Re: pointer questions
- From: Robert A Duff <bobduff@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: 27 Oct 2005 20:42:05 -0400
"Jeffrey R. Carter" <spam@xxxxxxxx> writes:
> Robert A Duff wrote:
> > Never? Well, these kinds of low-level hacks are _rarely_ a good idea.
> > But you might need them when interfacing to some other language
> > that uses such trickery.
> True, but then you're not using Ada, you're using Ada and X, which I
> addressed later. For just Ada, you never need the kind of pointers the
> OP was asking about.
> > Maybe the kinds of programs I write are different. Question for those
> > who rarely use access types: what sort of application areas are you
> > talking about? Mine are usually software development tools -- such as
> > compilers.
> Maybe. I use unbounded data structures frequently, but I don't write a
> new one every time. Instead, I reuse existing generic data structures,
> so the code I write doesn't contain those access types.
Yeah, me too.
>... When you talk
> about all the access types in your compiler code, are you talking about
> frequent creation of new access types, reuse of existing but exposed
> access types, or reuse of packages that hide the use of access types?
> That will help decide if compilers are different.
All of the above. ;-)
I don't know how to create mutually recursive data types in Ada without
access types, or something pretty-much equivalent to them (e.g. indices
into an array can be used as "pointers"). In compilers, such data
structures are common. Think of an abstract syntax tree. I want to
say, an expression can be a function call, and a function call contains
actual parameters, and actual parameters contain expressions. You can't
say that directly in Ada -- you have to introduce access-to-expression,
or some such thing.
An abstract syntax tree for Ada will have upwards of a hundred different
tagged types (or variants, if you go the variant record route). And you
need access types all over the place, because these things are highly
> For learning Ada, one should write some dynamic data structures, but to
> use Ada, you should reuse existing dynamic data structures. I don't
> count access types hidden in reused packages as using access types.
> Recently, I've written a generic package for genetic algorithms, and a
> TSP program that uses it, and a package to implement the Nicias
> encryption algorithm, and a program that uses it. Nary an access type in
> > If I designed a language, I would go even further in that direction.
> > I would allow mutually recursive types without intervening pointers.
> > The only need for pointers in my language would be where
> > reference semantics is desired -- e.g. when you want two pointers
> > to the same object, such that updates to that object can be seen
> > through both.
> We're still waiting to see an informal specification for Duff, or
> whatever it's called :)
You and I might have to wait a long time for that, given that I have to
make a living. I can do so making compilers and other tools, but since
the Ada 9X project, nobody seems interested in paying me to do language
design. Sigh. For now, it's a hobby.
I don't even know what to call it. Not "Duff", for sure. ;-)
> > I don't really agree. A beginner to Ada who knows how to program
> > (in some other language, such as C) might well want to make a
> > linked list, for example, and that requires pointers of some
> > sort -- usually access types.
> Again, for learning Ada, certainly. For using Ada, no. Part of learning
> Ada is learning to reuse. Even after the beginner has crafted a generic,
> unbounded list to learn about generics, access types, memory management,
> and information hiding, it's still a good idea for him to use the
> unbounded list component from <your favorite library here> (or
> Ada.Containers in 0X) to learn to reuse others' packages, and to gain
> the benefit of SW that has been much more thoroughly tested than his own
> My comments that pointers are rarely needed in Ada are usually addressed
> to beginners coming from C who think they must use pointers for
> everything, from passing a parameter that can be modified to creating an
> array with bounds known only at run time. I hope that my saying this
> will cause them to stop, every time they think they need a pointer, and
> see if perhaps Ada can do it without one. In that way, perhaps they will
> gain a better understanding and appreciation of Ada.
I see what you mean, but I think it might be more helpful to point out
the specific cases where pointers are unnecessary in Ada:
If you want to loop through an array, don't use pointers like you do in C.
If you want to modify a parameter, use 'in out', instead of an explicit
pointer, and trust the compiler to pass by-ref when appropriate.
(Except that it's embarrassing that you can't say 'in out' in
If you want a dynamic-sized thing, and you know the size at
object-creation time, and the size doesn't change, you don't need
pointers in Ada.
If you want a dynamic-sized record component, discriminants may be in
Just saying "You hardly ever need pointers in Ada" is misleading,
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- From: Jeffrey R. Carter
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