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COBOL stands for Common Business Oriented Language and is a high-level programming language used to create business applications. It was developed in 1959 and released by the Conference on Data Systems Languages. COBOL is one of the oldest programming languages and is still in use today.

Introduction to Cobol

Cobol is a powerful programming language designed for business applications development, and it is still used extensively today. It was developed by a team of computer scientists led by Grace Hopper in 1959, and it is still used today in many industries. It has many features that make it an ideal language for business applications, such as versatility, portability, robustness, reliability, readability, and ease of learning. Cobol is still used extensively in many industries, particularly in legacy applications such as financial, database management, insurance, and government/military applications. We hope this article has provided you with a better understanding of Cobol and will help you to start creating your own Cobol programs. Cobol stands for Common Business-Oriented Language and is a powerful programming language designed for business applications development. It was developed by a team of computer scientists led by Grace Hopper in 1959, and it is still used today in many industries. In this article, we’ll explore the history, features, and uses of Cobol as well as provide some code examples to help make learning Cobol easier. Cobol (Common Business Oriented Language) is a high-level programming language famous for its widespread usage in business, finance, and administrative systems. It was developed in 1959 by Grace Hopper as part of the US Department of Defense’s effort to standardize computer systems amongst all branches of the military. Over the years, Cobol has become the preferred language of choice for many businesses, particularly in the areas of accounting, payroll, and data entry. Today, almost all Fortune 500 companies and government agencies use Cobol in some capacity. As an extremely versatile language, Cobol has been adapted to a wide range of operating systems and platforms, ranging from mainframes to web-servers. In addition, there are several Cobol libraries available, including open source ones such as OpenCOBOL, that allow programmers to develop custom applications using Cobol.

History of Cobol

Cobol was developed over a period of 4 years (1959-1963) at the behest of the US Department of Defense for their AIM-DOD project. AIM-DOD (Automated Information Management – Department of Defense) sought to create a new language to replace existing assembly languages used at the time. Hopper’s team (known as the CODASYL committee) designed Cobol with the goal of making it easier to learn, write, and maintain than previous languages. The language itself was based on Hopper’s prior work on Flow-Matic, one of the first higher-level programming languages. From its beginnings in the early 1960s, Cobol quickly grew in popularity. By the 1970s, it had become the language of choice for most business applications. In the 1980s, Cobol experienced yet another surge in popularity as mainframe computing became popular. This popularity continued until the late 1990s when other languages like Java, C++, and Visual Basic began to take over. Today, Cobol is still used in many industries, primarily in legacy applications, but it is no longer the language of choice for new projects. Cobol first appeared on the programming scene in 1959, when the U.S. Department of Defense, under the guidance of Grace Hopper and Robert Bemer, released the first version of the language. The release marked a major milestone in the development of programming languages, as for the first time, a single language could be used to create programs that ran on different computers. Since then, Cobol has gone through numerous revisions, with the latest being in 2002. During this time, various features have been added to the language, such as structured programming, nested subroutines, dynamic memory allocation, and improved error handling. As a result, Cobol has become increasingly powerful, making it one of the most popular languages for developing professional applications.

COBOL was designed in 1959 to create applications specifically designed to run on large mainframe computers. It was the first programming language to be designed with English-like syntax and was the first to incorporate structured programming, allowing programmers to easily write code that was easy to read and debug. COBOL became very popular during the 1960s and 1970s, as businesses began to rely on computers for data processing and accounting. By the late 1970s, almost 75% of all business software was written in COBOL. Since its initial release, COBOL has evolved over the years to keep up with changing technologies and computing platforms. In 2002, it became an ISO/IEC standard. Today, COBOL continues to be used for mission-critical applications, such as banking and finance software. COBOL was developed by a committee of computer scientists and technologists, led by Grace Hopper, working at the Conference on Data System Languages (CODASYL). The committee was established with the intention of creating a programming language that would be more accessible to non-technical users, such as those in business and finance. The first version of COBOL was released in 1960 and was significantly different from modern versions. It was written in a combination of English words and punctuation marks and used statement numbers for debugging. Over the years, the language was updated with new features such as structured programming, subprograms, OOP, and other features that made it easier to use. By 1974, the language had become so popular that it was adopted as an international standard by ISO, establishing the language as a global standard.

Introduction to Cobol

Features of Cobol

Cobol has many features that make it an ideal language for business applications. Here are just a few of the most prominent:

  • Versatility and portability: Cobol is designed to be platform-agnostic, making it easy to move a Cobol program from one system to another. This makes it an ideal language for large organizations that need to run programs on multiple systems.
  • Robustness and reliability: Cobol is a very reliable language that is rarely prone to crashes or errors. Furthermore, it is designed to handle large amounts of data efficiently and accurately, which is necessary for many business applications.
  • Readability: Cobol is designed to be easy to read and understand, making it easier to maintain and modify existing programs. This is especially useful for large programs that may have been written by multiple developers over time.
  • Ease of learning: Cobol is considered to be relatively easy to learn, even for non-programmers. This makes it ideal for organizations that may need to rapidly train new personnel on existing programs.

Uses of Cobol

Cobol is still used extensively in many industries, particularly in legacy applications. Here are just a few of the most common uses for Cobol:

  • Financial applications: Cobol is a popular choice for developing financial applications due to its robustness and reliability. Banks and other financial institutions rely on Cobol for many of their applications.
  • Database management: Cobol is often used for legacy database management systems due to its portability and readability.
  • Insurance applications: Cobol is often used for writing insurance applications due to its accuracy and ability to handle large amounts of data.
  • Government and military applications: The US government and many military organizations use Cobol for many of their applications due to its reliability.

Cobol Code Example

Now that we’ve explored the history and features of Cobol, let’s look at a code example to get a better understanding of how to write Cobol programs. The following is a simple Cobol program that prints “Hello World” to the screen.



The program above starts with the IDENTIFICATION DIVISION, which is used to identify the program. Next, the PROGRAM-ID tells the compiler the name of the program. Following the IDENTIFICATION DIVISION is the PROCEDURE DIVISION, which contains the actual program instructions. In this case, the only instruction is to DISPLAY the text “HELLO WORLD”. Finally, the program ends with the STOP RUN command, which stops the program from executing any further instructions.

COBOL is used for the development of business applications, including payroll systems, banking and finance software, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and inventory management systems. It is also used in government and military applications, such as tax processing and defense force management systems. COBOL is designed to be portable across different computer architectures and operating systems, making it ideal for use in distributed environments. It is also used for creating new programs from existing code and creating interfaces between different systems.

The following is a basic example of a COBOL program that calculates the sum of two numbers:

01 NUMBER-1 PIC 9(2).
01 NUMBER-2 PIC 9(2).
01 RESULT PIC 9(3).
    MOVE 10 TO NUMBER-1.
    MOVE 20 TO NUMBER-2.

The above code will calculate the sum of the two numbers 10 and 20, resulting in the output of “The result is: 30”.

The following is an example of a Cobol program that prints “Hello World” to the screen:


COBOL is used primarily in business applications and is the language of choice for financial institutions and government agencies. It is also used in software development and maintenance and in maintaining legacy systems. COBOL is popular because it is easy to learn, easy to read, and highly reliable. It is also portable, meaning that programs written in COBOL can be used on different computers without having to rewrite them. COBOL is particularly well-suited for processing large amounts of data. Its commands are precise and concise, which makes it ideal for transaction processing and report generation. It is also used for creating simple user interfaces, such as those for automated teller machines (ATMs).

The following is a simple COBOL program that calculates the average of three numbers:


01 VARIABLE-A    PIC 9(4) VALUE 10.
01 VARIABLE-B    PIC 9(4) VALUE 20.
01 VARIABLE-C    PIC 9(4) VALUE 30.




When run, this program will display the following:


This example illustrates the fundamentals of COBOL programming - declaring variables, manipulating data, and outputting the results.


One of the key advantages of using COBOL is its simplicity and ease of use. As a high-level language, it is easy for novice programmers to learn and understand. This makes it perfect for applications where readability and maintainability are important considerations. Another advantage of COBOL is its portability. Since it is designed to run on multiple platforms, it can be easily adapted to run on different architectures and operating systems. This makes it ideal for distributed applications. Finally, COBOL is reliable and robust. It has been around for more than 50 years and is still used for mission-critical applications. This means that businesses can rely on it to provide reliable and secure applications.

Cobol is known for its simplicity and readability. Its English-like syntax makes it easy to understand, even for programmers who do not have any prior experience with the language. This makes Cobol ideal for writing business applications, where understanding the code is essential for troubleshooting and maintenance. In addition, Cobol has powerful debugging tools that allow programmers to quickly identify errors in their code. This makes it easier for them to write robust applications without worrying about potential bugs. Finally, Cobol is an extremely efficient language. Programs written in Cobol tend to run faster than those written in other languages, making it a great choice for large-scale applications.

Financial Services

Cobol is widely used in the banking and financial sector, particularly for core banking services. Banks leverage Cobol’s efficiency and stability to provide reliable services to customers. This includes creating accounts, transferring funds, processing payments, and so on.

Government Administration

Cobol is also used in government organizations to build large-scale administrative systems. These systems are often used for managing records, tracking data, and running simulations.


Cobol is used in many healthcare institutions to manage patient records and billing systems. It is also used to keep track of medications and doctor’s notes.


Despite its advantages, there are some disadvantages to using COBOL. One of the biggest drawbacks is its lack of modern features. As an older language, it lacks support for object-oriented programming and other modern features found in newer languages. In addition, language updates and enhancements are less frequent than with newer languages. Another disadvantage of using COBOL is its speed. Since it is an interpreted language, the applications created using it tend to run slower than those written in compiled languages. Finally, COBOL is not widely used outside of legacy applications. With so many newer and more powerful languages available, businesses may find it difficult to find qualified COBOL programmers or to find support for their applications.


COBOL is a powerful and reliable programming language used for commercial applications such as business data processing and financial transactions. It is easy to learn and understand, and is well suited for applications that require large amounts of data to be processed quickly and accurately. With its portability, scalability, and standardization, COBOL is a great choice for developers looking to create applications with these requirements.

March 1, 2021 by