1 Introduction - Ada 95 Rationale

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This second part of the rationale is arranged to generally correspond to the sections in the Ada 95 Reference Manual [RM95]. Thus the discussion on exceptions which is covered in section 11 of [RM95] will be found in Chapter 11 of this part. The only exception to this is that the material covered by sections 3 and 4 of [RM95] is subdivided differently. Chapter 3 of this volume covers types and expressions in general whereas Chapter 4 concentrates on the object oriented features such as type extension and class-wide types.

In a similar way the chapters of the third part correspond to the annexes of [RM 95]; thus chapter C discusses the Systems Programming Annex which is annex C of [RM 95].

Each chapter of this second part starts with a brief summary of the changes, there are then a number of sections addressing the various topics, and finally there is a summary of the requirements addressed by the chapter.

This first chapter briefly covers the following general issues

  • The description of Ada 95 uses more defined terms and there is less reliance on informal English.
  • The syntax is expanded to bring more rules into the syntax and to increase clarity.
  • The categorization of errors is revised and includes the introduction of the concept of bounded errors.

However, before getting down to detail it is appropriate to start with a few words about the approach adopted in the development of Ada 95.

1.1 Overall Approach

Ada 95 is based on a building block approach. Rather than providing a number of new language features to directly solve each identified application problem, the extra capability of Ada 95 is provided by a few primitive language building blocks. In combination, these building blocks enable programmers to solve more application problems efficiently and productively.

Thus in the case of the object oriented area, much of the capability is provided by the interweaving of the properties of type extension, the child libraries and generic packages. Great care has been taken to ensure that the additional building blocks work together in a cohesive and helpful manner. Nevertheless implementation and understandability considerations have sometimes caused some restrictions to be imposed. An example is that type extension of a formal generic parameter is not permitted in a generic body (which would either break the contract model or pose an intolerable pervasive implementation burden).

An area of particular difficulty in tasking is the provision of mutual exclusion (which is done in implementation terms by imposing semaphores and locks at appropriate places). Much of the difficulty with Ada 83 tasking lay in the composition of facilities to provide general paradigms and especially the provision of guarded services. Attempts to solve such problems often resulted in race conditions precisely because the facilities did not compose properly. The only solution was paradigm inversion whereby the high level tasking model was used to provide, in essence, some low-level semaphore which could then be used in a medieval fashion. The introduction of protected types, barriers and the requeue statement with two distinct levels of locking is designed to overcome these difficulties. Together, these building blocks may be used to program natural and efficient solutions to problems involving a myriad of real-time paradigms, including asynchronous communication, efficient mutual exclusion, barrier synchronization, counting semaphores, and broadcast of a signal. To have provided separate features to solve each of these problems would have resulted in a baroque language which would have run into difficulties whenever a problem immediately outside the original goals was encountered.

As mentioned in I.3 (in part one), there are four main areas where it was felt that users needed additional functionality: Interfacing to other systems, Programming by Extension (OOP), Programming in the Large (Program Libraries), and Tasking. Broadly speaking these needs are met in Ada 95 by the following main features and are largely discussed in the chapters indicated.

  • Interfacing: by new forms of access types, pragmas and interface packages (Chapters 3 and B).
  • Programming by Extension: by type extension and class-wide types (Chapter 4).
  • Programming in the Large: by child library units (Chapter 10).
  • Tasking: by protected objects (Chapter 9).

Chapters 3, 4, 9 and 10 constitute the bulk of this part of the rationale mainly because they contain a number of quite long examples. The changes described in the other chapters are more concerned with supporting detail and less pervasive improvements.

1.2 The Reference Manual

The Ada 83 Reference Manual [RM83] is a remarkable document in that it is one of the few definitions of a programming language that is regularly read by normal programmers. It achieves this by using natural English wherever possible.

A corollary of this success is, however, that it has not proved to be quite so precise as desired by compiler writers. Of course, there are many more programmers than compiler writers and so the importance of the programmer should not be underestimated. However, it is vital that the compiler writer be given as precise a description of the language as is reasonably possible. At the end of the day, provided that the compiler is correct, then any misunderstanding of some subtle point on the part of the programmer will generally give rise to an appropriate message from the compiler. Furthermore, textbooks and other material such as this rationale are available to give pedagogic information to the programmer.

The Ada 95 Reference Manual [RM95] thus continues the tradition of readability and accessibility of the Ada 83 document wherever possible but achieves greater precision by the careful introduction of more specific terminology. Different typography is also used to distinguish normal English words from defined terms and syntax thereby increasing clarity but retaining readability.

In addition to the definitive standard, the Annotated Ada Reference Manual [AARM] is an annotated form containing much additional information aimed largely at compiler writers, language lawyers and others with a need for additional detailed information. This contains such matters as advice for implementers, rationale on fine detail, further awkward examples and so on. Both forms of the reference manual as well as this rationale and other material are available in machine readable form on the sw-eng.falls-church.va.us host in the public/ada9x/rm9x directory.

1.3 Syntax

The syntax is expressed in the same notation as for Ada 83. However, the diligent reader will observe a considerable number of changes to the description of the syntax. Apart from those changes required by the new parts of the language, the changes have been made in order to increase clarity of the exposition.

This increased clarity has been achieved at the cost of introducing rather more new syntax rules than the increased size of the language would suggest. However, the extra clarity achieved brings major benefits not only in understanding the syntax itself but also by some reduction in the need for English text to explain rules which are now expressed by the syntax.

Examples of more notable changes (other than those corresponding to completely new material) are as follows

  • The rules for the characters used in the program text have been completely rewritten in a more structured manner. The previous rules were not hierarchical and contained a curious imbalance between upper and lower case letters which is no longer appropriate.
  • The category integer is now called numeral. The term integer was somewhat inappropriate for what is simply a syntactic sequence of digits not specifically related to the integer types.
  • Reserved words are no longer considered as identifiers. A consequence is that the syntax now explicitly includes those attributes which double as reserved words, namely Delta, Digits, Range and Access (the last being a further such attribute in Ada 95).
  • Categories such as defining_identifier are introduced for those occurrences of identifiers which define an entity. Usage occurrences use direct_name or selector_name according to the visibility rules. The term simple_name is no longer used. In Ada 83 the term simple_name was used confusingly for just some usage occurrences.
  • The category type_declaration now properly includes both task and protected types. Surprisingly, task type declarations were excluded in Ada 83 probably because of a lack of reconsideration of the rules subsequent to the introduction of task types in around 1980.
  • The category type_mark is replaced by subtype_mark because all names of types are now considered to actually denote the first named subtype.
  • Scalar and composite constraints are now distinguished.
  • A real change is that the category name is broadened to include function_call and type_conversion in accordance with changes to the concept of a name. This causes a number of consequential changes to other definitions such as primary and prefix.
  • The one previous category aggregate has now been replaced by some nine syntax rules thereby bringing into the syntax the various distinctions between array and record aggregates and their various rules which were previously expressed by English text.
  • The new category handled_sequence_of_statements avoids much repetition in a number of other rules, and clarifies the region of text in which a given handler applies.
  • The categories body_stub and renaming_declaration are both broken down into named subcategories for ease of exposition.
  • The previous category generic_parameter_declaration which confusingly reused other categories from other contexts is now replaced by some twenty individual categories describing the various classes of generic parameters in a hierarchical manner.

The statistically minded might be interested to observe that Ada 83 is described by 180 rules whereas Ada 95 has about 270. However, the rules introduced for clarity account for about 50 of this increase and so in real terms the syntax for Ada 95 is about one seventh bigger than Ada 83. A major part of this increase is simply due to the introduction of protected types.

1.4 Classification of Errors

The classification of errors in Ada 95 is somewhat different to that in Ada 83. The primary reason for the new classification is to be more realistic and practical regarding the possible consequences of undefined behavior. The effect is often to indicate that the range of possible outcomes of a program execution is less than the Ada 83 rules led one to believe (in practice there is little change).

The most significant new classification is the introduction of the category called bounded errors. The general idea is that the behavior is not fully determined but nevertheless falls within well-defined bounds. Many errors which were previously classed as erroneous (which implied completely undefined behavior) are now simply bounded errors. An obvious example is the consequence of evaluating an uninitialized scalar variable; this could result in the raising of Program_Error or Constraint_Error or the production of a value not in the subtype, see [RM95 4.4, 11.6].

A rather different approach is taken regarding unportable behavior. A program whose behavior depends upon some order of evaluation is no longer classed as incorrect but simply as being not portable. As a consequence the category of error called incorrect order dependences is deleted.

There are also cases where the language has been changed so that a run-time error in Ada 83 is now detected during compilation in Ada 95. Thus static subtype matching is required in some situations as described in 3.9.

The language also allows a compiler to have different modes of operation according to the detection of suspicious situations such as too many warnings. This specifically meets one of the requirements for early detection of errors where possible.

1.5 Requirements Summary

The requirements

  • R 2.1-A(1) - Incorporate Approved Commentaries
  • R 2.1-A(2) - Review Other Presentation Suggestions

are both addressed by the extra attention given to terminology and by the incorporation of improved text recommended by the Ada Rapporteur Group.

The requirements

  • R 2.1-B(1) - Maintain Format of Existing Standard
  • R 2.1-C(1) - Machine-Readable Version of the Standard

have also been met as explained in 1.2. Furthermore, the requirement

  • R 2.2-B(1) - Understandability

is also addressed by the greatly improved terminology as well as by the revisions to the syntax described in 1.3. However, it should be noted that, as expressed in [DoD 90], this particular requirement was perhaps slanted more at certain specific language features rather than clarity of description in general.

In the case of error detection the requirement and study topic

  • R 2.3-A(2) - Limit Consequences of Erroneous Execution
  • S 2.3-A(1) - Improve Early Detection of Errors

are addressed by the introduction of the concept of bounded errors and more compilation checking such as static subtype matching.

Laurent Guerby Ada 95 Rationale