Ada Tutorial - Chapter 23



Example program ------> e_c23_p1.ada

Examine the example program named e_c23_p1.ada for yet another new construct available in Ada 95, the class wide procedure. By this time you should be very familiar with the record definitions in the package specification, where we declare 4 records in lines 8, 18, 26, and 38, three of which are descended from the parent, which is of type TRANSPORT. Ada calls the combination of all four of these records a class because they all descend from a common parent. In fact, they are all descended from the type TRANSPORT so the combination of all four are referred to as the TRANSPORT class.

The procedure named Print_Values is declared in line 43, and it uses a single parameter with a very odd looking type, namely the type TRANSPORT'Class. This says that an actual parameter of any type of the TRANSPORT class can be passed into this procedure, which means that any type that inherits TRANSPORT either directly or indirectly is a candidate for this parameter. The implementation for the Print_Values procedure is given in lines 136 through 149 where some of the components of the parameter named Any_Vehicle are displayed on the monitor.

There are several facts that must be considered when studying this procedure. The first one is that it is not possible to remove any data components when one type is inherited into another type. Elements can be added, but they cannot be removed. Next, a variable of any of the four types within the TRANSPORT class can be passed in as the actual parameter, and the only components that will exist in all four are those in the parent type itself. The CAR type for example, may have additional components that are not a part of the parent type, so those are not available in all four types. Therefore, it is not legal to use any components within this procedure unless they are a part of the parent type, because only those are guaranteed to be a part of all types of the class. Wheels and Weight are therefore the only variables that can be used in this procedure. A very brief message is displayed on the monitor containing both of these values, as a trivial example. You will notice that line 147 is commented out because the component named Passenger_Count is not available in some of the types, and can not be used in this procedure which is designed to accommodate any variable of any one of these four types.

The rest of this package is very similar to those studied in the previous chapter of this tutorial. The diligent student should understand it thoroughly by now.


Example program ------> e_c23_p2.ada

The example program named e_c23_p2.ada should be very familiar to you if you just completed a study of the previous chapter. The only real difference from e_c22_p7.ada is given in lines 36 through 40 where the same procedure is called with objects of three different types. The class wide procedure named Print_Values is capable of accepting a parameter of any type within the TRANSPORT class, and all five variables qualify for this.

When the program is executed, you will see that it does print the data values for each of the variables correctly even though they are of different types. It is therefore legal to pass a variable of any type into this procedure, provided that the type is a descendant of the TRANSPORT class no matter how far down the line it is.


Example program ------> e_c23_p3.ada

The example program named e_c23_p3.ada introduces yet another Ada construct into our repertoire, the concept of dynamic binding, or polymorphism. In the last program we called one procedure with several different types, but in this program, we will call several different procedures with one call, by letting the system figure out which procedure to call for us.

This example is identical to e_c23_p1.ada except for the addition of four new procedures, one for each type. The specifications for these procedures are given in lines 14, 23, 33, and 39. You will notice that they are all identical except for the fact that each uses a different type for the single parameter to be passed in. Notice also that all of the parameter types are in the TRANSPORT class. The implementation for one of these four procedures is given in lines 85 through 89, and you can easily find the three other implementations. You will notice that the implementation for each of the procedures is different because of the difference in the string to be printed. It is important to note that the code within the body is different in each case, but the interface is identical.


Example program ------> e_c23_p4.ada

The example program named e_c23_p4.ada will require a good bit of explanation, because there is a lot of new material here. In lines 8 through 13 we define 6 variables using the four types that are part of the TRANSPORT class. We also state explicitly that each of the variables is aliased, a reserved word that we studied when we covered the access type in this tutorial. You will recall that this permits access type variables to access these variables indirectly.

We define a new access type in line 15 that can access any variable of the right type, provided it is aliased, including those allocated on the heap, on the stack, or globally. In addition, it accesses the TRANSPORT'Class which means that it can access any variable of any type within that class, provided that variable has been defined to be aliased. Finally, to complete our data definitions, we define an access variable of the new type for use in the program.

The example program is the same as e_c23_p2.ada until we get to line 47 where interesting things begin to happen. The code in line 47 assigns Any_Pt the address of the Hummer, and line 48 uses that address to make a call to the procedure named Describe. You will recall that we have four different procedures named Describe, but only one that has a TRANSPORT type for its parameter. Since the Hummer is of that type, that is the procedure that will be called here, and the procedure is dynamically selected to be executed. In line 49 we assign Any_Pt the address of the Limo and use it as the parameter for the Describe call. This time the procedure associated with the CAR type is called. This continues with all six variables and the program is complete.


You will notice that lines 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, and 58 are identical. The only difference in these six lines of code is the type of the pointer when the call is made, and the type of the pointer is used to select the procedure to be executed. This selection is done at run-time and is usually called run-time binding or polymorphism. It seems like we went to a lot of trouble to do this, and we did, but we will find that this is a very valuable technique for some programming situations.

A little repetition is in order here since this is new material. In lines 40 through 45 we made many different calls to one procedure, but in lines 48 through 58 we made several repeats of one call, each of which was dispatched to several different procedures. This is sometimes called dynamic selection because the selection is made at run time, as opposed to static selection where the selection is made at compile time. It is often referred to as polymorphism which means many forms of similar entities.


Example program ------> e_c23_p5.ada

Examine the file named e_c23_p5.ada to see the beginning package for a final examination of dynamic binding, at least for the present time. You will notice that we declared a simple type named EMPLOYEE with three components and a single procedure. It is declared to be tagged which will permit us to inherit this type into other types to build a class of types. This will be used to illustrate dynamic binding once more. The message printed by the procedure states that it should never be displayed. We will return to this later and illustrate a method by which the compiler will prevent that from happening.


Example program ------> e_c23_p6.ada

The EMPLOYEE type mentioned above is located in the Person package, and the three types in the file named e_c23_p6.ada are located in the package named Person.Positions as indicated by line 6. We are using the hierarchical libraries available with Ada 95 which could be used to prevent any possibility of name clashes. The package specification for Person.Positions is very straightforward and you should be able to understand this package on your own. Notice that there are three procedures named Display, each with a different type for the formal parameter but otherwise the interfaces are identical.

The body for the Person.Positions package is not so trivial because of the way strings are defined in Ada. We mentioned earlier in this tutorial that strings could not be assigned to variables unless they are all of the same length, or the Ada compiler will issue a type incompatibility error. If we were building an address list, it would not be very expedient to require everybody to have the same number of letters in their first name and the same number of letters in their last name. The STRING type available with Ada must be improved upon in order to make it convenient to use strings in a meaningful Ada program. We will see how to do that shortly, but in the meantime, we will suffer through this example program with the current STRING type implementation to show you how difficult they are to work with. Since we wish to use variable length strings, we will define each string a little longer than they need to be and associate a counter with each string variable to store the current length of the string.

Line 43 defines a string variable named Title that can store up to 25 characters and line 44 contains a variable named Title_Length that will store the current length of the string. If we wanted to store the name "John", we would put those four characters in the first four locations of Title and store a value of 4 in the Title_Length variable. We must then diligently define a length variable to be associated with each string used in this program, and that is exactly what we do. In line 75, we use the Length attribute to determine the number of characters passed in from the calling program, and execute a loop to copy the characters one by one from the input string to the internal storage string. You will notice in line 80, that it is trivial to store away the value of the Salary.

When we get to the Display procedure, we are required to copy the characters to the monitor one at a time as is illustrated in lines 92 through 94. This is not very convenient, and it is somewhat error prone because it would be very easy to use a wrong count with some particular string. Even though the procedures are longer than they really should be, they are very simple, so you should have no trouble understanding what the package body does.


Example program ------> e_c23_p7.ada

The file named e_c23_p7.ada is a very simple program that exercises the EMPLOYEE class that we have just defined, but it really doesn't exercise it very much. It defines a few variables in lines 8 through 12, fills them with data in lines 16 through 20, and displays the data on the monitor in lines 22 through 26. The calls to Display are nothing special, in fact they only illustrate subprogram name overloading. There is no polymorphism being used here.

You should compile these three files (e_c23_p5.ada, e_c23_p6.ada, and BUSINESS1.ADA) and link them together, because they are the basis for some additional operations which we will study in the remainder of this chapter.


Example program ------> e_c23_p8.ada

Examine the file named BUSINESS2.ADA for another example of dynamic dispatching. We did nothing special in the last three example programs to prepare for dynamic dispatching but we will use the first two files unchanged to illustrate the use of dynamic dispatching. The file named e_c23_p8.ada begins by declaring all of the variables as being aliased so that an Ada access variable can access them within the program. We define an access type for the EMPLOYEE class in line 14, and use that type to define a variable named Employee_Point in line 15. We initialize all of the variables as before and we are ready to display the data.

We use the same access variable to access each variable in succession and display the data in each variable. You will notice that the exact same line of code in used in lines 26, 28, 30, 32, and 34, but it does not call the same actual procedure each time one of those lines are executed. This is, of course, because of the way dynamic dispatching works. The procedure that matches the type of the current value of the access variable is the procedure that will get called.

We used the same two files for the type definitions for each of the last two main programs, but one used dynamic dispatching, and the other did not. This program is meant to illustrate that there is nothing magic about the elements of the class that will be used for dynamic dispatching, the critical portions are in the calling program.


Example program ------> e_c23_p9.ada

Return to the file named e_c23_p5.ada to discuss a little problem that we completely overlooked when we discussed it. Line 29 contains a string indicating that we don't expect anyone to call this procedure and we would construe it as an error if they did. In fact, we don't expect anyone to ever create an object of this type, because we don't care to work with EMPLOYEE types, only the more specific types defined in e_c23_p6.ada.

The example program named e_c23_p9.ada contains a new reserved word abstract that is used in lines 5 and 11 to indicate that this is an abstract record. Since it is abstract, it is not permissible to create a variable of this type, and attempting to do so will result in a compile error. The word abstract is also used in line 7 where it states that the procedure is abstract and can never be called. Since it will never be called, the procedure does not even need to have an implementation. With the body of the procedure not being needed, the package body is empty, so it is completely eliminated. There is then no need for the context clauses for the Ada.Text_IO package, so they are removed.

Any type that inherits the EMPLOYEE type must provide an implementation for Display or contain an abstract definition for it. Including an abstract definition for Display will make the new type an abstract record also, and we cannot create an object of the new type. However, including an implementation for Display, will make the new type a normal type which can be used to define one or more objects. The compiler will prevent you from ignoring the Display subprogram, and will require that you include it in every child record of EMPLOYEE.

The most surprising part of this modification is that it can still be used with the files named e_c23_p6.ada and e_c23_p7.ada or e_c23_p8.ada, with no changes to any of them. Since we never tried to create a variable of the EMPLOYEE type, there is nothing to change in those files. You should compile, link, and execute both groups of files to prove to yourself that it actually works as stated.


This completes our study of object oriented programming in this tutorial. There is a lot more to learn about object oriented programming and how to use it, but it is beyond the scope of this tutorial, and there is a plethora of information about the topic in other publications. The remainder of this chapter will be used to illustrate a better method of using strings in Ada. It is included here because these example programs lend themselves well to illustrating the particular construct we wish to consider.


Even though it may seem like we have a STRING problem, we really don't, because the STRING type is working exactly as it was designed to work. The mark of a well designed language is not that it has the ability to do everything, but that it has the ability to be extended in an efficient manner to do anything that needs to be done. Ada was designed to be easily and robustly extended, and the area of strings is a very good example of this.

There are several string packages available with all Ada 95 compilers. They are all well defined in the ARM, and should be well defined in your compiler documentation. We will look at one of these packages to illustrate how it can be used to simplify the use of strings in an Ada program. The package named Ada.Strings.Bounded contains a generic package named Generic_Bounded_Length which implements a string package that is much more flexible than the STRING type. This string type stores an internal count of the number of characters that are currently significant, much like we did in the e_c23_p5.ada and e_c23_p6.ada files. it also provides a plethora of subprograms to load, extract, concatenate, and many other operations which are commonly needed when working with strings.

Example program ------> e_c23_p10.ada

The file named e_c23_p10.ada uses the Generic_Bounded_Length package by instantiating a copy of it in line 10 which provides an upper limit of 25 characters for a string of this type. The package provides a type named BOUNDED_STRING which defines the strings we wish to use. Each string can be from 0 to 25 characters long, and the string object will remember how many characters are currently stored there. The variable named Name is defined as type BOUNDED_STRING in line 18. The full name of the type is My_Strings.BOUNDED_STRING.You will notice that the generic package is in the Ada.Strings.Bounded library, so that library is mentioned in the context clause in line 2. Instead of a use clause, the fully qualified name is used in lines 10 and 11. This is a little different than the way it is done in most of the tutorial, but either method is completely acceptable.


Example program ------> e_c23_p11.ada

Examine the file named e_c23_p11.ada for the definition of the other three types, and you will notice that there are no STRING types in the package specification. They are replaced by the new type BOUNDED_STRING. Lines 71 through 73 of the package body illustrate the clean syntax that is possible with this new type because it has an assignment operator available that assigns not only the text to the new variable, but also the current length.

Since we have no way to output a variable of type BOUNDED_STRING to the monitor, we are forced to use a loop to output a single character at a time, but the loop uses attributes of the single variable rather than using two separate variables to control the output. This results in the Display procedures looking a little cleaner than they did in the last example program. The remainder of this package is simply more of the same that you can study at your leisure.


Example program ------> e_c23_p12.ada

Because of the need to maintain the correct types, it is necessary to convert the string constants in lines 16 through 31 into BOUNDED_STRING types. This is accomplished by calling the To_Bounded_String function for each of the string parameters prior to passing them into the Init_Data procedures. This looks ugly, and it seems to defeat the purpose of using the bounded string package. When writing a string intensive program, you will normally have a small input routine of some kind, and a small output routine, but there may be a massive amount of string processing going on within the program. A good example would be a spell checker where there is generally only a single word input, but an entire dictionary which must be searched.

In addition to the bounded string package, where you define a string type with some upper limit to the number of characters that can be stored within, there is an unbounded string package. The unbounded string can store any number of characters. It does this by growing longer automatically as you add more characters to its length. As you add characters, it reallocates a larger block each time it runs out of space in order for your string to fit. It will be left up to you to study this package if you wish to use it.


  1. Remove the comment from line 147 of e_c23_p1.ada to see what kind of an error the compiler issues.(Solution)
  2. Define a variable of the EMPLOYEE type in the BUSINESS2.ADA file when you are using the e_c23_p5.ada file as the definition of that type. Call the Display procedure to see that it can be used as well as the child types.(Solution)
  3. Define a variable of the EMPLOYEE type in the BUSINESS2.ADA file when you are using the e_c23_p9.ada file as the definition of that type. Does the error reported make sense to you?(Solution)
Advance to Chapter 24

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Gordon Dodrill - - Please email any comments or suggestions.