How to Learn COBOL Programming

Learning COBOL, a venerable programming language, can be a valuable skill if you’re interested in legacy system maintenance, financial systems, or government work. COBOL stands for “Common Business-Oriented Language” and has been in use for decades, especially in industries like banking and insurance. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to learn COBOL:

Photo by Christina Morillo on
  1. Understand Why You Want to Learn COBOL:
    • Identify your motivation for learning COBOL. Is it for a specific job requirement, to maintain legacy systems, or out of general interest? Understanding your goal will help you stay focused.
  2. Set Up Your Environment:
    • You’ll need a COBOL compiler and development environment. Some popular options include:
      • GNU COBOL (GnuCOBOL): It’s an open-source COBOL compiler.
      • Micro Focus COBOL: A commercial COBOL development environment with a free trial.
      • OpenCobolIDE: An integrated development environment for COBOL.
    • Choose the one that suits your needs and platform.
  3. Learn COBOL Syntax and Fundamentals:
    • Start with the basics. COBOL has a unique syntax compared to modern programming languages. Some resources for learning the basics include:
      • Online tutorials and courses.
      • COBOL textbooks like “COBOL Programming” by M. K. Roy and D. Ghosh Dastidar.
      • Video tutorials on platforms like YouTube.
  4. Practice Writing COBOL Programs:
    • Programming is a skill that improves with practice. Start with simple programs and gradually work your way up to more complex ones.
    • Experiment with data manipulation, file handling, and working with databases if relevant to your goals.
  5. Understand COBOL Data Structures:
    • COBOL relies heavily on data structures like records and tables. Learn how to define and manipulate them effectively.
  6. Study COBOL in Context:
    • Understand where COBOL is used. Read about its history and its role in legacy systems.
    • Explore real-world COBOL code to gain insight into how it’s used in different industries.
  7. Join COBOL Communities:
    • Connect with other COBOL learners and professionals in online forums, social media groups, or COBOL-specific communities. They can provide support and insights.
  8. Work on Real Projects:
    • To solidify your knowledge, consider contributing to open-source COBOL projects or finding freelance work in industries that use COBOL.
  9. Stay Updated:
    • COBOL evolves slowly, but it’s essential to stay up-to-date with any changes or updates in the language.
  10. Consider Formal Education:
    • If you’re serious about a career involving COBOL, consider enrolling in a formal course or obtaining a certification in COBOL programming.
  11. Patience and Perseverance:
    • COBOL may seem archaic compared to modern programming languages, but it’s still in demand in many industries. Be patient and persistent in your learning journey.

Remember that COBOL is often used in mission-critical systems, so attention to detail and a thorough understanding of the language are crucial. If you learn COBOL it can open up opportunities in industries where legacy systems are still prevalent, and it can be a valuable skill for your programming toolkit.

Photo by Christina Morillo on

Where can I find resources to learn COBOL

Learning COBOL can be facilitated by a variety of resources, both online and offline. Here’s a list of places where you can find materials and courses to help you learn COBOL:

Check out my blog on How to Learn COBOL using IBM Z Xplore.

  1. Online Courses and Tutorials available to learn COBOL:
    • edX: Offers COBOL courses in collaboration with universities and institutions.
    • Coursera: Provides courses on COBOL programming.
    • Udemy: Features a range of COBOL courses, including both beginner and advanced levels.
    • IBM Developer: Offers free COBOL courses and tutorials.
  2. Books:
    • “COBOL Programming” by M. K. Roy and D. Ghosh Dastidar: A comprehensive COBOL textbook.
    • “Structured COBOL Programming” by Nancy B. Stern and Robert A. Stern: Provides a structured approach to learning COBOL.
    • “COBOL for the 21st Century” by Nancy B. Stern, Robert A. Stern, and James P. Ley: A modernized introduction to COBOL.
  3. Online Forums and Communities:
    • COBOL-Forum: A community dedicated to COBOL discussions and support.
    • Stack Overflow: You can find answers to COBOL-related questions and ask your own.
    • LinkedIn Groups: There are several COBOL-related groups where you can connect with professionals and learners.
  4. YouTube:
    • Many YouTubers create COBOL tutorials and explain concepts with practical examples.
  5. COBOL Development Environments:
    • Download a COBOL development environment like GNU COBOL or Micro Focus COBOL, which often includes documentation and examples.
  6. University and College Courses:
    • Check if local universities or colleges offer courses in COBOL. Some institutions offer online courses as well.
  7. Open-Source Projects to Learn COBOL:
    • Participating in or contributing to open-source COBOL projects on platforms like GitHub can be a great way to gain practical experience.
  8. Professional Training and Certification:
    • Some organizations and training providers offer COBOL certification programs. Consider enrolling in one to gain formal recognition of your skills.
  9. Government Training Programs:
    • In some regions, governments may offer training programs to meet the demand for COBOL skills, especially for maintaining legacy systems.
  10. Documentation and Manuals:
    • Official COBOL documentation and programming manuals, such as those provided by the COBOL standards committee, can be valuable resources for in-depth learning.
  11. Meetups and User Groups:
    • Look for local or virtual COBOL user groups or meetups where you can network with other COBOL enthusiasts and professionals.
  12. Blogs and Articles to self learn COBOL:
    • There are blogs and articles written by COBOL experts that can provide insights into best practices and real-world applications.

Remember that COBOL has a unique syntax and programming style, so practice and hands-on coding are essential components of your learning journey. Start with basic programs and gradually work your way up to more complex projects to build your skills effectively.

Leave a Comment