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III Overview of the Ada Language

In addition to these aspects, the language supports real-time programming, with facilities to define the invocation, synchronization, and timing of parallel tasks. It also supports systems programming, with facilities that allow access to system-dependent properties, and precise control over the representation of data.

The fact that the limited and predominantly upward compatible enhancements incorported in Ada 95 allow it to support state-of-the-art programming in the nineties and beyond, reconfirms the validity of Ada's underlying principles, and is a proof of the excellent foundation provided by the original design.

III.1 Objects, Types, Classes and Operations

This describes two fundamental concepts of Ada: types, which determine a set of values with associated operations, and objects, which are instances of those types. Objects hold values. Variables are objects whose values can be changed; constants are objects whose values cannot be changed.

III.1.1 Objects and Their Types

Every object has an associated type. The type determines a set of possible values that the object can contain, and the operations that can be applied to it. Users write declarations to define new types and objects.

Ada is a block-structured language in which the scope of declarations, including object and type declarations, is static. Static scoping means that the visibility of names does not depend on the input data when the program is run, but only on the textual structure of the program. Static properties such as visibility can be changed only by modifying and recompiling the source code.

Objects are created when the executing program enters the scope where they are declared (elaboration); they are deleted when the execution leaves that scope (finalization). In addition, allocators are executable operations that create objects dynamically. An allocator produces an access value (a value of an access type), which provides access to the dynamically created object. An access value is said to designate an object. Access objects are only allowed to designate objects of the type specified by the access type. Access types correspond to pointer types or references in other programming languages.

A type, together with a (possibly null) constraint, forms a subtype. User-defined subtypes constrain the values of the subtype to a subset of the values of the type. Subtype constraints are useful for run-time error detection, because they show the programmer's intent. Subtypes also allow an optimizing compiler to make more efficient use of hardware resources, because they give the compiler more information about the behavior of the program.

User-defined types provide a finer classification of objects than the predefined types, and hence greater assurance that operations are applied to only those objects for which the operations are meaningful.

III.1.2 Types, Classes and Views

Types in Ada can be categorized in a number of different ways. There are elementary types, which cannot be decomposed further, and composite types which, as the term implies, are composed of a number of components. The most important form of composite type is the record which comprises a number of named components themselves of arbitrary and possibly different types.

Records in Ada 95 are generalized to be extensible and form the basis for object-oriented programming. Such extensible record types are known as tagged types; values of such types include a tag denoting the type which is used at runtime to distinguish between different types. Record types not marked as tagged may not be extended and correspond to the record types of Ada 83.

New types may be formed by derivation from any existing type which is then known as the parent type. A derived type inherits the components and primitive operations of the parent type. In the case of deriving from a tagged record type, new components can be added thereby extending the type. In all cases new operations can be added and existing operations replaced.

The set of types derived directly or indirectly from a specific type, together with that type form a derivation class. The types in a class share certain properties (they all have the components of the common ancestor or root type for example) and this may be exploited in a number of ways. Treating the types in a class interchangeably by taking advantage of such common properties is termed polymorphism.

There are two means of using polymorphism in Ada. Static polymorphism is provided through the generic parameter mechanism whereby a generic unit may at compile time be instantiated with any type from a class of types. Dynamic polymorphism is provided through the use of so-called class-wide types and the distinction is then made at runtime on the basis of the value of a tag.

A class-wide type is declared implicitly whenever a tagged record type is defined. The set of values of the class-wide type is the union of the sets of values of all the types of the class. Values of class-wide types are distinguished at runtime by the value of the tag giving class-wide programming or dynamic polymorphism. The class-wide type associated with a tagged record type T is denoted by the attribute T'Class. Objects and operations may be defined for such class-wide types in the usual way.

As well as derivation classes, Ada also groups types into a number of predefined classes with common operations. This aids the description of the language and, moreover, the common properties of certain of these predefined classes may be exploited through the generic mechanism.

A broad hierarchical classification of Ada types is illustrated in Figure III-1. The following summary of the various types gives their key properties.

Record, protected and task types may be parameterized by special components called discriminants. A discriminant may be either of a discrete type or of an access type. A discriminant of a discrete type may be used to control the structure or size of an object. More generally, a discriminant of an access type may be used to parameterize a type with a reference to an object of another type. A discriminant may also be used in the initialization of an object of a protected or task type.

Ada provides a special syntax for defining new types within the various categories as illustrated by the following examples.

   type Display_Color is   -- an enumeration type
      (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet);

   type Color_Mask is   -- an array type
      array (Display_Color) of Boolean;

   type Money is   -- a decimal fixed type
      delta 0.01 digits 18;

   type Payment is   -- a record type
         Amount: Money;
         Due_Date: Date;
         Paid: Boolean;
      end record;

   task type Device is   -- a task type
      entry Reset;
   end Device;

   type Dev is access Device;   -- an access type

   protected type Semaphore is   -- a protected type
      procedure Release;
      entry Seize;
      Mutex: Boolean := False;
   end Semaphore;

The following example illustrates a tagged type and type extension. A tagged type declaration takes the form

   type Animal is tagged
         Species: Species_Name;
         Weight: Grams;
      end record;
and we may then declare
   function Image(A: Animal) return String;
      -- Returns a human-readable identification of an Animal

   The type Animal could then be extended as follows

   type Mammal is new Animal with
         Hair_Color: Color_Enum;
      end record;
and a corresponding
   function Image(M: Mammal) return String;
      -- Returns a human-readable identification of a Mammal

The type Mammal has all the components of Animal and adds an additional component to describe the color of the mammal's hair. The process of extension and refinement could continue with other types such as Reptile and Primate leading to a tree-structured hierarchy of classes as depicted in Figure III-2.

                   |             |
              Reptile'Class   Mammal'Class

               Figure III-2: A Derivation Class Hierarchy

It is important to observe that we have shown the hierarchy in terms of the class-wide types such as Mammal'Class rather than the specific types such as Mammal. This is to emphasize the fact that the type Mammal is not a subtype of Animal; Mammal and Animal are distinct types and values of one type cannot be directly assigned to objects of the other type. However, a value can be converted to an ancestor type (any type if untagged) of the same derivation class by using a type conversion; a value of a descendant tagged type can be formed by using an extension aggregate.

There are a number of other important concepts concerning types regarding the visibility of their components and operations which may be described as providing different views of a type.

For example, a private type is a type defined in a package whereby the full details of the implementation of the type are only visible inside the body and private part of the package. Private types are of fundamental importance in providing data abstraction.

Furthermore, a limited type is a type for which certain operations such as predefined assignment are not available. A type may be inherently limited (such as a task type or a protected type or a record type marked explicitly as limited) or it may be that just a certain view is limited. Thus a private type may be declared as limited and the full type as seen by the body need not be limited.

III.1.3 Operations and Overloading

There is a set of operations associated with each type. An operation is associated with a type if it takes parameters of the type, or returns a result of the type. Some operations are implicitly provided when a type is defined; others are explicitly declared by the user.

A set of operations is implicitly provided for each type declaration. Which operations are implicitly provided depends on the type, and may include any of the following

The explicitly declared operations of the type are the subprograms that are explicitly declared to take a parameter of the type, or to return a result of the type. There are two kinds of subprograms: procedures and functions. A procedure defines a sequence of actions; a procedure call is a statement that invokes those actions. A function is like a procedure, but also returns a result; a function call is an expression that produces the result when evaluated. Subprogram calls may be indirect, through an access value.

Procedures may take parameters of mode in, which allows reading of the parameters, mode out, which allows writing of the parameters, and mode in out, which allows both reading and writing of the parameters. In Ada 95, a parameter of mode out behaves like a variable and both reading and writing are allowed; however, it is not initialized by the actual parameter. All function parameters are of mode in. An in parameter may be an access parameter. Within the subprogram, an access parameter may be dereferenced to allow reading and writing of the designated object.

The primitive operations of a type are the implicitly provided operations of the type, and, for a type immediately declared within a package specification, those subprograms of the type that are also explicitly declared immediately within the same package specification. A derived type inherits the primitive operations of its parent type, which may then be overridden.

The name of an explicitly declared subprogram is a designator, that is, an identifier or an operator symbol (see the list of operator symbols above). Operators are a syntactic convenience; the operator notation is always equivalent to a function call. For example, X + 1 is equivalent to "+"(X, 1). When defining new types, users can supply their own implementations for any or all of these operators, and use the new operators in expressions in the same way that predefined operators are used.

The benefits of being able to use the operator symbol "+" to refer to the addition function for every numeric type are apparent. The alternative of having to create a unique name for each type's addition function would be cumbersome at best.

The operators are just one example of overloading, where a designator (e.g., "+") is used as the name for more than one entity. Another example of overloading occurs whenever a new type is derived from an existing one. The new type inherits operations from the parent type, including the designators by which the operations are named; these designators are overloaded on the old and new types. Finally, the user may introduce overloading simply by defining several subprograms that have the same name. Overloaded subprograms must be distinguishable by their parameter and result types.

The user can also provide new meanings for existing operators. For example, a new meaning of "=" can be provided for all types (only for limited types in Ada 83).

Ada compilers must determine a unique meaning for every designator in a program. The process of making this determination is called overload resolution. The compiler uses the context in which the designator is used, including the parameter and result types of subprograms, to perform the overload resolution. If a designator cannot be resolved to a single meaning, then the program is illegal; such ambiguities can be avoided by specifying the types of subexpressions explicitly.

Many attributes are defined by the language. Attributes denote various properties, often defined for various classes of Ada's type hierarchy. In some cases, attributes are user-specifiable via an attribute definition clause, allowing users to specify a property of an entity that would otherwise be chosen by default. For example, the ability to read and write values of a type from an external medium is provided by the operations T'Read and T'Write. By writing

   type Matrix is ...
   for Matrix'Read use My_Matrix_Reader;
   for Matrix'Write use My_Matrix_Writer;
the predefined operations are overridden by the user's own subprograms.

III.1.4 Class Wide Types and Dispatching

Associated with each tagged type T is a class-wide type T'Class. Class- wide types have no operations of their own. However, users may define explicit operations on class-wide types. For example

   procedure Print(A: in Animal'Class);
      -- Print human-readable information about an Animal

The procedure Print may be applied to any object within the class of animals described above.

A programmer can define several operations having the same name, even though each operation has a different implementation. The ability to give distinct operations the same name can be used to indicate that these operations have similar, or related, semantics. When the intended operation can be determined at compile time, based on its parameter and result types, overloading of subprogram names is used. For example, the predefined package Text_IO contains many operations called Put, all of which write a value of some type to a file. The implementation of Put is different for different types.

Dispatching provides run-time selection of the proper implementation in situations where the type of an argument to an operation cannot be determined until the program is executed, and in fact might be different each time the operation is invoked.

Ada 95 provides dispatching on the primitive operations of tagged types. When a primitive operation of a tagged type is called with an actual parameter of a class-wide type, the appropriate implementation is chosen based on the tag of the actual value. This choice is made at run time and represents the essence of dynamic polymorphism. (Note that, in some cases, the tag can be determined at compile time; this is simply regarded as an optimization.)

Continuing the example from above, we demonstrate both overloading and dispatching

   procedure Print(S: in String);
      -- Print a string

   procedure Print(A: in Animal'Class) is
      -- Print information on an animal
   end Print;

The Print operation is overloaded. One version is defined for String and a second is defined for Animal'Class. The call to Print within the second version resolves at compile time to the version of Print defined on String (because Image returns a String); no dispatching is involved. On the other hand, Image (see example in III.1.2) is indeed a dispatching operation: depending on the tag of A the version of Image associated with Animal or Mammal etc, will be called and this choice is made at runtime.

III.1.5 Abstraction and Static Evaluation

The emphasis on high performance in Ada applications, and the requirement to support interfacing to special hardware devices, mean that Ada programmers must be able to engineer the low-level mapping of algorithms and data structures onto physical hardware. On the other hand, to build large systems, programmers must operate at a high level of abstraction and compose systems from understandable building blocks. The Ada type system and facilities for separate compilation are ideally suited to reconciling these seemingly conflicting requirements.

Ada's support for static checking and evaluation make it a powerful tool, both for the abstract specification of algorithms, and for low- level systems programming and the coding of hardware-dependent algorithms. By static, we mean computations whose results can be determined by analyzing the source code without knowing the values of input data or any other environmental parameters that can change between executions of the program.

Ada requires static type checking. The "scope" (applicability or lifetime) of declarations is determined by the source code. Careful attention is given to when the sizes of objects are determined. Some objects' sizes are static, and other objects' sizes are not known until run time, but are fixed when the objects are created. The size of an object is only allowed to change during program execution if the object's size depends on discriminant values, and the discriminants have a default value. Other variable-size data structures can be created using dynamically allocated objects and access types.

Ada supports users who want to express their algorithms at the abstract level and depend on the compiler to choose efficient implementations, as well as users who need to specify implementation details but also want to declare the associated abstractions to the compiler to facilitate checking during both initial development and maintenance.

III.2 Statements, Expressions and Elaboration

Statements are executed at run time to cause an action to occur. Expressions are evaluated at run time to produce a value of some type. Names are also evaluated at run time in the general case; names refer to objects (containing values) or to other entities such as subprograms and types. Declarations are elaborated at run time to produce a new entity with a given name.

Many expressions and subtype constraints are statically known. Indeed, the Ada compiler is required to evaluate certain expressions and subtypes at compile time. For example, it is common that all information about a declaration is known at compile time; in such cases, the run-time elaboration need not actually execute any machine code. The language defines a mechanism that allows Ada compilers to preelaborate certain kinds of units; i.e., the actual actions needed to do the elaboration are done once before the program is ever run instead of many times, each time it is run.

III.2.1 Declarative Parts

Several constructs of the language contain a declarative part followed by a sequence of statements. For example, a procedure body takes the form

   procedure P(...) is
      I: Integer := 1;  -- this is the declarative part
      ...               -- this is the statement sequence
      I := I * 2;
   end P;

The execution of the procedure body first elaborates all of the declarations given in the declarative part in the order given. It then executes the sequence of statements in the order given (unless a transfer of control causes execution to go somewhere other than to the next statement in the sequence).

The effect of elaborating the declarations is to cause the declared entities to come into existence, and to perform other declaration- specific actions. For example, the elaboration of a variable declaration may initialize the variable to the value of some expression. Often, such expressions are evaluated at compile time. However, if the declarations contain non-static expressions, then the elaboration will need to evaluate those expressions at run-time.

Controlled types allow programmers a means to define what happens to objects at the beginning and end of their lifetimes. For such types, the programmer may define an initialization operation, to be automatically invoked when an object of the type is elaborated, and a finalization operation to be automatically invoked when the object becomes inaccessible. (Declared objects become inaccessible when their scope is left. Objects created by allocators become inaccessible when Unchecked_Deallocation is called, or when the scope of the access type is left.) Controlled types provide a means to reliably program dynamic data structures, prevent storage leakage, and leave resources in a consistent state.

III.2.2 Assignments and Control Structures

An assignment statement causes the value of a variable to be replaced by that of an expression of the same type. Assignment is normally performed by a simple bit copy of the value provided by the expression. However, in the case of nonlimited controlled types, assignment can be redefined by the user.

Case statements and if statements allow selection of an enclosed sequence of statements based on the value of an expression. The loop statement allows an enclosed sequence of statements to be executed repeatedly, as directed by an iteration scheme, or until an exit statement is encountered. A goto statement transfers control to a place marked with a label. Additional control mechanisms associated with multitasking and exception handling are discussed below (see III.4 and III.5).

III.2.3 Expressions

Expressions may appear in many contexts, within both declarations and statements. Expressions are similar to expressions in most programming languages: they may refer to variables, constants and literals, and they may use any of the value-returning operations described in III.1.3. An expression produces a value. Every expression has a type that is known at compile time.

III.3 System Construction

Ada was designed specifically to support the construction of large, complex, software systems. Therefore, it must allow the composition of programs from small, understandable building blocks, while still allowing programmers to engineer the low-level mapping of algorithms and data structures onto physical hardware. Ada provides support for modern software development techniques with the following capabilities

The following subsections describe this support in more detail.

III.3.1 Program Units

Ada programs are composed of the following kinds of program units

Program units may be nested within each other, in the same way as in other block-structured languages. Furthermore, they may be separately compiled.

As we shall see later, packages at the so-called library level may have child units. Ada has a hierarchical structure both at the external level of compilation and internal to a program unit.

Each program unit may be given in two parts: The specification defines the interface between the unit (the "server") and its users ("clients"). The body defines the implementation of the unit; users do not depend on the implementation details.

For packages, the specification consists of the visible part and the private part. The visible part defines the logical interface to the package. The private part defines the physical interface to the package, which is needed to generate efficient code, but has no effect on the logical properties of the entities exported by the package. Thus, the private part may be thought of as part of the implementation of the package, although it is syntactically part of the specification in order to ease the generation of efficient code.

The various parts of a package take the following form

    -- this is a package specification:
   package Example is
      -- this is the visible part
      -- declarations of exported entities appear here
      type Counter is private;
      procedure Reset(C: in out Counter);
      procedure Increment(C: in out Counter);
      -- this is the private part
      -- declarations appearing here are not exported
      type Counter is range 0 .. Max;
   end Example;

    -- this is the corresponding package body:
   package body Example is

      -- implementations of exported subprograms appear here
      -- entities that are used only in the implementation
      -- are also declared here
      Zero: constant Counter := 0;
        -- declaration of constant only used in the body

      procedure Reset(C: in out Counter) is
         C := Zero;
      end Reset;

      procedure Increment(C: in out Counter) is
         C := C + 1;
      end Increment;

   end Example;

Tasks and protected objects may also have a private part.

III.3.2 Private Types and Information Hiding

Packages support information hiding in the sense that users of the package cannot depend on the implementation details that appear in the package body. Private types provide additional information-hiding capability. By declaring a type and its operations in the visible part of a package specification, the user can create a new abstract data type.

When a type is declared in a package specification, its implementation details may be hidden by declaring the type to be private. The implementation details are given later, as a full type declaration in the private part of the package.

The user of a private type is not allowed to use information about the full type. Users may declare objects of the private type, use the assignment and equality operations, and use any operations declared as subprograms in the visible part of the package. The private type declaration may allow users to refer to discriminants of the type, or it may keep them hidden. A private type may also be declared as limited, in which case even assignment and predefined equality operations are not available (although the programmer may define an equality operation and export it from the package where the type is declared).

In the private part, in the body of the package, and in the appropriate parts of child library units (see III.3.6), the type is not private: all operations of the type may be used in these places. For example, if the full type declaration declares an array type, then outside users of the type are not allowed to index array components, because these implementation details are hidden. However, code in the package body is allowed the complete set of array operations, because it can see the full type declaration.

III.3.3 Object Oriented Programming

Modern software development practices call for building programs from reusable parts, and for extending existing systems. Ada supports such practices through object oriented programming features. The basic principle of object oriented programming is to be able to define one part of a program as an extension of another, pre-existing, part. The basic building blocks of object-oriented programming were discussed in III.1.

Abstract data types may be defined in Ada using packages and private types. Types may be extended by adding new packages, deriving from existing types, and adding new operations to derived types. For non- tagged types, such extension is "static" in the sense that the compiler determines which operations apply to which objects according to the typing and overloading rules. For tagged types, however, operation selection is determined at run time, using the tag carried by each such object. This allows easy extension of existing types. To add a new tagged type, the programmer derives from an existing tagged parent type, possibly adding new record components. The programmer may override existing operations with new implementations. Then, all calls to the existing operation will automatically call the new operation in the appropriate cases; there is no need to change or even to recompile such pre-existing code. For tagged types, it is possible to write class-wide operations by defining subprograms that take parameters of a class-wide type. Class-wide programming allows the programmer to avoid redundancy in cases where an operation makes sense for all types in a class, and where the implementation of that operation is essentially the same for all types in the class.

III.3.4 Generic Units

Generic program units allow parameterization of program units. The parameters can be types and subprograms as well as objects. A normal (non-generic) program unit is produced by instantiating a generic unit; the normal program unit is said to be an instance of the generic unit. An instance of a generic package is a package; an instance of a generic subprogram is a subprogram.

The instance is a copy of the generic unit, with actual parameters substituted for generic formal parameters. Generic units may be implemented by actually generating new code for each instance, or by sharing the code for multiple instances, and passing information about the parameters at run time.

An example of a generic package is a generic linked list package that works for any element type. The data type of the elements would be passed in as a parameter. The algorithms for manipulating the lists are independent of the actual element type. Instances of the generic package would support linked lists with a particular element type. If the element type is a tagged class-wide type, then heterogeneous lists can be created, containing elements of any type in the class. Generic formal derived types permit generic units to be developed for derivation classes. Generic formal packages allow a generic unit to be parameterized by an instance of another generic package.

III.3.5 Separate Compilation

Ada allows the specifications and bodies of program units to be separately compiled. A separately compiled piece of code is called a compilation unit. The Ada compiler provides the same level of compile- time checking across compilation units as it does within a single compilation unit. For example, in a procedure call, the actual parameters must match the types declared for the formal parameters. This rule is checked whether the procedure declaration and the procedure call are in the same compilation unit, or different compilation units.

Ada compilers work within the context of a program environment, which contains information about the compilation units in a program. This information is used in part to check rules across compilation unit boundaries. There are rules about order of compilation that ensure that the compiler always has enough information to check all the rules. For example, a specification must be within the environment before all units that have visibility to names declared in that specification can be compiled.

III.3.6 Library Units

A program environment contains information concerning a collection of library units. Library units may be packages, subprograms, or generic units.

Package library units may have child library units. Thus, an entire hierarchy of library units may be created: the root of each tree is called a root library unit; the tree contains the root library unit, plus all of its children and their descendants.

A library unit specification and its body are compilation units; that is, they may be compiled separately.

Visibility among library units is achieved using context clauses; a compilation unit can see a particular library unit if it names that library unit in a context clause. Both root library units and child units may be named in a context clause. In addition, the child library units of a parent can see the parent, including the parent's private declarations, and the body of a unit always has visibility into its specification.

Child units may be used to reduce recompilation costs. Apart from dependencies created by context clauses, the immediate children of a given unit may be recompiled in any order. Therefore, if an existing library unit is extended by adding a child unit, the existing unit need not be recompiled; adding a child is accomplished without changing the source code of the parent. More importantly, other units that depend on the existing parent unit will not need to be recompiled.

The root library units are considered to be children of package Standard: context clauses and compilation ordering rules work the same way. Thus, child units are a straightforward generalization of Ada 83 library units.

As an example consider the following

   package Root is
      -- specification of a root library unit
   end Root;


   package Root.Child is
      -- specification of a child library unit
   end Root.Child;


   package body Root.Child is
      -- body of the child library unit
   end Root.Child;


   private package Root.Local_Definitions is
      -- a private child package specification
   end Root.Local_Definitions;


   package body Root is
       -- body of the root library unit
   end Root;

The lines in the above example indicate the separate compilation units; they may be submitted to the compiler separately. Note that the child library units are clearly distinguishable by their expanded names (based on the parent's name). The example also shows a private child package - a private child unit is visible only within the hierarchy of units rooted at its parent.

Sometimes, the body of a library unit becomes very large, because it contains one or more nested bodies. In such cases, Ada allows the nested bodies to be separately compiled as subunits. The nested body is replaced by a body stub. The subunit, which is given separately, must name its parent unit. Visibility within the subunit is as if it had appeared at the place where its body stub occurs. Subunits also support an incremental style of top-down development, because a unit may be compiled with one or more body stubs - allowing the development of those bodies to be deferred.

III.3.7 Program Composition

An executable software system is known in Ada as a program. A program is composed of one or more compilation units.

A program may be divided into separate partitions, which may represent separate address spaces. Implementations may provide mechanisms for user-defined inter-partition communication. The Distributed Systems annex defines a minimal standard interface for such communication. Partitions are intended to support distributed processing, as explained in the annex. Of course, many programs will not be partitioned; such programs consist of a single partition.

To build a partition, the user identifies a set of library units to be included. The partition consists of those library units, plus other library units depended on by the named units. The Ada implementation automatically constructs this set of units before run time.

Each partition has an environment task, which is provided automatically by the Ada implementation. A partition may have a main subprogram, which must be a library unit subprogram. The environment task elaborates all of the library units that are part of the partition, and their bodies, in an appropriate order, and then calls the main subprogram, if any. The library units and the main program may create other tasks. Thus, an executing partition may contain a hierarchy of tasks, rooted at the environment task.

III.3.8 Interfacing to Other Languages

Large programs are often composed of parts written in several languages. Ada supports this by allowing inter-language subprogram calls, in both directions, and inter-language variable references, in both directions. The user specifies these interfaces using pragmas.

III.4 Multitasking

Ada tasking provides a structured approach to concurrent processing under the control of an Ada run-time system, which provides services such as scheduling and synchronization. This describes tasks and the methods that are used for synchronizing task execution and for communicating between tasks.

Tasking is intended to support tightly coupled systems in which the communication mechanisms may be implemented in terms of shared memory. Distributed processing, where the processors are loosely coupled, is addressed in the Distributed Systems annex.

III.4.1 Tasks

Tasks are entities whose execution may proceed in parallel. A task has a thread of control. Different tasks proceed independently, except at points where they synchronize.

If there is a sufficient number of processors, then all tasks may execute in parallel. Usually, however, there are more tasks than processors; in this case, the tasks will time-share the existing processors, and the execution of multiple tasks will be interleaved on the same processor.

A task is an object of a task type. There may be more than one object of a given task type. All objects of a given task type have the same entries (interface), and share the same code (body). As a result they all execute the same algorithm. Different task objects of the same type may be parameterized using discriminants. Task types are inherently limited types; assignment and equality operations are forbidden.

Task objects are created in the same ways as other objects: they may be declared by an object declaration, or created dynamically using an allocator. Tasks may be nested within other program units, in the same manner as subprograms and packages.

All tasks created by a given declarative part or allocator are activated in parallel. This means that they can logically start running in parallel with each other. The task that created these tasks waits until they have all finished elaborating their declarative parts; it then continues running in parallel with the tasks it created.

Every task has a master, which is the task, subprogram, block statement, or accept statement which contains the declaration of the task object (or an access type designating the task type, in some circumstances). The task is said to depend on its master. The task executing the master is called the parent task. Before leaving a master, the parent task waits for all dependent tasks. When all of those have been terminated, or are ready to terminate, the parent task proceeds. Tasks may be terminated prematurely with the abort statement.

III.4.2 Communication and Synchronization

For multiple tasks to cooperate, there must be mechanisms that allow the tasks to communicate and to synchronize their execution. Synchronization and communication usually go hand-in-hand. Ada tasks synchronize and communicate in the following situations

This flexibility allows the user to choose the appropriate synchronization and communication mechanisms for the problem at hand. They are depicted in Table III-1.

| Ada feature      Synchronization              Communication          |
|                                                                      |
|Task Creation     (not needed)                 Creator initializes    |
|                                               discriminants          |
|                                               of new task            |
|                                                                      |
|Task Activation   Creator waits for tasks      Activation failure     |
|                  being activated              might be reported      |
|                                                                      |
|Task Termination  Master waits for             (none)                 |
|                  children                                            |
|                                                                      |
|Rendezvous        Entry caller and acceptor    Entry parameters are   |
|                  wait for each other          passed between the     |
|                                               entry callerand the    |
|                                               acceptor               |
|                                                                      |
|Protected Object  Mutual exclusion during      Tasks communicate      |
|                  data access; queued          indirectly by          |
|                  waiting for entry barriers   reading and writing the|
|                                               components of          |
|                                               protected objects      |
|                                                                      |
|Unprotected       User-defined, low-level      Reading and writing of |
|Shared Variables  synchronization              shared variables       |

        Table III-1: Summary of Communication and Synchronization

III.4.3 Protected Objects

Protected types are used to synchronize access to shared data. A protected type may contain components in a private part. Moreover, a protected type may also contain functions, procedures, and entries - the protected operations of the protected type. The data being shared is declared either as components of the protected type, or as global variables, possibly designated by the components of the protected type. Protected types are inherently limited.

Calls to the protected operations are synchronized as follows. Protected functions provide shared read-only access to the shared data. Multiple tasks may execute protected functions at the same time. Protected procedures and entries provide exclusive read/write access to the shared data. If any task is executing a protected procedure or entry, then no other tasks are allowed to execute any protected operation at the same time; if they try, they must wait.

Protected objects provide a safe and efficient method of synchronizing shared data access. They are safe, because they perform the necessary synchronization operations automatically, and because all synchronizing operations are collected together syntactically. (This is in contrast to lower-level mechanisms such as semaphores, where the user of the shared data must remember to lock and unlock the semaphore.) They are efficient, because their intended implementation is close to the hardware: such as spin-locks in multiprocessor systems.

III.4.4 Protected Operations and Entries

Protected types may export functions, procedures, and entries as described above. Tasks may export entries. All of these operations are called using similar syntax: OBJ.OP(...), where OBJ is the name of the task or protected object, OP is the name of the operation, and (...) represents any actual parameters. Information is passed back and forth using in, in out, out parameters. It is the responsibility of the programmer to ensure that operations of protected objects execute for a bounded and short period of time.

A client task which calls an entry of a server task or protected object may be blocked and placed on a queue. When a server task accepts the entry call from a client task, we say that the two tasks are in rendezvous. At the beginning and the end of the rendezvous, data may be exchanged via parameters. When the rendezvous is over, the two tasks each continue execution in parallel.

Entries of protected objects are controlled by barrier expressions. When a task calls the entry, it can execute the operation immediately if the barrier expression is true; otherwise, the caller is placed on a queue until the barrier has become true. Protected functions and procedures do not have barrier expressions and, therefore, calls on them need not be queued.

From within a rendezvous or the entry body of a protected type it is possible to complete the interaction by requeuing on a further entry; this avoids race conditions which might occur with two quite distinct interactions.

Entries may also be declared in the private part of a task or protected object and thus not visible to external clients. Such entries may be called by internal tasks or by requeuing.

III.4.5 Select Statements

Select statements are used to specify that a task is willing to wait for any of a number of alternative events. Select statements take various forms.

Select statements used by a server task may contain

Select statements used by a client task may contain

Both of these forms of select statement can also contain, either


Whichever alternative becomes available first is chosen. Each alternative specifies an action to be executed if and when the alternative is chosen.

The final form of select statement provides for an asynchronous transfer of control; it contains

III.4.6 Timing

Ada provides features for measuring real time. A task may read the clock to find out what time it is. A task may delay for a certain period of time, or until a specific time.

As mentioned above, a delay alternative may be used to provide a time- out for communication or as a triggering event for initiating an asynchronous transfer of control.

III.4.7 Scheduling

Ada separates the concepts of synchronization and scheduling. Synchronization operations determine when tasks must block, and when they are ready to run. Scheduling is the method of allocating processors to ready tasks. The default scheduling policy is defined by the language. The Real-Time Systems annex defines another, priority-based, scheduling policy, based on a dispatching model. Finally, implementations are allowed to add their own policies, which can be specified by pragmas.

III.5 Exception Handling

Most programs need to recover gracefully from errors that occur during execution. Exception handling allows programs to handle such error situations without ceasing to operate.

An exception is used to name a particular kind of error situation. Some exceptions are predefined by the language; others may be defined by the user. Exceptions are declared in the same way as other entities

   Buffer_Full_Error: exception;
This exception might be used to represent the situation of a program trying to insert data into a buffer which is already full.

When the exceptional situation happens, the exception is raised. Language-defined exceptions are raised for errors in using predefined features of the language. These exceptions correspond to run-time errors in other languages. For example, the language-defined exception Constraint_Error is raised when a subtype constraint is violated at run time. User-defined exceptions are raised by the raise statement. To continue the Buffer_Full_Error example above, the implementation of the buffer data type might contain statements such as

   if Buffer_Index > Max_Buffer_Size then
      raise Buffer_Full_Error;
   end if;

Subprograms, package bodies, block statements, task bodies, entry bodies, and accept statements may have exception handlers. An exception handler specifies an action that should be performed when a particular exception is raised. When an exception is raised, the execution of the current sequence of statements is abandoned, and control is transferred to the exception handler, if there is one. Thus, the action of the exception handler replaces the rest of the execution of the sequence of statements that caused the error condition. If there is no exception handler in a particular scope, then the exception is propagated to the calling scope. If the exception is propagated all the way out to the scope of the environment task, then execution of the program is abandoned; this is similar to the way in which program execution is abandoned in other languages when run-time errors are detected.

The following example shows a block with two exception handlers

      when Buffer_Full_Error =>
      when Error: others =>
         Put_Line("Unexpected exception raised:");

The handlers recognize two situations: if Buffer_Full_Error is raised, the buffer is reset. If any other exception is raised, information about that exception is printed. For many applications, it is useful to get such information about an exception when it occurs. A handler may have a choice parameter (Error in the example above) of type Exception_Occurrence. The predefined function Exception_Information takes a parameter of this type and returns a String, providing information (including the name) about the exception. These and other related facilities are defined in a child of package Ada.

III.6 Low Level Programming

Although the majority of program text can be written in a machine- independent manner, most large software systems contain small portions that need to depend on low-level machine characteristics. Ada allows such dependence, while still allowing the high-level aspects of the algorithms and data structures to be described in an abstract manner. Many of an implementation's machine-specific characteristics are accessible through the package System. This defines storage-related types, an Address type, and relational and arithmetic operations on addresses.

III.6.1 Pragmas

A pragma is used to convey information to the compiler; it is similar to a compiler directive supported by other languages. A pragma begins with the reserved word pragma, an identifier which is the name of the pragma, and optionally one or more arguments.

Some pragmas are defined by the language. For example, pragma Inline indicates to the compiler that the code for a subprogram is to be expanded inline at each call whenever possible. Most pragmas apply to a single object, type, or program unit. Configuration pragmas are used to specify partition-wide or program-wide options.

Implementations may provide additional pragmas, as long as they do not syntactically conflict with existing ones or use reserved words. Unrecognized pragmas have no effect on a program, but their presence must be signaled with a warning message.

III.6.2 Specifying Representations

Normally, the programmer lets the Ada compiler choose the most efficient way of representing objects. However, Ada also provides representation clauses, which allow the user to specify the representation of an individual object, or of all objects of a type. Other representation clauses apply to program units.

The programmer may need to specify that the representation matches the representation used by some hardware or software external to the Ada program, in order to interface to that external entity. Or, the programmer may wish to specify a more efficient representation of certain objects in cases where the compiler does not have enough information to determine the best (most efficient) representation. In either case, data types and objects are first declared in the normal manner, giving their logical properties. Later in the same declarative part, the programmer gives the representation clauses.

In addition to representation clauses, the language defines certain pragmas that control aspects of representation. Implementations may provide additional representation pragmas.

There are predefined attributes that allow users to query aspects of representation. These are useful when the programmer needs to write code that depends upon the representation, although the user might not need to control the representation.

In the absence of representation clauses or pragmas, the compiler is free to choose any representation.

III.6.3 Unprotected Shared Variables

In Ada, variables may be shared among tasks according to the normal visibility rules: if two tasks can see the name of the same variable, then they may use that variable as shared data. However, it is up to the programmer to properly synchronize access to these shared variables. In most cases, data sharing can be achieved more safely with protected objects; unprotected shared variables are primarily used in low-level systems programming. Ada allows the user to specify certain aspects of memory allocation and code generation that may affect synchronization by specifying variables as volatile or atomic.

III.6.4 Unchecked Programming

Ada provides features for bypassing certain language restrictions. These features are unchecked; it is the programmer's responsibility to make sure that they do not violate the assumptions of the rest of the program. For example, there are mechanisms for manipulating access types that might leave dangling pointers, and there is a mechanism for converting data from one type to another, bypassing the type-checking rules.

The generic function Unchecked_Deallocation frees storage allocated by an allocator. It is unchecked in the sense that it can leave dangling pointers.

The generic function Unchecked_Conversion converts data from one type to another, bypassing all type-checking rules. The conversion is done simply by reinterpreting the bit pattern as a value of the target type; no conversion actually happens at run time (except possibly bit padding or truncation).

The attribute P'Unchecked_Access returns a typed access value to any aliased object of the appropriate type, bypassing the accessibility checking rules (but not the type rules).

III.7 Standard Library

All implementations provide a standard library of various packages. This includes the predefined package Standard which defines the predefined types such as Integer, and the package System which defines various entities relating to the implementation.

The standard library also includes packages Ada and Interfaces. The package Ada includes child packages for computing elementary functions and generating random numbers as well as child packages for string handling and character manipulation. The package Interfaces defines facilities for interfacing to other languages.

III.7.1 Input Output

Input-output capabilities are provided in Ada by predefined packages and generic packages.

III.8 Application Specific Facilities

Previous sections of this Overview have focused on the Core of the Ada language. Implementations may provide additional features, not by extending the language itself, but by providing specialized packages and implementation-defined pragmas and attributes. In order to encourage uniformity among implementations, without restricting functionality, the Specialized Needs Annexes define standards for such additional functionality for specific application areas. Implementations are not required to support all of these features. For example, an implementation specifically targeted to embedded machines might support the application-specific features for Real-Time Systems, but not the application-specific features for Information Systems.

The application areas discussed in the Annexes are

III.9 Summary

The goal of this chapter has been to provide a broad overview of the whole of the Ada language. It also demonstrates that the changes to the language represent a natural extension to the original design of Ada. As a consequence, the incompatibilities between Ada 83 and Ada 95 are minimal. Those of practical significance are described in detail in Appendix X.

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Laurent Guerby