The IBM 3270 is a class of terminals made by IBM since 1972 (known as "display devices") normally used to communicate with IBM mainframes. As such, it was the successor to the IBM 2260 display terminal. Due to the text color on the original models, these terminals are informally known as green screen terminals. Unlike common serial ASCII terminals, the 3270 minimizes the number of I/O interrupts required by accepting large blocks of data known as datastreams, and uses a high speed proprietary communications interface, using coaxial cable.
IBM stopped manufacturing terminals many years ago, but the IBM 3270 protocol is still commonly used via terminal emulation to access some mainframe-based applications. Accordingly, such applications are sometimes referred to as green screen applications. Use of 3270 is slowly diminishing over time as more and more mainframe applications acquire Web interfaces, but some web applications use the technique of "screen scraping" to capture old screens and transfer the data to modern front-ends. Today, many sites such as call centers still find the "green screen" 3270 interface to be more productive and efficient than spending resources to replace them with more modern systems.
The 3270 series was designed to connect with mainframe computers, often at a remote distance, using early 1970s technology. Two of the major design goals of 3270's are related to this: minimizing the amount of data transmitted, and minimizing the frequency of interrupts to the mainframe.
In a datastream, both text and control (or formatting functions) are interspersed allowing an entire screen to be "painted" as a single output operation. The concept of "formatting" in these devices allows the screen to be divided into clusters of contiguous character cells for which numerous "attributes" (colour, highlighting, character set, protection from modification) can be set. An attribute occupied a physical location on the screen which also determined the beginning and end of a "field" (separately addressable sub section of the screen).
Further, using a technique known as "read modified," a single transmission back to the mainframe can contain the changes from any number of formatted fields that have been modified, but without sending any unmodified fields or static data. This technique enhances the terminal throughput of the CPU, and minimizes the data transmitted. Some users familiar with character interrupt-driven terminal interfaces (such as Microsoft Windows) find this technique unusual. There was also a "read buffer" capability which transferred the entire content of the 3270-screen buffer including field attributes. This was mainly used for debugging purposes to preserve the application program screen contents while replacing it, temporarily, with debugging information.
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