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The Future of Programming Languages for SAP Systems

How SAP HANA, Cloud, and Other Innovations Affect Development

James Wood is the author of the SAP Professional Journal article “What’s the Next Generation in SAP Application Development?” and a featured author in the "Advancing Your ABAP Skills" anthology. He took readers' questions on the long-term outlook for ABAP and related technologies in this online chat from SAPinsider Online. Below is an edited selection of questions from SAP customers.


Q: Can you please provide the roadmap of SAP's vision on ABAP?

James Wood: I can't really speak for SAP, but I haven't heard anything that would suggest ABAP's role will be diminished or phased out going forward. ABAP's here to stay, and not in the same way that COBOL has stuck around for years.

I would still fully expect ABAP to remain the flagship language for application development in the SAP landscape. The only difference is that there will be other tools and languages that play a more prominent role in the development of solutions that ABAP isn't well-suited for: cloud/integration, mobile, and so on.


Q: Currently I am able to "get around" ABAP programs based on some beginner level of knowledge. How does all the new technology change that — will we still be able to "get around"?

James Wood: My guess is that the newer technologies will make it a bit harder to "get around" applications, since there will be more places where you'll see delegation from ABAP to stored procedures and so on.

Also, with the advent of SAPUI5, I think you'll see more UI-based applications take on a much more distributed approach with SAPUI5 on the front end, SAP Gateway in the middle, and ABAP on the back end. As long as you understand basic architectural principles, the lines should be fairly well demarcated, but it probably won't be as easy as double-clicking your way through the ABAP Repository.


Q: What will be the main programming language in SAP HANA?

James Wood: Honestly, I'd probably say SQL. At the end of the day, SAP HANA is primarily a database, so SQL plays a huge role in database processing. With that said, usage of SQLScript will continue to grow, I think, as more and more developers begin to see the benefits of "code push-down" performance-wise. For native applications running on SAP HANA XS, server-side JavaScript is used for implementing general-purpose application logic and the like.

Q: As an ABAP programmer, what are the new programming language skills to be acquired to be involved in the new SAP technology landscape?

I'd probably start with SQL. Here, I'm not so much talking about some of the more routine OpenSQL statements, but the really complex statements (e.g., JOINs) where you can harness the raw power of SAP HANA to (pre)process large volumes of data. In tandem with this, I'd recommend developers come up to speed with SQLScript. Having a good grasp on these two languages in addition to ABAP should go a long way toward preparing you in the days to come.

Beyond these two (core) languages, it kind of depends on the area you work with. For example, if you're interested in developing cloud applications, it's important to learn Java, HTML5/SAPUI5, JavaScript, and so forth.

The same would be true for mobile application development. For native SAP HANA development, there's the River Definition Language.

The list is seemingly endless these days, but the good news is that you don't have to know all of the languages to survive. :-)


Q: How will SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA impact ABAP and programing architecture?

James Wood: Interesting question. I'd say it kind of depends. Since the SAP HANA database is a fully SQL-compliant database, it can essentially be dropped in with no ill effects.

Of course, if you want to get more value from it, then the architecture of the applications have to change such that data crunching, aggregations, and so on are pushed down to the database. Sometimes, you can do this with pure SQL, other times, you might need to utilize SQLScript and other SAP HANA-proprietary features.

Over time, I think you'll see more of the latter approach creeping into application designs, so as much as anything, it's about a shift in mindset.


For more on this topic, check out the anthology "Advancing Your ABAP Skills."

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