COBOL

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COBOL
Paradigm(s)procedural, imperative, object-oriented
Designed byGrace Hopper, William Selden, Gertrude Tierney, Howard Bromberg, Howard Discount, Vernon Reeves, Jean E. Sammet
Appeared in1959 (1959)
Stable releaseISO/IEC 1989:2014 / 2014
Typing disciplinestrong, static
Major implementationsGNU Cobol, Micro Focus International (e.g. the Eclipse-plug-in Micro Focus Net Express)
DialectsHP3000 COBOL/II, COBOL/2, IBM OS/VS COBOL, IBM COBOL/II, IBM COBOL SAA, IBM Enterprise COBOL, IBM COBOL/400, IBM ILE COBOL, Unix COBOL X/Open, Micro Focus COBOL, Microsoft COBOL, Ryan McFarland RM/COBOL, Ryan McFarland RM/COBOL-85, DOSVS COBOL, UNIVAC COBOL, Realia COBOL, Fujitsu COBOL, ICL COBOL, ACUCOBOL-GT, isCOBOL, COBOL-IT, DEC COBOL-10, DEC VAX COBOL, Wang VS COBOL, Visual COBOL, Tandem (NonStop) COBOL85, Tandem (NonStop) SCOBOL, Unisys MCP COBOL74, Unisys MCP COBOL85
Influenced byFLOW-MATIC, COMTRAN, AIMACO, FACT
InfluencedPL/I, CobolScript, ABAP
Filename extension(s).cbl, .cob, .cpy
 
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This article is about the compiled programming language. For other uses, see COBOL (disambiguation).
COBOL
Paradigm(s)procedural, imperative, object-oriented
Designed byGrace Hopper, William Selden, Gertrude Tierney, Howard Bromberg, Howard Discount, Vernon Reeves, Jean E. Sammet
Appeared in1959 (1959)
Stable releaseISO/IEC 1989:2014 / 2014
Typing disciplinestrong, static
Major implementationsGNU Cobol, Micro Focus International (e.g. the Eclipse-plug-in Micro Focus Net Express)
DialectsHP3000 COBOL/II, COBOL/2, IBM OS/VS COBOL, IBM COBOL/II, IBM COBOL SAA, IBM Enterprise COBOL, IBM COBOL/400, IBM ILE COBOL, Unix COBOL X/Open, Micro Focus COBOL, Microsoft COBOL, Ryan McFarland RM/COBOL, Ryan McFarland RM/COBOL-85, DOSVS COBOL, UNIVAC COBOL, Realia COBOL, Fujitsu COBOL, ICL COBOL, ACUCOBOL-GT, isCOBOL, COBOL-IT, DEC COBOL-10, DEC VAX COBOL, Wang VS COBOL, Visual COBOL, Tandem (NonStop) COBOL85, Tandem (NonStop) SCOBOL, Unisys MCP COBOL74, Unisys MCP COBOL85
Influenced byFLOW-MATIC, COMTRAN, AIMACO, FACT
InfluencedPL/I, CobolScript, ABAP
Filename extension(s).cbl, .cob, .cpy

COBOL (/ˈkbɒl/) is a compiled computer programming language designed for business use. It is imperative, procedural and, since 2002, object-oriented. It was designed in 1959 by the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL) and was largely based on previous programming language design work by Grace Hopper, commonly referred to as "the mother of COBOL".[1][2] COBOL stands for COmmon Business-Oriented Language.

COBOL is primarily used in business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments. In 1997, Gartner Group estimated that there were a total of 200 billion lines of COBOL in existence which ran 80% of all business programs.[3]

COBOL was one of the first programming languages to be standardised: the first COBOL standard was issued by ANSI in 1968. The standard has been revised four times since then, with ISO publishing the latest standard as ISO/IEC 1989:2014.[4]

History and specification[edit]

Background[edit]

Computer users and manufacturers were becoming concerned about the rising cost of programming. A 1959 survey had found that in any data processing installation, programming cost at least $800,000 and that translating programs to run on new hardware would cost $600,000. In a time where new programming languages were proliferating at an ever increasing rate, the same survey suggested that if a common business-oriented language were used, conversion would be far cheaper and faster.[5]

caption
Grace Hopper, the inventor of FLOW-MATIC, a predecessor to COBOL.

In April 1959, representatives from academia, computer users and manufacturers met at the University of Pennsylvania to organise a formal meeting on common business languages. Representatives included Grace Hopper, inventor of the English-like data processing language FLOW-MATIC, Jean Sammet and Saul Gorn.[6][7]

The group asked the Department of Defense (DoD) to sponsor an effort to create a common business language. The delegation impressed Charles A. Phillips, director of the Data System Research Staff at the DoD, who thought that they "thoroughly understood" the DoD's problems. The DoD operated 225 computers, had a further 175 on order and had spent over $200 million on implementing programs to run on them. Portable programs would save time, reduce costs and ease modernisation.[8]

Phillips agreed to sponsor the meeting and tasked the delegation with drafting the agenda.[9]

COBOL 60[edit]

On May 28 and 29 of 1959 (exactly one year after the Zürich ALGOL 58 meeting), a meeting was held at the Pentagon to discuss creating a common programming language for business. It was attended by 41 people and was chaired by Phillips.[10] The Department of Defense was concerned about whether it could run the same data processing programs on different computers. FORTRAN, the only mainstream language at the time, lacked the features needed to write such programs.[11]

Representatives enthusiastically described a language which could work in a wide variety of environments, from banking and insurance to utilities and inventory control. They agreed unanimously that more people should be able to program and that the new language should not be restricted by the limitations of contemporary technology. A majority agreed that the language should make maximum use of English, be capable of change, be machine-independent and be easy to use, even at the expense of power.[12]

The meeting resulted in the creation of a steering committee and three further committees: short-, intermediate- and long-range. The short-range committee was given to September (three months) to produce specifications for an interim language which would then be improved upon by the other committees.[13][14] Their official mission, however, was to identify the strengths and weaknesses of existing programming languages and did not explicitly direct them to create a new language.[11] The deadline was met with disbelief by the short-range committee.[15] One member, Betty Holberton, described the three month deadline as "gross optimism" and doubted that the language really would be a stopgap.[16]

The steering committee met on June 4 and agreed to name the entire activity as the Committee on Data Systems Languages, or CODASYL, and to form an executive committee.[17]

The short-range committee was made up of members representing six computer manufacturers and three government agencies. The six computer manufacturers were Burroughs Corporation, IBM, Minneapolis-Honeywell (Honeywell Labs), RCA, Sperry Rand, and Sylvania Electric Products. The three government agencies were the US Air Force, the Navy's David Taylor Model Basin, and the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology).[18] The committee was chaired by Joseph Wegstein of the US National Bureau of Standards. Work began by investigating data description, statements, existing applications and user experiences.[19]

The committee mainly investigated the FLOW-MATIC, AIMACO and COMTRAN programming languages.[11][20] The FLOW-MATIC language was particularly influential because it had been implemented and because AIMACO was a derivative of it with only minor changes.[21][22] FLOW-MATIC's inventor, Grace Hopper, served as a technical adviser to the committee.[15] FLOW-MATIC's major contributions to COBOL were long variable names, English words for commands and the separation of data descriptions and instructions.[23]

IBM's COMTRAN language, invented by Bob Bemer, was a response to the competitive threat potential of FLOW-MATIC[24] and was regarded as its competitor[25] by a short-range committee made up of colleagues of Grace Hopper.[26] Some of its features were not incorporated into COBOL so that it would not look like IBM had dominated the design process [13] and, in 1981, Jean Sammet said that there had been a "strong anti-IBM bias" from some committee members (herself included).[27] When Roy Goldfinger, author of the COMTRAN manual and intermediate-range committee member, attended a subcommittee meeting to support his language and encourage the use of algebraic expressions, Grace Hopper sent a memo to the short-range committee reiterating Sperry Rand's efforts to create a language based on English.[28] In 1980, Grace Hopper commented that "COBOL 60 is 95% FLOW-MATIC" and that COMTRAN had had an "extremely small" influence. Furthermore, she said that she would claim that work was influenced by both FLOW-MATIC and COMTRAN only to "keep other people happy [so they] wouldn't try to knock us out".[29] Features from COMTRAN incorporated into COBOL included formulas,[30] the PICTURE clause,[31] an improved IF statement which obviated the need for GO TO's and a more robust file management system.[25]

The usefulness of the committee's work was subject of great debate. While some members thought the language had too many compromises and was the result of design by committee, others felt it was better than the three languages examined. Some felt the language was too complex; others, too simple.[32] Controversial features included those some considered useless or too advanced for data processing users. Such features included boolean expressions, formulas and table subscripts (indices).[33][34] Another point of controversy was making keywords context-sensitive and the effect it would have on readability.[33] This approach was later used in PL/I and partially in COBOL from 2002.[35] Little consideration was given to interactivity, interaction with operating systems (few existed at that time) and functions (thought of as purely mathematical and of no use in data processing).[36][37]

The specifications were presented to the Executive Committee on September 4. They fell short of expectations: Joseph Wegstein noted that "it contains rough spots and requires some additions" and Bob Bemer later described them as a "hodgepodge". The subcommittee was given until December to improve it.[15]

At a mid-September meeting, the committee discussed the new language's name. Suggestions included "BUSY" (BUsiness SYstem), "INFOSYL" (INFOrmation SYstem Language) and "COCOSYL" (COmmon COmputer SYstems Language).[38] The name "COBOL" was suggested by Bob Bemer.[39][40]

In October, the intermediate-range committee received copies of the FACT language specification created by Roy Nutt. Its features impressed the committee so much that they passed a resolution to base COBOL on it.[41] This was a blow to the short-range committee, who had made good progress on the specification. Despite being technically superior, FACT had not been created with portability in mind or through manufacturer and user consensus. It also lacked a demonstrable implementation,[15] allowing supporters of a FLOW-MATIC-based COBOL to overturn the resolution. RCA representative Howard Bromberg also decided to block FACT so that RCA's work on a COBOL implementation would not go to waste.[42]

'And what name do you want inscribed?'
I said, 'I'll write it for you.' I wrote the name down: COBOL.
'What kind of name is that?'
'Well it's a Polish name. We shortened it and got rid of a lot of unnecessary notation.'

Howard Bromberg on how he bought the COBOL tombstone[43]

It soon became apparent that the committee was too large for any further progress to be made quickly. A frustrated Howard Bromberg bought a $15 tombstone with "COBOL" engraved on it and sent it to Charles Phillips to demonstrate his displeasure (the tombstone is currently at the Computer History Museum).[43][44][45] A sub-committee was formed to analyze existing languages and was made up of six individuals:[11][46]

The sub-committee did most of the work creating the specification, leaving the short-range committee to review and modify their work before producing the finished specification.[11]

COBOL. Report to Conference on Data Systems Languages including initial specifications for a Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) for programming digital electronic computers. Department of Defense, April 1960.
The cover of the COBOL 60 report.

The specifications were approved by the Executive Committee on January 3, 1960, and sent to the government printing office, which printed these as COBOL 60. The language's stated objectives were to allow efficient, portable programs to be easily written, to allow users to move to new systems with minimal effort and cost, and to be suitable for inexperienced programmers.[47] The CODASYL Executive Committee later created the COBOL Maintenance Committee to answer questions from users and vendors and to improve and expand the specifications.[48]

During 1960, the list of manufacturers planning to build COBOL compilers grew. By September, five more manufacturers had joined CODASYL (Bendix, Control Data Corporation, General Electric (GE), National Cash Register and Philco) and all represented manufacturers had announced COBOL compilers. GE and IBM planned to integrate COBOL into their own languages, GECOM and COMTRAN, respectively. In contrast, International Computers and Tabulators planned to replace their own language, CODEL, with COBOL.[49]

Meanwhile, RCA and Sperry Rand worked on creating COBOL compilers. The first COBOL program ran on 17 August on an RCA 501.[50] On December 6 and 7, the same COBOL program (albeit with minor changes) ran on an RCA computer and a Remington-Rand Univac computer, demonstrating that compatibility could be achieved.[51]

COBOL-61 to COBOL-65[edit]

Many logical flaws were found in COBOL 60, leading GE's Charles Katz to warn that it could not be interpreted unambiguously. A reluctant short-term committee enacted a total cleanup and, by March 1963, it was reported that COBOL's syntax was as definable as ALGOL's, although semantic ambiguities remained.[49]

Early COBOL compilers were primitive and slow. A 1962 US Navy evaluation found compilation speeds of 3–11 statements per minute. By mid-1964, they had increased to 11–1000 statements per minute. It was observed that increasing memory would drastically increase speed and that compilation costs varied wildly: costs per statement were between $0.23 and $18.91.[52]

In late 1962, IBM announced that COBOL would be their primary development language and that development of COMTRAN would cease.[52]

COBOL-60 was replaced in 1961 by COBOL-61. This was then replaced by the COBOL-61 Extended specifications in 1963 which introduced the sort and report writer facilities.[53] The added facilities fixed flaws identified by Honeywell in late 1959 in a letter to the short-range committee.[50] COBOL, Edition 1965, brought further clarifications to the specifications and introduced facilities for handling mass storage files and tables.[54]

COBOL-68[edit]

Efforts began to standardise COBOL to overcome incompatibilities between versions. In late 1962, both ISO and the United States of America Standards Institute (now ANSI) formed groups to create standards. ANSI produced USA Standard COBOL X3.23 in August 1968 which became the cornerstone for further versions.[55] This version was known as American National Standard (ANS) COBOL and was adopted by ISO in 1972.[56]

COBOL-74[edit]

By 1970, COBOL had become the most widely used programming language in the world.[57]

Independently of the ANSI committee, the CODASYL Programming Language Committee was working on improving the language. They described new versions in 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1973, including changes such as new inter-program communication, debugging and file merging facilities as well as improved string-handling and library inclusion features.[58] Although CODASYL was independent of the ANSI committee, the CODASYL Journal of Development was used by ANSI to identify features which were popular enough to warrant implementing.[59] The Programming Language Committee also liaised with ECMA and the Japanese COBOL Standard committee.[58]

In 1974, ANSI published a revised version of (ANS) COBOL, containing new features such as file organizations, the DELETE statement[60] and the segmentation module.[61] Deleted features included the NOTE statement, the EXAMINE statement (which was replaced by INSPECT) and the implementer-defined random access module (which was superseded by the new sequential and relative I/O modules). These made up 44 changes which rendered existing statements incompatible with the new standard.[62] The report writer was slated to be removed from COBOL, but was reinstated before the standard was published.[63][64] ISO later adopted the updated standard in 1978.[56]

COBOL-85[edit]

In June 1978, work began on revising COBOL-74. The proposed standard (commonly called COBOL-80) differed significantly from the previous one, causing concerns about incompatibility and conversion costs. In January 1981, Joseph T. Brophy, Senior Vice-President of Travelers Insurance, threatened to sue the standard committee because it was not upwards compatible with COBOL-74. Mr. Brophy described previous conversions of their 40 million line code base as "non-productive" and a "complete waste of our programmer resources".[65] Later that year, the Data Processing Management Association (DPMA) said it was "strongly opposed" to the new standard, citing "prohibitive" conversion costs and enhancements that were "forced on the user".[66][67]

During the first public review period, the committee received 2,200 responses, of which 1,700 were negative form letters.[68] Other responses were detailed analyses of the effect COBOL-80 would have on their systems; conversion costs were predicted to be at least 50 cents per line of code. Fewer than a dozen of the responses were in favor of the proposed standard.[69]

In 1983, the DPMA withdrew its opposition to the standard, citing the responsiveness of the committee to public concerns. In the same year, a National Bureau of Standards study concluded that the proposed standard would present few problems.[67] A year later, a COBOL-80 compiler was released to DEC VAX users, who noted that conversion of COBOL-74 programs posed few problems. The new EVALUATE statement and inline PERFORM were particularly well received and improved productivity, thanks to simplified control flow and debugging.[70]

The second public review drew another 1,000 (mainly negative) responses, while the last drew just 25, by which time many concerns had been addressed.[67]

In late 1985, ANSI published the revised standard. 60 features were changed or deprecated and many[quantify] were added, such as:[71][72]

The standard was adopted by ISO the same year.[56] Two amendments followed in 1989 and 1993, the first introducing intrinsic functions and the other providing corrections. ISO adopted the amendments in 1991 and 1994, respectively,[56] before subsequently taking primary ownership and development of the standard.

COBOL 2002 and object-oriented COBOL[edit]

In the early 1990s it was decided to add object-orientation in the next full revision of COBOL. Object-orientated features were taken from C++ and Smalltalk.[73][74] The initial estimate was to have this revision completed by 1997 and an ISO Committee Draft (CD) was available by 1997. Some vendors (including Micro Focus, Fujitsu, and IBM) introduced object-oriented syntax based on drafts of the full revision. The final approved ISO standard was approved and published in late 2002.[75]

Fujitsu/GTSoftware,[76] Micro Focus and RainCode introduced object-oriented COBOL compilers targeting the .NET Framework.

There were many other new features, many of which had been in the CODASYL COBOL Journal of Development since 1978 and had missed the opportunity to be included in COBOL-85.[77] These other features included:[78][79]

Three corrigenda were published for the standard: two in 2006 and one in 2009.[80]

COBOL 2014[edit]

Between 2003 and 2009, three technical reports were produced describing object finalization, XML processing and collection classes for COBOL.[80]

COBOL 2002 suffered from poor support: no compilers completely supported the standard. Micro Focus found that it was due to a lack of user demand for the new features and due to the abolition of the NIST test suite which had been used to test compiler conformance. The standardization process was also found to be slow and under-resourced.[81]

COBOL 2014 includes the following changes:[82]

Legacy[edit]

COBOL programs are used globally in governments and businesses, and are running on diverse operating systems such as z/OS, VME, Unix and Windows. In 1997, the Gartner Group reported that 80% of the world's business ran on COBOL with over 200 billion lines of code and 5 billion lines more being written annually.[84]

Near the end of the twentieth century, the year 2000 problem (Y2K) was the focus of significant COBOL programming effort, sometimes by the same programmers who had designed the systems decades before. The particular level of effort required to fix COBOL code has been attributed[by whom?] to the large amount of business-oriented COBOL, as business applications use dates heavily, and to fixed-length data fields. After the clean-up effort put into these programs for Y2K, a 2003 survey found that many remained in use.[85] The authors said that the survey data suggest "a gradual decline in the importance of Cobol in application development over the [following] 10 years unless ... integration with other languages and technologies can be adopted".[86]

In 2006 and 2012, Computerworld surveys found that over 60% of organisations used COBOL (more than C++ and Visual Basic .NET) and that for half of those, COBOL was used for the majority of their internal software.[87][88] 36% of managers said they planned to migrate from COBOL and 25% said they would like to if it was cheaper. Instead, some businesses have migrated their systems from expensive mainframes to cheaper, more modern systems, while maintaining their COBOL programs.[87]

Features[edit]

Syntax[edit]

COBOL has an English-like syntax which is used to describe nearly everything in a program. For example, a condition can be expressed as  x IS GREATER THAN y or more concisely as  x GREATER y  or  x > y. More complex conditions can be "abbreviated" by removing repeated conditions and variables. For example,  a > b AND a > c OR a = d  can be shortened to a > b AND c OR = d. As a consequence of this English-like syntax, COBOL has over 300 keywords.[89]

However, compiler extensions allow many implementations to have far more: one implementation recognizes over 1,100 keywords.[90] Some of the keywords are simple alternative or pluralized spellings of the same word, which provides for more English-like statements and clauses; e.g., the IN and OF keywords can be used interchangeably, as can IS and ARE, and VALUE and VALUES.

The syntactical elements of a COBOL program are "words", "literals", and "punctuation". Word elements include reserved keywords, user-defined identifiers, and labels, and must be separated from other words by spaces, newlines, or punctuation elements. Identifiers (for data items and files, as well as paragraph and section labels) are case-insensitive and may contain dashes for readability, and can be up to 30 characters long. Literal elements include numeric constants and quoted character (string) constants.

A COBOL program is split into four divisions: the identification division, the environment division, the data division and the procedure division. The identification division specifies the name and type of the source element and is where classes and interfaces are specified. The environment division specifies any program features that depend on the system running it, such as files and character sets. The data division is used to declare variables and parameters. The procedure division contains the program's statements. Each division is sub-divided into sections which are made up of paragraphs.

Code format[edit]

COBOL can be written in two formats: fixed (the default) or free. In fixed-format, code must be aligned to fit in certain areas. Until COBOL 2002, these were:

NameColumn(s)Usage
Sequence number area1–6Originally used for card/line numbers, this area is ignored by the compiler
Indicator area7The following characters are allowed here:
  • * – a comment line
  • / – a comment line which will be printed on a new page of a source listing
  • - – a continuation line where words or literals from the previous line are continued
  • D – a line enabled in debugging mode, which is otherwise ignored
Area A8–11This contains: DIVISION, SECTION and procedure headers; 01 and 77 level numbers and file/report descriptors
Area B12–72Any other code not allowed in Area A
Program name area73–Historically up to column 80 for punched cards, it is used to identify the program or sequence the card belongs to

In COBOL 2002, Areas A and B were merged and extended to column 255. Also, the program name area was removed.[91]

COBOL 2002 also introduced free-format code.[91] Free-format code can be placed in any column of the file, like in newer languages such as C and Pascal. Comments are specified using *> which can be placed anywhere and can also can be used in fixed-format source code. Continuation lines are not present and the >>PAGE directive replaces the / indicator.[92]

Identification Division[edit]

Object-oriented programming[edit]

Classes and interfaces were added in COBOL 2002. Classes have factory objects, containing class methods and variables, and instance objects, containing instance methods and variables.[93] Inheritance and interfaces provide polymorphism. Support for generic programming is provided through parameterized classes, which can be instantiated to use any class or interface. Objects are stored as references which may be restricted to a certain type. There are two ways of called a method: the INVOKE statement, which acts similarly to CALL, or through inline method invocation, which is analogous to using functions.[94]

 *> These are equivalent. INVOKE my-class "foo" RETURNING bar MOVE my-class::"foo" TO bar *> Inline method invocation 

COBOL does not provide a way to hide methods. Class data can be hidden, however, by declaring it without a PROPERTY clause, which leaves the user with no way to access it.[95] Method overloading was added in COBOL 2014.[96]

Environment Division[edit]

Files[edit]

COBOL supports three file formats, or organizations: sequential, indexed and relative. In sequential files, records are contiguous and must be traversed sequentially, similarly to a linked list. Indexed files have one or more indexes which allow records to be randomly accessed and which can be sorted on them. Each record must have a unique key, but alternate record keys need not be unique. Implementations of indexed files vary between vendors, although common implementations, such as C‑ISAM and VSAM, are based on IBM's ISAM. Relative files, like indexed files, have a unique record key, but they do not have alternate keys. A relative record's key is its ordinal position; for example, the 10th record has a key of 10. This means that creating a record with a key of 5 may require the creation of (empty) preceding records. Relative files also allow for both sequential and random access.[97]

A common non-standard extension is the line sequential organization, used to process text files. Records in a file are terminated by a newline and may be of varying length.[98]

Data Division[edit]

Aggregated Data[edit]

Data items in COBOL are declared hierarchically through the use of level-numbers which indicate if a data item is part of another. An item with a higher level-number is subordinate to an item with a lower one. Data items containing subordinate items which are not subordinate to another item are called records. Items that have no subordinate data items are called elementary items; those that do are called group items.[99]

        01  some-record.            05  num            PIC 9(10).            05  the-date.                10  the-year   PIC 9(4).                10  the-month  PIC 99.                10  the-day    PIC 99. 

In the above example, num and the-date are subordinate to the record some-record, while the-year, the-month, and the-day are part of the group item the-date.

Level-numbers used to describe standard data items are between 01 and 49. Subordinate items can be disambiguated with the IN (or OF) keyword. For example, consider the example code above along with the following example:

        01  sale-date.            05  the-year       PIC 9(4).            05  the-month      PIC 99.            05  the-day        PIC 99. 

The names the-year, the-month, and the-day are ambiguous by themselves, since more than one data item is defined with those names. To specify a particular data item, for instance one of the items contained within the sale-date group, the programmer would use the-year IN sale-date (or its semantic equivalent the-year OF sale-date). (This syntax is similar to the "dot notation" supported by most C-like and other object-oriented programming languages.)

Other data levels[edit]

A level-number of 66 is used to declare a re-grouping of previously defined items, irrespective of how those items are structured.[100]

        01  customer-record.            05  cust-key            PIC X(10).            05  cust-name.                10  cust-first-name PIC X(30).                10  cust-last-name  PIC X(30).            05  cust-dob            PIC 9(8).            05  cust-balance        PIC 9(7)V99.          66  cust-personal-details   RENAMES cust-name THRU cust-dob.        66  cust-all-details        RENAMES cust-name THRU cust-balance. 

A 77 level-number indicates the item is stand-alone, and in such situations is equivalent to the level-number 01. For example, the following code declares two 77-level data items, property-name and sales-region, which are non-group data items that are independent of (not subordinate to) any other data items:

        77  property-name      PIC X(80).        77  sales-region       PIC 9(5). 

An 88 level-number declares a condition name (a so-called 88-level) which is true when its parent data item contains one of the values specified in its condition, which is simply a list of explicit VALUE constants.[101] For example, the following code defines two 88-level condition-name items that are true or false depending on the current character data value of the wage-type data item. When the data item contains a value of 'H', the condition-name wage-is-hourly is true, whereas when it contains a value of 'S' or 'Y', the condition-name wage-is-yearly is true. If the data item contains some other value, both of the condition-names are false.

        01  wage-type          PIC X.            88  wage-is-hourly VALUE 'H'.            88  wage-is-yearly VALUE 'S', 'Y'. 

Data types[edit]

Standard COBOL provides the following data types:[102]

Data typeSample declarationNotes
AlphabeticPIC A(30)May only contain letters or spaces
AlphanumericPIC X(30)May contain any characters
BooleanPIC 1 USAGE BITData stored in the form of 0s and 1s, as a binary number
IndexUSAGE INDEXUsed to reference table elements
NationalPIC N(30)Similar to alphanumeric, but using an extended character set, e.g. UTF-8
NumericPIC 9(5)V9(5)May contain only numbers
ObjectUSAGE OBJECT REFERENCEMay reference either an object or be NULL
PointerUSAGE POINTER
PICTURE clause[edit]

A PICTURE (or PIC) clause is a string of characters, each of which represents a portion of the data item. Some picture characters specify the type of the item and how many characters or digits it occupies in memory. For example, a 9 indicates a decimal digit, and an S indicates that the item is signed. Other picture characters (called insertion and editing characters) specify how an item should be formatted. For example, a series of + characters define character positions as well as how a leading sign character is to be positioned within the final character data; the rightmost non-numeric character will contain the item's sign, while other character positions corresponding to a + to the left of this position will contain a space. Repeated characters can be specified more concisely by specifying a number in parentheses after a picture character; for example, 9(7) is equivalent to 9999999. Picture specifications containing only digit (9) and sign (S) characters define purely numeric data items, while picture specifications containing alphabetic (A) or alphanumeric (X) characters define alphanumeric data items. The presence of other formatting characters define edited numeric or edited alphanumeric data items.[103]

Examples
PICTURE clauseValue inValue out
PIC 9(5)10000100
"Hello""Hello" (this is legal, but results in undefined behavior)[104]
PIC +++++-10"  -10" (note leading spaces)
PIC 99/99/9(4)31042003"31/04/2003"
PIC *(4)9.99100.50"**100.50"
0"****0.00"
PIC X(3)BX(3)BX(3)"ABCDEFGHI""ABC DEF GHI"
USAGE clause[edit]

The USAGE clause declares the format data is stored in. Depending on the data type, it can either complement or be used instead of a PICTURE clause. While it can be used to declare pointers and object references, it is mostly geared towards specifying numeric types. These numeric formats are:[105]

Report writer[edit]

The report writer is a declarative facility for creating reports. The programmer need only specify the report layout and the data required to produce it, freeing them from having to write code to handle things like page breaks, data formatting, and headings and footings.

Reports are associated with report files, which are files which may only be written to through report writer statements.

        FD  report-out REPORT sales-report. 

Each report is defined in the report section of the data division. A report is split into report groups which define the report's headings, footings and details. Reports work around hierarchical control breaks. Control breaks occur when a key variable changes it value; for example, when creating a report from a file of customers' orders, a control break could occur when the program reaches a different customer's orders. Here is an example report description for a report which gives a salesperson's sales and which warns of any invalid records:

        RD  sales-report            PAGE LIMITS 60 LINES            FIRST DETAIL 3            CONTROLS seller-name.          01  TYPE PAGE HEADING.            03  COL 1                    VALUE "Sales Report".            03  COL 74                   VALUE "Page".            03  COL 79                   PIC Z9 SOURCE PAGE-COUNTER.          01  sales-on-day TYPE DETAIL, LINE + 1.            03  COL 3                    VALUE "Sales on".            03  COL 12                   PIC 99/99/9999 SOURCE sales-date.            03  COL 21                   VALUE "were".            03  COL 26                   PIC $$$$9.99 SOURCE sales-amount.          01  invalid-sales TYPE DETAIL, LINE + 1.            03  COL 3                    VALUE "INVALID RECORD:".            03  COL 19                   PIC X(34) SOURCE sales-record.          01  TYPE CONTROL HEADING seller-name, LINE + 2.            03  COL 1                    VALUE "Seller:".            03  COL 9                    PIC X(30) SOURCE seller-name. 

The above report description describes the following layout:

 Sales Report                                                             Page  1  Seller: Howard Bromberg   Sales on 10/12/2008 were $1000.00   Sales on 12/12/2008 were    $0.00   Sales on 13/12/2008 were   $31.47   INVALID RECORD: Howard Bromberg             XXXXYY  Seller: Howard Discount ... Sales Report                                                            Page 12    Sales on 08/05/2014 were  $543.98   INVALID RECORD: William Selden      12O52014FOOFOO   Sales on 30/05/2014 were    $0.00 

Using the report writer results in a smaller, simpler procedure division.[106][107] There are four statements for the report writer: INITIATE, which prepares the report writer for printing; GENERATE, which prints a report group; SUPPRESS, which suppresses the printing of a report group; and TERMINATE, which terminates report processing. For the above sales report example, the procedure division might look like this:

            OPEN INPUT sales, OUTPUT report-out            INITIATE sales-report              PERFORM UNTIL 1 <> 1                READ sales                    AT END                        EXIT PERFORM                END-READ                  VALIDATE sales-record                IF valid-record                    GENERATE sales-on-day                ELSE                    GENERATE invalid-sales                END-IF            END-PERFORM              TERMINATE sales-report            CLOSE sales report-out            . 

Procedure Division[edit]

Procedures[edit]

The sections and paragraphs in the procedure division can be used as labels and simple subroutines. Unlike in other divisions, paragraphs do not need to be in sections.[108] Execution goes down through the procedures of a program until it is terminated.[109] Procedures can be used with the PERFORM statement which acts like a GOSUB in BASIC. Performing a section means that execution travels through any paragraphs it contains, even if doing so will take control flow out of the specified procedures.[110]

Statements[edit]

COBOL 2014 has 47 statements,[111] which can be grouped into the following broad categories: control flow, I/O, data manipulation and the report writer. The report writer statements are covered in the report writer section.

Control flow[edit]

COBOL's conditional statements are IF and EVALUATE. EVALUATE is a switch-like statement but with the added capability of evaluating multiple values and conditions. This can be used to implement decision tables. For example, the following might be used to control a CNC lathe:

 EVALUATE TRUE ALSO desired-speed ALSO current-speed     WHEN lid-closed ALSO min-speed THRU max-speed ALSO LESS THAN desired-speed         PERFORM slow-down-machine     WHEN lid-closed ALSO min-speed THRU max-speed ALSO GREATER THAN desired-speed         PERFORM speed-up-machine     WHEN lid-open ALSO ANY ALSO NOT ZERO         PERFORM emergency-stop     WHEN OTHER         CONTINUE END-EVALUATE 

The PERFORM statement is used to define loops. It perform the loop body until a condition is true (not while, unlike other languages). It is also used to call procedures or ranges of procedures. However, performing a range of procedures which overlaps the range currently being performed will trigger undefined behaviour. Such control flow is called a mine.[112][113] CALL and INVOKE call subprograms and methods, respectively. CANCEL unloads subprograms from memory. GO TO causes the program to jump to a specified procedure.

The GOBACK statement is a return statement and the STOP statement stops the program. The EXIT statement has six different formats: it can be used as a return statement, break statement, continue statement, end marker or to leave a procedure.[114]

Exceptions are raised by a RAISE statement and caught with a handler declared in the DECLARATIVES portion of the procedure division. Handlers are sections beginning with a USE statement which specify the errors handle. There are two types of exceptions: exception conditions and exception objects. Another statement is RESUME which will causes control flow to jump to the statement after the one that raised the exception or to a certain procedure outside the DECLARATIVES. Unlike other languages, not all exceptions are fatal; non-fatal exceptions do not need to be handled and the program can proceed unaffected.

I/O[edit]

File I/O is handled by the self-describing OPEN, CLOSE, READ, and WRITE statements along with a further three: REWRITE, which updates a record; START, which selects subsequent records to access by finding a record with a certain key and UNLOCK, which releases a lock on the last record accessed. Interaction with users is done using ACCEPT and DISPLAY.

Data manipulation[edit]

The following verbs manipulate data:

Scope termination[edit]

Some statements, such as IF and READ, may themselves contain statements. Such statements may be terminated in two ways: by a period (implicit termination), which terminates all unterminated statements contained, or by a scope terminator, which terminates the nearest matching open statement.

 *> Terminator period ("implicit termination") IF invalid-record     IF no-more-records         NEXT SENTENCE     ELSE         READ record-file             AT END SET no-more-records TO TRUE.   *> Scope terminators ("explicit termination") IF invalid-record     IF no-more-records         CONTINUE     ELSE         READ record-file             AT END SET no-more-records TO TRUE         END-READ     END-IF END-IF 

Nested statements terminated with a period are a common source of bugs.[116][117] For example, examine the following code:

 IF x     DISPLAY y.     DISPLAY z. 

Here, the intent is to display y and z if condition x is true. However, z will be displayed whatever the value of x because the IF statement is terminated by an erroneous period after  DISPLAY y.

Another bug is a result of the dangling else problem, when two IF statements can associate with an ELSE.

 IF x     IF y         DISPLAY a ELSE     DISPLAY b. 

In the above fragment, the ELSE associates with the  IF y  statement instead of the  IF x  statement, causing a bug. Prior to the introduction of explicit scope terminators, preventing it would require  ELSE NEXT SENTENCE  to be placed after the inner IF.[117]

Self-modifying code[edit]

The original COBOL specification supported the infamous  ALTER X TO PROCEED TO Y  statement, for which many compilers generated self-modifying code. X and Y are paragraph labels, and any  GO TO X  statements executed after such an ALTER statement mean  GO TO Y  instead. Many compilers still support it,[118] but it was deemed obsolete in the COBOL 1985 standard and deleted in 2002.[119]

Hello, world[edit]

A "Hello, world" program in COBOL:

        IDENTIFICATION DIVISION.        PROGRAM-ID. HELLO-WORLD.        PROCEDURE DIVISION.            DISPLAY 'Hello, world'.            STOP RUN. 

Criticism and defense[edit]

Lack of structure[edit]

In the 1970s, programmers began moving away from unstructured "spaghetti code" to the structured programming paradigm. One cause of spaghetti code was the GO TO statement. Attempts to remove GO TO's from COBOL code, however, resulted in convoluted programs and reduced code quality.[120] GO TO's were largely replaced by the PERFORM statement and procedures, which promoted modular programming[120] and gave easy access to powerful looping facilities.[121]

In his letter to an editor in 1975 entitled "How do we tell truths that might hurt?" which was critical of several of COBOL's contemporaries, computer scientist and Turing Award recipient Edsger Dijkstra remarked that "The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offense."[122] In his dissenting response to Dijkstra's article and the above "offensive statement," computer scientist Howard E. Tompkins defended structured COBOL: "COBOL programs with convoluted control flow indeed tend to 'cripple the mind'," but this was because "There are too many such business application programs written by programmers that have never had the benefit of structured COBOL taught well..."[123]

COBOL programs were infamous for being monolithic and lacking modularization.[124] COBOL code could only be modularized through procedures, which were found to be inadequate for large systems. It was impossible to hide data, meaning a procedure could access and modify any data item. Furthermore, there was no way to pass parameters to a procedure, an omission Jean Sammet regarded as the committee's biggest mistake.[125] Another complication was the ability to PERFORM a range of procedures. This meant that control could jump to and return from any procedure, creating convoluted control flow and permitting a programmer to break the "single entry, single exit" rule.[126]

This situation improved as COBOL adopted more features. COBOL-74 added subprograms, giving programmers the ability to control the data each part of the program could access. COBOL-85 then added nested subprograms, allowing programmers to hide subprograms.[127] Further control over data and code came in 2002 when object-oriented programming, user-defined functions and user-defined data types were included.

Compatibility issues[edit]

COBOL was intended to a be a highly portable, "common" language. However, by 2001, around 300 dialects had been created.[128]

COBOL-85 was not fully compatible with earlier versions, resulting in the "caesarean birth" of COBOL-85.[clarification needed] Joseph T. Brophy, the CIO of Travelers Insurance, spearheaded an effort to inform users of COBOL of the heavy reprogramming costs of implementing the new standard.[129] As a result, the ANSI COBOL Committee received more than 2,200 letters from the public, mostly negative, requiring the committee to make changes. On the other hand, conversion to COBOL-85 was thought to increase productivity in future years, thus justifying the conversion costs.[130][page needed]

Verbose syntax[edit]

COBOL syntax has often been criticized for its verbosity. However, proponents note that this was intentional in the language design because it made the code self-documenting, easing program maintenance.[131] COBOL was intended to be easier for programmers to learn and use,[132] but while being readable to non-technical staff such as managers (despite there being no evidence it would be useful).[133][134][135][136] The desire for readability and good program documentation is why COBOL has English-like syntax and structural elements, such as nouns, verbs, clauses, sentences, sections, and divisions. Consequently, COBOL is considered by one source to be "The most readable, understandable and self-documenting programming language in use today. [...] Not only does this readability generally assist the maintenance process but the older a program gets the more valuable this readability becomes."[137] On the other hand, by 1984, maintainers of COBOL programs were struggling to deal with "incomprehensible" code[135] and the main changes in COBOL-85 were there to help ease maintenance.[68]

Jean Sammet, a short-range committee member, noted that "little attempt was made to cater to the professional programmer, in fact people whose main interest in programming tend to be very unhappy with COBOL" which she attributed to COBOL's verbose syntax.[138]

Alienation from the computer science community[edit]

The COBOL community has always been isolated from the computer science community. No academic computer scientists participated in the design of COBOL; all of those on the committee came from commerce or government. This was due to the differing interests of computer scientists at the time, who were more interested in fields like numerical analysis, physics and system programming than the commercial file-processing problems which COBOL development tackled.[139] Jean Sammet attributed COBOL's unpopularity to an initial "snob reaction" due to its inelegance, the lack of influential of computer scientists participating in the design process and a disdain for business data processing.[140] The COBOL specification used a unique "notation", or metalanguage, to define its syntax and not the new Backus–Naur form because few committee members had heard of it. This resulted in "severe" criticism.[141][142][143][49]

Later, COBOL suffered from a shortage of material covering it; it took until 1963 for introductory books to appear. By 1985, there were twice as many books on Fortran and four times as many on BASIC than on COBOL in the Library of Congress.[144] As COBOL became a mainstream language, COBOL suffered as university professors taught more modern, state-of-the-art languages and techniques instead of COBOL which was said to have a "trade school" nature.[145] Donald Nelson, the chair of the CODASYL COBOL committee said in 1984 that "academics ... hate COBOL" and that computer science graduates "had 'hate COBOL' drilled into them".[146] A 2013 poll by Micro Focus found that 20% of university academics thought COBOL was outdated or dead and that 55% believed their students thought COBOL was outdated or dead. The same poll also found that only 25% of academics had COBOL programming on their curriculum even though 60% thought they should teach it.[147] In 2003, COBOL featured in 80% of information systems curricula, the same proportion as C++ and Java.[148]

Flawed language features[edit]

COBOL suffered from poor string-handling facilities, which were only fixed in COBOL-74. The hard to spot and easily mislaid scope-delimiting period was superseded in COBOL-85 by scope-terminators, 25 years after the beginend delimiters were introduced in ALGOL.[149] Until COBOL-85, only paragraphs could be used in PERFORM statements, which made programs harder to understand as the reader had to search for the body of the statement.[133] Functions were introduced in the 1989 Amendments and user-defined functions were only introduced in COBOL 2002.[119]

Concerns about the design process[edit]

There were doubts about the effectiveness of the design process (sometimes from those taking part in it). Short-term committee member Howard Bromberg said that there was "little control" over the development process and that it was "plagued by discontinuity of personnel and ... a lack of talent".[57]

COBOL standards have repeatedly suffered from delays: COBOL-85 arrived five years later than hoped,[150] COBOL 2002 was five years late,[73] and COBOL 2014 was six years late.[75][151] To combat delays, the standard committee allowed the creation of optional addenda which would add features more quickly than by waiting for the next standard revision. However, some committee members raised concerns about incompatibilities between implementations and frequent modifications of the standard.[152]

Other defenses[edit]

COBOL's data structures influenced subsequent programming languages. Its record and file structure influenced PL/I and Pascal, and the REDEFINES clause was a predecessor to Pascal's variant records. Explicit file structure definitions preceded the development of database management systems and aggregated data was a significant advance over Fortran's arrays.[144]

COBOL included "primitive capabilities for a library system" in 1959 through the INCLUDE statement (later COPY)[153][142] the same year that JOVIAL introduced the "Communication Pool" concept, which allowed programs to share data by providing a centralised data description.[154] The COPY facility became a successful feature that influenced the development of include directives.[144]

Until COBOL 2002, COBOL was a simple language with a limited scope of function (with no pointers, no user-defined types, and no user-defined functions), encouraging a straightforward coding style. This has made it well-suited to its primary domain of business computing—where the program complexity lies in the business rules that need to be encoded rather than sophisticated algorithms or data structures.

Standardization meant programs written in COBOL are portable and language has since spread on to a wide variety of hardware platforms and operating systems.[155] Additionally, the rigid hierarchical structure restricts the definition of external references to the Environment Division, which simplifies platform changes in particular.[137]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  108. ^ ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 22/WG 4 2010, § 14.4.
  109. ^ ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 22/WG 4 2010, § 14.6.3.
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  118. ^ Examples of compiler support for ALTER can be seen in the following:
    • Tiffin, Brian. "September 2013". "State of the Project". GNU Cobol. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
    • "The ALTER Statement". Micro Focus Visual COBOL 2.2 for Visual Studio 2013 COBOL Language Reference. Micro Focus. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
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  155. ^ This can be seen in:

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