COBOL-Use Of Key Phrase In Occurs Clause

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In COBOL, internal arrays play prominent role. How to define an array is very important. We can define single dimension array, multi-dimension array, also can define, variable records in an array.

There is no limitation on size of an array (Occurs limit). Maximum 7 dimensions we can define in an array.

Earlier post I have discussed about Indexed By phrase. In this post I want to show you, how we can define KEY phrase in an array.

Tip: SEARCH ALL works only for sorted table. That means, you must define both INDEXED BY and KEY IS phrases on a Table, on which you are searching.

Key Definition  

The KEY phrase in an OCCURS clause states that the table is sorted by the sequence of keys named data-name-3.

Each of the fields named by data-name-3 must be part of the table—either items subordinate to this data item or possibly the data-name of the table itself.

The purpose of the KEY clause is to define the table’s ordering when you use the SEARCH statement with the ALL phrase.


Ascending/Descending KEY is data-name-3

Data-name-3 can be qualified, but it must not be subscripted even though it is a table element, since the reference is really to the entire table.

Each key must be described as either ASCENDING or DESCENDING. This defines the order, either from lowest to highest (ASCENDING) or highest to lowest (DESCENDING) in which the table is arranged. The order is determined by either numeric comparison for a numeric data-name-3 or non-numeric comparison for other operands. The keys are listed in order of their significance from major to minor.

The presence of a KEY clause does not mean that the table is necessarily in sorted order, nor does it cause the table to be sorted. It merely states the expected order of the table.

The SEARCH statement  works correctly only if the table is in the order specified by the keys.

Here is an example of a table defined with two keys:
          05 NAME      PIC X(20).
         05 ADDRESS   PIC X(20) OCCURS 3 TIMES.
         05 CITY      PIC X(20).
         05 STATE     PIC XX.
         05 ZIP       PIC 9(5).

**Important interview question:-

How sorting occurs?

This example shows a table (MAIL-LIST) whose elements are (expected to be) in order by STATE (from lowest to highest). Elements of the table with the same STATE will be in order by CITY (from lowest to highest).

Interview Question:

  • Indexed By and KEY is – Both are different phrases in the context of OCCURS.
  • The phrase INDEXED BY, we use to retrieve a record dynamically. The KEY IS, a phrase you can use to sort an array.

Author: Srini

Experienced software developer. Skills in Development, Coding, Testing and Debugging. Good Data analytic skills (Data Warehousing and BI). Also skills in Mainframe.