COBOL Demystified: What It Is and Its Definition in Modern Computing

45022575 - COBOL Demystified: What It Is and Its Definition in Modern Computing

Unravel the mystery of COBOL in the context of contemporary computing. Discover its definition, significance, and role in today’s digital world. Dive into the intriguing world of legacy coding!


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    COBOL, an acronym for COmmon Business-Oriented Language, is a high-level programming language designed specifically for business applications. Since its inception in 1959 by a group of computer professionals called the Conference on Data System Languages (CODASYL), COBOL has been widely adopted by various industries for developing and maintaining enterprise software solutions. According to studies, COBOL is still responsible for about 70% of active business applications and approximately 220 billion lines of code today. In this article, we will explore COBOL’s definition, how it works, the benefits of using COBOL, use cases, best practices, and recommended reading materials.

    “COBOL is a language of a very different era, but it’s incredible to think that it’s still running the majority of the world’s financial transactions.” – Grace Hopper

    What is COBOL? Definition of Common Business Oriented Language

    COBOL is a high-level programming language that uses an English-like syntax, which makes it easier for non-technical users to read and understand the code. It was designed specifically to handle data processing tasks such as arithmetic, file handling, and conditional logic, making it an ideal choice for business applications that demand high levels of accuracy, reliability, and efficiency.

    ℹ️ Synonyms: Common Business Oriented Language

    How it Works

    COBOL programs consist of four divisions: Identification, Environment, Data, and Procedure. The Identification Division is responsible for identifying the program to the compiler, while the Environment Division specifies the hardware and software configurations that the program will execute. The Data Division is where all the data elements are defined, and the Procedure Division contains the actual business logic and processing instructions.

    Once a COBOL program is written, it must be compiled using a COBOL compiler, which translates the high-level language code into executable machine code. This compiled program can then be executed on the appropriate hardware and software environments.

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    Benefits of using COBOL

    • Longevity: COBOL has proven to be a very durable language with a legacy spanning over six decades, and it continues to be maintained and updated to be compatible with modern technologies and platforms.
    • Readability: With its English-like syntax, COBOL is easy to read and comprehend, which makes it simpler to maintain and modify existing applications.
    • Efficient data processing: COBOL excels at processing large volumes of data, making it perfectly suited for the requirements of many business applications.
    • Portability: One of the primary design goals of COBOL was to make it portable across different computer systems, which allows organizations to easily migrate their COBOL applications between different hardware and software platforms.
    • Reliability: Business applications built using COBOL are known for their reliability and stability, providing consistent and predictable results across different environments.
    • Wide adoption: COBOL is established in numerous industries, and there is a vast pool of experienced COBOL developers and resources available for organizations looking to build or maintain their business applications.

    COBOL use cases

    COBOL has been used extensively throughout various industries for a wide range of applications. Some of the most common use cases include:

    • Financial services: Banking systems, insurance systems, and other applications that require efficient processing of financial transactions and records often utilize COBOL due to its reliability and data processing capabilities.
    • Government: COBOL is widely used in government systems for managing social security, healthcare, taxation, and other public services.
    • Manufacturing and logistics: Inventory management, production scheduling, and supply chain management applications often leverage COBOL’s data processing strengths.
    • Retail: Point-of-sale systems, inventory tracking, and sales reporting applications in retail environments often employ COBOL for its robustness and efficiency.

    Code Examples

    PROGRAM-ID. HelloWorld.
        DISPLAY "Hello, World!".
        STOP RUN.

    Best Practices

    When developing or maintaining COBOL applications, it’s important to follow best practices to ensure the efficiency, reliability, and maintainability of the code. This includes adhering to structured programming techniques, employing modular and reusable code, using meaningful variable and function names, and thoroughly documenting the codebase. Additionally, it’s essential to stay updated on the latest COBOL features, standards, and compatibility issues to ensure the long-term viability of the applications.

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    Most recommended books about COBOL

    For those looking to learn more about COBOL or seeking to enhance their skills, the following books are often recommended by industry professionals:

    • 1. “COBOL for the 21st Century” by Nancy B. Stern, Robert A. Stern, and James P. Ley
    • 2. “Murach’s Mainframe COBOL” by Mike Murach, Anne Prince, and Raul Menendez
    • 3. “Beginning COBOL for Programmers” by Michael Coughlan
    • 4. “COBOL: From Micro to Mainframe” by Robert T. Grauer, Carol V. Brown, and Arthur R. Buss
    • 5. “Enterprise COBOL Programming Guide” by IBM


    In summary, COBOL is a robust, efficient, and versatile programming language that continues to play a vital role in modern business applications. Its longevity, readability, data processing capabilities, portability, and wide adoption across industries make it a valuable tool in a developer’s arsenal. By following best practices and staying informed about the latest advancements and trends, programmers can ensure that their COBOL applications provide reliable and efficient solutions for the organizations they serve.

    Tags: cobol, development, language, legacy, mainframe.

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    Back in 2013, I founded Echo with the simple business idea: "Connect great tech companies around the globe with the brightest software engineers in Eastern Europe." We've employed hundreds of talents so far and keep going.
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