Is COBOL Still Used? Exploring the Language’s Current Relevance

COBOL, or Common Business-Oriented Language, is one of the oldest programming languages still in use today. Developed in 1959, COBOL was designed for business applications, with a focus on readability, self-documentation, and ease of use. Despite its age, COBOL is still used by many organizations around the world, including major banks and insurers, government agencies, and healthcare providers.

COBOL is still relevant in today’s technology landscape despite the rise of newer programming languages, COBOL remains a vital part of many legacy systems that are still in use today. Around 43% of banking systems use COBOL and there are over 220 billion lines of COBOL code still in use around the world.

While some organizations have attempted to modernize their legacy systems and move away from COBOL, the reality is that many of these systems are simply too complex and too important to replace entirely. As a result, COBOL programmers are still in demand, and many organizations continue to rely on this decades-old programming language to power their critical business applications.

The History of COBOL

Common Business-Oriented Language, or COBOL for short, was created in 1959 by a group of programmers who wanted to make a programming language that would be understandable to entrepreneurs. With an English-like syntax that made it more user-friendly than other programming languages at the time, COBOL was created to be simple to understand and write.

It was designed for business applications, with a focus on readability, self-documentation, and ease of use. Despite its age, COBOL is still used by many organizations around the world, including major banks and insurers, government agencies, and healthcare providers.

Origins of COBOL

The demand for a programming language that non-technical businesspeople could use led to the creation of COBOL. The majority of programming languages at the time were complicated to grasp by non-technical users and were intended for usage by computer scientists and engineers.

The requirement for a programming language that could be applied to various computer platforms served as another impetus for the creation of COBOL. Each computer manufacturer had its own proprietary programming language prior to the creation of COBOL, making it challenging for businesses to migrate between computer systems.

COBOL’s Popularity

In the commercial world, COBOL gained a lot of traction early, and by the 1970s, it was the most commonly used programming language on the planet. This was caused in part by COBOL’s simplicity of use and learning, as well as the fact that language was created especially for commercial applications.

As many firms continued to rely on antiquated COBOL systems to operate their operations, COBOL’s popularity endured into the 1980s and 1990s. However, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, COBOL usage started to diminish as a result of the emergence of other programming languages and technologies.

COBOL is still used today in many legacy systems, particularly in the financial and government sectors, and those with 10 or more years of COBOL experience can earn salaries near the $100,000 mark.

Is COBOL still being used?

COBOL in Business

For their fundamental transactional business activities, like banking and insurance, many large companies still utilise COBOL. In fact, according to a survey, more than half of participants believe COBOL applications will continue to be used for at least another ten years. This is partly because COBOL is renowned for being dependable and stable, which is crucial for firms that cannot afford downtime or mistakes.

However, because younger programmers favour more modern languages, organisations are also experiencing a scarcity of COBOL programmers. Due to this, some companies have decided to engage in training initiatives or contract out their COBOL programming requirements.

COBOL in Government

Government organizations also use COBOL extensively, especially for older systems that are expensive or difficult to upgrade. For instance, the Department of Defense and the IRS both continue to utilize COBOL for a number of their crucial systems.

Governmental organizations, like corporations, are struggling with a lack of COBOL programmers. This has given rise to worries regarding the stability and security of these systems as well as their upkeep costs. Some organizations have made an effort to upgrade their systems or switch to newer languages, although these initiatives can be expensive and time-consuming.

COBOL in Legacy Systems

COBOL is primarily used in legacy systems, which are older systems that are still in use but may not be compatible with newer technologies. These systems are often critical to the operation of businesses and government agencies, and replacing them can be a daunting task.

COBOL’s longevity and stability make it a popular choice for legacy systems, as it can be difficult to find newer languages that are compatible with these systems. However, this also means that these systems may be vulnerable to security threats or may become obsolete as technology continues to evolve.

Challenges of COBOL

Despite its continued use, COBOL presents several challenges to organizations that rely on it. These challenges include:

Difficulty in Finding Skilled COBOL Programmers

The ancient programming language COBOL is no longer frequently taught in colleges and institutions. As a result, there is a dearth of knowledgeable COBOL programmers, which makes it challenging for businesses to locate the qualified personnel they need to maintain and update their systems.

In addition, a large number of seasoned COBOL programmers are getting close to retirement age, which could make a talent shortage worse in the years to come. It may take longer to develop software, cost more, and have more faults due to the lack of qualified COBOL programmers.

Maintenance and Modernization Challenges

Upkeep and modernization of legacy systems are additional COBOL challenges. It can be tricky for developers to make modifications or updates to COBOL code without having unexpected implications because the language is frequently sophisticated and challenging to understand.

It is also challenging to update one COBOL system without affecting others because many COBOL systems are intricately linked to one another. A lengthy and expensive modernization procedure may arise from this.

Finally, updating COBOL systems can be costly because it sometimes necessitates substantial expenditures for new hardware and software. For organisations that are already operating on a restricted budget, this might be a substantial hurdle.

The Future of COBOL

COBOL’s Continued Relevance

COBOL is still used today in many different businesses, despite its antiquity. In fact, it’s thought that COBOL is still used to conduct up to 70% of all commercial transactions worldwide. This is partly because many legacy systems that are still in use today were created using COBOL. COBOL is also a very dependable and stable language that has stood the test of time. Also evolving and adjusting to contemporary technologies is COBOL. 

For instance, COBOL developers can now utilize industry-standard IDEs with the language alongside their peers without having to sacrifice the most recent IT tooling and procedures. Because of this, maintaining COBOL systems for businesses and training new developers is much simpler.

COBOL’s Potential Decline

Concerns exist, though, about COBOL’s future. The lack of COBOL developers is one of the main problems. There aren’t enough fresh developers learning the COBOL language to replace the retiring COBOL-versed developers. This can result in a dearth of programmers qualified to update and maintain legacy COBOL systems. 

The idea that COBOL is an archaic language is another issue. Because they feel the language is outdated or inflexible, some businesses could be reluctant to invest in COBOL systems or update their current COBOL systems. COBOL’s future is dubious overall. Although the language is still frequently spoken, there are issues that could cause it to become less popular.