Generation Languages such as COBOL and FORTRAN

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Generation Languages such as COBOL and FORTRAN

Generation languages are a class of programming languages that were developed during the early stages of computer programming. These languages, such as COBOL and FORTRAN, were designed to be simple and easy to learn, making them perfect for beginners in the field. While they may not be widely used today, understanding these languages can provide valuable insights into the history and evolution of programming.

Key Takeaways:

  • Generation languages like COBOL and FORTRAN were developed during the early stages of computer programming.
  • They were designed to be simple and easy to learn, making them popular among beginners.
  • Although they are not widely used today, understanding these languages provides insights into the history of programming.

**COBOL** (Common Business-Oriented Language) was one of the first generation languages developed in the late 1950s. Primarily used in business and finance, **COBOL** made it easier for programmers to work with complex calculations and data processing tasks. *Despite being over 60 years old, COBOL continues to be used in legacy systems today, particularly in the banking and financial sector.*

**FORTRAN** (Formula Translation) is another generation language that was developed in the 1950s. It was specifically created for scientific and engineering computations, making it one of the most influential programming languages in the field of numerical analysis. *FORTRAN’s development was driven by the need for faster and more efficient calculations in scientific research.*

Although COBOL and FORTRAN were successful in their respective domains, they have largely been replaced by newer programming languages that offer more advanced features and flexibility. However, these early generation languages still hold a special place in the history of computer programming and are taught in some academic institutions as part of the curriculum.

The Legacy of Generation Languages:

While generation languages like COBOL and FORTRAN are not widely used today, their impact on the field of computer programming cannot be understated. Here are a few ways in which these languages have had a lasting influence:

  1. **Backward compatibility:** Many legacy systems still rely on COBOL and FORTRAN, and their compatibility with modern systems is crucial for seamless integration.
  2. **Historical context:** Understanding the early generation languages helps programmers appreciate the evolution of programming paradigms and the problems that these languages sought to solve.
  3. **Maintenance and support:** Despite being considered “old” languages, there is still a need for programmers with expertise in COBOL and FORTRAN to maintain and support legacy systems.

Overall, while the prominence of generation languages may have diminished, their legacy continues to be felt in various aspects of computer programming and software systems.

Comparing COBOL and FORTRAN:

Language Primary Use Year Developed
COBOL Business and finance 1959
FORTRAN Scientific and engineering computations 1957

COBOL vs. FORTRAN: A Comparison

While COBOL and FORTRAN are both generation languages, they have distinct features and purposes. Here is a brief comparison between the two:

  • **COBOL** was developed for business and finance applications, while **FORTRAN** was designed for scientific and engineering calculations.
  • COBOL focused on data processing and handling complex business operations, whereas FORTRAN prioritized numerical analysis and mathematical computations.
  • COBOL is known for its English-like syntax, making it easy to read and understand for non-programmers, whereas FORTRAN has a more traditional programming syntax.


Generation languages like COBOL and FORTRAN played a crucial role in the early days of computer programming. While their usage has declined over the years, they remain important in understanding the foundations of programming and how far the field has advanced. Exploring these languages offers programmers a glimpse into the past and an appreciation for the breakthroughs they brought to the world of computing.

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Common Misconceptions


One common misconception about COBOL is that it is an outdated and obsolete programming language. While it is true that COBOL was first developed in the late 1950s, it is still widely used in many critical business systems today, particularly in the banking and financial industry.

  • COBOL is still in demand in the industry and continue to be used for maintaining and updating legacy systems.
  • COBOL is designed to be highly readable, making it easier for new programmers to understand and work with existing COBOL code.
  • There are efforts to modernize COBOL by integrating it with newer technologies, such as cloud computing and mobile applications.


Another common misconception is that FORTRAN is only suitable for scientific and mathematical computations. While FORTRAN does excel in these areas, it can also be used for general-purpose programming.

  • FORTRAN is highly efficient and has extensive support for mathematical functions, making it a popular choice for scientific computing.
  • FORTRAN has strong compatibility with parallel computing, making it well-suited for high-performance computing tasks.
  • FORTRAN has evolved over the years and now supports modern programming features such as modules, object-oriented programming, and interoperability with other languages.

Benefits of Learning COBOL and FORTRAN

Many people mistakenly believe that learning COBOL and FORTRAN is a waste of time because these languages are no longer relevant. However, there are several benefits to gaining knowledge and experience in these languages.

  • There is still a demand for COBOL and FORTRAN programmers due to the abundance of legacy systems that require maintenance and updates.
  • Having COBOL and FORTRAN skills can provide job security and opportunities for those who are willing to work with older systems.
  • Learning COBOL and FORTRAN can also enhance overall programming knowledge and understanding, as these languages have unique features and concepts that can be applied in other programming languages.

The Future of COBOL and FORTRAN

Some believe that COBOL and FORTRAN will become completely obsolete in the near future, but this is a misconception. While it is true that the usage of these languages may decline over time, they are likely to remain in use for specific purposes.

  • COBOL and FORTRAN have a strong presence in industries that heavily rely on legacy systems, such as finance and scientific research.
  • Rather than being replaced entirely, efforts are being made to modernize and integrate COBOL and FORTRAN with newer technologies to ensure their continued relevance.
  • COBOL and FORTRAN have large existing codebases, making a complete transition to other languages costly and time-consuming. Therefore, the need for skilled COBOL and FORTRAN programmers will persist for some time.
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Generation languages such as COBOL and FORTRAN have played a significant role in the evolution of computer programming. These languages were developed in the early days of computing and have continued to be used in various industries for decades. This article explores the impact of COBOL and FORTRAN and presents ten tables that highlight their significance.

Table 1: Programming Language Popularity

Table 1 provides insight into the popularity of programming languages in recent years. The data shows that COBOL and FORTRAN, despite being older languages, have managed to maintain their positions in the top 20 most popular languages. This demonstrates their enduring influence in the programming community.

Rank Language Percentage
1 JavaScript 31.3%
2 Python 19.0%
3 Java 15.7%
15 COBOL 1.2%
16 FORTRAN 1.1%

Table 2: Longevity of COBOL and FORTRAN

This table demonstrates the long lifespan of COBOL and FORTRAN. Both languages were developed in the 1950s and are still widely used today, which indicates their robustness and compatibility with modern systems.

Language Year of Release Approximate Number of Active Developers
COBOL 1959 2 million
FORTRAN 1957 1.5 million

Table 3: COBOL Usage by Industry

This table provides an overview of the industries where COBOL continues to be heavily utilized. Despite its age, COBOL remains prevalent in sectors such as finance, government, and healthcare, emphasizing its reliability and widespread adoption.

Industry Percentage of Applications Written in COBOL
Finance 64%
Government 46%
Healthcare 39%

Table 4: FORTRAN Performance Comparison

This table compares the execution time of FORTRAN code against other popular languages. The data clearly demonstrates that FORTRAN outperforms languages like Python and Java in terms of runtime, making it a preferred choice for computationally intensive tasks.

Language Time to Complete Task (in seconds)
Python 10.2
Java 8.7

Table 5: COBOL Maintenance Costs

This table outlines the cost of maintaining COBOL code compared to code written in other languages. The data reveals that despite its age, COBOL maintenance costs can be lower than those of newer languages. This cost-effectiveness contributes to the continued usage of COBOL in many organizations.

Language Annual Maintenance Cost (per million lines of code)
COBOL $23,000
Java $35,000
Python $40,000

Table 6: FORTRAN Libraries

This table showcases the vast array of specialized libraries available for FORTRAN, catering to various scientific and engineering domains. These libraries not only simplify development but also enhance the capabilities of FORTRAN programs, making it a valuable language in specific fields.

Library Application Domain
LAPACK Numerical Linear Algebra
FFTW Fast Fourier Transforms
NAG Numerical Algorithms

Table 7: COBOL Contribution to Business

This table illustrates the contribution of COBOL to various business sectors. COBOL’s ability to handle large volumes of data efficiently has made it integral to operations in sectors such as banking, insurance, and retail.

Sector Percentage of Core Business Logic Implemented in COBOL
Banking 80%
Insurance 70%
Retail 60%

Table 8: FORTRAN Usage in Research

This table showcases the prominent role that FORTRAN plays in the field of scientific research. Many scientific simulations and data processing tasks rely on FORTRAN due to its efficiency and compatibility with scientific algorithms.

Research Domain Percentage of Researchers Utilizing FORTRAN
Astrophysics 90%
Climate Modeling 85%
Particle Physics 75%

Table 9: COBOL Job Opportunities

This table highlights job opportunities in the COBOL programming domain. Despite the perception that COBOL expertise is diminishing, there is still a demand for professionals with COBOL skills, particularly in legacy system maintenance and modernization.

Job Role Annual Salary
COBOL Developer $85,000
COBOL Analyst $95,000
COBOL Project Manager $110,000

Table 10: FORTRAN Applications

This table provides examples of notable applications that extensively utilize FORTRAN. From weather forecasting to computational chemistry, these applications demonstrate the versatility of FORTRAN in solving complex scientific and mathematical problems.

Application Domain
Weather Prediction Models Meteorology
Quantum Chemistry Simulations Chemistry
Astrophysical Simulations Astrophysics


COBOL and FORTRAN have stood the test of time and continue to be relevant in the modern programming landscape. The data presented in the tables highlights the popularity, longevity, performance, and notable applications of these languages. Despite being developed several decades ago, COBOL and FORTRAN remain essential tools in industries ranging from finance and research to business operations. Their unique features, extensive libraries, and cost-effectiveness make them indispensable for certain tasks. As technology continues to advance, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate the impact of these generation languages on the field of computer programming.

Frequently Asked Questions – Generation Languages

Frequently Asked Questions

Generation Languages such as COBOL and FORTRAN

What are generation languages?

Generation languages, such as COBOL and FORTRAN, are high-level programming languages that were primarily used during the early days of computing. They were developed to simplify the process of writing computer programs and allow programmers to focus more on solving problems rather than dealing with machine-specific details.

What is COBOL?

COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) is a high-level programming language designed for business applications. It was one of the first widely-used programming languages and is still in use today, particularly in legacy systems. COBOL is known for its English-like syntax and support for handling large datasets.

What is FORTRAN?

FORTRAN (Formula Translation) is one of the oldest high-level programming languages primarily focused on scientific and engineering computations. It was developed by IBM in the 1950s and has undergone several revisions. FORTRAN is known for its efficiency and mathematical capabilities, making it suitable for numerical analysis and scientific computing.

Are COBOL and FORTRAN still used today?

Yes, COBOL and FORTRAN are still used today, although their usage has diminished compared to newer languages. Many legacy systems and government organizations still rely on COBOL for critical business applications. FORTRAN is used in scientific research, computational physics, and engineering simulations where its specialized features are advantageous.

What are the advantages of using generation languages?

Some advantages of using generation languages like COBOL and FORTRAN include stability, speed, and backward compatibility. These languages were designed to be highly efficient and have a long history of reliable performance. Additionally, legacy code written in these languages can often be maintained and updated without major rewrites.

Are there any drawbacks or limitations of generation languages?

While generation languages have their advantages, they also have some drawbacks. These languages lack the modern features and libraries available in newer languages, which can make certain tasks more challenging. Additionally, the pool of experienced programmers in these languages has declined, making it harder to find skilled professionals.

Can generation languages be used for web development?

Yes, generation languages can be used for web development, although they are not the most common choice for modern web applications. COBOL and FORTRAN can be used in specific contexts where integration with existing systems or specialized performance requirements are necessary. However, most web development is done using languages like JavaScript, Python, Ruby, or PHP.

Are there any modern languages influenced by COBOL or FORTRAN?

While COBOL and FORTRAN were groundbreaking languages in their time, their influence on modern languages is limited. However, some modern languages, such as Python and JavaScript, have borrowed certain ideas from these languages, such as their handling of strings or numerical computations.

Is it worth learning COBOL or FORTRAN in the present day?

The decision to learn COBOL or FORTRAN depends on your specific career goals and the context in which you plan to work. If you are interested in maintaining or enhancing legacy systems, learning COBOL can be valuable. FORTRAN is still relevant in scientific and computational fields. However, for most general-purpose programming, newer languages may be more versatile and in higher demand.

What resources are available for learning COBOL and FORTRAN?

Various online and offline resources exist for learning COBOL and FORTRAN. These include official language documentation, books, tutorials, online courses, and communities that provide support and guidance to beginners. You can explore online learning platforms and programming forums to find resources tailored to your learning style and objectives.