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The principal means of defining data types in Cobol. The syntax of an elementary data item is defined by means of a character string. Simple examples are “A(20)” defining a string of 20 alphabetic characters, or “9(4)” defining a string of 4 digits. Particularly in the case of numeric items that are to be printed or displayed, the PICTURE clause provides considerable power: it is possible, for instance, to specify the position of the decimal point (explicit or implicit); the presence and position of the sign (+ or -) or of currency symbols; filling out digit strings with zeros or blanks (leading, embedded, or trailing); insertion of commas into long numbers. The MOVE verb, which is used to assign the value of one variable to another, automatically carries out format conversion according to the picture of the receiving item.

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