Test, test, testing 1, 2, 3… Is this thing on? Ha. It’s been a while since I wrote my last blog post and I was recently inspired by the Federal Government plea for old dinosaurs; COBOL programmers! Several U.S. States are in a hurry to find COBOL programmers to help with the ancient infrastructure of legacy systems.

Note: I am currently on a mac running macOS Catalina, if your machine is running either Windows or Linux don’t worry. I will not install anything using the Command-Line Interface (CLI), the only requirement needed is Visual Studio Code. Just follow along to mimic a mainframe-like development environment, it’s pretty easy.

The COBOL programming language isn’t used outside enterprise environments, and as you can imagine compilers and IDEs can be sold at astronomical prices. There is an open-source compiler that you can download, GnuCOBOL. However, for the sake of this brief guide I will be using the Visual Studio Code text editor. Let’s begin!

Let’s emulate a 3270 terminal, mainframe modernization has led to leap-frog innovations and open-source alternatives, one of these is the Zowe Explorer.

Zowe Explorer VSCode Extension

Zowe is an open-source project that offers modern interfaces to interact with z/OS and allows you to work with z/OS in a similar way to what you experience on cloud platforms today. It provides the tools for developers who may be interested, in working with mainframe legacy applications. In short, it’s an enhanced solution for modern mainframe developers.

This is were Zowe Explorer comes in, the extension provides secure access to Zowe while using VSCode. This allows you to use a text editor instead of an IDE or terminal in developing your COBOL applications.

Now, since we’re spoiled developers let’s install the COBOL Language Support extension. Most will not be familiar with the COBOL syntax and that is okay, this extension provides autocomplete, syntax highlighting, and diagnostics.

COBOL Support Syntax VSCode Extension

The final VSCode extension that I recommend installing is Explorer for Endevor. This extension is a bit tricky to explain its main use-case, it lets you view and edit CA Endevor data using a user-friendly and intuitive modern interface.

Explorer for Endevor DevOps Tool

Note: I was able to find a great tech-talk that further explains what Explorer for Endevor is: “Build a Foundation for Mainframe DevOps with CA Endevor SCM.”

I have to point out that there is another “power-pack” extension for COBOL programming, Code4z is a collection of the extensions I previously mentioned. However, this extension does not get the same update lifecycle as the other extensions do.

Let’s access a modern mainframe via Zowe

Let’s obtain legitimate mainframe credentials, assuming that you don’t work for a company that uses z/OSMF. Let’s fill out the following registration form: COBOL Programming with VSCode. You will receive an email with your username and password and links to access TN3270 and SSH.

You’re done! That was easy right? For those who are more of visual learners I got you covered. Watch the following video from Mainframe Bytes titled: “So you want to learn COBOL?” It was recently published and will show the same steps as above but with real working examples.

Happy coding!