In this section we examine special elaboration issues that arise for programs that declare library level tasks.
Generally the model of execution of an Ada program is that all units are elaborated, and then execution of the program starts. However, the declaration of library tasks definitely does not fit this model. The reason for this is that library tasks start as soon as they are declared (more precisely, as soon as the statement part of the enclosing package body is reached), that is to say before elaboration of the program is complete. This means that if such a task calls a subprogram, or an entry in another task, the callee may or may not be elaborated yet, and in the standard Reference Manual model of dynamic elaboration checks, you can even get timing dependent Program_Error exceptions, since there can be a race between the elaboration code and the task code.
The static model of elaboration in GNAT seeks to avoid all such dynamic behavior, by being conservative, and the conservative approach in this particular case is to assume that all the code in a task body is potentially executed at elaboration time if a task is declared at the library level.
This can definitely result in unexpected circularities. Consider the following example
package Decls is task Lib_Task is entry Start; end Lib_Task; type My_Int is new Integer; function Ident (M : My_Int) return My_Int; end Decls; with Utils; package body Decls is task body Lib_Task is begin accept Start; Utils.Put_Val (2); end Lib_Task; function Ident (M : My_Int) return My_Int is begin return M; end Ident; end Decls; with Decls; package Utils is procedure Put_Val (Arg : Decls.My_Int); end Utils; with Text_IO; package body Utils is procedure Put_Val (Arg : Decls.My_Int) is begin Text_IO.Put_Line (Decls.My_Int'Image (Decls.Ident (Arg))); end Put_Val; end Utils; with Decls; procedure Main is begin Decls.Lib_Task.Start; end;
If the above example is compiled in the default static elaboration mode, then a circularity occurs. The circularity comes from the call Utils.Put_Val in the task body of Decls.Lib_Task. Since this call occurs in elaboration code, we need an implicit pragma Elaborate_All for Utils. This means that not only must the spec and body of Utils be elaborated before the body of Decls, but also the spec and body of any unit that is `with'ed by the body of Utils must also be elaborated before the body of Decls. This is the transitive implication of pragma Elaborate_All and it makes sense, because in general the body of Put_Val might have a call to something in a `with'ed unit.
In this case, the body of Utils (actually its spec) `with's Decls. Unfortunately this means that the body of Decls must be elaborated before itself, in case there is a call from the body of Utils.
Here is the exact chain of events we are worrying about:
Indeed, if you add an explicit pragma Elaborate_All for Utils in the body of Decls you will get a true Ada Reference Manual circularity that makes the program illegal.
In practice, we have found that problems with the static model of elaboration in existing code often arise from library tasks, so we must address this particular situation.
Note that if we compile and run the program above, using the dynamic model of elaboration (that is to say use the `-gnatE' switch), then it compiles, binds, links, and runs, printing the expected result of 2. Therefore in some sense the circularity here is only apparent, and we need to capture the properties of this program that distinguish it from other library-level tasks that have real elaboration problems.
We have four possible answers to this question:
If we use the `-gnatE' switch, then as noted above, the program works. Why is this? If we examine the task body, it is apparent that the task cannot proceed past the accept statement until after elaboration has been completed, because the corresponding entry call comes from the main program, not earlier. This is why the dynamic model works here. But that's really giving up on a precise analysis, and we prefer to take this approach only if we cannot solve the problem in any other manner. So let us examine two ways to reorganize the program to avoid the potential elaboration problem.
Write separate packages, so that library tasks are isolated from other declarations as much as possible. Let us look at a variation on the above program.
package Decls1 is task Lib_Task is entry Start; end Lib_Task; end Decls1; with Utils; package body Decls1 is task body Lib_Task is begin accept Start; Utils.Put_Val (2); end Lib_Task; end Decls1; package Decls2 is type My_Int is new Integer; function Ident (M : My_Int) return My_Int; end Decls2; with Utils; package body Decls2 is function Ident (M : My_Int) return My_Int is begin return M; end Ident; end Decls2; with Decls2; package Utils is procedure Put_Val (Arg : Decls2.My_Int); end Utils; with Text_IO; package body Utils is procedure Put_Val (Arg : Decls2.My_Int) is begin Text_IO.Put_Line (Decls2.My_Int'Image (Decls2.Ident (Arg))); end Put_Val; end Utils; with Decls1; procedure Main is begin Decls1.Lib_Task.Start; end;
All we have done is to split Decls into two packages, one containing the library task, and one containing everything else. Now there is no cycle, and the program compiles, binds, links and executes using the default static model of elaboration.
A significant part of the problem arises because of the use of the single task declaration form. This means that the elaboration of the task type, and the elaboration of the task itself (i.e., the creation of the task) happen at the same time. A good rule of style in Ada is to always create explicit task types. By following the additional step of placing task objects in separate packages from the task type declaration, many elaboration problems are avoided. Here is another modified example of the example program:
package Decls is task type Lib_Task_Type is entry Start; end Lib_Task_Type; type My_Int is new Integer; function Ident (M : My_Int) return My_Int; end Decls; with Utils; package body Decls is task body Lib_Task_Type is begin accept Start; Utils.Put_Val (2); end Lib_Task_Type; function Ident (M : My_Int) return My_Int is begin return M; end Ident; end Decls; with Decls; package Utils is procedure Put_Val (Arg : Decls.My_Int); end Utils; with Text_IO; package body Utils is procedure Put_Val (Arg : Decls.My_Int) is begin Text_IO.Put_Line (Decls.My_Int'Image (Decls.Ident (Arg))); end Put_Val; end Utils; with Decls; package Declst is Lib_Task : Decls.Lib_Task_Type; end Declst; with Declst; procedure Main is begin Declst.Lib_Task.Start; end;
What we have done here is to replace the task declaration in package Decls with a task type declaration. Then we introduce a separate package Declst to contain the actual task object. This separates the elaboration issues for the task type declaration, which causes no trouble, from the elaboration issues of the task object, which is also unproblematic, since it is now independent of the elaboration of Utils. This separation of concerns also corresponds to a generally sound engineering principle of separating declarations from instances. This version of the program also compiles, binds, links, and executes, generating the expected output.
The previous two approaches described how a program can be restructured to avoid the special problems caused by library task bodies. in practice, however, such restructuring may be difficult to apply to existing legacy code, so we must consider solutions that do not require massive rewriting.
Let us consider more carefully why our original sample program works under the dynamic model of elaboration. The reason is that the code in the task body blocks immediately on the accept statement. Now of course there is nothing to prohibit elaboration code from making entry calls (for example from another library level task), so we cannot tell in isolation that the task will not execute the accept statement during elaboration.
However, in practice it is very unusual to see elaboration code make any entry calls, and the pattern of tasks starting at elaboration time and then immediately blocking on accept or select statements is very common. What this means is that the compiler is being too pessimistic when it analyzes the whole package body as though it might be executed at elaboration time.
If we know that the elaboration code contains no entry calls, (a very safe assumption most of the time, that could almost be made the default behavior), then we can compile all units of the program under control of the following configuration pragma:
pragma Restrictions (No_Entry_Calls_In_Elaboration_Code);
This pragma can be placed in the
gnat.adc file in the usual
manner. If we take our original unmodified program and compile it
in the presence of a
gnat.adc containing the above pragma,
then once again, we can compile, bind, link, and execute, obtaining
the expected result. In the presence of this pragma, the compiler does
not trace calls in a task body, that appear after the first accept
or select statement, and therefore does not report a potential
circularity in the original program.
The compiler will check to the extent it can that the above restriction is not violated, but it is not always possible to do a complete check at compile time, so it is important to use this pragma only if the stated restriction is in fact met, that is to say no task receives an entry call before elaboration of all units is completed.