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3.10 Access Types

   {access type} {access value} {designate} A value of an access type (an access value) provides indirect access to the object or subprogram it designates. Depending on its type, an access value can designate either subprograms, objects created by allocators (see 4.8), or more generally aliased objects of an appropriate type. {pointer: See access value} {pointer type: See access type}
Discussion: A name denotes an entity; an access value designates an entity. The ``dereference'' of an access value X, written ``X.all'', is a name that denotes the entity designated by X.

Language Design Principles

Access values should always be well defined (barring uses of certain unchecked features of Section 13). In particular, uninitialized access variables should be prevented by compile-time rules.


access_type_definition ::=
  | access_to_subprogram_definition
access_to_object_definition ::=
    access [general_access_modifiersubtype_indication
general_access_modifier ::= all | constant
access_to_subprogram_definition ::=
    access [protectedprocedure parameter_profile
  | access [protectedfunction  parameter_and_result_profile
access_definition ::= access subtype_mark

Static Semantics

     {8652/0012} {access-to-object type} {access-to-subprogram type} {pool-specific access type} {general access type} There are two kinds of access types, access-to-object types, whose values designate objects, and access-to-subprogram types, whose values designate subprograms. {storage pool} Associated with an access-to-object type is a storage pool; several access types may share the same storage pool. All descendants of an access type share the same storage pool. {pool element} A storage pool is an area of storage used to hold dynamically allocated objects (called pool elements) created by allocators[; storage pools are described further in 13.11, ``Storage Management''].
   {pool-specific access type} {general access type} Access-to-object types are further subdivided into pool-specific access types, whose values can designate only the elements of their associated storage pool, and general access types, whose values can designate the elements of any storage pool, as well as aliased objects created by declarations rather than allocators, and aliased subcomponents of other objects.
Implementation Note: The value of an access type will typically be a machine address. However, a value of a pool-specific access type can be represented as an offset (or index) relative to its storage pool, since it can point only to the elements of that pool.
   {aliased} A view of an object is defined to be aliased if it is defined by an object_declaration or component_definition with the reserved word aliased, or by a renaming of an aliased view. In addition, the dereference of an access-to-object value denotes an aliased view, as does a view conversion (see 4.6) of an aliased view. Finally, the current instance of a limited type, and a formal parameter or generic formal object of a tagged type are defined to be aliased. [Aliased views are the ones that can be designated by an access value.] {constrained (object)} {unconstrained (object)} {constrained by its initial value} If the view defined by an object_declaration is aliased, and the type of the object has discriminants, then the object is constrained; if its nominal subtype is unconstrained, then the object is constrained by its initial value. [Similarly, if the object created by an allocator has discriminants, the object is constrained, either by the designated subtype, or by its initial value.]
Glossary entry: {Aliased} An aliased view of an object is one that can be designated by an access value. Objects allocated by allocators are aliased. Objects can also be explicitly declared as aliased with the reserved word aliased. The Access attribute can be used to create an access value designating an aliased object.
Ramification: The current instance of a nonlimited type is not aliased.
The object created by an allocator is aliased, but not its subcomponents, except of course for those that themselves have aliased in their component_definition.
The renaming of an aliased object is aliased.
Slices are never aliased. See 4.1.2 for more discussion.
Reason: The current instance of a limited type is defined to be aliased so that an access discriminant of a component can be initialized with T'Access inside the definition of T.
A formal parameter of a tagged type is defined to be aliased so that a (tagged) parameter X may be passed to an access parameter P by using P => X'Access. Access parameters are most important for tagged types because of dispatching-on-access-parameters (see 3.9.2). By restricting this to formal parameters, we minimize problems associated with allowing components that are not declared aliased to be pointed-to from within the same record.
A view conversion of an aliased view is aliased so that the type of an access parameter can be changed without first converting to a named access type. For example:
type T1 is tagged ...;
procedure P(X : access T1);
type T2 is new T1 with ...;
procedure P(X : access T2) is
    P(T1(X.all)'Access);  -- hand off to T1's P
    . . .     -- now do extra T2-specific processing
end P;
The rule about objects with discriminants is necessary because values of a constrained access subtype can designate an object whose nominal subtype is unconstrained; without this rule, a check on every use of such values would be required to ensure that the discriminants of the object had not changed. With this rule (among others), we ensure that if there might exist aliased views of a discriminated object, then the object is necessarily constrained. Note that this rule is necessary only for untagged types, since a discriminant of a tagged type can't have a default, so all tagged discriminated objects are always constrained anyway.
We considered making more kinds of objects aliased by default. In particular, any object of a by-reference type will pretty much have to be allocated at an addressable location, so it can be passed by reference without using bit-field pointers. Therefore, one might wish to allow the Access and and Unchecked_Access attributes for such objects. However, private parts are transparent to the definition of ``by-reference type'', so if we made all objects of a by-reference type aliased, we would be violating the privacy of private parts. Instead, we would have to define a concept of ``visibly by-reference'' and base the rule on that. This seemed to complicate the rules more than it was worth, especially since there is no way to declare an untagged limited private type to be by-reference, since the full type might by nonlimited.
Discussion: Note that we do not use the term ``aliased'' to refer to formal parameters that are referenced through multiple access paths (see 6.2).
    An access_to_object_definition defines an access-to-object type and its first subtype; {designated subtype (of a named access type)} {designated type (of a named access type)} the subtype_indication defines the designated subtype of the access type. If a general_access_modifier appears, then the access type is a general access type. {access-to-constant type} If the modifier is the reserved word constant, then the type is an access-to-constant type[; a designated object cannot be updated through a value of such a type]. {access-to-variable type} If the modifier is the reserved word all, then the type is an access-to-variable type[; a designated object can be both read and updated through a value of such a type]. If no general_access_modifier appears in the access_to_object_definition, the access type is a pool-specific access-to-variable type.
To be honest: The type of the designated subtype is called the designated type.
Reason: The modifier all was picked to suggest that values of a general access type could point into ``all'' storage pools, as well as to objects declared aliased, and that ``all'' access (both read and update) to the designated object was provided. We couldn't think of any use for pool-specific access-to-constant types, so any access type defined with the modifier constant is considered a general access type, and can point into any storage pool or at other (appropriate) aliased objects.
Implementation Note: The predefined generic Unchecked_Deallocation can be instantiated for any named access-to-variable type. There is no (language-defined) support for deallocating objects designated by a value of an access-to-constant type. Because of this, an allocator for an access-to-constant type can allocate out of a storage pool with no support for deallocation. Frequently, the allocation can be done at link-time, if the size and initial value are known then.
Discussion: For the purpose of generic formal type matching, the relevant subclasses of access types are access-to-subprogram types, access-to-constant types, and (named) access-to-variable types, with its subclass (named) general access-to-variable types. Pool-specific access-to-variable types are not a separately matchable subclass of types, since they don't have any ``extra'' operations relative to all (named) access-to-variable types.
    {access-to-subprogram type} An access_to_subprogram_definition defines an access-to-subprogram type and its first subtype; {designated profile (of an access-to-subprogram type)} the parameter_profile or parameter_and_result_profile defines the designated profile of the access type. {calling convention (associated with a designated profile)} There is a calling convention associated with the designated profile[; only subprograms with this calling convention can be designated by values of the access type.] By default, the calling convention is ``protected'' if the reserved word protected appears, and ``Ada'' otherwise. [See Annex B for how to override this default.]
Ramification: The calling convention protected is in italics to emphasize that it cannot be specified explicitly by the user. This is a consequence of it being a reserved word.
Implementation Note: For an access-to-subprogram type, the representation of an access value might include implementation-defined information needed to support up-level references -- for example, a static link. The accessibility rules (see 3.10.2) ensure that in a "global-display-based" implementation model (as opposed to a static-link-based model), an access-to-(unprotected)-subprogram value need consist only of the address of the subprogram. The global display is guaranteed to be properly set up any time the designated subprogram is called. Even in a static-link-based model, the only time a static link is definitely required is for an access-to-subprogram type declared in a scope nested at least two levels deep within subprogram or task bodies, since values of such a type might designate subprograms nested a smaller number of levels. For the normal case of an access-to-subprogram type declared at the outermost (library) level, a code address by itself should be sufficient to represent the access value in many implementations.
For access-to-protected-subprogram, the access values will necessarily include both an address (or other identification) of the code of the subprogram, as well as the address of the associated protected object. This could be thought of as a static link, but it will be needed even for global-display-based implementation models. It corresponds to the value of the ``implicit parameter'' that is passed into every call of a protected operation, to identify the current instance of the protected type on which they are to operate.
Any Elaboration_Check is performed when a call is made through an access value, rather than when the access value is first "created" via a 'Access. For implementation models that normally put that check at the call-site, an access value will have to point to a separate entry point that does the check. Alternatively, the access value could point to a "subprogram descriptor" that consisted of two words (or perhaps more), the first being the address of the code, the second being the elaboration bit. Or perhaps more efficiently, just the address of the code, but using the trick that the descriptor is initialized to point to a Raise-Program-Error routine initially, and then set to point to the "real" code when the body is elaborated.
For implementations that share code between generic instantiations, the extra level of indirection suggested above to support Elaboration_Checks could also be used to provide a pointer to the per-instance data area normally required when calling shared code. The trick would be to put a pointer to the per-instance data area into the subprogram descriptor, and then make sure that the address of the subprogram descriptor is loaded into a "known" register whenever an indirect call is performed. Once inside the shared code, the address of the per-instance data area can be retrieved out of the subprogram descriptor, by indexing off the "known" register.
Essentially the same implementation issues arise for calls on dispatching operations of tagged types, except that the static link is always known "statically."
Note that access parameters of an anonymous access-to-subprogram type are not permitted. If there were such parameters, full ``downward'' closures would be required, meaning that in an implementation that uses a per-task (global) display, the display would have to be passed as a hidden parameter, and reconstructed at the point of call. This was felt to be an undue implementation burden, given that an equivalent (actually, more general) capability is available via formal subprogram parameters to a generic.
    {anonymous access type} {designated subtype (of an anonymous access type)} {designated type (of an anonymous access type)} An access_definition defines an anonymous general access-to-variable type; the subtype_mark denotes its designated subtype. [An access_definition is used in the specification of an access discriminant (see 3.7) or an access parameter (see 6.1).]
    {null value (of an access type)} For each (named) access type, there is a literal null which has a null access value designating no entity at all. [The null value of a named access type is the default initial value of the type.] Other values of an access type are obtained by evaluating an attribute_reference for the Access or Unchecked_Access attribute of an aliased view of an object or non-intrinsic subprogram, or, in the case of a named access-to-object type, an allocator[, which returns an access value designating a newly created object (see 3.10.2)].
Ramification: A value of an anonymous access type (that is, the value of an access parameter or access discriminant) cannot be null.
Reason: Access parameters allow dispatching on the tag of the object designated by the actual parameter (which gets converted to the anonymous access type as part of the call). In order for dispatching to work properly, there had better be such an object. Hence, the type conversion will raise Constraint_Error if the value of the actual parameter is null.
      {8652/0013} {constrained (subtype) [partial]} {unconstrained (subtype) [partial]} [All subtypes of an access-to-subprogram type are constrained.] The first subtype of a type defined by an access_definition access_type_definition or an access_to_object_definition is unconstrained if the designated subtype is an unconstrained array or discriminated subtype type; otherwise it is constrained.
Proof: The Legality Rules on range_constraints (see 3.5) do not permit the subtype_mark of the subtype_indication to denote an access-to-scalar type, only a scalar type. The Legality Rules on index_constraints (see 3.6.1) and discriminant_constraints (see 3.7.1) both permit access-to-composite types in a subtype_indication with such _constraints. Note that an access-to-access-to-composite is never permitted in a subtype_indication with a constraint.
Reason: Only composite_constraints are permitted for an access type, and only on access-to-composite types. A constraint on an access-to-scalar or access-to-access type might be violated due to assignments via other access paths that were not so constrained. By contrast, if the designated subtype is an array or discriminated type, the constraint could not be violated by unconstrained assignments, since array objects are always constrained, and aliased discriminated objects are also constrained (by fiat, see Static Semantics).

Dynamic Semantics

    {compatibility (composite_constraint with an access subtype) [partial]} A composite_constraint is compatible with an unconstrained access subtype if it is compatible with the designated subtype. {satisfies (for an access value) [partial]} An access value satisfies a composite_constraint of an access subtype if it equals the null value of its type or if it designates an object whose value satisfies the constraint.
    {elaboration (access_type_definition) [partial]} The elaboration of an access_type_definition creates the access type and its first subtype. For an access-to-object type, this elaboration includes the elaboration of the subtype_indication, which creates the designated subtype.
    {elaboration (access_definition) [partial]} The elaboration of an access_definition creates an anonymous general access-to-variable type [(this happens as part of the initialization of an access parameter or access discriminant)].
77  Access values are called ``pointers'' or ``references'' in some other languages.
78  Each access-to-object type has an associated storage pool; several access types can share the same pool. An object can be created in the storage pool of an access type by an allocator (see 4.8) for the access type. A storage pool (roughly) corresponds to what some other languages call a ``heap.'' See 13.11 for a discussion of pools.
79  Only index_constraints and discriminant_constraints can be applied to access types (see 3.6.1 and 3.7.1).


    Examples of access-to-object types:
type Peripheral_Ref is access Peripheral;  --  see 3.8.1
type Binop_Ptr is access all Binary_Operation'Class;
                                           -- general access-to-class-wide, see 3.9.1
    Example of an access subtype:
subtype Drum_Ref is Peripheral_Ref(Drum);  --  see 3.8.1
    Example of an access-to-subprogram type:
type Message_Procedure is access procedure (M : in String := "Error!");
procedure Default_Message_Procedure(M : in String);
Give_Message : Message_Procedure := Default_Message_Procedure'Access;
procedure Other_Procedure(M : in String);
Give_Message := Other_Procedure'Access;
Give_Message("File not found.");  -- call with parameter (.all is optional)
Give_Message.all;                 -- call with no parameters

Extensions to Ada 83

{extensions to Ada 83} The syntax for access_type_definition is changed to support general access types (including access-to-constants) and access-to-subprograms. The syntax rules for general_access_modifier and access_definition are new.

Wording Changes from Ada 83

We use the term "storage pool" to talk about the data area from which allocation takes place. The term "collection" is no longer used. ("Collection" and "storage pool" are not the same thing because multiple unrelated access types can share the same storage pool; see 13.11 for more discussion.)

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