Ada Language Reference Manual

 

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Sample Chapter From Ada Language Reference Manual
     Copyright © The MITRE Corp., Inc.



Introduction

This is the Ada Reference Manual.

Other available Ada documents include:

Rationale for the Ada Programming Language — 1995 edition, which gives an introduction to the new features of Ada, and explains the rationale behind them. Programmers should read this first.


 

Design Goals

Ada was originally designed with three overriding concerns: program reliability and maintenance, programming as a human activity, and efficiency. This revision to the language was designed to provide greater flexibility and extensibility, additional control over storage management and synchronization, and standardized packages oriented toward supporting important application areas, while at the same time retaining the original emphasis on reliability, maintainability, and efficiency.

The need for languages that promote reliability and simplify maintenance is well established. Hence emphasis was placed on program readability over ease of writing. For example, the rules of the language require that program variables be explicitly declared and that their type be specified. Since the type of a variable is invariant, compilers can ensure that operations on variables are compatible with the properties intended for objects of the type. Furthermore, error-prone notations have been avoided, and the syntax of the language avoids the use of encoded forms in favor of more English-like constructs. Finally, the language offers support for separate compilation of program units in a way that facilitates program development and maintenance, and which provides the same degree of checking between units as within a unit.


Concern for the human programmer was also stressed during the design. Above all, an attempt was made to keep to a relatively small number of underlying concepts integrated in a consistent and systematic way while continuing to avoid the pitfalls of excessive involution. The design especially aims to provide language constructs that correspond intuitively to the normal expectations of users.

Like many other human activities, the development of programs is becoming ever more decentralized and distributed. Consequently, the ability to assemble a program from independently produced software components continues to be a central idea in the design. The concepts of packages, of private types, and of generic units are directly related to this idea, which has ramifications in many other aspects of the language. An allied concern is the maintenance of programs to match changing requirements; type extension and the hierarchical library enable a program to be modified while minimizing disturbance to existing tested and trusted components.

No language can avoid the problem of efficiency. Languages that require over-elaborate compilers, or that lead to the inefficient use of storage or execution time, force these inefficiencies on all machines and on all programs. Every construct of the language was examined in the light of present implementation techniques. Any proposed construct whose implementation was unclear or that required excessive machine resources was rejected.

 
Language Summary

An Ada program is composed of one or more program units. Program units may be subprograms (which define executable algorithms), packages (which define collections of entities), task units (which define concurrent computations), protected units (which define operations for the coordinated sharing of data between tasks), or generic units (which define parameterized forms of packages and subprograms). Each program unit normally consists of two parts: a specification, containing the information that must be visible to other units, and a body, containing the implementation details, which need not be visible to other units. Most program units can be compiled separately.

This distinction of the specification and body, and the ability to compile units separately, allows a program to be designed, written, and tested as a set of largely independent software components.

An Ada program will normally make use of a library of program units of general utility. The language provides means whereby individual organizations can construct their own libraries. All libraries are structured in a hierarchical manner; this enables the logical decomposition of a subsystem into individual components. The text of a separately compiled program unit must name the library units it requires.

 

Program Units


A subprogram is the basic unit for expressing an algorithm. There are two kinds of subprograms: procedures and functions. A procedure is the means of invoking a series of actions. For example, it may read data, update variables, or produce some output. It may have parameters, to provide a controlled means of passing information between the procedure and the point of call. A function is the means of invoking the computation of a value. It is similar to a procedure, but in addition will return a result.

A package is the basic unit for defining a collection of logically related entities. For example, a package can be used to define a set of type declarations and associated operations. Portions of a package can be hidden from the user, thus allowing access only to the logical properties expressed by the package specification.

Subprogram and package units may be compiled separately and arranged in hierarchies of parent and child units giving fine control over visibility of the logical properties and their detailed implementation.

A task unit is the basic unit for defining a task whose sequence of actions may be executed concurrently with those of other tasks. Such tasks may be implemented on multicomputers, multiprocessors, or with interleaved execution on a single processor. A task unit may define either a single executing task or a task type permitting the creation of any number of similar tasks.

A protected unit is the basic unit for defining protected operations for the coordinated use of data shared between tasks. Simple mutual exclusion is provided automatically, and more elaborate sharing protocols can be defined. A protected operation can either be a subprogram or an entry. A protected entry specifies a Boolean expression (an entry barrier) that must be true before the body of the entry is executed. A protected unit may define a single protected object or a protected type permitting the creation of several similar objects.

 

Declarations and Statements

The body of a program unit generally contains two parts: a declarative part, which defines the logical entities to be used in the program unit, and a sequence of statements, which defines the execution of the program unit.

The declarative part associates names with declared entities. For example, a name may denote a type, a constant, a variable, or an exception. A declarative part also introduces the names and parameters of other nested subprograms, packages, task units, protected units, and generic units to be used in the program unit.

The sequence of statements describes a sequence of actions that are to be performed. The statements are executed in succession (unless a transfer of control causes execution to continue from another place).

An assignment statement changes the value of a variable. A procedure call invokes execution of a procedure after associating any actual parameters provided at the call with the corresponding formal parameters.

Case statements and if statements allow the selection of an enclosed sequence of statements based on the value of an expression or on the value of a condition.

The loop statement provides the basic iterative mechanism in the language. A loop statement specifies that a sequence of statements is to be executed repeatedly as directed by an iteration scheme, or until an exit statement is encountered.

A block statement comprises a sequence of statements preceded by the declaration of local entities used by the statements.

Certain statements are associated with concurrent execution. A delay statement delays the execution of a task for a specified duration or until a specified time. An entry call statement is written as a procedure call statement; it requests an operation on a task or on a protected object, blocking the caller until the operation can be performed. A called task may accept an entry call by executing a corresponding accept statement, which specifies the actions then to be performed as part of the rendezvous with the calling task. An entry call on a protected object is processed when the corresponding entry barrier evaluates to true, whereupon the body of the entry is executed. The requeue statement permits the provision of a service as a number of related activities with preference control. One form of the select statement allows a selective wait for one of several alternative rendezvous. Other forms of the select statement allow conditional or timed entry calls and the asynchronous transfer of control in response to some triggering event.

Execution of a program unit may encounter error situations in which normal program execution cannot continue. For example, an arithmetic computation may exceed the maximum allowed value of a number, or an attempt may be made to access an array component by using an incorrect index value. To deal with such error situations, the statements of a program unit can be textually followed by exception handlers that specify the actions to be taken when the error situation arises. Exceptions can be raised explicitly by a raise statement.




Data Types

Every object in the language has a type, which characterizes a set of values and a set of applicable operations. The main classes of types are elementary types (comprising enumeration, numeric, and access types) and composite types (including array and record types).

An enumeration type defines an ordered set of distinct enumeration literals, for example a list of states or an alphabet of characters. The enumeration types Boolean, Character, and Wide_Character are predefined.

Numeric types provide a means of performing exact or approximate numerical computations. Exact computations use integer types, which denote sets of consecutive integers. Approximate computations use either fixed point types, with absolute bounds on the error, or floating point types, with relative bounds on the error. The numeric types Integer, Float, and Duration are predefined.

Composite types allow definitions of structured objects with related components. The composite types in the language include arrays and records. An array is an object with indexed components of the same type.

A record is an object with named components of possibly different types. Task and protected types are also forms of composite types. The array types String and Wide_String are predefined.

Record, task, and protected types may have special components called discriminants which parameterize the type. Variant record structures that depend on the values of discriminants can be defined within a record type.

Access types allow the construction of linked data structures. A value of an access type represents a reference to an object declared as aliased or to an object created by the evaluation of an allocator. Several variables of an access type may designate the same object, and components of one object may designate the same or other objects. Both the elements in such linked data structures and their relation to other elements can be altered during program execution. Access types also permit references to subprograms to be stored, passed as parameters, and ultimately dereferenced as part of an indirect call.

Private types permit restricted views of a type. A private type can be defined in a package so that only the logically necessary properties are made visible to the users of the type. The full structural details that are externally irrelevant are then only available within the package and any child units.

From any type a new type may be defined by derivation. A type, together with its derivatives (both direct and indirect) form a derivation class. Class-wide operations may be defined that accept as a parameter an operand of any type in a derivation class. For record and private types, the derivatives may be extensions of the parent type. Types that support these object-oriented capabilities of class-wide operations and type extension must be tagged, so that the specific type of an operand within a derivation class can be identified at run time. When an operation of a tagged type is applied to an operand whose specific type is not known until run time, implicit dispatching is performed based on the tag of the operand.

The concept of a type is further refined by the concept of a subtype, whereby a user can constrain the set of allowed values of a type. Subtypes can be used to define subranges of scalar types, arrays with a limited set of index values, and records and private types with particular discriminant values.

 

Other Facilities

Representation clauses can be used to specify the mapping between types and features of an underlying machine. For example, the user can specify that objects of a given type must be represented with a given number of bits, or that the components of a record are to be represented using a given storage layout. Other features allow the controlled use of low level, nonportable, or implementation-dependent aspects, including the direct insertion of machine code.

The predefined environment of the language provides for input-output and other capabilities (such as string manipulation and random number generation) by means of standard library packages. Input-output is supported for values of user-defined as well as of predefined types. Standard means of representing values in display form are also provided. Other standard library packages are defined in annexes of the standard to support systems with specialized requirements.

Finally, the language provides a powerful means of parameterization of program units, called generic program units. The generic parameters can be types and subprograms (as well as objects and packages) and so allow general algorithms and data structures to be defined that are applicable to all types of a given class.