Aug 17 ’11

ISPF Power Tools

by John Kelley in z/Journal

Keeping up with changes to ISPF can be well worth a little effort. When you encounter a new release of ISPF, the first thing you should do is check out the “Changes for this release” Help option, paying particular attention to the Program Development Facility (PDF) section. The PDF component of ISPF includes general user tools such as data set lists (option 3.4 and the DSLIST command), member lists, the ISPF editor, etc.

You can identify new ISPF releases by looking at the Session Status on the ISPF primary option menu or using the command SAREA on any ISPF screen.

Here we highlight several commonly used “power tools.” Although some of these tools date back to earlier releases of ISPF (Version 4, circa 1994), others are more recent (the current version of ISPF is 6.x [z/OS 1.11 is ISPF 6.1]). “Changes for this release” enables you to go back several releases to review updates.

The ISPF Help files are a great power tool. Whether you’re in operations, systems programming or application development, if you often use the z/OS Time Sharing Option (TSO) and ISPF, online help is extensive and always just an F1 button away. The “Help Index” is one of the best improvements ever made to ISPF. Previously, you had to navigate to the correct panel and then press F1 for the appropriate help. By using the index, you can look up the help topic alphabetically.

Let’s take a closer look at these and some other tools to see how you might benefit by using them.  

Power Tool #1: Changes for This Release and ISPF Help

1. On the main ISPF menu panel (see Figure 1), place your cursor on the Help option in the upper right of the display and press <enter> to display the Help pull-down choices. You will find “Changes for this release” among the choices. Place your cursor on the choice or enter the associated number in the space provided at the top of the list and press <enter>.

2. On almost any (see note) ISPF panel, place your cursor on the Help option in the upper right of the display and press <enter> to display the Help pull-down choices. The last option is “Index”. Select this and press <enter>. On the command line of the next display, type the letter “c” and press <enter> to go to the list of Help files that begin with “c”. Find the “Changes for this release” option, enter the associated alphanumeric (i.e., C6) on the command line, and press <enter>.


Note: The Settings Panel (option 0) doesn’t include the Index in the Help menu.

Tool tip: If your data center’s ISPF panels don’t have the Help menu (or any menus), then simply press the F1 key to display the Help file for the current panel. On the command line of the help panel, type “I” and press <enter> to reach the help index.

Power Tool #2: Data Set Lists and the DSLIST Command

New users of TSO and ISPF are routinely taught three primary ISPF options: 1 VIEW, 2 EDIT, and 3.4 Data Set List Utility. Since you can invoke VIEW and EDIT from a data set list or member list, 3.4 is the only option a user really needs. In fact, there are 26 options available directly from a data set list (see Figures 2 and 3). Place the cursor to the left of one of the listed data sets and press <enter> to display a pop-up window with the list of available options. This is comparable to the right-click context menus on PC desktops.


If you take the time to learn how these options work, you rarely need to use any other ISPF menu option. That, by itself, is a powerful tool, but the real power comes from the DSLIST command. The basic format of the command is:    

DSLIST [’]dsname | mask[’]

The DSLIST command can be issued from any ISPF command line or by setting a function key. It can be used to display data set lists based on the same criteria as the 3.4 entry panel DSNAME field, but, unlike 3.4, you may need to use apostrophes around the dsname qualifier.  

Tool tip: To set a function key, navigate to the screen where you intend to use the key and enter the command KEYS on the command line.

Another form of the command is:  

DSLIST [reflist]

In this form, the command allows direct access to data set reference lists. These lists are created by an individual user and can encompass data sets whose names have no common masking characteristics, although masking of the data set name is also supported.

Tool tip: To create a data set reference list, use DSLIST or 3.4 to get a data set list, then type RA to the left of each data set name you want to add to a reference list. In the pop-up window, enter the name you want for the reference list (i.e., DEV0511). Use a name that wouldn’t normally be used in a data set name because the DSLIST command assumes by default that anything, eight characters or less, following the command is a reference list name.

Power Tool #3: START and SWAP Commands

Most users are familiar with using F2 to split the ISPF display into two screens and F9 to switch between the displays. The downsides of the SPLIT (F2) command are:

The best solution to these issues is the START command. This command alone eliminates the aforementioned first and third issues, and in the form START option, it deals with all three:

Tool tips: You can still use F2 to determine the line at which the screens are split if you need to see portions of two screens simultaneously.

The START command can also be assigned to a function key, but should be the last or only command used on that key. 

Here’s an example where option S is SDSF and my-jcl is the data set containing Job Control Language (JCL) files to be submitted:


This would show you a data set list of your JCL data set(s). Pressing F9 would display the Job Entry Subsystem (JES) HELD output queue under System Display and Search Facility (SDSF).

Managing up to eight split screens is easy with a few F9 options. The F9 key is a SWAP command that switches between two screens only, but the SWAP command has some useful options:

Tool tips: There’s a SWAP scrname option, but not all panels have a screen name and many splits may have duplicate names that would prevent this command from functioning. Since the F9 key is SWAP, typing a number on the command line and pressing F9 will swap you to the numbered screen. Also, typing the command LIST and pressing F9 will display the swap list pop-up window (see Figure 4). Be careful! LIST is also a valid ISPF command that has nothing to do with the SWAP LIST.


If you need more information about the DSLIST, START, or SWAP commands, try using the ISPF Help Index.

We look forward to bringing you more power tools in future issues.