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2 Highlights of Ada 95

The brightest highlights of Ada 95 are its inherent reliability and its ability to provide abstraction through the package and private type. These features already exist in Ada 83 and so in a real sense Ada 83 already contains the best of Ada 95. Indeed, Ada 83 is already a very good language. However, time and technology do not stand still, and Ada 95 is designed to meet increased requirements which have arisen from three directions. These are: feedback from the use of existing paradigms; additional market requirements to match evolving hardware capability; and increased fundamental understanding which has introduced new paradigms. As we will see, Ada 95 follows on from the tradition of excellence of Ada 83 and meets these additional requirements in an outstanding manner.

One of the great strengths of Ada 83 is its reliability. The strong typing and related features ensure that programs contain few surprises; most errors are detected at compile time and of those remaining many are detected by runtime constraints. This aspect of Ada considerably reduces the costs and risks of program development compared for example with C or its derivatives such as C++.

However, Ada 83 has proved to be somewhat less flexible than might be desired in some circumstances. For example, it has not always proved straightforward to interface to non-Ada systems. Moreover, the type model coupled with the flat library mechanism can cause significant costs through the need for apparently unnecessary recompilation.

A prime goal of the design of Ada 95 has thus been to give the language a more open and extensible feel without losing the inherent integrity and efficiency of Ada 83. That is to keep the Software Engineering but allow more flexibility.

The additions in Ada 95 which contribute to this more flexible feel are type extension, the hierarchical library and the greater ability to manipulate pointers or references.

As a consequence, Ada 95 incorporates the benefits of Object Oriented languages without incurring the pervasive overheads of languages such as SmallTalk or the insecurity brought by the weak C foundation in the case of C++. Ada 95 remains a very strongly typed language but provides the prime benefits of all key aspects of the Object Oriented paradigm.

Another area of major change in Ada 95 is in the tasking model where the introduction of protected types allows a more efficient implementation of standard problems of shared data access. This brings the benefits of speed provided by low-level primitives such as semaphores without the risks incurred by the use of such unstructured primitives. Moreover, the clearly data-oriented view brought by the protected types fits in naturally with the general spirit of the Object Oriented paradigm.

Other improvements to the tasking model allow a more flexible response to interrupts and other changes of state.

Ada 95 also incorporates numerous other minor changes reflecting feedback from the use of existing features as well as specific new features addressing the needs of specialized applications and communities.

This chapter highlights the major new features of Ada 95 and the consequential benefits as seen by the general Ada user.

2.1 Programming by Extension

The key idea of programming by extension is the ability to declare a new type that refines an existing parent type by inheriting, modifying or adding to both the existing components and the operations of the parent type. A major goal is the reuse of existing reliable software without the need for recompilation and retesting.

Type extension in Ada 95 builds upon the existing Ada 83 concept of a derived type. In Ada 83, a derived type inherited the operations of its parent and could add new operations; however, it was not possible to add new components to the type. The whole mechanism was thus somewhat static. By contrast, in Ada 95 a derived type can also be extended to add new components. As we will see, the mechanism is much more dynamic and allows greater flexibility through late binding and polymorphism.

In Ada 95, record types may be extended on derivation provided that they are marked as tagged. Private types implemented as record types can also be marked as tagged. As the name implies, a tagged type has an associated tag. The word tag is familiar from Pascal where it is used to denote what in Ada is known as a discriminant; as we shall see later, the Ada 95 tag is effectively a hidden discriminant identifying the type and so the term is very appropriate.

As a very simple example suppose we wish to manipulate various kinds of geometrical objects which form some sort of hierarchy. All objects will have a position given by their x- and y-coordinates. So we can declare the root of the hierarchy as

    type Object is tagged
          X_Coord: Float;
          Y_Coord: Float;
       end record;

The other types of geometrical objects will be derived (directly or indirectly) from this type. For example we could have

    type Circle is new Object with
          Radius: Float;
       end record;

and the type Circle then has the three components X_Coord, Y_Coord and Radius. It inherits the two coordinates from the type Object and the component Radius is added explicitly.

Sometimes it is convenient to derive a new type without adding any further components. For example

    type Point is new Object with null record;

In this last case we have derived Point from Object but naturally not added any new components. However, since we are dealing with tagged types we have to explicitly add with null record; to indicate that we did not want any new components. This has the advantage that it is always clear from a declaration whether a type is tagged or not. Note that tagged is of course a new reserved word; Ada 95 has a small number (six) of such new reserved words.

A private type can also be marked as tagged

    type Shape is tagged private;

and the full type declaration must then (ultimately) be a tagged record

    type Shape is tagged
       record ...

or derived from a tagged record such as Object. On the other hand we might wish to make visible the fact that the type Shape is derived from Object and yet keep the additional components hidden. In this case we would write

    package Hidden_Shape is
       type Shape is new Object with private;  -- client view
       type Shape is new Object with           -- server view
           -- the private components
       end record;
    end Hidden_Shape;

In this last case it is not necessary for the full declaration of Shape to be derived directly from the type Object. There might be a chain of intermediate derived types (it could be derived from Circle); all that matters is that Shape is ultimately derived from Object.

Just as in Ada 83, derived types inherit the operations which "belong" to the parent type &15; these are called primitive operations in Ada 95. User-written subprograms are classed as primitive operations if they are declared in the same package specification as the type and have the type as parameter or result.

Thus we might have declared a function giving the distance from the origin

    function Distance(O: in Object) return Float is
         return Sqrt(O.X_Coord**2 + O.Y_Coord**2);
    end Distance;

The type Circle would then sensibly inherit this function. If however, we were concerned with the area of an object then we might start with

    function Area(O: in Object) return Float is
       return 0.0;
    end Area;

which returns zero since a raw object has no area. This would also be inherited by the type Circle but would be inappropriate; it would be more sensible to explicitly declare

    function Area(C: in Circle) return Float is
       return Pi*C.Radius**2;
    end Area;

which will override the inherited operation.

It is possible to "convert" a value from the type Circle to Object and vice versa. From circle to object is easy, we simply write

    O: Object := (1.0, 0.5);
    C: Circle := (0.0, 0.0, 12.2);
    O := Object(C);

which effectively ignores the third component. However, conversion in the other direction requires the provision of a value for the extra component and this is done by an extension aggregate thus

C := (O with 46.8);

where the expression O is extended after with by the values of the extra components written just as in a normal aggregate. In this case we only had to give a value for the radius.

We now consider a more practical example which illustrates the use of tagged types to build a system as a hierarchy of types and packages. We will see how this allows the system to be extended without recompilation of the central part of the system. By way of illustration we start by showing the rigid way this had to be programmed in Ada 83 by the use of variants.

Our system represents the processing of alerts (alarms) in a ground mission control station. Alerts are of three levels of priority. Low level alerts are merely logged, medium level alerts cause a person to be assigned to deal with the problem and high level alerts cause an alarm bell to ring if the matter is not dealt with by a specified time. In addition, a message is displayed on various devices according to its priority.

First consider how this might have be done in Ada 83

    with Calendar; 
    package Alert_System is
       type Priority is (Low, Medium, High); 
       type Device is (Teletype, Console, Big_Screen); 
       type Alert(P: Priority) is
             Time_Of_Arrival: Calendar.Time;
             Message: Text; 
             case P is
                when Low => null;
                when Medium | High =>
                   Action_Officer: Person; 
                   case P is
                      when Low | Medium =>null;
                      when High =>
                         Ring_Alarm_At: Calendar.Time; 
                   end case; 
             end case;
          end record; 
       procedure Display(A: in Alert; On: in Device);
       procedure Handle(A: in out Alert); 
       procedure Log(A: in Alert);
       procedure Set_Alarm(A: in Alert); 
    end Alert_System;

Each alert is represented as a discriminated record with the priority as the discriminant. Perhaps surprisingly, the structure and processing depend on this discriminant in a quite complex manner. One immediate difficulty is that we are more or less obliged to use nested variants because of the rule that all the components of a record have to have different identifiers. The body of the procedure Handle might be

    procedure Handle(A: in out Alert) is
       A.Time_Of_Arrival := Calendar.Clock;
       Display(A, Teletype); 
       case A.P is
          when Low => null; -- nothing special
          when Medium | High => 
              A.Action_Officer := Assign_Volunteer;
              Display(A, Console); 
              case A.P is
                 when Low | Medium => null; 
                 when High =>
                    Display(A, Big_Screen);
              end case; 
       end case; 
    end Handle;

One problem with this approach is that the code is curiously complex due to the nested structure and consequently hard to maintain and error-prone. If we try to avoid the nested case statement then we have to repeat some of the code.

A more serious problem is that if, for example, we need to add a further alert category, perhaps an emergency alert (which would mean adding another value to the type Priority), then the whole system will have to be modified and recompiled. Existing reliable code will then be disturbed with the risk of subsequent errors.

In Ada 95 we can use a series of tagged types with a distinct procedure Handle for each one. This completely eliminates the need for case statements or variants and indeed the type Priority itself is no longer required because it is now inherent in the types themselves (it is implicit in the tag). The package specification now becomes

    with Calendar; 
    package New_Alert_System is
       type Device is (Teletype, Console, Big_Screen); 
       type Alert is tagged
             Time_Of_Arrival: Calendar.Time;
             Message: Text; 
          end record; 
       procedure Display(A: in Alert; On: in Device); 
       procedure Handle(A: in out Alert);
       procedure Log(A: inAlert); 
       type Low_Alert  is new Alert with null record; 
       type Medium_Alert is new Alert with
              Action_Officer: Person; 
          end record; 
       -- now override inherited operation
       procedure Handle(MA: in out Medium_Alert); 
       type High_Alert is new Medium_Alert with
             Ring_Alarm_At: Calendar.Time; 
          end record; 
       procedure Handle(HA: in out High_Alert); 
       procedure Set_Alarm(HA: in High_Alert); 
    end New_Alert_System;

In this formulation the variant record is replaced with the tagged type Alert and three types derived from it. Note that Ada 95 allows a type to be derived in the same package specification as the parent and to inherit all the primitive operations but we cannot add any new primitive operations to the parent after a type has been derived from it. This is different to Ada 83 where the operations were not derivable until after the end of the package specification. This change allows the related types to be conveniently encapsulated all in the same package.

The type Low_Alert is simply a copy of Alert (note with null record;) and could be dispensed with although it maintains equivalence with the Ada 83 version; Low_Alert inherits the procedure Handle from Alert. The type Medium_Alert extends Alert and provides its own procedure Handle thus overriding the inherited version. The type High_Alert further extends Medium_Alert and similarly provides its own procedure Handle. Thus instead of a single procedure Handle containing complex case statements the Ada 95 solution distributes the logic for handling alerts to each specific alert type without any redundancy.

Note that Low_Alert, Medium_Alert and High_Alert all also inherit the procedures Display and Log but without change. Finally, High_Alert adds the procedure Set_Alarm which is not used by the lower alert levels and thus it seems inappropriate to declare it for them.

The package body is as follows

    package body New_Alert_System is
       procedure Handle(A: in out Alert) is
          A.Time_Of_Arrival := Calendar.Clock;
          Display(A, Teletype); 
       end Handle; 
       procedure Handle(MA: in out Medium_Alert) is
          Handle(Alert(MA)); -- handle as plain alert
          MA.Action_Officer := Assign_Volunteer;
          Display(MA, Console); 
       end Handle; 
       procedure Handle(HA: in out High_Alert) is
          Handle(Medium_Alert(HA)); -- conversion
          Display(HA, Big_Screen);
       end Handle; 
       procedure Display(A: in Alert; On: in Device) is separate;
       procedure Log(A: in Alert) is separate; 
       procedure Set_Alarm(HA: in High_Alert) is separate; 
    end New_Alert_System;

Each distinct body for Handle contains just the code relevant to the type and delegates additional processing back to its parent using an explicit type conversion. Note carefully that all type checking is static and so no runtime penalties are incurred with this structure (the variant checks have been avoided).

In the Ada 95 model a new alert level (perhaps Emergency_Alert) can be added without recompilation (and perhaps more importantly, without retesting) of the existing code.

    with New_Alert_System; 
    package Emergency_Alert_System is
       type Emergency_Alert is
          new New_Alert_System.Alert with private; 
       procedure Handle(EA: in out Emergency_Alert); 
       procedure Display(EA: in Emergency_Alert;
                         On: in New_Alert_System.Device); 
       procedure Log(EA: in Emergency_Alert); 
    end Emergency_Alert_System;

In the Ada 83 model extensive recompilation would have been necessary since the variant records would have required redefinition. Thus we see that Ada 95 truly provides Programming by Extension.

2.2 Class Wide Programming

The facilities we have seen so far have allowed us to define a new type as an extension of an existing one. We have introduced the different kinds of alerts as distinct but related types. What we also need is a means to manipulate any kind of alert and to process it accordingly. We do this through the introduction of the notion of class-wide types.

With each tagged type T there is an associated type T'Class. This type comprises the union of all the types in the tree of derived types rooted at T. The values of T'Class are thus the values of T and all its derived types. Moreover a value of any type derived from T can be implicitly converted to the type T'Class.

Thus in the case of the type Alert the tree of types is as shown in Figure 2-1.

          |                   |                    |
      Low_Alert               |             Emergency_Alert

                Figure 2-1: A Tree of Types

A value of any of the alert types can be implicitly converted to Alert'Class. Note carefully that Medium_Alert'Class is not the same as Alert'Class; the former consists just of Medium_Alert and High_Alert.

Each value of a class-wide type has a tag which identifies its particular type from other types in the tree of types at runtime. It is the existence of this tag which gives rise to the term tagged types.

The type T'Class is treated as an unconstrained type; this is because we cannot possibly know how much space could be required by any value of a class-wide type because the type might be extended. As a consequence, although we can declare an object of a class-wide type we must initialize it and it is then constrained by the tag.

However, we can declare an access type referring to a class-wide type in which case the access could designate any value of the class-wide type from time to time. The use of access types is therefore a key factor in class-wide programming. Moreover, a parameter of a procedure can also be of a class-wide type. There is a strong analogy between class-wide types and other unconstrained types such as array types.

We can now continue our example by considering how we might buffer up a series of alerts and process them in sequence. The whole essence of the problem is that such a central routine cannot know of the individual types because we need it to work (without recompilation) even if we extend the system by adding a new alert type to it.

The central routine could thus take a class-wide value as its parameter so we might have

    procedure Process_Alerts(AC: in out Alert'Class) is
          Handle(AC); -- dispatch according to tag 
    end Process_Alerts;

In this case we do not know which procedure Handle to call until runtime because we do not know which specific type the alert belongs to. However, AC is of a class-wide type and so its value includes a tag indicating the specific type of the value. The choice of Handle is then determined by the value of this tag; the parameter is then implicitly converted to the appropriate specific alert type before being passed to the appropriate procedure Handle.

This runtime choice of procedure is called dispatching and is key to the flexibility of class-wide programming.

Before being processed, the alerts might be held on a heterogeneous queue using an access type

type Alert_Ptr is access Alert'Class;

and the central routine could manipulate the alerts directly from such a queue

    procedure Process_Alerts is
        Next_Alert: Alert_Ptr;
       Next_Alert := -- get next alert 
       Handle(Next_Alert.all); -- dispatch to appropriate Handle
    end Process_Alerts;

In this case, the value of the object referred to by Next_Alert is of a class-wide type and so includes a tag indicating the specific type. The parameter Next_Alert.all is thus dereferenced, the value of the tag gives the choice of Handle and the parameter is then implicitly converted as before and then passed to the chosen procedure Handle.

Dispatching may be implemented as a simple indirect jump through a table of subprograms indexed by the primitive operations such as Handle. This is generally much more efficient than the alternative of variant records and case statements, with their attendant variant checks.

2.3 Abstract Types and Subprograms

The final topic to be introduced in this brief introduction to the Object Oriented features of Ada 95 is the concept of abstract tagged types and abstract subprograms. These are marked as abstract in their declaration. The purpose of an abstract type is to provide a common foundation upon which useful types can be built by derivation. An abstract subprogram is a sort of place holder for an operation to be provided (it does not have a body).

An abstract tagged type can have abstract primitive subprograms and these dispatch. An abstract type on its own is of little use because we cannot declare an object of an abstract type.

Upon derivation from an abstract type we can provide actual subprograms for the abstract subprograms of the parent type (and it is in this sense that we said they were place holders). If all the abstract subprograms are replaced by proper subprograms then the type need not be declared as abstract and we can then declare objects of the type in the usual way. (The rules ensure that dispatching always works.)

Returning now to our example of processing alerts we could reformulate this so that the root type Alert was just an abstract type and then build the specific types upon this. This would enable us to program and compile all the general infrastructure routines for processing all alerts such as Process_Alerts in the previous section without any concern at all for the individual alerts and indeed before deciding what they should contain.

The baseline package could then simply become

    package Base_Alert_System is
       type Alert is abstract tagged null record;
       procedure Handle(A: in out Alert) is abstract; 
    end Base_Alert_System;

in which we declare the type Alert as a tagged null record with just the procedure Handle as an abstract subprogram; this does not have a body. (Note the abbreviated form for a null record declaration which saves us having to write record null; end record;)

We can now develop our alert infrastructure and then later add the normal alert system containing the three levels of alerts thus

    with Calendar; with Base_Alert_System; package Normal_Alert_System is type Device is (Teletype, Console, Big_Screen); type Low_Alert is new Base_Alert_System.Alert with record Time_Of_Arrival: Calendar.Time; Message: Text; end record; -- now provide actual subprogram for abstract one procedure Handle(LA: in out Low_Alert); procedure Display(LA: in Low_Alert; On: in Device); procedure Log(LA: in Low_Alert); type Medium_Alert is new Low_Alert with record Action_Officer: Person; end record; procedure Handle(MA: in out Medium_Alert); type High_Alert is new Medium_Alert with record Ring_Alarm_At: Calendar.Time; end record; procedure Handle(HA: in out High_Alert); procedure Set_Alarm(HA: in High_Alert); end Normal_Alert_System;

In this revised formulation we must provide a procedure Handle for Low_Alert to meet the promise of the abstract type. The procedures Display and Log now take a parameter of Low_Alert and the type Medium_Alert is more naturally derived from Low_Alert.

Note carefully that we did not make Display and Log abstract subprograms in the package Base_Alert_System. There was no need; it is only Handle that is required by the general infrastructure such as the procedure Process_Alerts and to add the others would weaken the abstraction and clutter the base level.

Corresponding changes are required to the package body; the procedure Handle previously applying to Alert now applies to Low_Alert and in the procedure Handle for Medium_Alert we need to change the type conversion in the call to the "parent" Handle which is of course now the procedure Handle for Low_Alert. The two procedures thus become

    procedure Handle(LA: in out Low_Alert) is
       LA.Time_Of_Arrival := Calendar.Clock;
       Display(LA, Teletype); 
    end Handle; 
    procedure Handle(MA: in out Medium_Alert) is
       Handle(Low_Alert(MA)); -- handle as low alert 
       MA.Action_Officer := Assign_Volunteer;
       Display(MA, Console); 
    end Handle;

When we now add our Emergency_Alert we can choose to derive this from the baseline Alert as before or perhaps from some other point in the tree picking up the existing facilities of one of the other levels.

2.4 Summary of Type Extension

The key points we have seen are as follows.

Ada 95 introduces the notion of tagged types. Only record (and private) types can be tagged. Values of tagged types carry a tag with them. The tag indicates the specific type. A tagged type can be extended on derivation with additional components.

Primitive operations of a type are inherited on derivation. The primitive operations are those implicitly declared, plus, in the case of a type declared in a package specification, all subprograms with a parameter or result of that type also declared in the package specification. Primitive operations can be overridden on derivation and further ones added.

A tagged type can be declared as abstract and can have abstract primitive subprograms. An abstract subprogram does not have a body but one can be provided on derivation. An abstract type provides a foundation for building specific types with some common protocol.

T'Class denotes the class-wide type rooted at T. Implicit conversion is allowed to values of T'Class. Objects and parameters of T'Class are treated as unconstrained. An appropriate access type can designate any value of T'Class.

Calling a primitive operation with an actual parameter of a class-wide type results in dispatching: that is the runtime selection of the operation according to the tag. This is often called late binding &15; a key property of Object Oriented languages.

Another term commonly encountered is polymorphism. Class-wide types are said to be polymorphic because their values are of different "shapes" (from the Greek poly, many, and morphe, form). Polymorphism is another property of Object Oriented languages.

One of the main advantages of type extension is that it can be done without recompiling and retesting an existing stable system. This is perhaps the most important overall characteristic of Object Oriented languages.

2.5 Dynamic Selection

In the previous section we mentioned late binding; this simply means that the procedure to be called is identified late in the compile-link-run process. All procedure calls were bound early in Ada 83 and this was one reason why the language felt so static; even the generic mechanism only deferred binding to instantiation which is still essentially a compile time process.

There were a number of reasons for taking such a static approach in Ada 83. There was concern for the implementation cost of dynamic binding, it was also clear that the presence of dynamic binding would reduce the provability of programs, and moreover it was felt that the introduction of generics where subprograms could be passed as parameters would cater for practical situations where formal procedure parameters were used in other languages.

However, the absence of dynamic binding in Ada 83 has been unfortunate. It is now realized that implementation costs are trivial and not necessarily pervasive; provability is not a relevant argument because we now know that in any safety-critical software where mathematical provability is a real issue, we only use a small subset of the language. And furthermore, the generic mechanism has proved not to be a sufficiently flexible alternative anyway.

We have seen how dispatching in Ada 95 is one mechanism for late binding. Another is provided by the manipulation of subprogram values through an extension of access types.

In Ada 95 an access type can refer to a subprogram; an access-to-subprogram value can be created by the Access attribute and a subprogram can be called indirectly by dereferencing such an access value. Thus we can write

    type Trig_Function is access function(F: Float) return Float;
    T: Trig_Function;
    X, Theta: Float;

and T can then "point to" functions such as Sin, Cos and Tan. We can then assign an appropriate access-to-subprogram value to T by for example

T := Sin'Access;

and later indirectly call the subprogram currently referred to by T as expected

X := T(Theta);

which is really an abbreviation for

X := T.all(Theta);

Just as with many other uses of access types the .all is not usually required but it would be necessary if there were no parameters.

The access to subprogram mechanism can be used to program general dynamic selection and to pass subprograms as parameters. It allows program call-back to be implemented in a natural and efficient manner.

There are a number of rules which ensure that access to subprogram values cannot be misused. Conformance matching ensures that the subprogram always has the correct number and type of parameters and there are rules about accessibility that ensure that a subprogram is not called out of context. Flexibility is thus gained without loss of integrity.

Simple classic numerical algorithms can now be implemented in Ada 95 in the same way as in languages such as Fortran but with complete security. Thus an integration routine might have the following specification

    type Integrand is access function(X: Float) return Float; 
    function Integrate(F: Integrand; From, To: Float;
                       Accuracy: Float := 1.0E-7) return Float;

and we might then write

Area := Integrate(Log'Access, 1.0, 2.0);

which will compute the area under the curve for log(x) from 1.0 to 2.0. Within the body of the function Integrate there will be calls of the actual subprogram passed as a parameter; this is a simple form of call-back.

A common paradigm within the process industry is to implement sequencing control through successive calls of a number of interpreter actions. A sequence compiler might interactively build an array of such actions which are then obeyed. Thus we might have

    type Action is access procedure;
    Action_Sequence: array(1 .. N) of Action;
    ... -- build the array
        -- and then obey it
    for I in Action_Sequence'Range loop
    end loop;

It is of course possible for a record (possibly private) to contain components whose types are access to subprogram types. Consider the following example of a package which provides facilities associated with the actions obtained when we press keys on our keyboard or perhaps click our mouse on a window button.

    package Push_Buttons is
       type Button is private; 
       type Button_Response is access procedure(B: in out Button);
       function Create(...) return Button; 
       procedure Push(B: in out Button); 
       procedure Set_Response(B: in out Button;
                              R: in Button_Response);
       procedure Default_Response(B: in out Button);
       type Button is
             Response: Button_Response := Default_Response'Access;
             ... -- other aspects of the button
          end record; 
    end Push_Buttons;

A button is represented as a private record containing a number of components describing properties of the button (position on screen for example). One component is an access to a procedure which is the action to be executed when the button is pushed. Note carefully that the button value is passed to this procedure as a parameter so that the procedure can obtain access to the other components of the record describing the button. The procedure Create fills in these other components and other functions (not shown) provide access to them. The procedure Push invokes the action of clicking the mouse and an appropriate default procedure is provided which warns the user if the button has not been set. The body might be as follows

    package body Push_Buttons is procedure Push(B: in out Button) is begin B.Response(B); -- indirect call end Push; procedure Set_Response(B: in out Button; R: in Button_Response) is begin B.Response := R; -- set procedure value in record end Set_Response; procedure Default_Response(B: in out Button) is begin Put("Button not set"); Monitor.Beep; end Default_Response; ... end Push_Buttons;

We can now set the specific actions we want when a button is pushed. Thus we might want some emergency action to take place when a big red button is pushed.

    Big_Red_Button: Button; 
    procedure Emergency(B: in out Button) is
       -- call fire brigade etc
    end Emergency;
    Set_Response(Big_Red_Button, Emergency'Access);

The reader will realize that the access to subprogram mechanism coupled with the inheritance and dispatching facilities described earlier enable very flexible yet secure dynamic structures to be programmed.

2.6 Other Access Types

We have just seen how access types in Ada 95 have been extended to provide a means of manipulating subprogram values. Access types have also been extended to provide more flexible access to objects.

In Ada 83, access values could only refer to objects dynamically created through the allocator mechanism (using new). It was not possible to access objects declared in the normal way. This approach was inherited from Pascal which had similar restrictions and was a reaction against the very flexible approach adopted by Algol 68 and C which can give rise to dangerous dangling references.

However, the ability to manipulate pointers is very valuable provided the risks can be overcome. The view taken by Ada 83 has proved unnecessarily inflexible, especially when interfacing to external systems possibly written in other languages.

In Ada 95 we can declare a general access type such as

type Int_Ptr is access all Integer;

and we can then assign the "address" of any variable of type Integer to a variable of type Int_Ptr provided that the designated variable is marked as aliased. So we can write

    IP: Int_Ptr;
    aliased Integer;
    IP := I'Access;

and we can then read and update the variable I through the access variable IP. Note once more the use of 'Access. Note also that aliased is another new reserved word.

As with access to subprogram values there are rules that (at compile time) ensure that dangling references cannot arise.

A variation is that we can restrict the access to be read-only by replacing all in the type definition by constant. This allows read-only access to any variable and also to a constant thus

    type Const_Int_Ptr is access constant Integer;
    CIP: Const_Int_Ptr;
    aliased Integer;
    aliased constant Integer := 1815;

followed by

    CIP := I'Access; -- access to a variable, or
    CIP := C'Access;
    -- access to a constant

The type accessed by a general access type can of course be any type such as an array or record. We can thus build chains from records statically declared. Note that we can also use an allocator to generate general access values. Our chain could thus include a mixture of records from both storage mechanisms.

Finally note that the accessed object could be a component of a composite type. Thus we could point into the middle of a record (provided the component is marked as aliased). In a fast implementation of Conway's Game of Life a cell might contain access values directly referencing the component of its eight neighbors containing the counter saying whether the cell is alive or dead.

    type Ref_Count is access constant Integer range 0 .. 1; 
    type Ref_Count_Array 
    is array (Integer range <>) of Ref_Count; 
    type Cell is
          Life_Count: aliased Integer range 0 .. 1;
          Total_Neighbor_Count: Integer range 0 .. 8;
          Neighbor_Count: Ref_Count_Array(1 .. 8);
       end record;

we can now link the cells together according to our model by statements such as

This_Cell.Neighbor_Count(1) := Cell_To_The_North.Life_Count'Access;

and then the heart of the computation which computes the sum of the life counts in the neighbors might be

    C.Total_Neighbor_Count := 0;
    for I in C.Neighbor_Count'Range
       C.Total_Neighbor_Count :=
       C.Total_Neighbor_Count + C.Neighbor_Count(I).all;
    end loop;

Observe that we have given the type Ref_Count and the component Life_Count the same static subtypes so that they can be checked at compile time; this is not essential but avoids a run-time check that would otherwise be required if they did not statically match.

General access types can also be used to program static ragged arrays as for example a table of messages of different lengths. The key to this is that the accessed type can be unconstrained (such as String) and thus we can have an array of pointers to strings of different lengths. In Ada 83 we would have had to allocate all the strings dynamically using an allocator.

In conclusion we have seen how the access types of Ada 83 have been considerably enhanced in Ada 95 to allow much more flexible programming which is especially important in open systems while nevertheless retaining the inherent security missing in languages such as C and C++.

2.7 Hierarchical Libraries

One of the great strengths of Ada is the library package where the distinct specification and body decouple the user interface to a package (the specification) from its implementation (the body). This enables the details of the implementation and the clients to be recompiled separately without interference provided the specification remains stable.

However, although this works well for smallish programs it has proved cumbersome when programs become large or complex. There are two aspects of the problem: the coarse control of visibility of private types and the inability to extend without recompilation.

There are occasions when we wish to write two logically distinct packages which nevertheless share a private type. We could not do this in Ada 83. We either had to make the type not private so that both packages could see it with the unfortunate consequence that all the client packages could also see the type; this broke the abstraction. Or, on the other hand, if we wished to keep the abstraction, then we had to merge the two packages together and this resulted in a large monolithic package with increased recompilation costs. (We discount as naughty the use of tricks such as Unchecked_Conversion to get at the details of private types.)

The other aspect of the difficulty arose when we wished to extend an existing system by adding more facilities to it. If we add to a package specification then naturally we have to recompile it but moreover we also have to recompile all existing clients even if the additions have no impact upon them.

In Ada 95 these and other similar problems are solved by the introduction of a hierarchical library structure containing child packages and child subprograms. There are two kinds of children: public children and private children. We will just consider public children for the moment; private children are discussed in the next section.

Consider first the familiar example of a package for the manipulation of complex numbers. It might contain the private type itself plus the four standard operations and also subprograms to construct and decompose a complex number taking a cartesian view. Thus we might have

    package Complex_Numbers is
       type Complex is private; 
       function "+" (Left, Right: Complex) return Complex;
       ... -- similarly "-", "*" and "/"
       function Cartesian_To_Complex(Real, Imag: Float) return Complex; 
       function Real_Part(X: Complex) return Float; 
       function Imag_Part(X: Complex) return Float; 
    end Complex_Numbers;

We have deliberately not shown the completion of the private type since it is immaterial how it is implemented. Although this package gives the user a cartesian view of the type, nevertheless it certainly does not have to be implemented that way.

Some time later we might need to additionally provide a polar view by the provision of subprograms which construct and decompose a complex number from and to its polar coordinates. In Ada 83 we could only do this by adding to the existing package and this forced us to recompile all the existing clients.

In Ada 95, however, we can add a child package as follows

    package Complex_Numbers.Polar is
       function Polar_To_Complex(R, Theta: Float) 
       return Complex; 
       function "abs" (Right: Complex) return Float; 
       function Arg(X: Complex) return Float; 
    end Complex_Numbers.Polar;

and within the body of this package we can access the private type Complex itself.

Note the notation, a package having the name P.Q is a child package of its parent package P. We can think of the child package as being declared inside the declarative region of its parent but after the end of the specification of its parent; most of the visibility rules stem from this model. In other words the declarative region defined by the parent (which is primarily both the specification and body of the parent) also includes the space occupied by the text of the children; but it is important to realize that the children are inside that region and do not just extend it. Observe that the child does not need a with clause for the parent and that the entities of the parent are directly visible without a use clause.

In just the same way, library packages in Ada 95 can be thought of as being declared in the declarative region of the package Standard and after the end of its specification. Note that a child subprogram is not a primitive operation of a type declared in its parent's specification because the child is not declared in the specification but after it.

The important special visibility rule is that the private part (if any) and the body of the child have visibility of the private part of their parent. (They naturally also have visibility of the visible part.) However, the visible part of a (public) child package does not have visibility of the private part of its parent; if it did it would allow renaming and hence the export of the hidden private details to any client; this would break the abstraction of the private type (this rule does not apply to private children as explained later).

The body of the child package for our complex number example could simply be

    package body Complex_Numbers.Polar is
       -- bodies of Polar_To_Complex etc
    end Complex_Numbers.Polar;

In order to access the procedures of the child package the client must have a with clause for the child package. However this also implicitly provides a with clause for the parent as well thereby saving us the burden of having to write one separately. Thus we might have

    with Complex_Numbers.Polar; 
    package Client is

and then within Client we can access the various subprograms in the usual way by writing Complex_Numbers.Real_Part or Complex_Numbers.Polar.Arg and so on.

Direct visibility can be obtained by use clauses as expected. However, a use clause for the child does not imply one for the parent; but, because of the model that the child is in the declarative region of the parent, a use clause for the parent makes the child name itself directly visible. So writing

with Complex_Numbers.Polar; use Complex_Numbers;

now allows us to refer to the subprograms as Real_Part and Polar.Arg respectively.

We could of course have added

use Complex_Numbers.Polar;

and we would then be able to refer to the subprogram Polar.Arg as just Arg.

Child packages thus neatly solve both the problem of sharing a private type over several compilation units and the problem of extending a package without recompiling the clients. They thus provide another form of programming by extension.

A package may of course have several children. In fact with hindsight it might have been more logical to have developed our complex number package as three packages: a parent containing the private type and the four arithmetic operations and then two child packages, one giving the cartesian view and the other giving the polar view of the type. At a later date we could add yet another package providing perhaps the trigonometric functions on complex numbers and again this can be done without recompiling what has already been written and thus without the risk of introducing errors.

The extension mechanism provided by child packages fits neatly together with that provided by tagged types. Thus a child package might itself have a private part and then within that part we might derive and extend a private type from the parent package. This is illustrated by the following example which relates to the processing of widgets in a window system.

    package XTK is
       type Widget is tagged private;
       type Widget_Access is access Widget'Class;
       type Widget is tagged
             Parent: Widget_Access;
          end record; 
       end XTK; 
    -- now extend the Widget
    package XTK.Color is
        type Colored_Widget is new Widget with private;
       type Colored_Widget is new Widget with
             Color: ... 
          end record; 
    end XTK.Color; 

An interesting point with this construction is that clients at the parent level (those just withing XTK) only see the external properties common to all widgets, although by class-wide programming using Widget_Access, they may be manipulating colored widgets. However, a client of XTK.Color also has access to the external properties of colored widgets because we have made the extended type visible (although still private of course). It should be noted that in fact the private part of XTK.Color does not actually access the private part of XTK although it has visibility of it. But of course the body of XTK.Color undoubtedly will and that is why we need a child package.

Another example is provided by the alert system discussed in 2.1. It would probably be better if the additional package concerning emergency alerts was actually a child of the main package thus

    package New_Alert_System.Emergency is
       type Emergency_Alert is new Alert with private;
    end New_Alert_System.Emergency;

The advantages are manifold. The commonality of naming makes it clear that the child is indeed just a part of the total system; this is emphasized by not needing a with clause for the parent and that the entities in the parent are immediately visible. In addition, although not required in this example, any private mechanisms in the private part of the parent would be visible to the child. The alternative structure in 2.3 where the baseline used an abstract type could also be rearranged.

The benefit of just the commonality of naming is very important since it prevents the inadvertent interference between different parts of subsystems. This is used to good advantage in the arrangement of the Ada 95 predefined library as will be seen in 2.13.

Finally, it is very important to realize that the child mechanism is hierarchical. Children may have children to any level so we can build a complete tree providing decomposition of facilities in a natural manner. A child may have a private part and this is then visible from its children but not its parent.

With regard to siblings a child can obviously only have visibility of a previously compiled sibling anyway. And then the normal rules apply: a child can only see the visible part of its siblings.

A parent body may access (via with clauses) and thus depend upon its children and grandchildren. A child body automatically depends upon its parent (and grandparent) and needs no with clause for them. A child body can depend upon its siblings (again via with clauses).

2.8 Private Child Units

In the previous section we introduced the concept of hierarchical child packages and showed how these allowed extension and continued privacy of private types without recompilation. However, the whole idea was based on the provision of additional facilities for the client. The specifications of the additional packages were all visible to the client.

In the development of large subsystems it often happens that we would like to decompose the system for implementation reasons but without giving any additional visibility to clients.

Ada 83 had a problem in this area which we have not yet addressed. In Ada 83 the only means at our disposal for the decomposition of a body was the subunit. However, although a subunit could be recompiled without affecting other subunits at the same level, any change to the top level body (which of course includes the stubs of the subunits) required all subunits to be recompiled.

Ada 95 also solves this problem by the provision of a form of child unit that is totally private to its parent. In order to illustrate this idea consider the following outline of an operating system.

    package OS is
       -- parent package defines types used throughout the system
       type File_Descriptor is private;
       type File_Descriptor is new Integer; 
    end OS; 
    package OS.Exceptions is
       -- exceptions used throughout the system
       Permission_Error: exception; 
    end OS.Exceptions;
    with OS.Exceptions;
    package OS.File_Manager is
       type File_Mode is (Read_Only, Write_Only, Read_Write); 
       function Open(File_Name: String; Mode: File_Mode) 
          return File_Descriptor; 
       procedure Close(File: in File_Descriptor);
    end OS.File_Manager; 
    procedure OS.Interpret(Command: String); 
    private package OS.Internals is 
    end OS.Internals; 
    private package OS.Internals_Debug is
    end OS.Internals_Debug;

In this example the parent package contains the types used throughout the system. There are then three public child units, the package OS.Exceptions containing various exceptions, the package OS.File_Manager which provides file open/close routines (note the explicit with clause for its sibling OS.Exceptions) and a procedure OS.Interpret which interprets a command line passed as a parameter. (Incidentally this illustrates that a child unit can be a subprogram as well as a package. It can actually be any library unit and that includes a generic declaration and a generic instantiation.) Finally we have two private child packages called OS.Internals and OS.Internals_Debug.

A private child (distinguished by starting with the word private) can be declared at any point in the child hierarchy. The visibility rules for private children are similar to those for public children but there are two extra rules.

The first extra rule is that a private child is only visible within the subtree of the hierarchy whose root is its parent. And moreover within that tree it is not visible to the specifications of any public siblings (although it is visible to their bodies).

In our example, since the private child is a direct child of the package OS, the package OS.Internals is visible to the bodies of OS itself, of OS.File_Manager and of OS.Interpret (OS.Exceptions has no body anyway) and it is also visible to both body and specification of OS.Internals_Debug. But it is not visible outside OS and a client package certainly cannot access OS.Internals at all.

The other extra rule is that the visible part of the private child can access the private part of its parent. This is quite safe because it cannot export information about a private type to a client because it is not itself visible. Nor can it export information indirectly via its public siblings because, as mentioned above, it is not visible to the visible parts of their specifications but only to their private parts and bodies.

We can now safely implement our system in the package OS.Internals and we can create a subtree for the convenience of development and extensibility. We would then have a third level in the hierarchy containing packages such as OS.Internals.Devices, OS.Internals.Access_Rights and so on.

It might be helpful just to summarize the various visibility rules which are actually quite simple and mostly follow from the model of the child being located after the end of the specification of its parent but inside the parent's declarative region. (We use "to with" for brevity.)

  • A specification never needs to with its parent; it may with a sibling except that a public child specification may not with a private sibling; it may not with its own child (it has not been compiled yet!).

  • A body never needs to with its parent; it may with a sibling (private or not); it may with its own child (and grandchild...).

  • The entities of the parent are accessible by simple name within a child; a use clause is not required.

  • The context clause of the parent also applies to a child.

  • A private child is never visible outside the tree rooted at its parent. And within that tree it is not visible to the specifications of public siblings.

  • The private part and body of any child can access the private part of its parent (and grandparent...).

  • In addition the visible part of a private child can also access the private part of its parent (and grandparent...).

  • A with clause for a child automatically implies with clauses for all its ancestors.

  • A use clause for a library unit makes the child units accessible by simple name (this only applies to child units for which there is also a with clause).


These rules may seem a bit complex but actually stem from just a few considerations of consistency. Questions regarding access to children of sibling units and other remote relatives follow by analogy with an external client viewing the appropriate subtree.

We conclude our discussion of hierarchical libraries by considering their interaction with generics. Genericity is also an important tool in the construction of subsystems and it is essential that it be usable with the child concept.

Any parent unit may have generic children but a generic parent can only have generic children. If the parent unit is not generic then a generic child may be instantiated in the usual way at any point where it is visible.

On the other hand, if the parent unit is itself generic, then a generic child can be instantiated outside the parent hierarchy provided the parent is first instantiated and the child is mentioned in a with clause; the instantiation of the child then refers to the instantiation of the parent. Note that although the original generic hierarchy consists of library units, the instantiations need not be library units.

As a simple example, we might wish to make the package Complex_Numbers of the previous section generic with respect to the underlying floating point type. We would write

       type Float_Type is digits <>; 
    package Complex_Numbers is
    end Complex_Numbers; 
    package Complex_Numbers.Polar is
    end Complex_Numbers.Polar;

and then the instantiations might be

    with Complex_Numbers; 
    package Real_Complex_Numbers is new Complex_Numbers(Real); 
    with Complex_Numbers.Polar; 
    package Real_Complex_Numbers.Real_Polar is
                                   new Real_Complex_Numbers.Polar;

We thus have to instantiate the generic hierarchy (or as much of it as we want) unit by unit. This avoids a number of problems that would arise with a more liberal approach but enables complete subsystems to be built in a generic manner. In the above example we chose to make the instantiated packages into a corresponding hierarchy but as mentioned they could equally have been instantiated as local packages with unrelated names. But an important point is that the instantiation of the child refers to the instantiation of the parent and not to the generic parent. This ensures that the instantiation of the child has visibility of the correct instantiation of the parent.

The reader will now appreciate that the hierarchical library system of Ada 95 provides a very powerful and convenient tool for the development of large systems from component subsystems. This is of particular value in developing bindings to systems such as POSIX in a very elegantly organized manner.

2.9 Protected Types

The rendezvous model of Ada 83 provided an advanced high level approach to task synchronization which avoided the methodological difficulties encountered by the use of low-level primitives such as semaphores and signals. As is well-known, such low-level primitives suffer from similar problems as gotos; it is obvious what they do and they are trivial to implement but in practice easy to misuse and can lead to programs which are difficult to maintain.

Unfortunately the rendezvous has not proved entirely satisfactory. It required additional tasks to manage shared data and this often led to poor performance. Moreover, in some situations, awkward race conditions arose essentially because of abstraction inversion. And from a methodological viewpoint the rendezvous is clearly control oriented and thus out-of-line with a modern object oriented approach.

In Ada 95 we introduce the concept of a protected type which encapsulates and provides synchronized access to the private data of objects of the type without the introduction of an additional task. Protected types are very similar in spirit to the shared objects of the Orca language developed by Bal, Kaashoek and Tanenbaum of Amsterdam [Bal 92].

A protected type has a distinct specification and body in a similar style to a package or task. The specification provides the access protocol and the body provides the implementation details. We can also have a single protected object by analogy with a single task.

As a simple example consider the following

    protected Variable is
       function Read return Item;
       procedure Write(New_Value: Item);
       Data: Item; 
    end Variable; 
    protected body Variable is
       function Read return Item is
          return Data; 
       end Read; 
       procedure Write(New_Value: Item) is
          Data := New_Value; 
       end Write; 
    end Variable;

The protected object Variable provides controlled access to the private variable Data of some type Item. The function Read enables us to read the current value whereas the procedure Write enables us to update the value. Calls use the familiar dotted notation.

    X := Variable.Read;
    Variable.Write(New_Value => Y);

Within a protected body we can have a number of subprograms and the implementation is such that (like a monitor) calls of the subprograms are mutually exclusive and thus cannot interfere with each other. A procedure in the protected body can access the private data in an arbitrary manner whereas a function is only allowed read access to the private data. The implementation is consequently permitted to perform the useful optimization of allowing multiple calls of functions at the same time.

By analogy with entries in tasks, a protected type may also have entries. The action of an entry call is provided by an entry body which has a barrier condition which must be true before the entry body can be executed. There is a strong parallel between an accept statement with a guard in a task body and an entry body with a barrier in a protected body, although, as we shall see in a moment, the timing of the evaluation of barriers is quite different to that of guards.

A good illustration of the use of barriers is given by a protected type implementing the classic bounded buffer. Consider

    protected type Bounded_Buffer is
       entry Put(X: in Item); 
       entry Get(X: out Item); 
       A: Item_Array(1 .. Max);
       I, J: Integer range 1 .. Max := 1;
       Count: Integer range 0 .. Max := 0; 
    end Bounded_Buffer; 
    protected body Bounded_Buffer is
       entry Put(X: in Item) when Count < Max is
          A(I) := X;
          I := I mod Max + 1; Count := Count + 1; 
       end Put; 
       entry Get(X: out Item) when Count > 0 is
          X := A(J);
          J := J mod Max + 1; Count := Count - 1; 
       end Get; 
    end Bounded_Buffer;

This provides a cyclic bounded buffer holding up to Max values of the type Item with access through the entries Put and Get. We can declare an object of the protected type and access it as expected

My_Buffer: Bounded_Buffer;

The behavior of the protected type is controlled by the barriers. When an entry is called its barrier is evaluated; if the barrier is false then the call is queued in much the same way that calls on entries in tasks are queued. When My_Buffer is declared, the buffer is empty and so the barrier for Put is true whereas the barrier for Get is false. So initially only a call of Put can be executed and a task issuing a call of Get will be queued.

At the end of the execution of an entry body (or a procedure body) of the protected object all barriers which have queued tasks are reevaluated thus possibly permitting the processing of an entry call which had been queued on a false barrier. So at the end of the first call of Put, if a call of Get had been queued, then the barrier is reevaluated thus permitting a waiting call of Get to be serviced at once.

It is important to realize that there is no task associated with the buffer itself; the evaluation of barriers is effectively performed by the runtime system. Barriers are evaluated when an entry is first called and when something happens which could sensibly change the state of a barrier with a waiting task.

Thus barriers are only reevaluated at the end of an entry or procedure body and not at the end of a protected function call because a function call cannot change the state of the protected object and so is not expected to change the values of barriers. These rules ensure that a protected object can be implemented efficiently.

Note that a barrier could refer to a global variable; such a variable might get changed other than through a call of a protected procedure or entry &15; it could be changed by another task or even by a call of a protected function; such changes will thus not be acted upon promptly. The programmer needs to be aware of this and should not use global variables in barriers without due consideration.

It must be understood that the barrier protection mechanism is superimposed upon the natural mutual exclusion of the protected construct thus giving two distinct levels of protection. At the end of a protected call, already queued entries (whose barriers are now true) take precedence over other calls contending for the protected object. On the other hand, a new entry call cannot even evaluate its barrier if the protected object is busy with another call until that call (and any processible queued calls) have finished.

This has the following important consequence: if the state of a protected resource changes and there is a task waiting for the new state, then this task will gain access to the resource and be guaranteed that the state of the resource when it gets it is the same as when the decision to release the task was made. Unsatisfactory polling and race conditions are completely avoided.

Protected objects are very similar to monitors in general concept; they are passive constructions with synchronization provided by the language runtime system. However, they have a great advantage over monitors in that the protocols are described by barrier conditions (which are fairly easy to prove correct) rather than the low-level and unstructured signals internal to monitors as found in Modula.

In other words protected objects have the essential advantages of the high level guards of the rendezvous model but without the overhead of an active task.

Protected types enable very efficient implementations of various semaphore and similar paradigms. For example a counting semaphore might be implemented as follows

    protected type Counting_Semaphore(Start_Count: Integer := 1) is
       entry Secure; 
       procedure Release; 
       function Count return Integer; 
       Current_Count: Integer := Start_Count; 
    end Counting_Semaphore; 
    protected body Counting_Semaphore is
       entry Secure when Current_Count > 0 is
          Current_Count := Current_Count - 1; 
       end Secure; 
       procedure Release is
          Current_Count := Current_Count + 1; 
       end Release; 
       function Count return Integer is
          return Current_Count; 
       end Count; 
    end Counting_Semaphore;

This implements the general form of Dijkstra's semaphore. It illustrates the use of all three forms of protected operations: a function, a procedure and an entry. The entry Secure and the procedure Release correspond to the P and V operations (from the Dutch Passeren and Vrijmaken) and the function Count gives the current value of the semaphore. This example also illustrates that a protected type can have a discriminant which is here used to provide the initial value of the semaphore or in other words the number of items of the resource being guarded by the semaphore.

It is important to note that a task type may also have a discriminant in Ada 95 and this can similarly be used to initialize a task. This can for example be used to tell a task who it is (perhaps from among an array of tasks) without introducing a special entry just for that purpose.

Our final example introduces the ability to requeue a call on another entry. It sometimes happens that a service needs to be provided in two parts and that the calling task has to be suspended after the first part until conditions are such that the second part can be done. Two entry calls are then necessary but attempts to program this in Ada 83 usually run into difficulties; race conditions can arise in the interval between the calls and there is often unnecessary visibility of the internal protocol.

The example is of a broadcast signal. Tasks wait for some event and then when it occurs all the waiting tasks are released and the event reset. The difficulty is to prevent tasks that call the wait operation after the event has occurred, but before the signal can be reset, from getting through. In other words, we must reset the signal in preference to letting new tasks through. The requeue statement allows us to program such preference control. An implementation is

    protected Event is
       entry Wait; 
       entry Signal; 
       entry Reset;
       Occurred: Boolean := False; 
    end Event; 
    protected body Event is
       entry Wait when Occurred is
          null;       -- note null body
       end Wait; 
       entry Signal when True is -- barrier is always true
          if Wait'Count > 0 then
             Occurred := True; 
             requeue Reset; 
          end if; 
       end Signal; 
       entry Reset when Wait'Count = 0 is
          Occurred := False; 
       end Reset; 
    end Event;

Tasks indicate that they wish to wait for the event by the call


and the happening of the event is notified by some task calling


whereupon all the waiting tasks are allowed to proceed and the event is reset so that future calls of Wait work properly.

The Boolean variable Occurred is normally false and is only true while tasks are being released. The entry Wait has no body but just exists so that calling tasks can suspend themselves on its queue while waiting for Occurred to become true.

The entry Signal is interesting. It has a permanently true barrier and so is always processed. If there are no tasks on the queue of Wait (that is no tasks are waiting), then there is nothing to do and so it exits. On the other hand if there are tasks waiting then it must release them in such a way that no further tasks can get on the queue but then regain control so that it can reset the flag. It does this by requeuing itself on the entry Reset after setting Occurred to true to indicate that the event has occurred.

The semantics of requeue are such that this completes the action of Signal. However, remember that at the end of the body of a protected entry or procedure the barriers are reevaluated for those entries which have tasks queued. In this case there are indeed tasks on the queue for Wait and there is also a task on the queue for Reset (the task that called Signal in the first place); the barrier for Wait is now true but of course the barrier for Reset is false since there are still tasks on the queue for Wait. A waiting task is thus allowed to execute the body of Wait (being null this does nothing) and the task thus proceeds and then the barrier evaluation repeats. The same process continues until all the waiting tasks have gone when finally the barrier of Reset also becomes true. The original task which called signal now executes the body of Reset thus resetting Occurred to false so that the system is once more in its initial state. The protected object as a whole is now finally left since there are no waiting tasks on any of the barriers.

Note carefully that if any tasks had tried to call Wait or Signal while the whole process was in progress then they would not have been able to do so because the protected object as a whole was busy. This illustrates the two levels of protection and is the underlying reason why a race condition does not arise.

Another consequence of the two levels is that it still all works properly even in the face of such difficulties as timed and conditional calls and aborts. The reader may recall, for example, that by contrast, the Count attribute for entries in tasks cannot be relied upon in the face of timed entry calls.

A minor point to note is that the entry Reset is declared in the private part of the protected type and thus cannot be called from outside. Ada 95 also allows a task to have a private part containing private entries.

The above example has been used for illustration only. The astute reader will have observed that the condition is not strictly needed inside Signal; without it the caller will simply always requeue and then immediately be processed if there are no waiting tasks. But the condition clarifies the description. Indeed, the very astute reader might care to note that we can actually program this example in Ada 95 without using requeue at all. A more realistic classic example is the disk scheduler where a caller is requeued if the head is currently over the wrong track.

In this section we have outlined the main features of protected types. There are a number of detailed aspects that we have not covered. The general intent, however, should be clear. Protected types provide a data-oriented approach to synchronization which couples the high-level conditions (the barriers) with the efficiency of monitors. Furthermore the requeue statement provides a means of programming preference control and thus enables race conditions to be avoided.

It must be remembered, of course, that the existing task model remains; the rendezvous will continue to be a necessary approach in many circumstances of a general nature (such as for directly passing messages). But the protected object provides a better paradigm for most data-oriented situations.

2.10 Task Scheduling and Timing

A criticism of Ada 83 has been that its scheduling rules are unsatisfactory especially with regard to the rendezvous. First-in-first-out queuing on entries and the arbitrary selection from several open alternatives in a select statement lead to conflict with the normal preemptive priority rules. For example, priority inversion occurs when a high priority task is on an entry queue behind a lower priority task.

Furthermore, mode changes may require the ability to dynamically change priorities and this conflicts with the simple static model of Ada 83. In addition, advances in the design of scheduling techniques based on Rate Monotonic Scheduling prescribe a variety of techniques to be used in different circumstances according to the arrival pattern of events; see [Sha 90a] and [Klein 93].

Ada 95 allows much more freedom in the choice of priority and scheduling rules. However, because this is a specialized area (and may not be appropriate on some host architectures), the details are contained in the Real-Time Systems annex to which the reader is referred for more details.

Timing is another important aspect of scheduling and the delay statement of Ada 83 has not proved adequate in all circumstances.

For example, an attempt to wait until a specific time by a sequence such as

Next_Time: Time;
Next_Time := time_to_be_woken_up;
delay Next_Time - Clock;

which is intended to stop the task until the time given by the variable Next_Time, is not foolproof. The problem is that there is a race condition. Between calling the function Clock and issuing the delay statement, it is possible for the task to be preempted by a higher priority task. The result is that when the delay is finally issued, the Duration value will be inappropriate and the task will be delayed for too long.

This difficulty is overcome in Ada 95 by the introduction of a complementary delay until statement which takes a Time (rather than a Duration) as its argument. We can then simply write

delay until Next_Time;

and all will be well.

The final new tasking facility to be introduced in this section is the ability to perform an asynchronous transfer of control. This enables an activity to be abandoned if some condition arises (such as running out of time) and an alternative sequence of statements to be executed instead. This gives the capability of performing mode changes.

This could of course be programmed in Ada 83 by the introduction of an agent task and the use of the abort statement but this was a heavy solution not at all appropriate for most applications needing a mode change.

Asynchronous transfer of control is achieved by a new form of select statement which comprises two parts: an abortable part and a triggering alternative. As a simple example consider

       delay 5.0;                -- triggering alternative
       Put_Line("Calculation did not complete"); 
    then abort
       Invert_Giant_Matrix(M);   -- abortable part
    end select;

The general idea is that if the statements between then abort and end select do not complete before the expiry of the delay then they are abandoned and the statements following the delay executed instead. Thus if we cannot invert our large matrix in five seconds we give up and print a message.

The statement that triggers the abandonment can alternatively be an entry call instead of a delay statement. If the call returns before the computation is complete then again the computation is abandoned and any statements following the entry call are executed instead. On the other hand if the computation completes before the entry call, then the entry call is itself abandoned.

The entry call can, of course, be to a task or to a protected object as described in the previous section. Indeed, Ada 95 allows an entry call to be to a protected object or to a task in all contexts.

Other refinements to the Ada tasking model include a better description of the behavior of the abort statement and a more useful approach to shared variables by the introduction of a number of pragmas.

2.11 Generic Parameters

The generic facility in Ada 83 has proved very useful for developing reusable software particularly with regard to its type parameterization capability. However, there were a few anomalies which have been rectified in Ada 95. In addition a number of further parameter models have been added to match the object oriented facilities.

In Ada 83 the so-called contract model was broken because of the lack of distinction between constrained and unconstrained formal parameters. Thus if we had

       type T is private; 
    package P is ... 
    package body P is
       X: T;

then in Ada 83 we could instantiate this with a type such as Integer which was fine. However we could also supply an unconstrained type such as String and this failed because when we came to declare the object T we found that there were no constraints and we could not declare an object as an unconstrained array. The problem was that the error was not detected through a mismatch in the instantiation mechanism but as an error in the body itself. But the whole essence of the contract model is that if the actual parameter satisfies the requirements of the formal then any body which matches the formal specification will work. The poor user might not have had access to the source of the body but nevertheless found errors reported in it despite the instantiation apparently working.

This serious violation of the contract model is repaired in Ada 95. The parameter matching rules for the example above no longer accept an unconstrained type such as String but require a type such as Integer or a constrained type or a record type with default discriminants (these are collectively known as definite types in Ada 95).

If we wish to write a generic package that will indeed accept an unconstrained type then we have to use a new form of notation as follows

        type T(<>) is private; 
    package P ...

In this case we are not allowed to declare an (uninitialized) object of type T in the body; we can only use T in ways which do not require a constrained type. The actual parameter can now be any unconstrained type such as String; it could, of course, also be a constrained type.

Other new parameter models are useful for combining genericity with type extension and for writing class-wide generic packages. The formal declaration

type T is tagged private;

requires that the actual type be tagged.

We can also write

type T is new S;


type T is new S with private;

In both cases the actual type must be S or derived directly or indirectly from S. If we add with private then both S and the actual type must be tagged. (Remember the rule that all tagged types have tagged or with in their declaration.)

In all these cases we can also follow the formal type name with (<>) to indicate that the actual may be unconstrained (strictly, indefinite to use the terminology introduced above). Furthermore if we follow is by abstract then the actual type can also be abstract (but it need not be).

The last new kind of formal generic parameter is the formal generic package. This greatly simplifies the composition of generic packages. It allows one package to be used as a parameter to another so that a hierarchy of facilities can be created.

Examples are inevitably a bit long but consider first the following two packages in Ada 83. The first defines a private type for complex numbers and the basic operations upon them. The second builds on the first and provides various vector operations on complex numbers. The whole system is generic with respect to the underlying floating point type used for the complex numbers.

       type Float_Type is digits <>;
    package Generic_Complex_Numbers is
       type Complex is private; 
       function "+" (Left, Right: Complex) return Complex; 
       function "-" (Left, Right: Complex) return Complex; 
       -- etc
    end Generic_Complex_Numbers; 
       type Float_Type is digits <>; 
       type Complex is private; 
       with function "+" (Left, Right: Complex)  return Complex is <>; 
       with function "-" (Left, Right: Complex)  return Complex is <>; 
       -- and so on
    package Generic_Complex_Vectors is
       -- types and operations on vectors
    end Generic_Complex_Vectors;

and we can then instantiate these two packages by for example

    package Long_Complex is
       new Generic_Complex_Numbers(Long_Float); 
    use Long_Complex; 
    package Long_Complex_Vectors is
       new Generic_Complex_Vectors(Long_Float, Complex);

In this Ada 83 formulation we had to pass the type Complex and all its operations exported from Complex_Numbers back into the vector package as distinct formal parameters so that we could use them in that package. The burden was somewhat reduced by using the default mechanism for the operations but this incurred the slight risk that the user might have redefined one of them with incorrect properties (it also forced us to write a use clause or lots of renamings).

This burden is completely alleviated in Ada 95 by the ability to declare generic formal packages. In the generic formal part we can write

with package P is new Q(<>);

and then the actual parameter corresponding to P must be any package which has been obtained by instantiating Q which must itself be a generic package.

Returning to our example, in Ada 95, having written Generic_Complex_Numbers as before, we can now write

    with Generic_Complex_Numbers; 
       with package Complex_Numbers is
          new Generic_Complex_Numbers (<>); 
    package Generic_Complex_Vectors is
       -- as before
    end Generic_Complex_Vectors;

where the actual package must be any instantiation of Generic_Complex_Numbers. Hence our previous instantiations can now be simplified and we can write

    package Long_Complex is
       new Generic_Complex_Numbers(Long_Float); 
    package Long_Complex_Vectors is
       new Generic_Complex_Vectors(Long_Complex);

The key point is that we no longer have to import (explicitly or implicitly) the type and operators exported by the instantiation of Generic_Complex_Numbers. Hence the parameter list of Generic_Complex_Vectors is reduced to merely the one parameter which is the package Long_Complex obtained by the instantiation of Generic_Complex_Numbers. We no longer even have to pass the underlying type Long_Float.

Although this example has been couched in terms of a numerical application, the general approach is applicable to many examples of building a hierarchy of generic packages.

2.12 Other Improvements

We have now covered most of the major improvements which give Ada 95 so much extra power over Ada 83. But the discussion has not been complete; we have omitted important facilities such as the introduction of controlled types giving initialization, finalization and user defined assignment and the use of access discriminants to give the functionality of multiple inheritance.

There are also a number of minor changes which remove various irritations and which together make Ada 95 a major improvement within existing paradigms. We will now briefly mention the more notable of these improvements.

The attribute T'Base can now be used as a type mark. So if Float_Type is a generic formal parameter we can then declare

Local: Float_Type'Base;

and any constraints imposed by the actual parameter will not then apply to the working variable Local. This is important for certain numeric algorithms where we wish to be unconstrained in intermediate computations.

The underlying model for the numeric types is slightly changed by the introduction of fictitious types root_integer and root_real. This brings a number of simplifications and improvements regarding implicit type conversions and one is the removal of the notorious irritation that

for I in -1 .. 100 loop

was not allowed in Ada 83. It is allowed in Ada 95.

The rule distinguishing basic declarative items from later declarative items has been removed (this essentially said that little declarations cannot follow big declarations and was intended to prevent little ones getting lost visually but it backfired). As a consequence declarations can now be in any order. This often helps with the placing of representation clauses.

Another irritation in Ada 83 was the problem of use clauses and operators. There was a dilemma between, on the one hand, disallowing a use clause and then having to use prefix notation for operators or introduce a lot of renaming or, on the other hand, allowing a use clause so that infixed operators could be used but then allowing visibility of everything and running the risk that package name prefixes might be omitted with a consequent serious loss of readability. Many organizations have imposed a complete ban on use clauses and burdened themselves with lots of renaming. This is solved in Ada 95 by the introduction of a use type clause. If we have a package Complex_Numbers which declares a type Complex and various operators "+", "-" and so on, we can write

with Complex_Numbers; use type Complex_Numbers.Complex;

and then within our package we can use the operators belonging to the type Complex in infix notation. Other identifiers in Complex_Numbers will still have to use the full dotted notation so we can see from which package they come. Predefined operators such as "=" are also made directly visible by an appropriate use type clause.

Concerning "=" the rules regarding its redefinition are now completely relaxed. It may be redefined for any type at all and need not necessarily return a result of type Boolean. The only remaining rule in this area is that if the redefined "=" does return a result of type Boolean then a corresponding "/=" is also implicitly declared. On the other hand, "/=" may itself be redefined only if its result is not type Boolean.

The rules regarding static expressions are improved and allow further sensible expressions to be treated as static. A static expression may now contain membership tests, attributes, conversions and so on. Moreover, an expression which looks static but occurs in a context not demanding a static expression will be evaluated statically; this was surprisingly not the case in Ada 83 &15; an expression such as 2 + 3 was only required to be evaluated at compile time if it occurred in a context demanding a static expression. Note also that rounding of odd halves is now defined as away from zero so Integer(1.5) is now 2.

A small change which will be welcomed is that a subprogram body may now be provided by renaming. This avoids tediously writing code which merely calls another subprogram. Renaming is now also allowed for generic units and a library unit may now be renamed as a library unit; these facilities will be found to be particularly useful with child units.

Another change which will bring a sigh of relief is that out parameters can now be read. They are treated just like a variable that happens not to be explicitly initialized; this change will save the introduction of many local variables and much frustration. A related change is that the restriction that it was not possible to declare a subprogram with out parameters of a limited type is also lifted.

Some restrictions regarding arrays are also relaxed. It is now possible to deduce the bounds of a variable (as well as a constant) from an appropriate initial value, such as in

S: String := Get_Message; -- a function call

which avoids having to write the tedious

Message: constant String := Get_Message;
S: String(Message'Range) := Message;

It is also possible to use a named aggregate with an "others" component as an initial value or in an assignment. Sliding is now permitted for subprogram parameters and function results in return statements which are treated like assignment with regard to array bound matching.

There are also improvements in the treatment of discriminants. A private type can now have a discriminated type with defaults as its full type thus

    package P is
       type T is private; 
       type T(N: Natural := 1) is
    end P;

Infuriatingly this was not allowed in Ada 83 although the corresponding problem with matching generic parameters was eliminated many years ago.

An important improvement in exception handlers is the ability to access information regarding the occurrence of an exception. This is done by declaring a "choice parameter" in the handler and we can then use that to get hold of, for example, the exception name for debugging purposes. We can write

    when Event: others =>
       Put_Line("Unexpected exception: " & Exception_Name(Event));

where the function Exception_Name returns the name of the exception as a string (such as "Constraint_Error"). Other functions provide further useful diagnostic information regarding the cause of the exception.

An important improvement which will be a great relief to systems programmers is that the language now includes support for unsigned integer types (modular types). This provides shift and logical operations as well as modular arithmetic operations and thus enables unsigned integer values to be manipulated as sequences of bits.

Another improvement worth mentioning in this brief summary concerns library package bodies. In Ada 83 a package body was optional if it was not required by the language (for providing subprogram bodies for example). However, this rule, which was meant to be a helpful convenience, seriously misfired sometimes when a library package was recompiled and bodies which just did initialization could get inadvertently lost without any warning. In Ada 95, a library package is only allowed to have a body if it is required by language rules; the pragma Elaborate_Body is one way of indicating that a body is required.

Finally, in order to meet the needs of the international community, the type Character has been changed to the full 8-bit ISO set (Latin-1) and the type Wide_Character representing the 16-bit ISO Basic Multilingual Plane has been added. The type Wide_String is also defined by analogy.

2.13 The Predefined Library

There are many additional predefined packages in the standard library which has been restructured in order to take advantage of the facilities offered by the hierarchical library. As mentioned above, root library packages behave as children of Standard. There are just three such predefined child packages of Standard, namely System, Interfaces and Ada and these in turn have a number of child packages. Those of System are concerned with intrinsic language capability such as the control of storage. Those of Interfaces concern the interfaces to other languages. The remaining more general predefined packages are children of the package Ada.

An important reason for the new structure is that it avoids potential name conflicts with packages written by the user; thus only the names Ada and Interfaces could conflict with existing Ada 83 code. Without this structure the risk of conflict would have been high especially given the many new predefined packages in Ada 95.

The existing packages such as Calendar, Unchecked_Conversion and Text_IO are now child packages of Ada. Compatibility with Ada 83 is achieved by the use of library unit renaming (itself a new feature in Ada 95) thus

with Ada.Text_IO;
package Text_IO renames Ada.Text_IO;

We will now briefly summarize the more notable packages in the predefined library in order to give the reader an appreciation of the breadth of standard facilities provided.

The package Ada itself is simply

    package Ada is
       pragma Pure(Ada); -- as white as driven snow!
    end Ada;

where the pragma indicates that Ada has no variable state; (this concept is important for sharing in distributed systems).

Input-output is provided by the existing packages Ada.Text_IO, Ada.Sequential_IO, Ada.Direct_IO and Ada.IO_Exceptions plus a number of new packages. The package Ada.Wide_Text_IO is identical to Text_IO except that it handles the types Wide_Character and Wide_String. General stream input-output is provided by Ada.Streams and Ada.Streams.Stream_IO; these enable heterogeneous files of arbitrary types to be manipulated (remember that Direct_IO and Sequential_IO manipulate files whose items are all of the same type). The package Ada.Text_IO.Text_Streams gives access to the stream associated with Text_IO; this allows mixed binary and text input-output and the use of the standard files with streams.

There are also nongeneric versions of the packages Text_IO.Integer_IO and Text_IO.Float_IO for the predefined types such as Integer and Float. Their names are Ada.Integer_Text_IO and Ada.Float_Text_IO and so on for other predefined types; there are also corresponding wide versions. These nongeneric packages will be found useful for training and overcome the need to teach genericity on day one of every Ada course.

The package Ada.Characters.Handling provides classification and conversion functions for characters. Examples are Is_Letter which returns an appropriate Boolean value and To_Wide_Character which converts a character to the corresponding wide character. The package Ada.Characters.Latin_1 contains named constants in a similar style to Standard.ASCII which is now obsolescent.

General string handling is provided by the package Ada.Strings. Three different forms of string are handled by packages Strings.Fixed, Strings.Bounded and Strings.Unbounded. In addition, packages such as Strings.Wide_Fixed perform similar operations on wide strings.

Extensive mathematical facilities are provided by the package Ada.Numerics. This parent package is just

    package Ada.Numerics is
       pragma Pure(Numerics);
       Argument_Error: exception;
       Pi: constant := 3.14159_26535_ ... ;
       e: constant := 2.71828_18284_ ... ; 
    end Ada.Numerics;

and includes the generic child package Ada.Numerics.Generic_Elementary_Functions which is similar to the corresponding standard ISO/IEC 11430:1994 for Ada 83 [ISO 94a]. There are also nongeneric versions such as Ada.Numerics.Elementary_Functions for the predefined types Float and so on. Facilities for manipulating complex types and complex elementary functions are provided by other child packages defined in the Numerics annex.

The package Ada.Numerics.Float_Random enables the user to produce streams of pseudo-random floating point numbers with ease. There is also a generic package Ada.Numerics.Discrete_Random which provides for streams of discrete values (both integer and enumeration types).

The package Ada.Exceptions defines facilities for manipulating exception occurrences such as the function Exception_Name mentioned above.

The package System has child packages System.Storage_Elements and System.Storage_Pools which are concerned with storage allocation.

The package Interfaces has child packages Interfaces.C, Interfaces.COBOL and Interfaces.Fortran which provide facilities for interfacing to programs in those languages. It also contains declarations of hardware supported numeric types. Implementations are encouraged to add further child packages for interfacing to other languages.

2.14 The Specialized Needs Annexes

There are six Specialized Needs annexes. In this summary we cannot go into detail but their content covers the following topics:

Systems Programming

    This covers a number of low-level features such as in-line machine instructions, interrupt handling, shared variable access and task identification. This annex is a prior requirement for the Real-Time Systems annex.

Real-Time Systems

    As mentioned above this annex addresses various scheduling and priority issues including setting priorities dynamically, scheduling algorithms and entry queue protocols. It also includes detailed requirements on the abort statement for single and multiple processor systems and a monotonic time package (as distinct from Calendar which might go backwards because of time-zone or daylight-saving changes).

Distributed Systems

    The core language introduces the idea of a partition whereby one coherent "program" is distributed over a number of partitions each with its own environment task. This annex defines two forms of partitions and inter-partition communication using statically and dynamically bound remote subprogram calls.

Information Systems

    The core language extends fixed point types to include basic support for decimal types. This annex defines a number of packages providing detailed facilities for manipulating decimal values and conversion to external format using picture strings.


    This annex addresses the special needs of the numeric community. One significant change is the basis for model numbers. These are no longer described in the core language but in this annex. Moreover, model numbers in 95 are essentially what were called safe numbers in Ada 83 and the old model numbers and the term safe numbers have been abandoned. Having both safe and model numbers did not bring benefit commensurate with the complexity and confusion thereby introduced. This annex also includes packages for manipulating complex numbers.

Safety and Security

    This annex addresses restrictions on the use of the language and requirements of compilation systems for programs to be used in safety-critical and related applications where program security is vital.

2.15 Conclusion

The discussion in this chapter has been designed to give the reader a general feel for the scope of Ada 95 and some of the detail. Although we have not addressed all the many improvements that Ada 95 provides, nevertheless, it will be clear that Ada 95 is an outstanding language.