TSO/ISPF Multiple Split Screens – the Easy Way

You think it might be nice to use multiple split screens with TSO/ISPF, but it seems hard to keep track of them?  Then you probably just haven't seen it done the easy way.  This short explanation will walk you through it.

After you read this, you should know how to add an easy selection bar at the bottom of the screen, and then double-click the mouse on the session you want.  (It might be easier to remember later if you do the steps in an ISPF session while you're reading. You'd get a feel for it — literally.)  Some of the features discussed here only came out recently, at the z/OS 2.1 release level, so if you're using an older release you'll have to wait until your place installs 2.1 before you can use all the bells and whistles.  That said, let's get started.

First, enter these commands in TSO/ISPF:

The "SPLIT NEW" command causes an extra split screen to start.

The "SWAPBAR" command causes a new "action bar" to appear on the bottom line of the 3270 screen, to use with your collection of screens.

You "SPLIT NEW" again to create each additional split screen.

You also have a choice of saying START instead of SPLIT NEW.

Your newly added action bar contains a name for each of your active screens, so you can recognize which is which.  Usually the name on the action bar will describe what is on that screen — EDIT, or SDSF, or something obvious.

With no further setup than that, you can move the cursor to your choice in the action bar and press ENTER to go to that screen.

Or you can enter "SWAP 1", or "SWAP 3", etc, on the command line, considering the screens to be numbered as 1, 2, 3, … according to their positions on the action bar.

Or just type the number for the session you want and press [F9] instead of [enter]  — assuming your F9 is set to mean  SWAP.

If you quit reading now,  you already know enough to use multiple split screens.  With just a little bit more perseverance, though, you can have a better setup.  ("Better" meaning nicer looking and easier to use.)

For a nicer looking display, You can change the SWAPBAR settings so that a line is shown above the added "action bar". This sets the bottom bar apart from the rest of the screen, making it look more like the "File|Edit|View|etc…" bar at the top of the screen.

You can also change the color of the text in the SWAPBAR action bar,  further setting it off from the rest of the screen, but the default color (white) is fine. If you have your PC3270 session set up with a light background, then white means black.

To access the panel that allows you to change these things, enter the SWAPBAR command followed by the operand slash (/) :

===> SWAPBAR   /

On the popup that then appears, Select "Show SWAPBAR divider line", and pick a color (say  W to pick White, and so on).  To get ISPF to save your settings so you can actually use them, enter S on the line where it says "S to update SWAPBAR", and then press F3 while your "S" is still there.

Okay.  Now,  wouldn't it be nice to be able to double-click the mouse key to select your choices in the action bar?

If you are using IBM's PC 3270 emulation, here's how you do that.

Move the cursor up to the PC 3270 "Menu Bar" (above the similar ISPF bar). If the "Menu Bar" is not there — if it isn't showing — you can get it by pressing alt-E (That is, holding the ALT key while you press the letter E), and then selecting "Show Menu-Bar" from the selection list.

Having found the "Menu Bar",  Click "Edit" in the "Menu Bar" and you'll get a drop-down menu.  From there:

select:            Preferences >
select:                   Hotspots >
Find "Point-and-Select commands" about halfway down,
Under that select (click the box next to) "ENTER at cursor position"

click the [OK] box

To save your settings, again move the cursor to the "Menu Bar", and select File, then Save.

With the Hotspots setup as shown, You can now double-click on the choices in the action bar.  (Guess it pays to persevere.)  When you exit ISPF to logoff, your setup will be saved for future use.

If you like selecting things by double-clicking the mouse, you now have a bonus.  On the ISPF main menu (the primary options menu), notice where it says "2 Edit", and double click on the word "Edit" there.   Mmmm-hmmm, it takes you straight to the edit screen.

Go back, and this time double-click where it says "Utilities" in "3 Utilities".   Doing that puts you on the "Utility Selection Panel".   Notice how the Utility Selection Panel is set up in a similar way to the primary menu?  It has "1 Library",  "4 Dslist",  and so on.   You see where this is going, right?   Double-click on the word "Dslist".

Yes, it works for any panel set up that way, provided of course the panel was set up correctly in the first place.   Generally, double-clickable selection fields will be turquoise, and the screens will have a general look and feel like the two we just discussed.  So, if you like double-clicking the mouse to select things, now you're laughing.

If you don't think "SPLIT NEW" is an easy phrase to remember, assign "SPLIT NEW" to a function key you don't use (for me, that was F4).  It makes the whole experience flow.  Want a new screen?  Hit F4. Want another one?  F4 again; it's there at the touch of a key.  Some people recommend using F2.  You just replace the old default SPLIT key with SPLIT NEW.  So that's a good idea too.  I don't use F2 that way because I like to keep the old "SPLIT" as a way of positioning the split line in the middle of the screen in order to edit two datasets at once and compare them visually.  So it's a matter of personal preference which key you decide to use.

If you do use F2 to split the screen in the middle so you can see parts of two screens at the same time, then (you ask) How do you know which of your other sessions is going to be on the other part of the screen?

Look at the names of the sessions as they are listed at the bottom of the screen.  You can see that there is an asterisk to the left of the screen where you are currently working.  Notice that one of the other session names is marked with a hyphen (minus sign) on its left.  That will be the companion to your current screen when you press F2.  It's also where you go if you press F9 without specifying a destination session.  If you want to change it so your current screen is matched with a different companion session, here is how to do that:  Press F9 to go to the companion it has now.  Once there, double-click on the companion you want to replace it with.  That's all there is to it.

While you're deciding which function key you want to use for SPLIT NEW, You also have a choice of saying START instead of SPLIT NEW.

If you use START instead of SPLIT NEW, you can specify an immediate target destination for the new screen you're adding.  So, for example, if you want to open a new screen and use it to view your SDSF held output (option S.H), you say:

===> START S.H

You get the new screen, and you're already right there in SDSF.

Let's say maybe you decide to set your chosen key to START rather than SPLIT NEW.  Then you can just say S.H and press the F4 button, and there you are instantly in SDSF, at the hold queue.   Sort of like using the transporter beam in a sci fi show.   Assuming you've chosen F4, and assuming S.H is where you wanted to go.   (Yes, it still works no matter what key you choose, or what destination.  Only my example ceases to be applicable when you change those.)  (Cue the laugh track.)

So now we'll describe how to reset your function keys, in case you don't already know.  It's pretty easy.

===> KEYS

With today's ISPF, all you have to do is type the word "KEYS" on the command line and a screen will appear that allows you to reset what the function keys do.    You reset what a key does by typing the new command in the lefthand column.

That "Label" column on the far right of the screen (I know you're curious) lets you set the text that later appears as the description of the key's function when the keys are displayed at the bottom of your screens (which is controlled by ===> PFSHOW).   Putting "Short" in the "Format" column means that key will be included on the short list when you PFSHOW only the short list of keys.

Today's ISPF also provides you with multiple sets of Function keys, depending on where you are (unless you've turned off that feature).  So the keys you get within EDIT are not the same as the keys you get on the edit member selection list or the main menu.  This means you need to do the "KEYS" thing described above several times.  The main menu uses the same set of KEYS as the main screen you get after typing 2 or 3 or 3.4., and that set (that key list) is named ISRSAB.   When you go to the member selection list for EDIT, or the dataset list in ISPF 3.4,  you get another key list, named ISRSPBC.  So if you set the keys in ISPF 3.4, the same settings will be used when you go to the EDIT member selection list.   There is quite a bit of sharing, but there are still quite a number of key lists.   SDSF has its own set.  Most program products (Like FileAID) have their own sets.  What you might want to do is just type KEYS whenever you first go into a different function for the next little while, and reset as necessary until you've hit them all.  (While you're there, you may as well change F12 from the default of CANCEL to the much more useful setting RETRIEVE.)  Other than that, you're done with the setup.  BUT,  the ISPF part of your setup won't be saved until you exit ISPF, and you can lose it if your session is cancelled or you're thrown out of ISPF by an abend, or you just let it time out when you go home.  So to be on the safe side you probably want to exit ISPF and Logoff TSO, and then just Logon again with a fresh start — and you probably want to do that in general whenever you make substantial changes to your ISPF settings  (changes you don't want to do over).

Let's say you've started eight split-screen sessions and you don't want to say =X eight times.  (As you know, you say =X and press enter to get rid of any one split screen.)  If you're exiting because you want to save your settings, go ahead and type =X as many times as you need to.  That's the least risky option.  If you have nothing to lose, though, there's a new command (which is still new and sometimes abends):

===>   =XALL

Note that =XALL works for the basic IBM applications, but if one or more of your split screen sessions is running a non-IBM product — something like File-AID, or the MAX editor, or Endevor, or some CA product, for example  — then that product might or might not honor the =XALL directive.  It is up to the product to honor the request when  =XALL arrives at that product's turn to exit.  If you're lucky, ISPF just stops its exiting spree when it comes to such a screen.  At that point you just enter =X,  or whatever is required to exit the particular product, and after you escape the sticking point you can enter =XALL again to continue your mass exit.    If you're not so lucky, ISPF might abend instead of halting, depending on how that particular non-IBM product reacts when it sees its turn come up under the XALL process.

If at some point you decide you want to turn off the SWAPBAR action bar, enter:


Note: If you have the ISPF setting "Always show split line", using SWAPBAR turns off that split line feature.  Your split line is replaced by the action bar.  Using "SWAPBAR OFF" does not turn the split line setting back on.   You need to reset it yourself: You use option 0 (zero) from the ISPF primary panel, find and reset "always on", and then exit ISPF and go back into it again.  Some ISPF settings are confusing because they don't take effect until you exit and go back into ISPF, and this is one of them.

About that loss of the always-on split line:  You still get the split line displayed if the split is anyplace in the middle of the screen.  All you lose is the "Always" in "Always show split line".

Another little caveat:  If you've set up your 3270 emulator preferences to allow double-clicking on the sessions listed in the action bar, it can change the way the text selection part of cut and paste works.  Really it just slows it down. There seems to be a big delay added between the time you click on the section you're going to select, and the time the highlighting starts to appear.   If you find that annoying, you might switch to using the Ctrl key plus an arrow key rather than selecting sections of text with the mouse: Just click the mouse once on the start of the text you want to select (to position the cursor there), then press the Ctrl key and hold it down while you use the arrow keys to highlight the text you want to select.  It can actually feel better than using the mouse for selection, once you get used to it, because you never again pick up extra text accidentally near the border of the selection area.   On the other hand, once you get used to that little added delay using the mouse for marking your selection, it might not bother you.

By the way, be careful about using a mouse click to position the cursor when you intend to cut-and-paste text containing a url.  If you click on the url itself in the text, you might be magically transported to the destination.  Okay, not magically.  It happens if you have the "Execute URL" box checkmarked back in the "Hotspots Setup" part of your PC3270 Configuration settings, mentioned in  our discussion above.

That's it.  Extra split screens the easy way.

The picture below shows the action bar at the bottom of the 3270 session screen.  Yes, I use a light background rather than traditional TSO black. Yes, I use an extra-big screen.  Just focus on the action bar now.  It shows SDSF, another SDSF, DSLIST, EDIT, and ISR@PRI (the first seven characters of name of the ISPF primary option menu, ISR@PRIM).  Double-click on whichever session you want to go to, and you're instantly there.  With the added divider line, the action bar really does look okay, not too distracting or intrusive.  Now that you've put in the effort to set it up, have fun with it.  You get used to it really fast, and you wonder why you didn't use it before.

Another last warning, just so you know.  Every split screen session you add uses up more memory in your TSO session on the mainframe, the same as having a lot of windows open at once on the PC uses up more memory on your PC.  So if you start having memory shortage problems in TSO, cut back on the number of split sessions you use simultaneously, and try logging on with a bigger SIZE specified if you can.  The largest possible logon SIZE specifiable is 2096128 and you can only get that if your company allows it; but don't just assume you can't get 2096128 because you couldn't get, say, Ten Meg (10000).  Yes, it can happen that 10000 doesn't work but 2096128 does.  But that's a topic for another episode . . .



Updated slightly 2016 June 11, primarily to extend the discussion of =X and =XALL