A new COBOL competitor emerges: gcobol • The Register
The recently announced gcobol compiler is a new frontend for GCC and builds native binary executables.
There are already other FOSS compilers and freeware for COBOL, but few are fully open source. Notably, there is GnuCOBOL, which evolved from OpenCOBOL. The OpenCOBOL FAQ is worth reading and notes that: “OpenCOBOL was originally developed by Keisuke Nishida from experience working on TinyCOBOL originally developed by Rildo Pragana.”
There’s nothing wrong with GnuCOBOL: it’s mature, under active development, and supports various COBOL standards and dialects – but as the gcobol announcement says: “Our project should not be confused with GnuCOBOL. This project is a Cobol translator: it compiles Cobol to C, and invokes gcc to produce executable code.”
You can still get COBOL-IT for free. This French project developed a suite of open-source compilers until it was bought out by “the guardians of the COBOL enterprise” – or alternatively, a retirement home for aging software companies – aka Micro Focus – in 2017.
Don’t put me on the cart
Although now over 60 years old, COBOL is alive, well and relevant. The last two standards were COBOL-2002, which introduced object-oriented programming, and COBOL 2014, which among other things added IEEE-754 floating-point arithmetic support, method overloading, and dynamic capability tables.
On the commercial side, IBM introduced a 64-bit compiler for AIX and later a native x86 compiler. Visual COBOL by Micro Focus lets you build for .NET and Cloudflare will run it in the cloud.
These are still the early days of the new compiler, which has so far seen a man-year of work – that is, two programmers have been working on it full-time since October last year, although its Gitlab page shows that work started earlier.
So far as a validation suite they are working on the example programs from the 2014 book Beginning COBOL for programmers, and gcobol successfully compiles about 100 of them. If you’re curious, the programs are on GitHub. After that, the developers plan to move on to the NIST COBOL-85 test suite. ®
Yes, new books on learning COBOL are being published. There is a huge demand for COBOL programmers – since the year 2000 problem, veterans are coming out of retirement, at premium rates of course. Now they are dying, and increasingly desperate COBOL users used to call for volunteers to help. If you can understand this relatively simple but verbose language, you are essentially guaranteed a job.