Languages7 Myths of COBOL Debunked

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By Ed Airey

COBOL is one of the oldest and most popular programming languages — responsible for running and supporting business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments around the world. In fact, the global inventory of COBOL applications holds over 220 billion lines of code. Despite COBOL’s evolution to adapt and meet the demands of the increasingly fast-paced technology sector, persistent prejudices hang over the language.

Analysts, programmers and reporters alike say that COBOL is old fashioned and no longer appropriate – often stating that the language lacks structure, compatibility and brevity. This view, however, is not supported by the reality of modern COBOL, but is based on a negative outlook of the mainframe era that existed over twenty years ago. By debunking the seven COBOL myths below, it will become apparent that COBOL will not become obsolete anytime soon.

Myth 1: COBOL is a mainframe language and the mainframe is dying 

COBOL can now operate on all current business platforms, including Windows, Unix and Linux. Additionally, COBOL is standardizing its platform independence in order to make it possible to run the same program on numerous platforms.

Myth 2: COBOL is no longer necessary

The majority of businesses running COBOL are continuing to maintain and expand on its programming, meaning that there is no end in sight for the platform.

Myth 3: COBOL development environments are no longer up to date 

In terms of development environments, COBOL applications are no different than those of other programming languages. COBOL development does not even take place on the mainframe, but on distributed systems with modern IDEs like Visual Studio or Eclipse.

Myth 4: COBOL cannot be integrated into current technologies 

A modern COBOL compiler, like Visual Cobol from Micro Focus can generate native code for Windows, .NET, UNIX, Linux, JVM and the cloud. Thus, COBOL programs can be seamlessly integrated into current technologies and can distinguish themselves at run time, with the same ease as Java or C # solutions.

Myth 5: COBOL does not take advantage of object orientation 

In 2002, the standards for COBOL shifted to include the object-oriented approach, which allows COBOL to connect to other languages such as Java or C #. This proves once again that COBOL has high integration capabilities.


Myth 6: It is difficult to find COBOL developers 

The syntax of COBOL is so easy to understand that anyone who has mastered another coding language can easily learn how to use the platform. Standardized IDEs like Visual Studio and Eclipse are also contributing to the fact that young people quickly feel at home in the COBOL environment.

Myth 7: It is easier and cheaper to write application software in Java or C # than to maintain existing COBOL programs 

The opposite is true: instead of relocating an entire business structure to a new platform, it is much more economical to upgrade and maintain an existing COBOL structure. By maintaining the proven business practices, investments are protected and the costs and risks of creating new programs are avoided.

The negative image surrounding COBOL is based on decades-old misconceptions. The truth is that like any other modern technology, COBOL has transformed to meet the requirements of each stage of the development process. Modern COBOL provides all of the benefits of newly introduced programming languages without the additional cost.

About the Author

Ed Airey is the product marketing director – COBOL & Rumba, for Micro Focus

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