The Story So Far

COBOLworx was created by Symas to pursue “the COBOL opportunity”. A commercial partner engaged Symas in 2012 to adapt Apache Fortress, a Symas-developed technology, to the challenge of mainframe access control. For the next few years, we worked on several projects helping migrate COBOL applications to Linux. That exposure convinced us that COBOL on Linux and other modern platforms justified our attention.

We brought James K. (“Jim”) Lowden on to lead development of an IBM IMS/DB (Information Management System, DataBase) prototype for Linux. We called it the Pre-Relational Information Manager (PRIM). IMS/DB capabilities are an enormous undertaking but a limited implementation let us prove “It Is Just Work™”.

PRIM was built around GnuCOBOL. We travelled to Dresden, Germany, to visit with Simon Sobisch, the GnuCOBOL Project Lead. We got involved. One of the great long-standing shortcomings of COBOL has been the lack of source-level, run-time debugging. In 2018 we brought Robert (“Bob”) Dubner into the team. Bob developed cbl-gdb and the Visual Studio Code (vscode and its open source variant vscodium) integration. At least two firms now use GnuCOBOL and cbl-gdb in production.

As soon as we joined the project, we committed to providing commercial technical support for GnuCOBOL. We have customers who adopted a banking application suite using GnuCOBOL. More have expressed interest.

By early 2021, we were convinced that a COBOL compiler based on the Gnu Compiler Collection’s (GCC’s) core technology would make integration with gdb simpler and cleaner. Going “GCC Native” seemed to have a lot of advantages. In spite of the failure of earlier attempts at writing GCC “front-ends” for COBOL and PL/I, off we went.

Work was interrupted by a Symas corporate level distraction. It was restarted. A core-level compiler is being shaken down using the NIST test suite of the 1980s. Many features and COBOL dialects are on the roadmap. gdb native GCC debugger support is the first to be addressed.

gcobol will continue to improve through the rest of 2022. We are happy to chat about the work and discuss where it is going and what it means for the COBOL-using community.

However, GnuCOBOL is far and away the best Open Source COBOL compiler available and will continue to be. gcobol is in very early stages. COBOLworx is excited about the future for both.