Deals Programming Reading Material

COBOL roundup: Save $20 on a COBOL book, recent articles, COBOL on Cloudflare, and how to code in COBOL on macOS

Save $20 on Beginning COBOL for Programmers — today only!

Don’t forget that today, Thursday, April 16, 2020, is the last day that you can get Apress’ Beginning COBOL for Programmers at a discount! Use the coupon code SPRING20A when checking out to get $20 off orders $40 and above. That knocks down the price to $29.99 — but only for today.

Current COBOL news articles

Every time ancient banking and government software that’s still in use on “big iron” runs headlong into a problem it was never meant to handle, from Y2K to the COVID-19 stimulus check program, COBOL returns to the spotlight. Here are some recent news articles featuring the language. Most of these have been published in the last seven days:

Cloudflare now supports COBOL?!

There’s a fine line between genius and madness, and Cloudflare are riding that line by making it so that you can code Cloudflare workers in COBOL! They have a number of simple examples posted, including a Rock, Paper, Scissors web applet written in COBOL (pictured in the screenshot above).

It looks as though they’re using GnuCobol to compile COBOL code into C, and then compiling that C into WebAssembly. I like to refer to this sort of cobbling as “the Flintstones-Jetsons approach”.

Once again, how to start programming in COBOL on macOS

If you’re on a Mac and want to dive into COBOL coding, don’t forget that I have a quick and dirty to installing a COBOL compiler and IDE on macOS. If you’ve already got Homebrew and Python 3 installed, you can probably go through the process in about a minute.

Are you looking for someone with both strong development and “soft” skills? Someone who’s comfortable either being in a team of developers or leading one? Someone who can handle code, coders, and customers? Someone who can clearly communicate with both humans and technology? Someone who can pick up COBOL well enough to write useful articles about it on short notice? The first step in finding this person is to check out my LinkedIn profile.


Deals Programming Reading Material

A quick and dirty guide to installing a COBOL compiler and IDE on macOS (and get a COBOL book at a discount)

OpenCobolIDE running on macOS, displaying the code for the “Chunky Bacon” version of “Hello, World!”.

OpenCobolIDE running on my MacBook Pro. Tap the screen shot to see it at full size.

In an earlier post, I played around with an online COBOL compiler. Seeing as I’m a COVID-19 unemployment statistic and there’s a call for COBOL developers to help shore up ancient programs that are supposed to be issuing relief checks, I’ve decided to devote a little more time next week (this week, I have to finish revising a book) to playing with the ancient programming language. I’ll write about my experiences here, and I’ll also post some videos on YouTube.

If you want to try your hand at COBOL on the Mac, you’re in luck: it’s a lot easier than I expected it would be!

Get the compiler: GnuCOBOL

COBOL isn’t used much outside enterprise environments, which means that COBOL compilers and IDEs are sold at enterprise prices. If you’re an individual programmer without the backing of a company with a budget to pay for developer tools, your only real option is GnuCOBOL.

On macOS, the simplest way to install GnuCOBOL is to use Homebrew.

If Homebrew isn’t already installed on your system (and seriously, you should have it if you’re using your Mac as a development machine), open a terminal window and enter this to install it:

/bin/bash -c "$(curl -fsSL"

If Homebrew is installed on your system, first make sure that it’s up to date by using this command in a terminal window:

brew update

Then install GnuCOBOL by entering the following:

brew install gnu-cobol

Once that’s done, GnuCOBOL should be on your system under the name cobc. You can confirm that it’s on your system with the following command…

cobc -v

…which should result in a message like this:

cobc (GnuCOBOL) 2.2.0
Built Aug 20 2018 15:48:14 Packaged Sep 06 2017 18:48:43 UTC
C version "4.2.1 Compatible Apple LLVM 10.0.0 (clang-1000.10.43.1)"
loading standard configuration file 'default.conf'
cobc: error: no input files

Get the IDE: OpenCobolIDE

Unless you’ve got some way to configure your text editor to deal with the language’s quirks, you really want to use an IDE when coding in COBOL. Once again, an open source project comes to the rescue: OpenCobolIDE.

OpenCobolIDE relies on Python 3, so make sure you’ve installed Python 3 before installing OpenCobolIDE. I installed it on my computer by installing the Python 3 version of Anaconda Individual Edition.

If Python 3 is already on your system, you have a couple of options for installing OpenCobolIDE:

  1. Installing OpenCobolIDE using the Python 3 package installer, pip3, which gives you a program that you launch via the command line. This gives you OpenCobolIDE version 4.7.6.
  2. Downloading the .dmg disk image file, which gives you an app lives in the Applications folder and which you launch by clicking an icon. This gives you OpenCobolIDE version 4.7.4.

I strongly recommend going with option 1. OpenCobolIDE is no longer maintained, so you might as well go with the latest version, which you can only get by installing it using Homebrew. Version 4.7.6 has a couple of key additional features that you’ll find handy, including:

  • Support for all the COBOL keywords in GnuCOBOL 2.x. This is a big deal in COBOL, which has something in the area of 400 reserved words. For comparison, C and Python have fewer than 40 reserved words each.
  • Better indentation support (and you want that in COBOL, thanks to its ridiculous column rules from the 1960s).
  • Support for compiler flags like -W and -Wall — and hey, warning flags are useful!

To install OpenCobolIDE using the Python 3 package installer, pip3, enter the following in a terminal window:

pip3 install OpenCobolIDE --upgrade

To launch OpenCobolIDE, enter this:


You’ll be greeted with this window:

Tap New file. You’ll see this:

For Template, select Program, enter the name and location for your program file, and tap OK.

You should see this:

Tap the screen shot to see it at full size.

Don’t mistake those red vertical lines for glitches. They’re column guides. COBOL is from the days of punched cards, and is one of those programming languages that’s really fussy about columns:

  • The first 6 columns are reserved for sequence numbers.
  • Column 7 is reserved for a line continuation character, an asterisk (which denotes a comment) or another special character.
  • Columns 8 through 72 are for code, and are broken down into 2 zones:
    • Area A: Columns 8 through 11, which are used for DIVISIONS, SECTIONS, and PARAGRAPHS, as well as specifying levels 01 through 77 (COBOL is weird).
    • Area B: Columns 12 through 72, which is for the rest of the code.
  • Columns 73 through 80 make up the “identification” area and are ignored by the compiler. It’s useful for very short comments along the lines of “TODO” or “HACK”.

Get the book: Beginning Cobol for Programmers

There aren’t many current books on COBOL out there. Apress’ Beginning COBOL for Programmers is probably the best of the bunch, and unlike many old COBOL books, makes sense to developers with a solid grounding in modern programming languages.

The ebook is available for US$49.99, but if you use the coupon code SPRING20A by the end of Thursday, April 16, you can get a $20 discount, reducing the price to $29.99. If you want the book for this price, take action before it’s too late!

Are you looking for someone with both strong development and “soft” skills? Someone who’s comfortable either being in a team of developers or leading one? Someone who can handle code, coders, and customers? Someone who can clearly communicate with both humans and technology? Someone who can pick up COBOL well enough to write useful articles about it on short notice? The first step in finding this person is to check out my LinkedIn profile.

Deals Programming Reading Material

Pluralsight’s courses are free for the month of April!

Pluralsight is making its 7,000+ video courses completely free for the month of April! If this is the first time you’ve heard this news, you still have 27-ish days to take advantage of this opportunity.

One of the nicest things about this deal is that you don’t have to provide a credit card number to sign up. They could’ve easily asked for it and counted on you to forget to cancel your account, allowing them to charge you on May 1st. Instead, they’re just letting you create an account with very little info and are hoping that you’ll like your course so much, you’ll choose to become a subscriber in May:

In case you’re curious, here’s a sampling of the Pluralsight courses I’m interested in:

Between the day job at Lilypad and finishing the next version of iOS Apprentice, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do all the courses I want over the month. I’m pretty sure that I’ll play sessions from the conferences in the background while working, and perhaps see what their Unity courses are like.

Be sure to sign up and see if there are any courses that you’d like to take for free!

Deals Process Reading Material

“The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering“: A must-read book, free for a limited time!

The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering is an apt title for a book that helps you move from programming (writing code) to software development (the larger process, which includes requirements, design, testing, delivery, maintenance, and so on) to software engineering (bringing the discipline of engineering to software development, which involves repeatable, consistent processes, and a move to relying more on science than on craft). Better still, it’s a $60 book that’s now available for free right up to June 30th, 2020!

ACM logo

Who’s giving away this book?

The book is part of the digital library of the ACM — Association for Computing Machinery — one of the world’s first and largest professional groups devoted to computing. Founded in 1947, the ACM pre-dates the first time a thing we would consider to be a program was run on a thing we would consider to be a digital computer by a year! The ACM’s mission is to promote computing as an academic interest, science, and profession.

On Monday, March 30th, the ACM announced that they have opened their normally paywalled digital library to the public for the next three months as a way of supporting the computing community during the COVID-19 crisis. From now until June 30th, 2020, it will cost nothing to access the library or to download any number of electronic books from it. You can visit the library right now without having to log in.

Here’s the thing: the ACM is an organization run by academics, and you’ll see that as soon as you visit the library. Their books are more like university textbooks and less like “For loops for Dummies”. Still, there are a few books in the library that you’ll find useful even if you aren’t looking for works to cite for your Ph.D. dissertation. The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering is one of these books.

Why should you get this book?

Most books on development these days focus on what I call the mechanics of building software: the vocabulary and syntax of programming languages, how-tos from programming tools, frameworks, and libraries, and the technologies and techniques for getting a specific kind of functionality into the applications you’re writing.

Fewer books and even fewer courses cover the larger process of building software, such as design, development,  testing, evaluation, and maintenance. Software engineering is not programming: It’s the application of techniques borrowed from engineering to craft complete solutions, of which software is a part.

The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering provides a good introduction — or for those of us who took the course long ago, a good refresher — to the topic.

Who should read this book?

  • If you’re a computer science major: Software engineering is a key course in just about every university’s computer science degree program. This is because it’s part of a recommended standard computer science curriculum developed by the ACM and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering is one of the most up-to-date textbooks on the topic.
  • If you’re self-learning or in a code camp: Software engineering is one of those topics that gets missed in the code schools and courses, where the emphasis is on a specific programming language and technologies and not the larger topic of the software development process. The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering is essential supplementary ready for you.
  • If you’re a junior developer: Are you on your first job, or perhaps the first couple of years in your software development career? Think of The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering as a way of gauging prospective workplaces or the place where you’re working, as well as a guide for what you should be learning.
  • If you’re a senior developer: What a senior developer anyway? Well, if the number of developers doubles every five years as it has been since the ’90s, it stands to reason that half the developers out there have less than five years’ experience. If you have 5+ years’ experience as a developer, you’re a senior, and you should treat The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering as a checklist!
  • If you’re a non-technical manager of a development team or project: The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering is pretty layperson-friendly and quite readable. You should at least skim the book for an overview of what’s considered better ways to build and maintain software.
  • If you’re in hiring or recruiting: You should skim The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering to get a better feel for the software development process. You might also get some insight into the sort of skills and aptitudes that developers, especially senior ones, should have.

Get the book now while it’s free!

In case you were wondering, The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering currently has a five-star rating on Amazon. Yes, it’s from 7 reviewers, but 7 high-quality reviewers.