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"Team Ada: Ada Advocacy Issues (83 & 95)" <[log in to unmask]>
Tucker Taft <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 6 Feb 1999 11:01:19 -0500
Tucker Taft <[log in to unmask]>
text/plain (246 lines)
I took the Ada vs. C++ "trade study" sent out a few days ago,
and tried to turn it into an FAQ for such a comparison.  Here
are the results.  Totally unbiased, of course ;-).

Comments and (serious) contributions welcomed.
Q: Don't software costing model sensitivities show that language selection
   has little impact on cost?

A: It is true that in some models, varying the programming language has
   less effect than variying other parameters.  For example:

      domain experience (18% improvement)
      overall engineering competency (analysts: 29% improvement,
        programmers: 30% improvement)
      programming language (5% improvement).

   However, analyzing these numbers indicates several issues.  First,
   withing a given organization, domain experience and engineering
   competency are relatively fixed.  With a given staff in a given
   organization, a wise choice of programming language may be
   the biggest and most cost-effective lever available.

   Secondly, the amount of improvement due to programming language choice
   clearly depends on the specific languages considered.  If we compare
   Modula-2 and TurboPascal, very little effect may be noticed, since both
   languages have comparable safety and features.  However, if we compare
   Ada 95 and C++, the languages differ dramatically in safety and features.
   The most basic features of C++ (arrays, pointers, casting) are all
   unsafe.  C++ provides no support for multithreading or interrupt
   handling in the language, and there are no guarantees of thread
   safety in implementations of the C++ run-time support, particularly
   in the implementation of destructors and exceptions.  The basic
   features of Ada 95 are all safe, and the language includes built-in
   support for multi-threading and interrupt handling with a requirement
   for thread-safe runtimes in all validated compilers.

   Thirdly, a cost model for traditional waterfall development is
   substantially different from a cost model for a more modern,
   iterative development process, with interleaved development,
   integration, testing, enhancement, requirements analysis, etc.
   In the more modern development process, the robustness, capability, and
   flexibility of the programming language become more critical.
   The more safety and consistency checking built into the language,
   the more rapidly errors can be found and fixed, and the more
   rapidly enhancements can be made without undermining the consistency
   and safety of the overall system.  Furthermore, as systems age, even if
   they were developed using a waterfall process, maintenance and enhancement
   ends up more iterative, and again, the support in the programming language
   for safety and consistency checking has a dramatic effect on the
   productivity and quality of the maintenance and enhancement process.

Q: Isn't the C/C++ tools market much larger than the Ada tools market?
   Doesn't this mean that C++ is a more viable language than Ada
   for building real-time systems?

A: The C/C++ tools market is certainly much larger if you include
   all PC-targeted tools.  However, if you focus just on C++ compilers
   that provide thread-safe runtimes, and that have been validated
   to some level of conformance with the ISO C++ standard, and
   that are designed for use in the real-time systems market,
   the size shrinks dramatically.  On the other hand, the bulk of the Ada
   compiler market is made up of sales of products that provide a thread-safe
   runtime, a validation certificate, and support for mission critical,
   real-time system development.

   The Ada compiler vendor market is strong.  Several vendors, such
   as ACT and Green Hills, have rapidly growing Ada businesses.
   The largest Ada vendor, Rational, is an extremely strong software
   company, with Ada as one of their most important product lines.
   All the major Ada vendors are focused on the real-time systems
   marketplace, and bring extensive expertise to this arena.  Most C++ vendors
   are focused on the desktop market, and generally have little or
   no expertise in the real-time systems arena.

Q: Are there any comparisons which show the relative strengths
   of Ada and C/C++?

A: Unfortunately, there are very few "scientific" comparisons of
   any sort that compare programming language benefits, in use in
   real projects.

   One company that publishes records of language productivity and
   error rates is Software Productivity Research.  Their most recent
   records indicate that Smalltalk has the lowest error rates in
   the desktop arena, and Ada 95 has the lowest error rates
   in the real-time systems arena.  An excellent, if somewhat dated,
   paper comparing Ada 83 and C was written by Steve Ziegler, formerly
   of Rational.  This paper was based on bug reports and bug-fix times
   recorded over several years on tools written in C and Ada 83.
   The evidence showed a striking difference in bug rates and bug-fix times,
   with the tools written in Ada having much lower bug rates, and
   much shorter bug-fix times.

Q: Aren't Ada 95 and C++ similar in capability?

A: It is true that both languages support both object-oriented programming
   as well as more low-level programming capabilities.  However, Ada 95
   provides many more features to support the development of real-time
   critical systems.  For example, the following Ada 95 real-time control
   features are not provided as part of C++:

     1) Portable multithreaded language features, with at least
         30 real-time priority levels
     2) Thread-safe runtimes, including exception handling and
     3) Uniform model for interrupt handling support and control
     4) Portable bit-level control of representation
     5) Packed arrays, with 1, 2, 4, or 8 bits per element.
     6) Delays based on both time-of-day and a real-time clock
     7) Compiler-provided routines for serializing data types as part
        of remote procedure calls or I/O, as well as ability for
        user to substitute their own.

   Furthermore, these capabilities are available in a portable way,
   both on top of off-the-shelf RTOS's (such as VxWorks) as well as
   on "bare" machines.

   In the area of safety critical systems, Ada 95 provides significantly
   more support for building certifiable systems more cost-effectively:

     1) Several Ada vendors provide certifiable run-times, including
        all documentation required by organizations like the FAA
        or the NRC.
     2) Because the Ada user can define their own distinct numeric types and
        subranges, array types, and pointer types, the compiler can
        perform many more compile-time consistency checks.  This
        can dramatically reduce the static analysis time for a large
        safety-critical system.
     3) All of the basic features of Ada are safe.  The unsafe features
        are available only through highly visible unchecked programming
        features, which can be localized or restricted as desired to
        reduce the certification effort.  In C/C++, the basic features
        (arrays, pointers, casts) are all unsafe, making it much more
        expensive to identify and certify all uses of potentially unsafe
     4) Commercial tools are available for further automating the
        certification process (e.g. the SPARK toolset from Praxis, Ltd.)
     5) Ada 95 compilers can automatically enforce project-specific
        restrictions specified using the pragma "Restrictions."

Q: What about the future availability of Ada compilers, especially
   on "new" chips that are designed in the future?

A: The availability of Ada compilers used to lag behind
   behind that of C.  However, because of changes in the
   technology underlying Ada compilers, that is no longer a significant
   problem.  In particular, a number of Ada 95 compilers are now based
   on optimization, code-generation, and run-time technology that is
   shared with C and C++ compilers.  For example, the GNAT Ada 95 compiler
   makes use of the GCC C-compiler optimizer, back end, and gdb debugger.
   In fact, the primary maintainer of the GCC technology is now an employee of
   ACT, the company that developed and maintains GNAT.  As another
   example, the Green Hills Ada 95 technology shares optimizer,
   code generator, and debugger with their C/C++/Fortran product line.
   Finally, AverStar has just announced a prevalidated Ada 95 compiler
   that uses optimized ANSI/ISO C as its intermediate representation,
   an Ada run-time built on top of a standard ANSI/ISO C run-time, and
   generates debugging information that allows C debuggers to debug
   at the Ada level.

   With these various options, an Ada 95 compiler for any new chip
   will be available in the same time frame as any C compiler for the chip.
   Augmenting this sharing of technology with C compilers are
   Ada 95 compilers that generate Java byte code files as their
   output (e.g. AppletMagic and jGNAT), and include a run-time built on
   the standard Java run-time classes.  This means that Ada 95 can also
   be used in environments where Java virtual machines, or Java
   "just-in-time" compilers are available.

Q: Aren't Ada compilers big and slow, and what about the quality of
   the generated code?

A: These days, modern Ada 95 compilers run as fast or faster than
   compilers for other languages.  This is particularly apparent when
   compared with C or C++ compilers attempting to compile very large systems.
   Separate compilation in C/C++ is based on the lexical-level "#include"
   model.  This poses a real challenge for avoiding having to repeatedly
   read include files in a single execution of the compiler.  Kludgey
   and non-portable "pre-compiled header" facilities are provided by
   some C/C++ compilers to address this performance problem.  This
   is not a problem for Ada compilers because separate compilation
   is based on a semantic-level module importation.  There is never
   a need to read the same spec more than once in the execution of
   an Ada 95 compiler.

   Many Ada 95 compilers also have a simplified program library
   model that is strictly source-based, eliminating the need for
   any large disk-based program library.

   Because of changes in the underlying technology, Ada 95 compilers
   now generate code as good or better than C or C++ for the same
   construct.  Because of reduced aliasing concerns, optimizers
   can be more aggressive with Ada programs than C programs.  Redundant
   run-time checks are eliminated by the optimizers built into many
   Ada compilers, and of course all run-time checks can be suppressed
   program-wide, or in specific modules, with the use of a pragma.

Q: What happens if I don't have enough Ada programmers for my team?
   Can my programmers learn on the job?  Is Ada being taught in
   colleges?  Where can I find Ada mentoring?

A: Many companies find that experienced programmers can learn
   Ada on the job given a modest amount of mentoring.  It turns
   out that the Ada compiler itself is an excellent teaching tool,
   because the language was carefully human-engineered to allow the
   compiler to catch most "silly" errors, while the extensive compile-time
   and run-time consistency checks provide guidance on semantic-level

   Ada is one of the most widely taught languages in colleges.  Because
   of its Pascal heritage, its excellent human-engineering, and its
   support for software engineering principles, it has emerged as a
   natural step up for colleges that have taught Pascal in the past.
   In a recent survey of colleges using various languages for teaching
   programming, those using Ada and Scheme were clearly the most
   satisfied with their languages as teaching tools.

   Ada mentoring is available from a number of sources.  Ada has
   an active newsgroup (comp.lang.ada), several extensive web-sites
   (,, an active user group
   (, and a vendor consortium (
   Any one of these can supply information on tools and services
   available for the Ada community.

Q: Hasn't C++ already incorporated all the good features that Ada has?

A: C++ has some of the same features as Ada, however the features
   in C++ are generally less safe, suffer from poor human-engineering,
   emphasize writability over readability, or involve more hidden
   overhead.  It is interesting to see C++-like languages like Java and
   Embedded C++ appearing to try to overcome some of the unsafety
   and inefficiency of C++.  Nevertheless, none of these C++ spinoffs
   fully address the fundamentally poor human engineering of C-based
   languages, with "=" vs. "==" confusion, missing "break"s, misplaced
   "const"s, missing "&"s, arrays indexable by any arbitrary integer or
   enum type, no overflow detection, etc.