COBOL: Five little letters that if put on a CV would ensure stable income for many a greybeard coder

COBOL celebrates 60 years since its specifications were signed. Dear Y2K consultants, language is rapidly approaching retirement age, but many gray beards owe him his career.

It emerged from the desire to create a language that could encompass the computers of the time. Each manufacturer had its own way of working, which, while it was fine if a company always stayed with a manufacturer, made the portability of programs or skills a bit complicated.

If only there were, for example, a business-oriented language of COmmon? Wouldn't it be splendid?

Mary Hawes, Burroughs machine programmer, presented a proposal in 1959 that users and manufacturers create a common language that could run on different computers and handle tasks such as payroll calculation and record keeping. The United States Department of Defense (DoD), which tended to buy computers from different manufacturers, became interested and sponsored a meeting in May of that year to begin language creation.

Having found the old FORTRAN not entirely of his taste, the DoD was interested in an alternative and the target date of September was set for a specification for an interim language, an interval that would become COBOL.

Famously, COBOL relied heavily on FLOW-MATIC, originated by a group headed by Grace Hopper. The commercial IBM TRANslator (COMTRAN) also played a role, but Hopper's (and others) determination that programs should look like ordinary English, rather than the jargon thrown by the engineers of the time, led to the peculiar syntax loved and detested over the years.

We call it "absurdly verbose" in 2014, while celebrating the anniversary of the IBM System 360.

The specifications were manipulated until, in the early 1960s, they were finally closed and manufacturers were able to resolve it. Compilers In the late 1960s, computers had the same COBOL procedures running on an RCA 501 computer and UNIVAC II. Once the concept of portability was demonstrated, the language spread rapidly.

But, God, it was slow compared to the manufacturer's specific code. One hundred lines could take ten minutes to compile and the input method, through Unityper and magnetic reel for UNIVAC, was exhausting.

That was only version 1. The original COBOL-60 was quickly replaced by COBOL-61 of 1961, aimed at addressing language deficiencies, but full of useful incompatibilities between versions. The extended specifications COBOL-61 of 1963, including the functions of classification and report writing, finally sought to clean up long-standing defects and a last hurray in 1965, COBOL-65, mass storage and additional tables. The performance also increased a lot.

Well, the last hurray. Despite widespread adoption, incompatibilities between versions remained, which defeated the object a bit. An edition of ANSI appeared in 1968 in the form of COBOL-68, setting the stage for the language to generalize correctly.

How the work flowed. When the 1970s began, COBOL was considered the most commonly used language worldwide, despite the fact that BASIC similar to English arrived in the mid-1960s.

The various groups continued to reduce COBOL deficiencies. in the 1970s, with better debugging and better handling of the strings, but the 1980s started badly. COBOL left its adolescence and stumbled upon a minefield infested with lawyers while concerned users looked at the millions of lines of inherited code that may need modifications if the standards change incompatiblely.

A shadow of what will come. [19659002] It took until 1985 before COBOL-85 was available in general, presenting innovators as terminators such as END-IF and nested subprograms.

However, the rest of the computing world was changing rapidly and as the 1980s became the In the 1990s, the relevance of COBOL for new projects began to diminish. However, its previous ubiquity assured that those with five small letters in their CV would not be out of work. Billions of lines of code that run most of the companies in the world took care of that.

Y2, what happens now?

At the beginning of the century, organizations in panic found themselves calling COBOL coders, often responsible for decades. old systems first, to deal with the impact of those crucial additional digits.

That some believe that the event was a bit like a wet squib, manufactured by highly paid contractors to add a Ferrari or two to the garage, is a testament to the monumental efforts of those involved at the time. You are welcome.

While COBOL rarely causes problems in the classification of languages ​​that developers want to use, new versions have continued to be produced. On the 60th anniversary of that first specification, TIOBE places language in 31st place, just ahead of its contemporary rival Fortran.

The former Micro Focus maintainer has been promoting language as a standard that can be integrated with other more contemporary efforts such as Java, C ++ and C #. The company's Visual COBOL 4 will also happily display the code on a variety of modern platforms, including Docker and the cloud.

It's a bit like finding an elderly grandfather who nods at Billie Eilish instead of snuggling up with the Archers and waiting for the sweet release from oblivion.

While many IT managers would want to migrate to something a little more modern, the process is both long, risky and expensive. It is easier to leave intact the legacy systems managed by most companies in the world until the mainframe shutdown can no longer be postponed. Mike Madden, in a blog for Legacy IT Consultants calculated that in 2019 95 percent of ATM transactions depended on COBOL, and the two million encoders working at COBOL added 1.5 million lines every day .

Madden added that the statistics were difficult to challenge. The truth is that nobody knows exactly how much COBOL exists, but its decades as the de facto language for business and government means that there is still much that underpins even the most brilliant and modern systems.

And the time will come, very soon, when we discover how many encoders were for the solution IF YEAR> 50 MOVING 19 TO THE CENTURY in the day.

Happy 60th, COBOL. ®

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