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 What are the top Mainframe Programming Languages to learn?

What are the top Mainframe Programming Languages to learn?

Today’s large organizations and businesses are dependent on legacy IT systems like mainframe. They are also facing an unavoidable situation like an urgent shortage of skills as many of the experts are at the age of retirement or already out of business and are also unable to share their knowledge and expertise with the upcoming generation. Programming languages like COBOL, which was created in 1959 but is still extensively used by major enterprises to handle data from crucial central systems like billing, accounting, payroll, and customer interactions, often serve as the foundation for these systems.

To be clear, the list of mainframe programming languages presented below is not intended to be a quantitatively conclusive ranking of the most widely used mainframe coding languages. I’m not aware of anyone compiling statistics on the market share of different mainframe languages.

Let’s look at some of the best mainframe programming languages now that the disclaimer has been made.


The mainframe industry’s traditional, tried-and-true application programming language is called COBOL, which stands for Common Business Oriented Language. It is one of the oldest programming languages still in use today, having been created in 1959. Others dislike COBOL and whine about go to statements being used and how lengthy the COBOL code is. However, some people view the latter characteristic as advantageous because it makes the code easier to comprehend. Regardless of what you may think about COBOL, it is still a commonly used programming language on mainframes today. It might not be covered in Computer Programming 101, but knowing it is essential if you want to write code for mainframes.


Java is one language that you will probably learn in a computer-based programming course and can use on mainframes. Years after mainframes were invented, Java made its debut in the middle of the 1990s. And Java’s popularity was mostly fueled by its object-oriented design and ability to run on almost any operating system. When the original Java developers created a language that could generate apps for your mainframe just as well as it did for PCs and smartphones, you know they were concerned about inter-compatibility. Java is capable of doing that, which is one of the reasons it’s a popular programming language on z/OS platforms.


C is a programming language that was initially developed for Unix computers rather than mainframes. But nowadays, C supports almost anything, including z/OS mainframe settings. That’s advantageous for mainframe programmers. Because C was created as a hacky language for creating programs rapidly rather than elegantly, developing C code may feel like an ad hoc, seat-of-your-pants exercise; nonetheless, C code tends to be very fast and adaptable.


You’ll adore C++, a programming language that potentially integrates the finest characteristics of C and Java, whether you like C but wish it were more ordered or like Java but wish its code were a bit less verbose. C++ is currently a well-liked programming language for z/OS, just as C and Java.

Assembler language

The majority of programmers do not consider writing assembly code to be enjoyable. However, it is occasionally necessary on mainframes, which is why Assembler is another crucial mainframe language to know. Compared to using a higher-level language, like COBOL, it allows you more control over your software.


Do you wish to write code that can be run without having to be compiled first? You should use REXX. On z/OS, it is the most popular interpreted language. This means that REXX code does not need to be initially compiled to execute on z/OS; although, if you want, you can choose to do so to hasten execution.

Any language that runs on Linux

It’s important to note that you can always add a Linux environment to your mainframe and use that environment to write in any language that Linux supports, which is essentially every language there is. This is useful if your z/OS mainframe does not already support your preferred programming language (yes, even COBOL, which you can build for Linux if you want).

So long as you don’t mind using a little Linux, there is a way for you to use Python, Perl, or other popular Linux languages on your mainframe.

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