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What is COBOL Language?

Shelley L. Courtney
Shelley L. Courtney

COmmon Business-Oriented Language, more commonly known as COBOL Language, is one of the oldest programming languages in existence. COBOL languages can primarly be found in areas like business and finance for the government, as well as many companies. COBOL Language first appeared in late 1959, after a short-range committee, formed during a meeting at the Pentagon, was asked to recommend a new approach to a common business language.

The written description of COBOL, as well as the specifications for it, were influenced by another language, called FLOW-MATIC. Other languages were also influential in the development of COBOL. One, invented by Bob Bemer, was the IBM COMTRAN language. Another was the FACT language from Honeywell. It's Grace Hopper, however, who is often called "the mother of the COBOL language."

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

FLOW-MATIC, a data processing language, was invented by Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist and United States Naval officer. File separation (INPUT/OUTPUT), qualification of data-names, and figurative constant ZERO, are just some of the elements that were incorporated into the design of COBOL. Naturally, COBOL has undergone several enhancements, and even continues to evolve, but there has been a standard form of the language developed to prevent incompatibility between different versions. The version is known ANS COBOL, named for the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

ANSI produced several revisions of the COBOL standard, including the Corrections Amendment - 1991. The development and ownership was eventually taken over by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which released several editions and technical reports. The ISO standard became available to the public in 2002. It can be found on the COBOL standards website, coded as ISO/IEC 1989.

COBOL's significant feature variables and file records are described in great detail, so names become truly connotative. Visual programming environments become accessible. It also allows integration with the World Wide Web.

In 2002, the 4th revision of the COBOL computer language came out. This version added many new features, such as national language support, floating-point support, XML generation and phrasing, and much more. The COBOL language is the main language that automated businesses, and solving business problems is exactly what it does.

Discussion Comments


It's incredible that COBOL has hung around for as long as it has. It's also surprising how common it is.

Remember all of that Y2K scare stuff back in 1999? Programmers made a killing running around altering COBOL code (among other languages) so a year could be represented by four numbers instead of two. Yes, there was a time when programmers were so obsessed with saving space that they chose to have years represented by two numbers instead of four. That was all fine until 2000 when the computer would interpret "00" as "1900" and cause a lot of problems.

At any rate, it was incredible that COBOL code that had been written decades before 2000 were still running on computers throughout the world.

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