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Title Introduction to COBOL.
Author B.S.prakash
Author Email prakashakash [at] rediffmail.com
Description A very simple introduction to COBOL.
Category COBOL » General Programs
Hits 11843
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COBOL is a high-level programming language first developed by the CODASYL Committee (Conference on Data Systems Languages) in 1960. Since then, responsibility for developing new COBOL standards has been assumed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Three ANSI standards for COBOL have been produced: in 1968, 1974 and 1985. A new COBOL standard introducing object-oriented programming to COBOL, is due within the next few years. The word COBOL is an acronym that stands for COmmon Business Oriented Language. As the the expanded acronym indicates, COBOL is designed for developing business, typically file-oriented, applications. It is not designed for writing systems programs. For instance you would not develop an operating system or a compiler using COBOL. For over four decades COBOL has been the dominant programming language in the business computing domain. In that time it it has seen off the challenges of a number of other languages such as PL1, Algol68, Pascal, Modula, Ada, C, C++. All these languages have found a niche but none has yet displaced COBOL. Two recent challengers though, Java and Visual Basic, are proving to be serious contenders. COBOL's dominance in underlined by the reports from the Gartner group. In 1997 they estimated that there were about 300 billion lines of computer code in use in the world. Of that they estimated that about 80% (240 billion lines) were in COBOL and 20% (60 billion lines) were written in all the other computer languages combined [Brown]. In 1999 they reported that over 50% of all new mission-critical applications were still being done in COBOL and their recent estimates indicate that through 2004-2005 15% of all new applications (5 billion lines) will be developed in COBOL while 80% of all deployed applications will include extensions to existing legacy (usually COBOL) programs. Gartner estimates for 2002 are that there are about two million COBOL programmers world-wide compared to about about one million Java programmers and one million C++ programmers. COBOL is self-documenting One of the design goals for COBOL was to make it possible for non-programmers such as supervisors, managers and users, to read and understand COBOL code. As a result, COBOL contains such English-like structural elements as verbs, clauses, sentences, sections and divisions. As it happens, this design goal was not realized. Managers and users nowadays do not read COBOL programs. Computer programs are just too complex for most laymen to understand them, however familiar the syntactic elements. But the design goal and its effect on COBOL syntax has had one important side-effect. It has made COBOL the most readable, understandable and self-documenting programming language in use today. It has also made it the most verbose. It is easy for programmers unused to the business programming paradigm, where programming with a view to ease of maintenance is very important, to dismiss the advantage that COBOL's readability imparts. Not only does this readability generally assist the maintenance process but the older a program gets the more valuable this readability becomes. When programs are new, both the in-program comments and the external documentation accurately reflect the program code. But over time, as more and more revisions are applied to the code, it gets out of step with the documentation until the documentation is actually a hindrance to maintenance rather than a help. The self-documenting nature of COBOL means that this problem is not as severe with COBOL programs as it is with other languages Readers who are familiar with C or C++ or Java might want to consider how difficult it becomes to maintain programs written in these languages. C programs that you have written yourself are difficult enough to understand when you come back to them six months later. Consider how much more difficult it would be to understand a program that had been written fifteen years previously, by someone else, and which had since been amended and added to by so many others that the documentation no longer accurately reflects the program code. This is a nightmare still awaiting maintenance programmers of the future COBOL is simple COBOL is a simple language (no pointers, no user defined functions, no user defined types) with a limited scope of function. It encourages a simple straightforward programming style. Curiously enough though, despite its limitations, COBOL has proven itself to be well suited to its targeted problem domain (business computing). Most COBOL programs operate in a domain where the program complexity lies in the business rules that have to be encoded rather than in the sophistication of the data structures or algorithms required. And in cases where sophisticated algorithms are required COBOL usually meets the need with an appropriate verb such as the SORT and the SEARCH.

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