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7. Portability

Discussions concerning portability usually concentrate on the differences in computer systems, but the development and run-time environment may also change:

  • portability (software)
    The ease with which software can be transferred from one computer system or environment to another (IEEE Dictionary 1984).

Most portability problems are not pure language issues. Portability involves hardware (byte order, device I/O) and software (utility libraries, operating systems, run-time libraries). This chapter will not address these challenging design issues.

This chapter does identify the more common portability problems that are specific to Ada when moving from one platform or compiler to another. It also suggests ways that nonportable code can be isolated. By using the implementation hiding features of Ada, the cost of porting can be significantly reduced.

In fact, many language portability issues are solved by the strict definition of the Ada language itself. In most programming languages, different dialects are prevalent as vendors extend or dilute a language for various reasons: conformance to a programming environment or features for a particular application domain. The Ada Compiler Validation Capability (ACVC) was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense at the Ada Validation Facility, ASD/SIDL, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, to ensure that implementors strictly adhered to the Ada standard.

As part of the strict definition of Ada, certain constructs are defined to be erroneous, and the effect of executing an erroneous construct is unpredictable. Therefore, erroneous constructs are obviously not portable. Erroneous constructs and bounded errors are discussed in Guideline 5.9.10 and are not repeated in this chapter.

Most programmers new to the language expect Ada to eliminate all portability problems; it definitely does not. Certain areas of Ada are not yet covered by validation. The definition of Ada leaves certain details to the implementor. The compiler implementor's choices, with respect to these details, affect portability.

The revisions to the Ada language approved in the 1995 standard generate a new area of portability concerns. Some programs are intended to have a long life and may start in Ada 83 (Ada Reference Manual 1983) but transition to Ada 95 (Ada Reference Manual 1995). Although this style guide focuses on the current Ada standard and does not address transition issues, there are portability issues relating to using certain features of the language. These issues revolve around the language features designated as obsolescent in Annex J of the Ada Reference Manual (1995).

The constructs of the language have been developed to satisfy a series of needs. These constructs can legitimately be used even though they may impact portability. There are some general principles to enhancing portability that are exemplified by many of the guidelines in this chapter. They are:

  • Recognize those Ada constructs that may adversely affect portability on the relevant implementations or platforms.
  • Rely on those Ada constructs that depend on characteristics shared by all relevant implementations. Avoid the use of those constructs whose implementation characteristics vary on the relevant platforms.
  • Localize and encapsulate nonportable features of a program if their use is essential.
  • Highlight the use of constructs that may cause portability problems.

These guidelines cannot be applied thoughtlessly. Many of them involve a detailed understanding of the Ada model and its implementation. In many cases, you will have to make carefully considered tradeoffs between efficiency and portability. Reading this chapter should improve your insight into the tradeoffs involved. The material in this chapter was largely acquired from three sources: the Ada Run-Time Environments Working Group (ARTEWG) Catalogue of Ada Runtime Implementation Dependencies (ARTEWG 1986); the Nissen and Wallis book on Portability and Style in Ada (Nissen and Wallis 1984); and a paper written for the U.S. Air Force by SofTech on Ada Portability Guidelines (Pappas 1985). The last of these sources (Pappas 1985) encompasses the other two and provides an in-depth explanation of the issues, numerous examples, and techniques for minimizing portability problems. Conti (1987) is a valuable reference for understanding the latitude allowed for implementors of Ada and the criteria often used to make decisions.

This chapter's purpose is to provide a summary of portability issues in the guideline format of this book. The chapter does not include all issues identified in the references but only the most significant. For an in-depth presentation, see Pappas (1985). A few additional guidelines are presented here and others are elaborated upon where applicable. For further reading on Ada I/O portability issues, see Matthews (1987), Griest (1989), and CECOM (1989).

Some of the guidelines in this chapter cross reference and place stricter constraints on other guidelines in this book. These constraints apply when portability is being emphasized.

Guidelines in this chapter are frequently worded "consider . . ." because hard and fast rules cannot apply in all situations. The specific choice you make in a given situation involves design tradeoffs. The rationale for these guidelines is intended to give you insight into some of these tradeoffs.