Is Java the next COBOL?

Posted on 11-09-2019 , by: admin , in , 0 Comments

In our mania for the new, it’s convenient to forget just how long the “old” stays with us. Take COBOL, for example. The venerable programming language turns 60 this month and, as Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has written, could well “outlive us all.”

Indeed, COBOL offers a great example of the true pace of progress within our industry, while perhaps also offering some clues as to what tomorrow’s COBOLs will be. Java and SQL, anyone? Or perhaps Python?

COBOL the workhorse

Most people reading this post weren’t born in 1959, the year Mary Hawes came up with the idea for COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), which Grace Hopper (and others) went on to formalize and promote. Hawes’ goal, as Vaughan-Nichols reminds us, was to create “an English-like vocabulary that could be used across different computers to perform basic business tasks,” a true vendor-neutral language.

While COBOL’s heyday petered out in the 1980s, it continues to power 70 percent of global transaction processing systems, according to Micro Focus (the company that maintains COBOL), in an interview with Vaughan-Nichols. Pulled money from an ATM? You were using COBOL. Paid a mortgage? COBOL. Called a call center? Yep, that was COBOL, too. Even booking your vacation almost certainly relies on COBOL.

COBOL has allegedly been expiring for decades, yet 220 billion lines of COBOL live on in the mainframes of our lives. According to Lero, a software engineering research center, COBOL transactions dwarfed Google searches by 200x in 2014. Will Google ever catch up?

COBOL is more than some dotard living in a mainframe pensioner’s flat. In addition to being easy to read, the language has kept up-to-date with its neighbors. Today COBOL integrates with Docker containers and Java, while running in the cloud or on Linux or Windows, or on just about anywhere on anything. It’s a highly portable language that allows developers to focus on writing their applications while COBOL takes care of the intricacies of the underlying operating system.