Sharing data by using the EXTERNAL clause

Use the EXTERNAL clause to enable separately compiled programs and methods (including programs in a batch sequence) to share data items. Code EXTERNAL in the level-01 data description in the WORKING-STORAGE SECTION.

The following rules apply:

  • Items that are subordinate to an EXTERNAL group item are themselves EXTERNAL.
  • You cannot use the name of an EXTERNAL data item as the name for another EXTERNAL item in the same program.
  • You cannot code the VALUE clause for any group item or subordinate item that is EXTERNAL.

In the run unit, any COBOL program or method that has the same data description for the item as the program that contains the item can access and process that item. For example, suppose program A has the following data description:


01 EXT-ITEM1     EXTERNAL     PIC 99.

Program B can access that data item if B has the identical data description in its WORKING-STORAGE SECTION.

Any program that has access to an EXTERNAL data item can change the value of that item. Therefore do not use this clause for data items that you need to protect.