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COBOL Tutorial 000100 – the ‘Hello World’

Due to a new project at work, I'm starting to learn COBOL (not the sexiest language, I know). I found the hardest part about learning COBOL for me is to know what COBOL keywords mean in terms of more modern programming languages. Therefore, I thought I’ll write a couple of short tutorials here to explain some of these differences in case some other programmers are interested in learning this 50+ years old programming language.

As with learning any other programming language, the first example has to be the “Hello World” and here’s the source code:

       IDENTIFICATION DIVISION.
       PROGRAM-ID. HELLOWORLD.
       PROCEDURE DIVISION.
            DISPLAY 'HELLO WORLD'.
            STOP RUN.

Every COBOL program needs an IDENFICATION DIVISION and the PROGRAM-ID (which is HELLOWORLD in our example). All program logic will sit under the PROCEDURE DIVISION. The rest of the program should be pretty self-explanatory.

The full stop (.) is the equivalent of semi-colon (;) in C-derived programming languages, which denotes the end of a coding line.

To compile this code, I used the OpenCOBOL compiler. You can install it under Ubuntu 10.04 by typing the following command in the shell:

sudo apt-get install open-cobol

After installing the compiler, you can then compile the program by running (assuming that you’ve saved the source code in a file called helloworld.cob):

cobc -x -free helloworld.cob

The -free compiler flag tells the cobc compiler to use the free source code format. Without it, the compiler will require you to enter 7 spaces at the beginning of each line. The –x flag, on the other hand, tells the compiler to produce an executable rather than a .so file (we’ll talk about .so files later).

Finally, the compiler may produce few warnings about “dereferencing type-punned pointer” but you can just ignore them. After the compilation finishes, you will find the executable helloworld in your directory.

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