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Oracle Forms was a popular solution back in the day, and it still lingers in the tech stacks of many companies. Oracle is slowly moving away from this technology – the end of its Premier Support status is already in sight. It’s a good time to consider an Oracle Forms migration – especially making a move to APEX.

Technology is constantly evolving. A solution that was great just a few years ago can be irrelevant today, giving companies many reasons to “make the jump” to something more modern. This is even more true for software that is a few decades old – while many such solutions are often constantly improved, even after all these years, they still are as optimal as a new technology, created with the needs of today in mind. 

The continued support is usually enough to keep things stable, but sometimes it’s better to rip the band-aid off and migrate to something new. One of such cases is the good old Oracle Forms which has a natural successor in the form of Oracle’s low-code platform – Oracle Application Express (APEX).

In this article, I’ll explain how Oracle Forms migration to Oracle APEX can benefit your business, and also show you a real-life case study of such a migration carried out by us at Pretius.

A little bit of history

Oracle Forms

Oracle Forms is a Rapid Application Development (RAD) tool that allows you to create data entry systems that use database objects (mostly information) from the Oracle Database. It uses the popular PL/SQL language. While originally Forms was a standalone product, currently it’s a component of Oracle Fusion Middleware.

The first version of Oracle Forms was known by a different name – Interactive Application Facility (IAF) – and saw the light of day in 1981 (along with the second iteration of the Oracle Database). IAF was later renamed to FastForms and then SQL*Forms, which is where the current name comes from (it came along with version 4.0). The very first variant of this technology was only comprised of a compiler and a runtime interpreter, but it quickly grew and evolved.

The main reason Forms got popular is the relative simplicity and ease of use. Creating Oracle Forms applications is a very natural process – anyone with basic SQL and PL/SQL knowledge can handle it. The work usually comes down to modifying so-called triggers, which are event-handling functions used to generate specific effects (i.e., opening a form after a button is pressed, etc.). Because of this, many things can be done without or with minimal coding. You can also change the form layouts using object libraries. 

The newest “big” version of Oracle Forms was delivered along with Fusion Middleware 12c and was released in October 2015. It’s commonly known as Oracle Forms 12c, but it’s worth pointing out that it has received several updates since its release – the current Forms version is 12.2.1.4.0 (dated September 2019). 

In the Oracle Forms Statement of Direction from a year ago, the company openly states it has no plans for completely dropping support for Oracle Forms. However, the level of the provided support is another matter. Premier Support for Fusion Middleware 12c (and, thus, Oracle Forms 12c) will end in December 2023 (and Extended Support is next in line, ending in August 2025).

What’s more, Oracle Forms isn’t a future-proof technology. It won’t provide you with functionalities and features typical for current, cutting-edge web apps. It’s also hard to find people who can work with it effectively, since young developers concentrate on other solutions, for obvious reasons.

All of the above means that if you want your Oracle Forms-based software to stay stable and useful, you should start thinking about moving to another, more up-to-date technology now.

A screen with information on Oracle Forms support.
Detailed information on support from Oracle’s website.

Oracle APEX

In a way, Oracle Forms can be considered the grand-grand-grandfather of Oracle APEX. The basic idea behind these technologies is the same – easy creation of data-driven web applications, with a minimal amount of coding required. Oracle APEX takes this philosophy much further, however, and is a much more evolved and modern technology. Also, most (if not all) Forms modules have their APEX counterparts.

The history of Oracle APEX dates back to 1999 when it was known as Oracle HTML DB (there were also other names, such as Flows and Project Marvel). Over the years, many versions of this technology have been released, and a few groundbreaking features have been introduced – such as plug-ins, Interactive Grid, or REST and PWA support.

A screen presenting the history of Oracle APEX.
A summary of Oracle APEX’s history. Source: APEX 19.2 New Features presentation on Slideshare.

Just as Forms, Oracle APEX uses the PL/SQL programming language. However, in APEX a simple data-driven application can be created entirely – or almost entirely – through the use of specialized Wizards that allow you to connect various ready-made elements and make them work together. You can set a basic business logic up, create a layout and interface, and get things working, without writing a single line of code. Of course, if you’re not afraid of the command line and have the necessary coding skills (or team up with someone skilled), you can still use them to deliver more complex and powerful solutions.

It’s also worth noting that APEX uses the same database that Forms does (Oracle DB), so it’s equally scalable, safe, and stable. You also retain access to important features, ML/AI modules, Spatial, and so on. The main difference is that unlike Forms APEX works in the cloud. 

There are no plans to abandon the development of Oracle APEX. It’s quite the opposite: APEX is becoming popular in the world of low-code development and, thus, is actively developed and supported by Oracle – which is great news for your software. The current version of Oracle Application Express is 22.1 and it was released in May 2022.

Oracle Forms migration – 9 benefits of moving to APEX

Going from Oracle Forms to Oracle APEX can be quite beneficial. Here are the biggest advantages associated with making that change:

  1. You don’t need a Java Development Kit or Java Runtime Environment on your PC to run the apps created in Oracle APEX. It means easier access for the end-users (employees in your company or your clients).
  2. Application development happens in the web browser. Thus, there’s no need for you to install special development environments such as JDeveloper, Forms Builder, and so on. 
  3. The apps created in APEX can be run via a web browser on PCs, Macs, and mobile devices. Edge, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are supported officially.
  4. You have many more options when it comes to designing the interface of your applications, thanks to the various themes and styles that are included in Oracle APEX. Designing or changing the look is also easier and more intuitive.
  5. APEX can be used for free if you’re already using Oracle DB (and, since we’re talking about migrating from DB-based Oracle Forms, you probably are). Also, all Oracle DB (Oracle Database) editions support some version of APEX, though exact compatibility depends on the specific iteration (for example, the newest APEX requires Oracle DB 12.1, whereas the previous one worked with version 11).
  6. Oracle APEX is cloud-compatible. You can even run a full database in the cloud (Oracle’s so-called Autonomous Database, or a non-autonomous solution such as AWS or Azure), which means you don’t need to manage and maintain the infrastructure on-premise. You also get all the great benefits of migrating to the cloud – automated backups, recovery, and patching.
  7. You don’t need Oracle WebLogic licenses to use APEX. You still need to deploy Oracle REST Data Services (ORDS) to the server to access APEX applications, but it doesn’t need to be done via the WebLogic Server. You can use free, open-source solutions such as Eclipse Jetty or Apache Tomcat (though Tomcat is the only solution supported officially). This helps lower licensing costs even further (and means greater flexibility for the developers).
  8. As a true low-code platform, APEX is even easier to use than Forms, and it means that more non-technical people (so-called citizen developers) can take part in software development.
  9. When you convert Oracle Forms system to an APEX one, you continue to use the same tech stack. That means your company doesn’t have to acquire new IT specialists or teach new things to existing employees, outside of a few APEX-related tricks. You can use existing assets – such as licenses, people, and business knowledge – to the fullest extent. This is incredibly important.

👉 Read more about citizen developers and other advantages of low-code development

Possible problems to be aware of

Is the Oracle Forms migration to Oracle APEX all sunshine and roses? Not necessarily. There are some drawbacks, or at the very least possible problems, that you need to be aware of if you’re considering making the move from Oracle Forms to APEX. 

One of the biggest issues you might encounter is the reluctance of long-time employees to adopt a new technical solution. The problem is directly connected to Forms’ age – some companies have been using apps based on Oracle Forms for many years. Their employees learned every button and field and got very accustomed to the way things are. It’s a certain kind of comfort that shouldn’t be neglected – remember that apps are built for people, not the other way around.

The best way around that issue is to show these employees that the new solution is nothing to be feared. That it can be quite similar to what they know, but also make their lives easier in several ways they haven’t thought of before. So, when you‘re looking for Oracle APEX developers, make sure that they not only know how to migrate from Forms to APEX but also have the soft skills necessary to present the new solution to non-tech-savvy people at your company. It can be easier if you find some “ambassadors for change” – people that you can consult the plans with, who can later explain them to others

There’s also a strong possibility that migration from Forms to APEX will be pretty complex. Sure, you’re still using the same tech stack, but you (or the software vendor you work with) might have to recreate many parts of the system from scratch and try to fit them into the infrastructure. Depending on your particular circumstances, this can take quite a bit of time and money.

Forms-APEX migration – how did we do it at Pretius?

An image showing coding on two laptops.
With Oracle APEX, coding isn’t always required.

Why did I decide to write an article on Oracle Forms migration to APEX? Because we already did a few projects like that, our clients saw the benefits, and so we decided to spread the word. Here’s a real-life case study of one of these projects.

Pretius was tasked with migrating the IT infrastructure of a well-known European TSL (transport-shipping-logistics) company that specializes in overland transport. Their existing technology stack was quite old and didn’t meet the business needs anymore, especially in light of the plans to utilize a complex freight management system with powerful AI-enabled capabilities.

We started with a classic migration, but during the project, it turned out it won’t be enough in this case. We’ve had to rewrite several parts of the system in APEX from start to end, and fit them into the company’s infrastructure. The more we worked, the more elements had to be replaced in this way. And the result was worth it. The client received a future-proof, cloud-based system that can be used on pretty much any device connected to the Internet. It also costs much less in terms of licenses and general operating expenses.

There was also another problem – some of the company’s employees got very used to how things were and weren’t too keen to see changes implemented. This is why we’ve worked with the client closely to make sure that the new, APEX-based solution won’t be too drastic of a change. We’ve taken the time to train some of those employees in the Agile methodology, and the use of Oracle APEX – so that they are independent and able to maintain their solution without our help.

Conclusion

Moving from the good old Oracle Forms to Oracle APEX can be very advantageous. The benefits can be seen in several areas – from lower costs to easier development – and should be noticeable for companies in many industries and fields. What’s more, from a technical standpoint, migration is fairly easy, as both solutions were developed by the same company. The fact that APEX can be used for free doesn’t hurt either. 

This doesn’t mean that it’s an easy choice, however. If you want some guidance in this area or are simply looking for a team capable of handling big-scale migration projects, drop us a line at hello@pretius.com. We have a lot of experience with Forms and APEX and we should be able to help you out. 

Oracle Forms Migration FAQ

What is Oracle Forms?

Oracle Forms is a Rapid Application Development platform – it allows you to quickly create sipmle forms-based apps that use the Oracle Database.

Is Oracle Forms obsolete?

Fusion Middleware (which Oracle Forms is a part of) retains its Premier Support status and will continue to do so until the end of 2023. However, it’s fair to say that it’s an old technology that’s losing relevance.

What is the latest version of Oracle Forms?

The latest version of Oracle Forms (or Oracle Forms and Reports, to be precise) is 12.2.1.4.0, released in September 2019.

Does Oracle Forms require WebLogic?

Yes. Oracle Forms 12c requires you to use WebLogic Server 12c.

What is Oracle Forms used for?

Oracle Forms is a technology you can use to develop and deploy Forms applications, usually based on data stored in an Oracle Database. These applications can also be integrated with other frameworks and solutions.

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