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An Introduction

COBOL ( COmmon Business Oriented Language ) is a very popular and widely used computer programming language. It has been available in the industry since 1960s and has been the standard language for business applications.

By "Business Applications", I mean those computer programming applications where most of the programming effort goes to organization and handling of HUGE external data. "Scientific Applications" on the other hand, require a lot programming effort in handling complex algorithms and number crunching.

A Personnel or Student Information system needs a lot of external data handling, hence a lot of files , and the users of these systems expect to get results from these applications with reasonable performance. One of the reasons COBOL has become so popular and so wide-spread among programmers is that it provides very powerful tools for handling large volumes of data with reasonable ease and performance.

Major properties that make COBOL an important language are :

All these do not mean that COBOL is the best programming language. Please do not forget that THERE IS NO BEST PROGRAMMING LANGUAGE. Each language is designed to be used for certain types of tasks and if you push the language beyond these limits, you shall certainly regret it.

If you try to write a word processor using the COBOL language (although it is possible to do so) you shall dive into deep trouble; whereas if try to play around with millions of data records organized in different file structures (indexed, direct etc) in the C language; you will also regret that.


I can almost hear some of the students saying "... but COBOL is an ancient language". Yes, COBOL is an old language but NOT AN ANCIENT language. Do you know when the C language first appeared on the scene? Did you know that Object Oriented COBOL compilers are available in the market?

A simple survey that I conducted on a ONE DAY's job offers published on the Internet revealed the following statistics :

A Table Of Job Offerings
COBOL Related Jobs55
FORTRAN Related3
Pascal Related2
C Related29
C++ Related 64
OOP Related10
Windows Programming81
Visual Programming48
Assembly Languages6

This table has been generated by examining 595 job offerings;
most of the posts being in Europe.

One of the most complained disadvantage of the COBOL language is that the programmer has to type a lot of stuff on the keyboard. Yes, that is correct! One types a lot characters that make up the code, but the good programmer has to type a lot less to document the code he/she is writing. As a result, we can claim that the total numbers of times a programmer has to hit the keyboard is not much different in COBOL compared to those who code in C.

After all these talk, let's see what a COBOL program looks like...

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