COBOL, Lisp and Logo Get New Life Among Coders
Interpretations in Python, HTML5, and Node.js could bring in new devotees.

Old programming languages are getting a new lease on life through modern interpreters, thanks to developers with time to spare.

Here are three languages, up to 50 years old, that you can play with today because of creative interpretations. Current usage rankings are from the TIOBE Programming Community index for September 2016.

Language: COBOL
Designed: 1959
Current popularity: 24th
Implemented in: Node.js

Developer Bizău Ionică has made it easy to run COBOL in a Node.js web application. Once an interpreter is installed server-side, COBOL can be executed within Javascript.

An interpretation on a quickly scaleable platform is a big deal for clunky COBOL, which is famously verbose. The language was designed to be human-readable in business systems and some legacy code is still in use today.

Language: Lisp
Designed: 1958
Current usage: 28th
Implemented in: Python

The powerful list processing language, Lisp, had its heyday in the 1970s with early artificial intelligence research. Hy (Github link) allows you to code in Lisp and gives access to the Python Abstract Syntax Tree. Like COBOL in Node.js, Hy also lets developers embed directly into Python programs by importing the module.

Lisp is still in use today through its modern dialect, Clojure, which is used by companies including Netflix.  If you want to play with Lisp through Hy, cathode-ray-tube screen and all, you can experiment here.

Language: Logo
Designed: 1967
Current usage: 36th
Implemented in: HTML5

Ex-schoolchildren of a certain age will remember building programs to direct an electronic turtle to draw ferns and flowers – lucky users might even have been able to program a “real life” turtle, a kind of proto-Roomba.

While Logo has few practical industry uses, the language has been introducing children to programming concepts such as flow control and recursion for decades, although other languages such as Scratch are more popular now.

As the basic version of the language results in visual output, it makes sense that people have created HTML5/CSS3 interpretations. One of the most faithful and child-friendly, which includes animation, is this from Logo Interpreter.

See also

Investors Weigh in on Programming Language Choice


IBM BlueMix