program that runs on a network is arbitrating when each user will be allowed to read and write data. Since more than one operator may call up a given record at the same time, it is possible--even likely--that changes made by one person will be overwritten later by another. Imagine that two operators have just called up the same customer record on their screens. Further, one operator has just changed the customer's address and the other has just changed the phone number. Then the first operator then saves the record with the new address, but two seconds later the second operator saves the same record with a new phone number. In this case, the second disk write stores the old address on top of the same record that was saved two seconds earlier!

To prevent this from happening requires some type of file locking, whereby the second operator is prevented from even loading the record; the program instead gives them a message saying the record is already in use. There are two primary ways to do this. A *hard lock* is implemented using the BASIC LOCK statement, and it causes the network operating system to deny access to the record if the first program has locked it. A *soft lock* is similar, except it uses program logic that you design to determine if the file is already in use. Let's take a closer at each of these locking methods.

Hard Locks

A hard lock is handled by the network software, and is controlled by the BASIC LOCK and UNLOCK statements. Hard locks may be specified for all or just a part of a file. When a program imposes a hard lock, all other programs are prevented from either reading or writing that portion of the file. You may lock either one record or a range of records: LOCK #1, 3 locks record 3, and UNLOCK #1, 1 TO 10 unlocks records 1 through 10. Files that have been opened for binary access may also be locked, by specifying a range of bytes instead of one or more record numbers.

Because access to the specified record or range of records is denied to all other applications, it is important to unlock the records as soon as you are done with them. A code fragment that shows how to manipulate a record using hard locking would look like this:

OPEN "CUST.DAT" SHARED AS #1 LEN = RecordLength%
LOCK #1, RecNum%
GET #1, RecNum%, RecData

'allow the user to edit the record here

PUT #1, RecNum%, RecData
UNLOCK #1, RecNum%
CLOSE #1

There are several fundamental problems with hard locks you must be aware of. First, they prevent another application from even looking at the data that is locked. If a record is tied up for a long period of time, this prevents another program from reporting on that data. Another is that all locks must be removed before the file is closed. The BASIC PDS language reference manual warns, "Be sure to remove all locks with an UNLOCK statement before closing a file or terminating your program. Failing to remove locks produces unpredictable results." [As in "Yo, get out the Norton disk doctor".]

Yet another problem is that each LOCK must have an exactly corresponding UNLOCK statement. It is therefore up to your program to know exactly which record or range of records were locked earlier, and unlock the exact same records later on.

Finally, the last problem with hard locking is that it requires you to use ON ERROR. If someone else has locked a record and you attempt to read it, BASIC will generate a "Permission denied" error that must be trapped. Since there's no way for you to know ahead of time if a record is available or locked you must be prepared to handle the inevitable errors. Similarly, if you attempt to lock a record when it has already been locked by another program, BASIC will create an error. It is possible to lock and unlock records behind BASIC's back using CALL Interrupt and detect those errors manually; however, soft locks often provide an even better solution.

Soft Locks

A soft lock is implemented using logic you design, which has the decided advantage of letting you customize that logic to your exact needs. Most programs implement a soft lock by reserving a single byte at the beginning of each data record. This is similar to the method dBASE uses to identify deleted records. Understand that the one important limitation of soft locks is that all programs must agree on the method being used. Unless you wrote (or at least control) all of the other programs that are sharing the file, soft locks will probably not be possible.

One way to implement a soft lock is to use a special character--perhaps the letter "L"--to indicate that a record is in use and may not be written to. Therefore, to lock a record you would first retrieve it, and then check to be sure it isn't already locked. If it is not currently locked you would assign an "L" to the field reserved for that purpose, and finally write the record back to disk. Thereafter, any other program can tell that the record is locked by simply examining that first byte.

If someone tries to access a record that is locked, the program can display the message "Record in use" or something along those lines. A simple enhancement to this would store a user identification number in the lock field, rather than just a locked identifier. This way the program could also report who is using the record, and not just that it is locked. This is shown in context below.

GET #1, RecNum%, RecData$
Status$ = LEFT$(RecData$, 1)
SELECT CASE Status$
  CASE " "          'Record is okay to write, lock it now
    MID$(RecData$, 1) = CHR$(UserID)
    PUT #1, RecNum%, RecData$
    GOTO EditRecord
  CASE "*"          'Record is deleted, say so
    PRINT "Record number"; RecNum%; " is deleted."
    GOTO SelectAnotherRecord
  CASE ELSE         'Status$ contains the user number
    PRINT "Record already in use by user: "; Status$
    GOTO ReadOnly
END SELECT
  ...
  ...
SaveRecord:
  MID$ (RecData$, 1) = " "     'clear the lock status
  PUT #1, RecNum%, RecData$    'save the new data to disk

Additional Network Considerations

Many networks require that SHARE.EXE be installed before a file may be opened for shared access, you can avoid runtime errors by being able to determine ahead of time if this file is loaded. The following short function and example returns either -1 or 0 to indicate if SHARE is currently loaded or not, respectively.

DEFINT A-Z
DECLARE FUNCTION ShareThere% ()

'$INCLUDE: 'regtype.bi'

FUNCTION ShareThere% STATIC

  DIM Registers AS RegType
  ShareThere% = -1              'assume Share is loaded
  Registers.AX = &H1000         'service 10h
  CALL Interrupt(&H2F, Registers, Registers)
  AL = Registers.AX AND 255     'isolate the result in AL
  IF AL <> &HFF THEN ShareThere% = 0

END FUNCTION

Then, at the start of your program you would invoke ShareThere, and display an error message if SHARE has not been run:

IF NOT ShareThere% () THEN
  PRINT "SHARE.EXE is not installed"
  END
END IF

Operating System Confirmation

Another feature of a well-behaved network application is to determine if the correct network operating system is installed. In most cases, unless you are writing a commercial application for others to use, you'll already know which operating system is expected. However, it is possible to determine with reasonable certainty what network software is currently running. The three functions that follow must be invoked in the order shown, and they help you determine the brand of network your program is running under.

'********** NETCHECK.BAS, identifies the network brand

DEFINT A-Z
'$INCLUDE: 'regtype.bi'

DECLARE FUNCTION NWThere% ()
DECLARE FUNCTION BVThere% ()
DECLARE FUNCTION MSThere% ()
DIM SHARED Registers AS RegType

PRINT "I think the network is ";
IF NWThere% THEN
  PRINT "Novell Netware"
ELSEIF BVThere% THEN
  PRINT "Banyon Vines"
ELSEIF MSThere% THEN
  PRINT "Lantastic or other MS compatible"
ELSE
  PRINT "Something I don't recognize, or no network"
END IF
END


FUNCTION BVThere% STATIC
     BVThere% = -1
     Registers.AX = &HD701
     CALL Interrupt(&H2F, Registers, Registers)
     AL = Registers.AX AND 255
     IF AL <> 0 THEN BVThere% = 0
END FUNCTION

FUNCTION MSThere% STATIC
  MSThere% = -1
  Registers.AX = &HB800
  CALL Interrupt(&H2F, Registers, Registers)
  AL = Registers.AX AND 255
  IF AL = 0 THEN MSThere% = 0
END FUNCTION

FUNCTION NWThere% STATIC
  NWThere% = -1
  Registers.AX = &H7A00
  CALL Interrupt(&H2F, Registers, Registers)
  AL = Registers.AX AND 255
  IF AL <> &HFF THEN NWThere% = 0
END FUNCTION

Third-party Database Tools

There are several tools on the market that can help you to write database applications. Although BASIC includes many of the primitive services necessary for database programming, there are several limitations. Four such products are described briefly below, and all are written in assembly language for fast performance and small code size. You should contact the vendors directly for more information on these products.

AJS Publishing's db/LIB

This is one of the most popular database add-on products for use with BASIC, and rightfully so. db/LIB comes in both single- and multi-user versions, and handles all aspects of creating, updating, and indexing relational database files. db/LIB uses the dBASE III+ file format which lets you access files from many different applications. Besides its database handling routines, db/LIB includes a sophisticated expression evaluator that lets you select records based on multiple criteria. Compared to many other database libraries, db/LIB is extremely fast, and is also very easy to use.

db/LIB
AJS Publishing, Inc.
P.O. Box 83220
Los Angeles, CA  90083
213-215-9145

Novell's Btrieve

Btrieve has been around for a very long time, and like db/LIB it lets you easily manipulate all aspects of a relational database. Unlike db/LIB, however, Btrieve can be used with nearly any programming language. The downside is that Btrieve is more complicated to use with BASIC. Also, a special TSR program must be run before your program can call its routines, further complicating matters for your customers. But Btrieve has a large and loyal following, and if you write programs using more than one language it is certainly a product to consider.

Btrieve
Novell, Inc.
122 East 1700 SOuth
Provo, UT  84606
801-429-7000

CDP Consultants' Index Manager

Index Manager is an interesting and unique product, because it handles only the indexing portion of a database program. Where most of the other database add-ons take over all aspects of file creation and updating, Index Manager lets you use any file format you want. Each time a record is to be retrieved based on a key field, a single call obtains the appropriate record number. Index Manager is available in single- and multi-user versions, and is designed to work with compiled BASIC only.

Index Manager
CDP Consultants
1700 Circo del Cielo Drive
El Cajon, CA  92020
619-440-6482

Ocelot

Ocelot is unique in that it uses SQL commands instead of the more traditional approach used by the other products mentioned. Ocelot supports both standalone and networked access, and it is both fast and flexible. Although Ocelot is meant for use with several different programming languages, the company provides full support for programmers using BASIC.

Ocelot
Ocelot Computer Services
#1502, 10025-106 Street
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada  T5J 1G7
403-421-4187

Summary

In this chapter you learned the principles of data-driven programming, and the advantages this method offers. Unlike the TYPE definition method that Microsoft recommends, storing record and field information as variables allows your programs to access any type of data using the same set of subroutines.

You also learned how to create and access data using the popular dBASE file format, which has the decided advantage of being compatible with a large number of already successful commercial products. A complete set of dBASE file access tools was presented, which may be incorporated directly into your own programs.

This chapter also explained indexing methods, to help you quickly locate information stored in your data files. Besides providing fast access, indexes help to maintain your data in sorted order, facilitating reports on that data. Relational databases were described in detail, using examples to show the importance of maintaining related information in separate files. As long as a unique key value is stored in each record, the information can be joined together at any time for reporting and auditing purposes. SQL was also mentioned, albeit briefly, to provide a glimpse into the future direction that database programming is surely heading.

In the section about programming for a network, a comparison of the various file sharing and locking methods was given. You learned the importance of preventing one program from overwriting data from another, and examined specific code fragments showing two different locking techniques.

Finally, several third-party library products were mentioned. In many situations it is more important to get the job done than to write all of the code yourself. When the absolute fastest performance is necessary, a well written add-on product can often be the best solution to a complex data management problem.

The next chapter discusses searching and sorting data both in memory and on disk, and provides a logical extension to the information presented here. In particular, there are a number of ways that you can speed up index searches using either smarter algorithms, assembly language, or both.

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Graphics Programming, Part 2
Gouraud Shaded Polys

By Sane <sane@telia.com>

Last issue you learned how to program flat-shaded polys. (yes, seriously, you did :) This time you'll learn a more fancy method for shading, namely gouraud shading. Gouraud shading has probably got it's name from some guy called A. A. Gouraud or something, I don't really know, but who cares anyways? :)

Gouraud shading is based on interpolating color values for a whole poly, based on 3 colors (one for each corner), to simulate light, for example. Polys drawn using gouraud shading will look similar to this:

Gouraud shading is done pretty much like flat-shading, but you also need to interpolate the color values vertically, and then draw the polys using a customized horizontal line drawing routine, which interpolates the line between two colors. The steps are shown in this picture:

First we'll make the line drawing routine, since we won't see if our gouraud poly routine really works unless we can draw the polys.

The line color values are calculated pretty much the same way we calculated the x values for the poly in the previous article, with the difference that we use the color and x distance for calculating the medium, instead of using the x and y values. The formula becomes cm = (c2 - c1) / (x2 - x1), where cm is the medium color distance, c1 is color 1, and you probably understand the rest.

Then the line drawing is done using good(?) old(!) PSET :)

Here's a code example:

'Made by Sane at the 22nd of May 2001, for QBCM'
SUB gLINE (x1, x2, y, c1, c2)
 'Sorting x and color values
 IF x1 > x2 THEN SWAP x1, x2: SWAP c1, c2

 'Calculating of the medium distance between colors
 cm = 0
 c = 0
 IF c2 - c1 <> 0 AND x2 - x1 <> 0 THEN cm = (c2 - c1) / (x2 - x1)

 'Drawing
 FOR x = x1 TO x2
  PSET (x, y), c + c1
  c = c + cm
 NEXT x
END SUB

And now to the poly routine. We'll base the poly routine on the old, flat-shaded one, with the changes needed for gouraud shading.

The changes we'll make are:

  • Adding an array for storing the y color values for the poly, similar to the one for slopes
  • Sorting colors at the same time we sort the points, to make the colors stay at the points they're supposed for
  • Calculating the color blend between points, while also calculating the slopes
  • Altering the drawing part slightly
    'Made by Sane at the 22nd of May 2001, for QBCM
    SUB gpoly (xx1, yy1, xx2, yy2, xx3, yy3, cc1, cc2, cc3)
     'Declare an array for storing slopes
     DIM poly(199, 1)
     'Declare an array for storing color values
     DIM colr(199, 1)
     'Point and color sorting
     IF yy1 < yy2 AND yy1 < yy3 THEN x1 = xx1: y1 = yy1: c1 = cc1
     IF yy2 < yy1 AND yy2 < yy3 THEN x1 = xx2: y1 = yy2: c1 = cc2
     IF yy3 < yy1 AND yy3 < yy2 THEN x1 = xx3: y1 = yy3: c1 = cc3
    
     IF yy1 > yy2 AND yy1 > yy3 THEN x3 = xx1: y3 = yy1: c2 = cc1
     IF yy2 > yy1 AND yy2 > yy3 THEN x3 = xx2: y3 = yy2: c2 = cc2
     IF yy3 > yy1 AND yy3 > yy2 THEN x3 = xx3: y3 = yy3: c2 = cc3
    
     IF yy1 <> y1 AND yy1 <> y3 THEN x2 = xx1: y2 = yy1: c3 = cc1
     IF yy2 <> y1 AND yy2 <> y3 THEN x2 = xx2: y2 = yy2: c3 = cc2
     IF yy3 <> y1 AND yy3 <> y3 THEN x2 = xx3: y2 = yy3: c3 = cc3
    
     'Calculating of the slope and color blend from point 1 to point 2
     m = 0
     x = 0
     c = 0
     cm = 0
     IF x1 + x2 <> 0 AND y1 + y2 <> 0 THEN m = (x1 - x2) / (y1 - y2)
     IF c1 + c2 <> 0 AND y1 + y2 <> 0 THEN cm = (c1 - c2) / (y1 - y2)
     FOR y = y1 TO y2
      poly(y, 0) = x + x1
      colr(y, 0) = c + c1
      x = x + m
      c = c + cm
     NEXT y
    
     'Calculating of the slope and color blend from point 2 to point 3
     m = 0
     x = 0
     c = 0
     cm = 0
     IF x2 + x3 <> 0 AND y2 + y3 <> 0 THEN m = (x2 - x3) / (y2 - y3)
     IF c2 + c3 <> 0 AND y2 + y3 <> 0 THEN cm = (c2 - c3) / (y2 - y3)
     FOR y = y2 TO y3
      poly(y, 0) = x + x2
      colr(y, 0) = c + c2
      x = x + m
      c = c + cm
     NEXT y
    
     'Calculating of the slope and color blend from point 1 to point 3
     m = 0
     x = 0
     c = 0
     cm = 0
     IF x1 + x3 <> 0 AND y1 + y3 <> 0 THEN m = (x1 - x3) / (y1 - y3)
     IF c1 + c3 <> 0 AND y1 + y3 <> 0 THEN cm = (c1 - c3) / (y1 - y3)
     FOR y = y1 TO y3
      poly(y, 1) = x + x1
      colr(y, 1) = c + c1
      x = x + m
      c = c + cm
     NEXT y
    
     'The easiest part, drawing
     FOR y = y1 TO y3
      gLINE poly(y, 0), poly(y, 1), y, colr(y, 0), colr(y, 1)
     NEXT y
    END SUB
    

    And some code for testing it:

    'Made by Sane at the 22nd of May 2001, for QBCM
    SCREEN 13
    
    'Changing the palette to greyscale
    FOR i = 0 TO 255
     OUT &H3C8, i
     OUT &H3C9, i \ 4
     OUT &H3C9, i \ 4
     OUT &H3C9, i \ 4
    NEXT i
    
    'Setting color for PPS (Poly Per Second) rate text
    COLOR 255
    
    oldtimer! = TIMER
    DO UNTIL INKEY$ = CHR$(27)
     x1 = INT(RND * 320)
     x2 = INT(RND * 320)
     x3 = INT(RND * 320)
     y1 = INT(RND * 200)
     y2 = INT(RND * 200)
     y3 = INT(RND * 200)
     gpoly x1, y1, x2, y2, x3, y3, INT(RND * 255), INT(RND * 255), INT(RND * 255)
     polynum = polynum + 1
     IF TIMER > oldtimer! + 1 THEN LOCATE 1, 1: PRINT polynum: oldtimer! = TIMER: polynum = 0
    LOOP
    

    And just as last time, there's a file with the source available for you lazy guys who are too lazy to type it into QB yourselves :) This time it's named GPOLY.BAS

    And a screenshot:

    Note that there's a bug in it, which makes some of the polys have small gaps, I haven't managed to figure out why yet, as I wrote the code about 5 minutes ago, and I really need to get QBCM released this afternoon :) I might give you a better version in the next article, in case I've gotten rid of the bug by then...

    This is mighty slow, as you might have noticed... Even though I've now got a Pentium 2 300 mHz (managed to fix it since last issue, when this comp was broken), I only get about 18 PPS(Polys Per Second), which really sucks...

    Thus, the next parts subject will be:
    OPTIMIZING!*loads of applauses*

    Next issue we'll speed up our poly drawing routines a lot, so that they even will be useful :)

    I still haven't got one single comment about this series of articles, except for 3 people, who I know anyways. I'd love any feedback, please give me some :) And if you don't understand some/anything of this, I'm a polite guy, I won't make fun of you, just feel free to ask, come with suggestions for stuff to write about, suggestions for how to make this series better, criticism, you name it. I won't stop writing this series in case I don't get any feedback, as QBCM needs all content it can get, but I'd really appreciate feedback. I probably seem quite desperate about this, but I like feedback :) My email address, in case you've forgotten, is sane@telia.com

    See ya in next issue,

    -Sane

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    30 tips to make your game more fun to play

    By Terry Cavanagh <terrycavanagh@eircom.net>

    You don't need to be a great programmer to make cool games. Likewise, you could be a fantastic programmer and make terrible games - I know of people who fall into both cagogories. This tutorial aims to remind you of the things that accually make games fun to play. It's not language specific, or even genre specific. Some of the tips may seem quite obvious, but we all sometimes need to be reminded of these things.

    If you don't think your game is fun to play, most people will agree with you. If you're stuck with a game that's boring, you can spice it up by adding new features such as bonuses, time limits, puzzles, or something else totally original.

    Before you write your first line of code, know exactly where you're going with the game. You don't need to know everything, just enough of a vague idea to give you a constant set of achievable goals. Always plan ahead, as it keeps you from losing interest in your project.

    Puzzle games should nearly always have a time limit. Despite constant protests that you may hear about time constraints, They do the game a great service by introducing an easy form of varible difficulty and add substantially to the overall challenge of your game. That said, some puzzle games simply will not work with a time limit.

    Don't ever try to write a game that you don't think you'd play. You're only going to end up getting hurt.

    When making an RPG, there's a hundred and one things you can do to make your game more fun. Introducting something new to the stale (F)ight, (M)agic, (I)tem and (R)un battle options is a good start, but nowhere near a good enough finish. Make every character have something different to offer - Magic, strength, etc. If you've got the time, program a few suitable mini games into the code. Add plenty of sub quests - a good RPG can rely entirily on this - take the Exile series as an example. Take time with the game's conversations. Make sure the story offers something more original than 'Every 500 years the demon of the underworld wrecks havoc on earth.' Heh - I've fallen into this trap myself. It's more than possible to recover a story from this - take a look at Final Fantasy V. But it would be better to eliminate this altogether. Finally, ensure that all your characters have different personalities. It's the key to writing enjoyable dialog. If in doubt, FrozenEmu has a tutorial at the Game Devolpers Refuge on RPG design - You've gotta read this - It's funny as hell! From memory, I think you can get to GDR at gdr.swoo.net/index.pl.

    When making an action game, if you do nothing else, make sure your weapon is upgradable. Nothing makes a shoot-em-up more fun that collecting a liquidiser add-on for your gun and using it. Make sure there's plenty of blood too. Plenty of it. Humans are bloodthirsty creatures - we jump at the chance to kill as many people in as violent a manner as possible when we don't have to pay the price for it - it's human nature :)

    Always try to ensure that your game has a few features that you havn't seen anywhere else. Keep it original.

    Ask somebody you hate (I use my little brother) to tell you what he thinks about the game. Practice tells me that it's the only way to ensure a decent critical commentry - most friends will only praise you unless there's something really baddly out of place. Or at least mine do. I once asked a friend of mine on the internet to play one of my games - he said it was brilliant, but about a month later I found out that he never even downloaded it. If somebody asks you to playtest thier game, give them your honest opinion.

    Try and have some idea of the size of the project you're taking on. I used to program 'Mini-Games' all the times - It seems I work better that way, because the only games I've ever completed are all mini games. But everyone is different, and If you think you can take on a major project, go right ahead. But if you start making excuses as to why you arn't working on the project, maybe it's best to drop it and try something smaller.

    Don't start with the title screen. You won't believe the amount of gameless title screens I have wasting space on my hard disk. Or at least did have, before the crash.

    Make the game reasonably easy - easy enough to get relitivly far in your first attempts. Then add difficultly levels, the hardest being finishable but challenging. I only know three people that have finished the 'hard' game setting in one of my old games, Black Hole.

    Go above and beyond. If your game requires scrolling, don't stop at tile by tile - research pixel by pixel if you can't already do so. If you're making a space game, learn how to make a proper 3D starfield. By doing this, you'll find that in a few games time you'll have built up an amazing amount of knowalge.

    If it's one of your first games, you should probably release the game as open source freeware. If you're lucky, you might find somebody generous< enough to offer you some coding tips.

    Learn ASM. Knowing ASM and using your own routines is the most valuable programming step you might ever take. ASM will come in useful, regardless of which higher level language you choose to use. If you know ASM, you'll learn so much more about the way your computer works and be the better for it - you won't have to abondon projects half way because you're having problems with DirectQB, Allegro or Windows :)

    Don't form the do all end all programming group to work on the biggest project ever as your first big game. You should be well fit to make the entire game yourself. If you are, then you're ready to really use co workers properly. In other words, don't hire somebody to make a pixel by pixel coding engine for you if you can't do it yourself.

    When you've finished a game, don't rush it out onto the internet. First take another week to add some graphics features. Take as long as you've got to program it.

    Don't release the game until you're happy with it.

    Graphics are no way as important as you might think. Never ever sacrifice a gameplay feature for a graphical feature.

    If you're learning to code, listen to everything that more practised coders tell you. Likewise, if you're a seasoned coder, try and help out beginners.

    Make your game user friendly. It's quite unprofessional to ask the gamer to search the keyboard for the (f)ight, (m)agic and (i)tem commands. Instead, make a miniture menu in the corner when you simply press up and down and select with either space or enter. It makes a lot more sense to the average gamer, who will likely not be a very good typer. Simple console controls like this can be implemented all over the game.

    Always tell the player what you're doing - for example, if you're loading graphics, print that on the screen so that people with slow computers won't think it's crashed.

    Spelling mistakes are normal enough - its impossible to get away without any. However, you should check all your game text to ensure that there arn't many.

    When you're finished, have someone else play the game. Ask them what they like and don't like about the game. Ask them if there's anything that could be done to make the game more fun to play - and take any suggestions you get seriously.

    Your game should be bug free. When finished, make sure you play the game through, doing different things each time to find possible bugs. Fix everything, regardless of how long it's going to take.

    If you have the time, add multiplayer options. If the game allows, see if it's possible to have even more than two players. I once made a game that supported up the eight players.

    Spend more time on things like the control system and the game's difficulty settings than on bells and whistles like unnessicary graphics and sound. But of course, Graphics and sound are important in a game as well.

    Try and make the game have a progressive learning curve, so that you can get the basics of the game quickly and the game quickly becomes difficult enough to pose a real challange.

    If possible, make a tutorial level, where you are commentated on each indivual game element, told to perform it, and proceed to the next when you've done that.

    If your game gets reviewed and you don't get 100%, don't fret. Always aim to improve something with each game. Eventually people will run out of things to critise. That should be your aim. Perfection.

    Bottom line, your game must be fun to play. If you've made modifications based on the tips above and still find that your game is too boring, perhaps you should just upload it as freeware and move on to something else.

    I hope this information is of use to you. If it is, let me know. It's all obvious stuff, but even the best of us can forget alot of this stuff. If in doubt, think back to the days when you were playing games rather than programming them. Until next time,

    - Terry Cavanagh

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    Beginning tile graphics

    By Rancid <rancid@neozones.com>

    It seems, in the mid 1990's there wasn't one commercial game in which was full 3D. There weren't fancy games which used 3d environments and models such as homeworld. In fact, It was "Doom" which basically brought us into the era of 3d gaming. Most popular games back then were tile based games.

    A game tile is simply a small uniform image that has a pattern which repeats or flows with other tiles. A good example of a tile is the patterns used in backgrounds in windows. In order to make good tiles, You must pay Great attention to detail. You must make sure all tiles that are bordering a specific tile, look good with that specific tile, and others which will border it. Tile1 has to look good by Tile2. Tile2 has to look good by Tile3 and so on. If done properly, a tile set can add beauty and depth to any game. The tile graphics must be created in such a way, that they are nice looking and detailed, but don't take too much attention away from game play. So they must not be incredibly bright or flashy. This tutorial will get you started on making your own game tiles in windows editable formats.

    I myself generally use adobe photoshop to make my graphics, but maybe you have another program you could use or want to use. Any image editor that is able to set guides,cut/paste,and edit pixels manually will work. However, I'll be using Photoshop 5.0 as a example editor. Start out by creating a 16*16 image and zoom in 500%. draw a fixed width line on 2 adjacent sides of your picture, so it makes a backwards "L" or (). Open a new 16x16 picture and make the same picture as before except a normal "L". Save them both. Now take each "L" shaped picture and  flip them vertically. You now have 4 corners of a box. About all you can make with this is a big square, but that's not the idea. We now have our corner tiles for our block "lake". make 4 more box pictures with nothing but diagonals within them. Also make 4 more pictures with just 1 line. We have a tile set of 10 tiles, which will be enough for our first tileset.

    Make a new picture in Photoshop which is 256x256 and make snap to lines every 16 pixels horizontally and vertically. You now have a area in which to work with your tiles. Arrange your tiles into a simple circle like shape. Now we get to do some artistic stuff :). color the outside of your lake green and the inside blue. Now we have a extremely simple landscape with a fixed grid over it.

    Your probably thinking "this is all fine and good... i could of done this on my own". Follow me on the next part, we are going to do some very up close pixel work. To add detail to our tiles, we need to draw in some features. Water has waves, Grass isn't consistently one green, dirt isn't only one shade of brown right? So, that's what we are going to draw. Zoom in on a all blue tile, notice you can edit the tile within the grid we made earlier. Lets draw in some waves and different shades of blue   Not too hard right? wrong, make sure your tile looks good by itself, and flows into it. Select the tile you just made, copy it and paste the tile into the grid to the right and left of the original, and hide the grid.... zoom away if needed. Does the tile look okay? If not go back and do some more editing, remove and add to your liking but make sure the tile flows into itself.

    Once the main water tile is completed, try pasting over all the old all blue tiles. The real trick to making tiles is to make them flow easily from one to another, there should be no distinguishable borders from one to the next. Now on to the grass tiles. Color a grass tile in to your liking a repeat the flow testing process until it repeats smoothly.

    The corner tiles are somewhat more difficult to make because there is normally more detail involved. If you decide to make a little sand bar on a corner tile, it must be the same width and style eon all the other side tiles..... there are small tricks to cut time for this though. Make a nice repeating, flowing sandbar on the vertical half of your lake. Take each beach tile individually, flip it horizontally and paste it on top of its counterpart. SO now we have perfect flowing beach on both sides!  Also try making small variation s of similar tiles to place randomly, so you have small variations in your landscape. Ill show you just how effective that can be at the end of the tutorial.

    Now that all your tiles are done, you must cut them out individually and paste them into a new picture. Also make sure you identify your tiles with a grid like name. Lets say your tiles horizontally are named a,b,c,d.... and vertically are 1,2,3,4.... When you save 4c, you know exactly where that tile is used and what other tiles repeat with it. This is handy while programming random map generators. Also for reference, save a snap of your tiles in the original grid structure. Write the tiles names "1a,3b etc"  over them and save the picture as "tile guide". The tile guide will help you later if you encounter trouble for any reason.  Congratulations! You have just made your first tile set the "right" way :). Go on to try this process with larger tiles (such as 64X64) and with different terrines. More variations on the tile make the tiled landscape that much more appealing. Here is a quick snap of the tile work i have done in Imeron as a example of what you can do with your tiles:

    Try making desserts, forests, industrial plants, city streets... anything! as long as you follow this process of flowing one tile into another, they will come out better and better.

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    QB Tips & Tricks

    Haven't got any this month...

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    Site of the Month

    CosmoSoft - Winner of QB Cult Magazine Top Site Award - May 2001

    CosmoSoft has all that's needed for being a site of the month, with a nice design (although a bit too similar to Future Software :), it's flagship project, the library CosmoX, which already has surpassed DirectQB (in my opinion), and other neat stuff.

    As last month, we have no award image for Site of the Month. I swear, next issue we might... - Ed.

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    Demo of the Month

    An example of the nice effects in this demo

    This time we've got a demo/intro by Sancho, called "Monotony" as demo of the month. The reason to why it got this award (and probably the reason to why it won toshi's intro contest some time ago, is cause of all the fast and good-looking effects shown in this demo, and all in pure QB!

    Monotony is included in the downloadable version of this issue as sancho.zip

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    The CultPoll

    This month we wondered which language you associate with QB. This is what you told us (note that all sentences I've written in this were made the minutes before uploading QBCM, that's why they suck and are pretty dull :):

    These results were taken at the 22nd or May 2001

    Thanks to everyone who participated in this issue's poll. Now go vote on next issue's!

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