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👷‍♀️  Professionals

Greetings to all you coding aficionados and tech enthusiasts! Today, we shall embark on an enlightening journey into the fascinating realm of COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language). Brace yourself as we unravel this enigmatic, yet marvelous language that has persisted through the decades and still plays a crucial role in the backbone of numerous industries.

A Journey Back in Time ⌛

The story of COBOL began in the late 1950s, when there was an urgent need for a business-oriented programming language that could be used across different computer systems. The credit for its inception largely goes to the exceptional computer scientist Grace Hopper , whose pioneering work laid the foundation for COBOL.

COBOL's creation was a collaborative effort between various industries and government bodies, and its primary goal was to be highly readable and easily maintainable. It was explicitly designed for business applications, focusing on tasks like data processing and reporting.

The Essence of COBOL 🔍

COBOL is a high-level, compiled programming language known for its legible syntax, making it easy to read and understand even for non-programmers. Its core features include:

  • English-like syntax
  • Verbose statements
  • A hierarchical data structure
  • Strong support for file handling

Let's take a quick peek at some COBOL code:

PROGRAM-ID. HelloWorld.
DISPLAY 'Hello, World!'.

As you can see, COBOL reads quite like plain English! The code above is a simple "Hello, World!" program written in COBOL. The DISPLAY statement effectively prints the text within the quotes, and STOP RUN indicates the termination of the program.

The structure of COBOL is divided into distinctive sections: Identification, Environment, Data, and Procedure Divisions. Divisions are further broken down into sections, paragraphs, sentences, and statements.

COBOL's Remarkable Resilience 🔗

Despite the advent of more contemporary programming languages, COBOL has remarkably withstood the test of time. It remains deeply entrenched in the financial, insurance, and governmental sectors. In fact, a significant percentage of the world's critical business processes still run on COBOL!

Here's why COBOL continues to be relevant:

  • Legacy systems: Many enterprises have built their core applications on COBOL, and modernizing these systems would require significant investments of time and resources.
  • Reliability: COBOL is known for its robustness and has proved to be extremely dependable over the years.
  • Scalability: COBOL's data processing capabilities are highly scalable, making it ideal for handling large-scale business applications.
  • Domain-specific expertise: A myriad of COBOL developers have acquired extensive domain knowledge in industries such as banking and insurance. Consequently, replacing these experts would be challenging.

COBOL in the Modern Era 💾

COBOL might feel antiquated in today's world of sleek, trendy programming languages. However, efforts have been made to modernize COBOL and enable integration with contemporary technology stacks.

Some examples of modern COBOL implementations include:

  • Micro Focus Visual COBOL: A modern development environment that enables seamless integration between COBOL and .NET or JVM ecosystems.
  • GnuCOBOL: A free, open-source implementation of COBOL that allows developers to compile COBOL programs into native executables or use the generated C code for further compilation.
  • IBM Enterprise COBOL for z/OS: Offers an extensive portfolio of advanced tools and capabilities tailored for IBM mainframes.

A Glimpse at COBOL Syntax 📚

Let's delve deeper into the enchanting world of COBOL by examining its syntax more closely. We'll explore concepts like variables, conditions, loops, and file handling.

Variables and Data Types 💡

COBOL supports various data types like numeric, alphanumeric, packed decimal, and binary. Defining variables occurs within the Data Division, using the PICTURE clause to describe their format.

Here's an example defining a numeric variable:

01 employee-number   PIC 9(5).

In this snippet, employee-number is a numeric variable defined with a maximum of 5 digits.

Conditions and Decision Making 🚦

Conditional statements in COBOL are created using the IF statement. Consider the following example:

IF employee-number GREATER THAN 10000
    DISPLAY 'An employee with a high number!'
    DISPLAY 'A regular employee number.'

This conditional statement checks if the employee-number is greater than 10000 and displays the appropriate message.

Looping Constructs 🔁

COBOL offers several looping constructs such as PERFORM, PERFORM VARYING, and PERFORM UNTIL.

Here's an example of a loop in COBOL:

    PERFORM VARYING employee-number FROM 1 BY 1 UNTIL employee-number > 10
        DISPLAY employee-number

This code snippet displays numbers from 1 to 10 using a loop.

File Handling 📁

COBOL's file handling capabilities are one of its defining features. COBOL files are implicitly record-oriented, where each record consists of multiple fields. File handling typically involves opening a file, reading or writing records, and then closing the file.

A basic example:

    SELECT input-file ASSIGN TO "input.txt".
    SELECT output-file ASSIGN TO "output.txt".

FD input-file.
01 input-record.
FD output-file.
01 output-record.

    OPEN INPUT input-file.
    OPEN OUTPUT output-file.

    READ input-file.
        MOVE input-record TO output-record.
    WRITE output-record.

    CLOSE input-file.
    CLOSE output-file.

In this example, a simple file copy operation occurs. The input and output files are defined in the ENVIRONMENT DIVISION, while the record structures are handled within the DATA DIVISION. The PROCEDURE DIVISION takes care of reading, copying, and writing the data.

Conclusion 🏁

We have merely scratched the surface of COBOL's intriguing and complex world. With its rich history, easy-to-read syntax, and steadfast presence in critical industries, it's no wonder that COBOL has endured the test of time. Delving deeper into COBOL's features and idiosyncrasies is sure to be a wondrous expedition that unveils more layers of its awe-inspiring legacy! is a collection of articles on a variety of technology and programming articles assembled by James Padolsey. Enjoy! And please share! And if you feel like you can donate here so I can create more free content for you.