Generic Programming

Read this text, which discusses the basics of generic programming and relates it to different languages.

3. Programming language support for genericity

3.2. Generics in Ada

Ada has had generics since it was first designed in 1977–1980. The standard library uses generics to provide many services. Ada 2005 adds a comprehensive generic container library to the standard library, which was inspired by C++'s standard template library.

A generic unit is a package or a subprogram that takes one or more generic formal parameters.

A generic formal parameter is a value, a variable, a constant, a type, a subprogram, or even an instance of another, designated, generic unit. For generic formal types, the syntax distinguishes between discrete, floating-point, fixed-point, access (pointer) types, etc. Some formal parameters can have default values.

To instantiate a generic unit, the programmer passes actual parameters for each formal. The generic instance then behaves just like any other unit. It is possible to instantiate generic units at run-time, for example inside a loop.


The specification of a generic package:

    Max_Size : Natural; -- a generic formal value
    type Element_Type is private; -- a generic formal type; accepts any nonlimited type
 package Stacks is
    type Size_Type is range 0 .. Max_Size;
    type Stack is limited private;
    procedure Create (S : out Stack;
                      Initial_Size : in Size_Type := Max_Size);
    procedure Push (Into : in out Stack; Element : in Element_Type);
    procedure Pop (From : in out Stack; Element : out Element_Type);
    Overflow : exception;
    Underflow : exception;
    subtype Index_Type is Size_Type range 1 .. Max_Size;
    type Vector is array (Index_Type range <>) of Element_Type;
    type Stack (Allocated_Size : Size_Type := 0) is record
       Top : Index_Type;
       Storage : Vector (1 .. Allocated_Size);
    end record;
 end Stacks;

Instantiating the generic package:

 type Bookmark_Type is new Natural;
 -- records a location in the text document we are editing

 package Bookmark_Stacks is new Stacks (Max_Size => 20,
                                        Element_Type => Bookmark_Type);
 -- Allows the user to jump between recorded locations in a document

Using an instance of a generic package:

 type Document_Type is record
    Contents : Ada.Strings.Unbounded.Unbounded_String;
    Bookmarks : Bookmark_Stacks.Stack;
 end record;

 procedure Edit (Document_Name : in String) is
   Document : Document_Type;
   -- Initialise the stack of bookmarks:
   Bookmark_Stacks.Create (S => Document.Bookmarks, Initial_Size => 10);
   -- Now, open the file Document_Name and read it in...
 end Edit;