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What is COBOL Programming? - History & Examples

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  • 0:00 COBOL Language & History
  • 1:41 Understanding COBOL's…
  • 3:15 Arranging A COBOL Program
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alisa Perry

Alisa has taught college Computer Technology and has a master's degree in Computer Science.

The programming language COBOL has been around since the 1950's, though by the changing standards of technology it was considered to be old news by the 1980's. Still, the programming language continues to be used today and shows no signs of fading away anytime soon. This lesson will take a brief look at the history, resiliency and continued revelance of COBOL.

COBOL Language & History

COBOL is a programming language that reads like regular English and is often used for business and administrative purposes. The name means Common Business Oriented Language. COBOL is referred to as a legacy language, which means it is in a format that is no longer used or supported by new systems. But COBOL is critical to the success of many companies and so has stuck around even as technology has moved forward.

COBOL has been around since 1959, when it was developed by the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL). It was one of the first high-level programming languages created. COBOL is run on the mainframe as well as on the PC.

It was during the 1980's that some small businesses moved some of their mainframe COBOL programs to PC. But, this was no simple task. In the 1990's, COBOL was widely considered a thing of the past. It was obsolete, mainly because technology was becoming more object-oriented and moving away from the mainframe.

However, COBOL wasn't left behind completely. It was still used by banks and other major corporations who depend heavily on accuracy and the stability of their programs to keep their companies running. COBOL worked as many of them wanted it to for the most part. When hit with the idea of migration to new languages, they found that many of their COBOL programs were quite large and difficult to migrate. So, as many corporations prepared for year 2000, they upgraded their COBOL programs to run well beyond 2000, versus changing them over to a new languages.

To begin writing a COBOL program, you need a compiler and a location to write the program. You can write COBOL programs in text editors like Notepad++ or Text Edit. Once it is written, the program must be compiled to check for errors and converted into a language that the computer can read.

Understanding COBOL's Divisions

COBOL is divided into four divisions. The divisions are created in the program in this order:

  1. Identification Division
  2. Environment Division
  3. Data Division
  4. Procedure Division

The Identification Division gives you the name of the program (the only required piece), when it was written, the compile date, the author, and other information about the program, such as a comment explaining what the program will accomplish.

The second division, the Environment Division , gives you information on any computers, files, drives, or printers needed to complete tasks. Within the Environment Division, this information is divided into the Configuration Section and Input-Output Section.

The third division is the Data Division. It defines your variables to manipulate the data you work with in your program. The File Section, one of the sections found in the Data Division, allows you to define the structure of the data. The Working-Storage Section holds the names of the variables used for things happening within the program such as your calculations. The Linkage Section is another section that can be used in the Data Division.

The last division, the Procedure Division is where the work begins. It is here that you design the commands, through coding, to reach your desired result.

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