More about records

Dynamically sized record types

We have previously seen some simple examples of record types. Let's now look at some of the more advanced properties of this fundamental language feature.

One point to note is that object size for a record type does not need to be known at compile time. This is illustrated in the example below:

    
    
        
package Runtime_Length is function Compute_Max_Len return Natural; end Runtime_Length;
with Runtime_Length; use Runtime_Length; package Var_Size_Record is Max_Len : constant Natural := Compute_Max_Len; -- ^ Not known at compile time type Items_Array is array (Positive range <>) of Integer; type Growable_Stack is record Items : Items_Array (1 .. Max_Len); Len : Natural; end record; -- Growable_Stack is a definite type, but -- size is not known at compile time. G : Growable_Stack; end Var_Size_Record;

It is completely fine to determine the size of your records at run time, but note that all objects of this type will have the same size.

Records with discriminant

In the example above, the size of the Items field is determined once, at run-time, but every Growable_Stack instance will be exactly the same size. But maybe that's not what you want to do. We saw that arrays in general offer this flexibility: for an unconstrained array type, different objects can have different sizes.

You can get analogous functionality for records, too, using a special kind of field that is called a discriminant:

    
    
        
package Var_Size_Record_2 is type Items_Array is array (Positive range <>) of Integer; type Growable_Stack (Max_Len : Natural) is record -- ^ Discriminant. Cannot be -- modified once initialized. Items : Items_Array (1 .. Max_Len); Len : Natural := 0; end record; -- Growable_Stack is an indefinite type -- (like an array) end Var_Size_Record_2;

Discriminants, in their simple forms, are constant: You cannot modify them once you have initialized the object. This intuitively makes sense since they determine the size of the object.

Also, they make a type indefinite: Whether or not the discriminant is used to specify the size of an object, a type with a discriminant will be indefinite if the discriminant is not declared with an initialization:

    
    
        
package Test_Discriminants is type Point (X, Y : Natural) is record null; end record; P : Point; -- ERROR: Point is indefinite, so you -- need to specify the discriminants -- or give a default value P2 : Point (1, 2); P3 : Point := (1, 2); -- Those two declarations are equivalent. end Test_Discriminants;

This also means that, in the example above, you cannot declare an array of Point values, because the size of a Point is not known.

As mentioned in the example above, we could provide a default value for the discriminants, so that we could legally declare Point values without specifying the discriminants. For the example above, this is how it would look:

    
    
        
package Test_Discriminants is type Point (X, Y : Natural := 0) is record null; end record; P : Point; -- We can now simply declare a "Point" -- without further ado. In this case, -- we're using the default values (0) -- for X and Y. P2 : Point (1, 2); P3 : Point := (1, 2); -- We can still specify discriminants. end Test_Discriminants;

Also note that, even though the Point type now has default discriminants, we can still specify discriminants, as we're doing in the declarations of P2 and P3.

In most other respects discriminants behave like regular fields: You have to specify their values in aggregates, as seen above, and you can access their values via the dot notation.

    
    
        
with Var_Size_Record_2; use Var_Size_Record_2; with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO; procedure Main is procedure Print_Stack (G : Growable_Stack) is begin Put ("<Stack, items: ["); for I in G.Items'Range loop exit when I > G.Len; Put (" " & Integer'Image (G.Items (I))); end loop; Put_Line ("]>"); end Print_Stack; S : Growable_Stack := (Max_Len => 128, Items => (1, 2, 3, 4, others => <>), Len => 4); begin Print_Stack (S); end Main;

Note

In the examples above, we used a discriminant to determine the size of an array, but it is not limited to that, and could be used, for example, to determine the size of a nested discriminated record.

Variant records

The examples of discriminants thus far have illustrated the declaration of records of varying size, by having components whose size depends on the discriminant.

However, discriminants can also be used to obtain the functionality of what are sometimes called "variant records": records that can contain different sets of fields.

    
    
        
package Variant_Record is -- Forward declaration of Expr type Expr; -- Access to a Expr type Expr_Access is access Expr; type Expr_Kind_Type is (Bin_Op_Plus, Bin_Op_Minus, Num); -- A regular enumeration type type Expr (Kind : Expr_Kind_Type) is record -- ^ The discriminant is an -- enumeration value case Kind is when Bin_Op_Plus | Bin_Op_Minus => Left, Right : Expr_Access; when Num => Val : Integer; end case; -- Variant part. Only one, at the end of -- the record definition, but can be -- nested end record; end Variant_Record;

The fields that are in a when branch will be only available when the value of the discriminant is covered by the branch. In the example above, you will only be able to access the fields Left and Right when the Kind is Bin_Op_Plus or Bin_Op_Minus.

If you try to access a field that is not valid for your record, a Constraint_Error will be raised.

    
    
        
with Variant_Record; use Variant_Record; procedure Main is E : Expr := (Num, 12); begin E.Left := new Expr'(Num, 15); -- Will compile but fail at runtime end Main;

Here is how you could write an evaluator for expressions:

    
    
        
with Variant_Record; use Variant_Record; with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO; procedure Main is function Eval_Expr (E : Expr) return Integer is (case E.Kind is when Bin_Op_Plus => Eval_Expr (E.Left.all) + Eval_Expr (E.Right.all), when Bin_Op_Minus => Eval_Expr (E.Left.all) - Eval_Expr (E.Right.all), when Num => E.Val); E : Expr := (Bin_Op_Plus, new Expr'(Bin_Op_Minus, new Expr'(Num, 12), new Expr'(Num, 15)), new Expr'(Num, 3)); begin Put_Line (Integer'Image (Eval_Expr (E))); end Main;

In other languages

Ada's variant records are very similar to Sum types in functional languages such as OCaml or Haskell. A major difference is that the discriminant is a separate field in Ada, whereas the 'tag' of a Sum type is kind of built in, and only accessible with pattern matching.

There are other differences (you can have several discriminants in a variant record in Ada). Nevertheless, they allow the same kind of type modeling as sum types in functional languages.

Compared to C/C++ unions, Ada variant records are more powerful in what they allow, and are also checked at run time, which makes them safer.