Ada is a structured, statically typed, imperative, wide-spectrum, and object-oriented high-level computer programming language, extended from Pascal and other languages. It has built-in language support for design-by-contract, extremely strong typing, explicit concurrency, offering tasks, synchronous message passing, protected objects, and non-determinism. Ada improves code safety and maintainability by using the compiler to find errors in favor of runtime errors. Ada is an international standard; the current version (known as Ada 2012) is defined by ISO/IEC 8652:2012.
Ada was originally designed by a team led by Jean Ichbiah of CII Honeywell Bull under contract to the United States Department of Defense (DoD) from 1977 to 1983 to supersede over 450 programming languages used by the DoD at that time. Ada was named after Ada Lovelace (1815–1852), who has been credited with being the first computer programmer.
Ada was originally targeted at embedded and real-time systems. The Ada 95 revision, designed by S. Tucker Taft of Intermetrics between 1992 and 1995, improved support for systems, numerical, financial, and object-oriented programming (OOP).
Features of Ada include: strong typing, modularity mechanisms (packages), run-time checking, parallel processing (tasks, synchronous message passing, protected objects, and nondeterministic select statements), exception handling, and generics. Ada 95 added support for object-oriented programming, including dynamic dispatch.
The syntax of Ada minimizes choices of ways to perform basic operations, and prefers English keywords (such as “or else” and “and then”) to symbols (such as “||” and “&&”). Ada uses the basic arithmetical operators “+”, “-“, “*”, and “/”, but avoids using other symbols. Code blocks are delimited by words such as “declare”, “begin”, and “end”, where the “end” (in most cases) is followed by the identifier of the block it closes (e.g., if … end if, loop … end loop). In the case of conditional blocks this avoids a dangling else that could pair with the wrong nested if-expression in other languages like C or Java.
Ada is designed for development of very large software systems. Ada packages can be compiled separately. Ada package specifications (the package interface) can also be compiled separately without the implementation to check for consistency. This makes it possible to detect problems early during the design phase, before implementation starts.
A large number of compile-time checks are supported to help avoid bugs that would not be detectable until run-time in some other languages or would require explicit checks to be added to the source code. For example, the syntax requires explicitly named closing of blocks to prevent errors due to mismatched end tokens. The adherence to strong typing allows detection of many common software errors (wrong parameters, range violations, invalid references, mismatched types, etc.) either during compile-time, or otherwise during run-time. As concurrency is part of the language specification, the compiler can in some cases detect potential deadlocks. Compilers also commonly check for misspelled identifiers, visibility of packages, redundant declarations, etc. and can provide warnings and useful suggestions on how to fix the error.
Ada also supports run-time checks to protect against access to unallocated memory, buffer overflow errors, range violations, off-by-one errors, array access errors, and other detectable bugs. These checks can be disabled in the interest of runtime efficiency, but can often be compiled efficiently. It also includes facilities to help program verification. For these reasons, Ada is widely used in critical systems, where any anomaly might lead to very serious consequences, e.g., accidental death, injury or severe financial loss. Examples of systems where Ada is used include avionics, ATC, railways, banking, military and space technology.
Ada’s dynamic memory management is high-level and type-safe. Ada does not have generic or untyped pointers; nor does it implicitly declare any pointer type. Instead, all dynamic memory allocation and deallocation must take place through explicitly declared access types. Each access type has an associated storage pool that handles the low-level details of memory management; the programmer can either use the default storage pool or define new ones (this is particularly relevant for Non-Uniform Memory Access). It is even possible to declare several different access types that all designate the same type but use different storage pools. Also, the language provides for accessibility checks, both at compile time and at run time, that ensures that an access value cannot outlive the type of the object it points to.
Though the semantics of the language allow automatic garbage collection of inaccessible objects, most implementations do not support it by default, as it would cause unpredictable behaviour in real-time systems. Ada does support a limited form of region-based memory management; also, creative use of storage pools can provide for a limited form of automatic garbage collection, since destroying a storage pool also destroys all the objects in the pool.
Ada was designed to resemble the English language in its syntax for comments: a double-dash (“–“), resembling an em dash, denotes comment text. Comments stop at end of line, so there is no danger of unclosed comments accidentally voiding whole sections of source code. Prefixing each line (or column) with “–” will skip all that code, while being clearly denoted as a column of repeated “–” down the page. There is no limit to the nesting of comments, thereby allowing prior code, with commented-out sections, to be commented-out as even larger sections. All Unicode characters are allowed in comments, such as for symbolic formulas (E=m×c²). To the compiler, the double-dash is treated as end-of-line, allowing continued parsing of the language as a context-free grammar.
The semicolon (“;”) is a statement terminator, and the null or no-operation statement is null;. A single ; without a statement to terminate is not allowed.
Unlike most ISO standards, the Ada language definition (known as the Ada Reference Manual or ARM, or sometimes the Language Reference Manual or LRM) is free content. Thus, it is a common reference for Ada programmers and not just programmers implementing Ada compilers. Apart from the reference manual, there is also an extensive rationale document which explains the language design and the use of various language constructs. This document is also widely used by programmers. When the language was revised, a new rationale document was written.
One notable free software tool that is used by many Ada programmers to aid them in writing Ada source code is the GNAT Programming Studio.
In the 1970s, the US Department of Defense (DoD) was concerned by the number of different programming languages being used for its embedded computer system projects, many of which were obsolete or hardware-dependent, and none of which supported safe modular programming. In 1975, a working group, the High Order Language Working Group (HOLWG), was formed with the intent to reduce this number by finding or creating a programming language generally suitable for the department’s and the UK Ministry of Defence requirements. After many iterations beginning with an original Straw man proposal the eventual programming language was named Ada. The total number of high-level programming languages in use for such projects fell from over 450 in 1983 to 37 by 1996.
The HOLWG working group crafted the Steelman language requirements, a series of documents stating the requirements they felt a programming language should satisfy. Many existing languages were formally reviewed, but the team concluded in 1977 that no existing language met the specifications.
Requests for proposals for a new programming language were issued and four contractors were hired to develop their proposals under the names of Red (Intermetrics led by Benjamin Brosgol), Green (CII Honeywell Bull, led by Jean Ichbiah), Blue (SofTech, led by John Goodenough) and Yellow (SRI International, led by Jay Spitzen). In April 1978, after public scrutiny, the Red and Green proposals passed to the next phase. In May 1979, the Green proposal, designed by Jean Ichbiah at CII Honeywell Bull, was chosen and given the name Ada—after Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace. This proposal was influenced by the programming language LIS that Ichbiah and his group had developed in the 1970s. The preliminary Ada reference manual was published in ACM SIGPLAN Notices in June 1979. The Military Standard reference manual was approved on December 10, 1980 (Ada Lovelace’s birthday), and given the number MIL-STD-1815 in honor of Ada Lovelace’s birth year. In 1981, C. A. R. Hoare took advantage of his Turing Award speech to criticize Ada for being overly complex and hence unreliable, but subsequently seemed to recant in the foreword he wrote for an Ada textbook.
Ada attracted much attention from the programming community as a whole during its early days. Its backers and others predicted that it might become a dominant language for general purpose programming and not just defense-related work. Ichbiah publicly stated that within ten years, only two programming languages would remain, Ada and Lisp. Early Ada compilers struggled to implement the large, complex language, and both compile-time and run-time performance tended to be slow and tools primitive. Compiler vendors expended most of their efforts in passing the massive, language-conformance-testing, government-required “ACVC” validation suite that was required in another novel feature of the Ada language effort.
The first validated Ada implementation was the NYU Ada/Ed translator, certified on April 11, 1983. NYU Ada/Ed is implemented in the high-level set language SETL. A number of commercial companies began offering Ada compilers and associated development tools, including Alsys, TeleSoft, DDC-I, Advanced Computer Techniques, Tartan Laboratories, TLD Systems, Verdix, and others.
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace.
In 1991, the US Department of Defense began to require the use of Ada (the Ada mandate) for all software, though exceptions to this rule were often granted. The Department of Defense Ada mandate was effectively removed in 1997, as the DoD began to embrace COTS technology. Similar requirements existed in other NATO countries: Ada was required for NATO systems involving command and control and other functions, and Ada was the mandated or preferred language for defense-related applications in countries such as Sweden, Germany, and Canada.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ada compilers had improved in performance, but there were still barriers to full exploitation of Ada’s abilities, including a tasking model that was different from what most real-time programmers were used to.
Because of Ada’s safety-critical support features, it is now used not only for military applications, but also in commercial projects where a software bug can have severe consequences, e.g., avionics and air traffic control, commercial rockets such as the Ariane 4 and 5, satellites and other space systems, railway transport and banking. For example, the Airplane Information Management System, the fly-by-wire system software in the Boeing 777, was written in Ada. Developed by Honeywell Air Transport Systems in collaboration with consultants from DDC-I, it became arguably the best-known of any Ada project, civilian or military. The Canadian Automated Air Traffic System was written in 1 million lines of Ada (SLOC count). It featured advanced distributed processing, a distributed Ada database, and object-oriented design. Ada is also used in other air traffic systems, e.g., the UK’s next-generation Interim Future Area Control Tools Support (iFACTS) air traffic control system is designed and implemented using SPARK Ada. It is also used in the French TVM in-cab signalling system on the TGV high-speed rail system, and the metro suburban trains in Paris, London, Hong Kong and New York City.
The language became an ANSI standard in 1983 (ANSI/MIL-STD 1815A), and without any further changes became an ISO standard in 1987 (ISO-8652:1987). This version of the language is commonly known as Ada 83, from the date of its adoption by ANSI, but is sometimes referred to also as Ada 87, from the date of its adoption by ISO.
Ada 95, the joint ISO/ANSI standard (ISO-8652:1995) was published in February 1995, making Ada 95 the first ISO standard object-oriented programming language. To help with the standard revision and future acceptance, the US Air Force funded the development of the GNAT Compiler. Presently, the GNAT Compiler is part of the GNU Compiler Collection.
Work has continued on improving and updating the technical content of the Ada programming language. A Technical Corrigendum to Ada 95 was published in October 2001, and a major Amendment, ISO/IEC 8652:1995/Amd 1:2007 was published on March 9, 2007. At the Ada-Europe 2012 conference in Stockholm, the Ada Resource Association (ARA) and Ada-Europe announced the completion of the design of the latest version of the Ada programming language and the submission of the reference manual to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for approval. ISO/IEC 8652:2012 was published in December 2012.
Other related standards include ISO 8651-3:1988 Information processing systems—Computer graphics—Graphical Kernel System (GKS) language bindings—Part 3: Ada.
Ada is an ALGOL-like programming language featuring control structures with reserved words such as if, then, else, while, for, and so on. However, Ada also has many data structuring facilities and other abstractions which were not included in the original ALGOL 60, such as type definitions, records, pointers, enumerations. Such constructs were in part inherited from or inspired by Pascal.
“Hello, world!” in Ada
A common example of a language’s syntax is the Hello world program: (hello.adb)
with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO;
procedure Hello is
Put_Line (“Hello, world!”);
This program can be compiled by using the freely available open source compiler GNAT, by executing
Ada’s type system is not based on a set of predefined primitive types but allows users to declare their own types. This declaration in turn is not based on the internal representation of the type but on describing the goal which should be achieved. This allows the compiler to determine a suitable memory size for the type, and to check for violations of the type definition at compile time and run time (i.e., range violations, buffer overruns, type consistency, etc.). Ada supports numerical types defined by a range, modulo types, aggregate types (records and arrays), and enumeration types. Access types define a reference to an instance of a specified type; untyped pointers are not permitted. Special types provided by the language are task types and protected types.
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