The Cobol programming language

The Cobol programming language is the basis of the system code in many companies today. Around 95 percent of the readers at ATMs work with the Cobol code. 70 percent of the processing systems were set up using Cobol. This programming language is now more than 60 years old, but it was planned from the start that it should be based on business requirements.

What is COBOL?

Cobol is the abbreviation for Common Business Oriented Language and is the first common programming language for applications in companies. Cobol is used for writing various application programs.

The programming language is not only interesting for developers for historical reasons. The systems that have been created over the years are still working and require constant adjustments.

Since universities and technical schools in particular have long since stopped training new Cobol programmers, a constantly large market has a decreasing number of suppliers available.

The Cobol programs mostly reside on punch cards. Because the development of parsers was not very advanced in the past, the language specification introduced a class of syntax rules to simplify this test. The formatting convention, which was guaranteed up to Cobol 2002, stipulated a certain amount of spaces that separate the individual modules. In this way, the author of the parser was able to find out about the type of command by counting the spaces.

Since today’s parsers can cope with any complex language teaching, the use of spaces is no longer necessary these days.

Cobol is a problem-oriented programming language which is used for electronic and commercial data processing. The individual language elements are approximated to the commercial language, so that Cobol facilitates programming and maintenance and at the same time optimizes compatibility.

Cobol is the best known and most frequently used commercial programming language, which has undergone many further developments since it was first designed in the USA in 1959. Therefore, the American National Standards Institute published a standardized version in 1968, which has since found widespread use. Since this language is based on the English language in terms of sentence formation and vocabulary, the basics are quite easy to learn. This language has a high level of documentation, even for an inexperienced programmer, but on the other hand it is very writing-intensive and redundant. The Cobol programs are highly structured. This results from the general structure in four main parts. These are the recognition, machine, data and procedure judgment as well as the gradual subdivision of the procedure into paragraphs, chapters, instructions and sentences. As a result of this important structure, the Cobol programs are very clear.

The story of Cobol

The Cobol language was developed from 1959 to meet the need for the standardized and hardware-independent programming language. The Cobol language was developed by a working group at the Department of Defense of America.

At the time, the Cobol programming language was only programmed on punched cards and with the help of line printers. Correspondingly, Cobol is one of those languages that do not differentiate between upper and lower case and are therefore “case-insensitive”.

The Cobol programs were created according to the punch card scheme with 80 columns and 80 writing positions. This changed with the introduction of the new standards in 2002.

The Cobol language and the systems programmed with it are still used today, primarily in the field of economic data processing. However, as the number of programmers involved in this is decreasing, the programming language may soon only be a marginal phenomenon.

On the other hand, there is the often immense number of different programs that has grown historically in many authorities and companies. Due to a lack of documentation, changing a system is only conceivable at high cost and with great effort. 

Cobol is also often referred to as the language for accountants, as this programming language was created primarily from a current need for programmers. The Cobol language should be structured so simply that even non-technicians are able to program in the language.

The importance of Cobol in industry

Nowadays, modernization continues to drive corporate change. So this is a vehicle for IT transformation and business change. Modernization can take many forms at the same time. About 53 percent of the companies are planning initiatives aimed at modernizing the applications and integrating the Cobol systems.

Cobol is more relevant today than ever. Surveys showed that modernization is preferred over replacing older systems. About 63 percent of all respondents want to optimize the existing Cobol systems in 2020. In addition, 92 percent of all respondents believe that the company’s applications are of tactical importance, compared to 84 percent of all respondents in 2017.

The synergy effects between business and IT remain strong. The technically oriented management positions are first viewed as drivers of the application modernization initiatives. Around 36 percent of all survey participants see the CTOs in this role and 33 percent see the CIOs. In a large number of organizations, both managerial and non-technical functions play an important role, with a total of 27 percent of the CEOs and 9 percent of the CFOs being important. In the context of IT’s focus on supporting a business as well as promoting competitive advantage, a relationship has developed and strengthened between the development teams and the rest of the company. This is what 46 percent of all survey participants say.

The IT ecosystem is also constantly expanding. The diplomatic orientation of the Cobol systems through modern technology shows that this change is continuing. Around 42 percent of those surveyed see a cloud as the practicable and central platform for supporting the company’s agenda, compared to the 30 percent from 2017. In the course of clarifying the IT landscape, the Cobol language remains indispensable in new systems. Continuous development is an important element of tactical business and IT change.

The Cobol-based systems continue to grow. When asked about the company’s possible plans for the Cobol language in 2020, 63 percent of those surveyed said that they were planning to modernize the system or the applications. The focus here is on functionality and workflows. The average number of COBOL codes has increased from 8.4 million in 2017 to 9.9 million in 2020. The applications are therefore still among the most important systems of companies, which they expand and adapt to the new needs.

The role of cool in the financial sector

Companies from the insurance and financial sector have been using the Cobol language for 60 years. Mainly business applications from insurance companies and banks were programmed in the language. Most companies work with a high volume of transactions and at the same time have a large number of users. The applications for the systems remain generally unaffected by the original design, the robust, secure and scalable processing of the data for critical systems in the sector. These coincide with a capacity of Cobol for data-intensive work. This includes working with the structured data, which includes processing, access and reporting. Other applications include error-free processing of numerical and complex calculations or work in which millions of transactions must take place in a very short time. These benefit from the possibility of continuous modernization of the programs, because a complete changeover would be a risk for all information and data that arise when trading securities or transactions. The Cobol language enables the facilities to modernize the main system.


Interesse oder weitere Fragen?

Arrange a no-obligation initial consultation with our SYSPARENCY experts.

We will introduce you to our products and answer all your questions in a straightforward online meeting.

Mit sysparency mehr Wissen

Sie können das Whitepaper hier herunterladen: