Signed overpunch

signed overpunch is a code used to store the sign of a number by changing the last digit. It is used in character data on IBM mainframes by languages such as COBOL, PL/I, and RPG.[1] Its purpose is to save a character that would otherwise be used by the sign digit.[2] The code is derived from the Hollerith Punched Card Code, where both a digit and a sign can be entered in the same card column. Character data which may contain overpunches is called zoned decimal.

The PACK instruction on IBM System/360 architecture machines converts the sign of a zoned decimal number when converting to packed decimal, and the corresponding UNPK instruction will set the correct overpunched sign of its zoned decimal output.[3]

Language support


PL/I uses the PICTURE attribute to declare zoned decimal data with a signed overpunch. Each character in a numeric picture except V, which indicates the position of the assumed decimal point, represents a digit. A picture character of T, I, or R indicates a digit position which may contain an overpunch. T indicates that the position will contain {–I if positive and }–R if negative. I indicates that the position will contain {–I if positive and 0-9 if negative. R indicates that the position will contain 0–9 if positive and }–R if negative.

For example PICTURE ‘Z99R’ describes a four-character numeric field. The first position may be blank or will contain a digit 0–9. The next two positions will contain digits, and the fourth position will contain 0–9 for a positive number and }–R for negative.[4]

Assigning the value 1021 to the above picture will store the characters “1021” in memory; assigning -1021 will store “102J”.

The codes

Code Digit Sign
} 0
J 1
K 2
L 3
M 4
N 5
O 6
P 7
Q 8
R 9
{ 0 +
A 1 +
B 2 +
C 3 +
D 4 +
E 5 +
F 6 +
G 7 +
H 8 +
I 9 +


10} is -100
45A is 451

Decimal points are usually implied and not explicitly stated in the text. Using numbers with two decimal digits:

1000} is -100.00

ASCII representation

COBOL representation of signed overpunch characters “is not standardized in ASCII, and different compilers use different overpunch codes.” In most cases, “the representation is not the same as the result of converting an EBCDIC Signed field to ASCII with a translation table.”[5] PL/I compilers on ASCII systems use the same set of characters as in EBCDIC to represent overpunches.


  1. ^IBM Corporation (June 1994). RPG/400 Reference (PDF). p. 403. Retrieved Aug 7, 2018.
  2. ^“Tech Talk, COBOL Tutorials, EBCDIC to ASCII Conversion of Signed Fields”. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
  3. ^IBM Corporation (Oct 2001). z/Architecture Principles of Operation (2nd ed.). pp. 7–112, 7–158. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  4. ^IBM Corporation (June 1995). IBM PL/I for MVS & VM Language Reference (PDF). pp. 294–296. Retrieved Aug 2, 2018.
  5. ^“EBCDIC to ASCII Conversion of Signed Fields”. DISC Media Conversion Specialists. Retrieved Nov 29, 2018.

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