Standard library: Strings

In previous chapters, we've seen source-code examples using the String type, which is a fixed-length string type — essentialy, it's an array of characters. In many cases, this data type is good enough to deal with textual information. However, there are situations that require more advanced text processing. Ada offers alternative approaches for these cases:

  • Bounded strings: similar to fixed-length strings, bounded strings have a maximum length, which is set at its instantiation. However, bounded strings are not arrays of characters. At any time, they can contain a string of varied length — provided this length is below or equal to the maximum length.

  • Unbounded strings: similar to bounded strings, unbounded strings can contain strings of varied length. However, in addition to that, they don't have a maximum length. In this sense, they are very flexible.

The following sections present an overview of the different string types and common operations for string types.

String operations

Operations on standard (fixed-length) strings are available in the Ada.Strings.Fixed package. As mentioned previously, standard strings are arrays of elements of Character type with a fixed-length. That's why this child package is called Fixed.

One of the simplest operations provided is counting the number of substrings available in a string (Count) and finding their corresponding indices (Index). Let's look at an example:

with Ada.Strings.Fixed; use Ada.Strings.Fixed; with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO; procedure Show_Find_Substring is S : String := "Hello" & 3 * " World"; P : constant String := "World"; Idx : Natural; Cnt : Natural; begin Cnt := Ada.Strings.Fixed.Count (Source => S, Pattern => P); Put_Line ("String: " & S); Put_Line ("Count for '" & P & "': " & Natural'Image (Cnt)); Idx := 0; for I in 1 .. Cnt loop Idx := Index (Source => S, Pattern => P, From => Idx + 1); Put_Line ("Found instance of '" & P & "' at position: " & Natural'Image (Idx)); end loop; end Show_Find_Substring;

We initialize the string S using a multiplication. Writing "Hello" & 3 * " World" creates the string Hello World World World. We then call the function Count` to get the number of instances of the word World in S. Next we call the function Index in a loop to find the index of each instance of World in S.

That example looked for instances of a specific substring. In the next example, we retrieve all the words in the string. We do this using Find_Token and specifying whitespaces as separators. For example:

with Ada.Strings; use Ada.Strings; with Ada.Strings.Fixed; use Ada.Strings.Fixed; with Ada.Strings.Maps; use Ada.Strings.Maps; with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO; procedure Show_Find_Words is S : String := "Hello" & 3 * " World"; F : Positive; L : Natural; I : Natural := 1; Whitespace : constant Character_Set := To_Set (' '); begin Put_Line ("String: " & S); Put_Line ("String length: " & Integer'Image (S'Length)); while I in S'Range loop Find_Token (Source => S, Set => Whitespace, From => I, Test => Outside, First => F, Last => L); exit when L = 0; Put_Line ("Found word instance at position " & Natural'Image (F) & ": '" & S (F .. L) & "'"); -- & "-" & F'Img & "-" & L'Img I := L + 1; end loop; end Show_Find_Words;

We pass a set of characters to be used as delimitators to the procedure Find_Token. This set is a member of the Character_Set type from the Ada.Strings.Maps package. We call the To_Set function (from the same package) to initialize the set to Whitespace and then call Find_Token to loop over each valid index and find the starting index of each word. We pass Outside to the Test parameter of the Find_Token procedure to indicate that we're looking for indices that are outside the Whitespace set, i.e. actual words. The First and Last parameters of Find_Token are output parameters that indicate the valid range of the substring. We use this information to display the string (S (F .. L)).

The operations we've looked at so far read strings, but don't modify them. We next discuss operations that change the content of strings:

Operation

Description

Insert

Insert substring in a string

Overwrite

Overwrite a string with a substring

Delete

Delete a substring

Trim

Remove whitespaces from a string

All these operations are available both as functions or procedures. Functions create a new string but procedures perform the operations in place. The procedure will raise an exception if the constraints of the string are not satisfied. For example, if we have a string S containing 10 characters, inserting a string with two characters (e.g. "!!") into it produces a string containing 12 characters. Since it has a fixed length, we can't increase its size. One possible solution in this case is to specify that truncation should be applied while inserting the substring. This keeps the length of S fixed. Let's see an example that makes use of both function and procedure versions of Insert, Overwrite, and Delete:

with Ada.Strings; use Ada.Strings; with Ada.Strings.Fixed; use Ada.Strings.Fixed; with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO; procedure Show_Adapted_Strings is S : String := "Hello World"; P : constant String := "World"; N : constant String := "Beautiful"; procedure Display_Adapted_String (Source : String; Before : Positive; New_Item : String; Pattern : String) is S_Ins_In : String := Source; S_Ovr_In : String := Source; S_Del_In : String := Source; S_Ins : String := Insert (Source, Before, New_Item & " "); S_Ovr : String := Overwrite (Source, Before, New_Item); S_Del : String := Trim (Delete (Source, Before, Before + Pattern'Length - 1), Ada.Strings.Right); begin Insert (S_Ins_In, Before, New_Item, Right); Overwrite (S_Ovr_In, Before, New_Item, Right); Delete (S_Del_In, Before, Before + Pattern'Length - 1); Put_Line ("Original: '" & Source & "'"); Put_Line ("Insert: '" & S_Ins & "'"); Put_Line ("Overwrite: '" & S_Ovr & "'"); Put_Line ("Delete: '" & S_Del & "'"); Put_Line ("Insert (in-place): '" & S_Ins_In & "'"); Put_Line ("Overwrite (in-place): '" & S_Ovr_In & "'"); Put_Line ("Delete (in-place): '" & S_Del_In & "'"); end Display_Adapted_String; Idx : Natural; begin Idx := Index (Source => S, Pattern => P); if Idx > 0 then Display_Adapted_String (S, Idx, N, P); end if; end Show_Adapted_Strings;

In this example, we look for the index of the substring World and perform operations on this substring within the outer string. The procedure Display_Adapted_String uses both versions of the operations. For the procedural version of Insert and Overwrite, we apply truncation to the right side of the string (Right). For the Delete procedure, we specify the range of the substring, which is replaced by whitespaces. For the function version of Delete, we also call Trim which trims the trailing whitespace.

Limitation of fixed-length strings

Using fixed-length strings is usually good enough for strings that are initialized when they are declared. However, as seen in the previous section, procedural operations on strings cause difficulties when done on fixed-length strings because fixed-length strings are arrays of characters. The following example shows how cumbersome the initialization of fixed-length strings can be when it's not performed in the declaration:

with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO; procedure Show_Char_Array is S : String (1 .. 15); -- Strings are arrays of Character begin S := "Hello "; -- Alternatively: -- -- #1: -- S (1 .. 5) := "Hello"; -- S (6 .. S'Last) := (others => ' '); -- -- #2: -- S := ('H', 'e', 'l', 'l', 'o', others => ' '); Put_Line ("String: " & S); Put_Line ("String Length: " & Integer'Image (S'Length)); end Show_Char_Array;

In this case, we can't simply write S := "Hello" because the resulting array of characters for the Hello constant has a different length than the S string. Therefore, we need to include trailing whitespaces to match the length of S. As shown in the example, we could use an exact range for the initialization ( S (1 .. 5)) or use an explicit array of individual characters.

When strings are initialized or manipulated at run-time, it's usually better to use bounded or unbounded strings. An important feature of these types is that they aren't arrays, so the difficulties presented above don't apply. Let's start with bounded strings.

Bounded strings

Bounded strings are defined in the Ada.Strings.Bounded.Generic_Bounded_Length package. Because this is a generic package, you need to instantiate it and set the maximum length of the bounded string. You can then declare bounded strings of the Bounded_String type.

Both bounded and fixed-length strings have a maximum length that they can hold. However, bounded strings are not arrays, so initializing them at run-time is much easier. For example:

with Ada.Strings; use Ada.Strings; with Ada.Strings.Bounded; with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO; procedure Show_Bounded_String is package B_Str is new Ada.Strings.Bounded.Generic_Bounded_Length (Max => 15); use B_Str; S1, S2 : Bounded_String; procedure Display_String_Info (S : Bounded_String) is begin Put_Line ("String: " & To_String (S)); Put_Line ("String Length: " & Integer'Image (Length (S))); -- String: S'Length => ok -- Bounded_String: S'Length => compilation error -- bounded strings are not arrays! Put_Line ("Max. Length: " & Integer'Image (Max_Length)); end Display_String_Info; begin S1 := To_Bounded_String ("Hello"); Display_String_Info (S1); S2 := To_Bounded_String ("Hello World"); Display_String_Info (S2); S1 := To_Bounded_String ("Something longer to say here...", Right); Display_String_Info (S1); end Show_Bounded_String;

By using bounded strings, we can easily assign to S1 and S2 multiple times during execution. We use the To_Bounded_String and To_String functions to convert, in the respective direction, between fixed-length and bounded strings. A call to To_Bounded_String raises an exception if the length of the input string is greater than the maximum capacity of the bounded string. To avoid this, we can use the truncation parameter (Right in our example).

Bounded strings are not arrays, so we can't use the 'Length attribute as we did for fixed-length strings. Instead, we call the Length function, which returns the length of the bounded string. The Max_Length constant represents the maximum length of the bounded string that we set when we instantiated the package.

After initializing a bounded string, we can manipulate it. For example, we can append a string to a bounded string using Append or concatenate bounded strings using the & operator. Like so:

with Ada.Strings; use Ada.Strings; with Ada.Strings.Bounded; with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO; procedure Show_Bounded_String_Op is package B_Str is new Ada.Strings.Bounded.Generic_Bounded_Length (Max => 30); use B_Str; S1, S2 : Bounded_String; begin S1 := To_Bounded_String ("Hello"); -- Alternatively: A := Null_Bounded_String & "Hello"; Append (S1, " World"); -- Alternatively: Append (A, " World", Right); Put_Line ("String: " & To_String (S1)); S2 := To_Bounded_String ("Hello!"); S1 := S1 & " " & S2; Put_Line ("String: " & To_String (S1)); end Show_Bounded_String_Op;

We can initialize a bounded string with an empty string using the Null_Bounded_String constant. Also, we can use the Append procedure and specify the truncation mode like we do with the To_Bounded_String function.

Unbounded strings

Unbounded strings are defined in the Ada.Strings.Unbounded package. This is not a generic package, so we don't need to instantiate it before using the Unbounded_String type. As you may recall from the previous section, bounded strings require a package instantiation.

Unbounded strings are similar to bounded strings. The main difference is that they can hold strings of any size and adjust according to the input string: if we assign, e.g., a 10-character string to an unbounded string and later assign a 50-character string, internal operations in the container ensure that memory is allocated to store the new string. In most cases, developers don't need to worry about these operations. Also, no truncation is necessary.

Initialization of unbounded strings is very similar to bounded strings. Let's look at an example:

with Ada.Strings; use Ada.Strings; with Ada.Strings.Unbounded; use Ada.Strings.Unbounded; with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO; procedure Show_Unbounded_String is S1, S2 : Unbounded_String; procedure Display_String_Info (S : Unbounded_String) is begin Put_Line ("String: " & To_String (S)); Put_Line ("String Length: " & Integer'Image (Length (S))); end Display_String_Info; begin S1 := To_Unbounded_String ("Hello"); -- Alternatively: A := Null_Unbounded_String & "Hello"; Display_String_Info (S1); S2 := To_Unbounded_String ("Hello World"); Display_String_Info (S2); S1 := To_Unbounded_String ("Something longer to say here..."); Display_String_Info (S1); end Show_Unbounded_String;

Like bounded strings, we can assign to S1 and S2 multiple times during execution and use the To_Unbounded_String and To_String functions to convert back-and-forth between fixed-length strings and unbounded strings. However, in this case, truncation is not needed.

And, just like for bounded strings, you can use the Append function and the & operator for unbounded strings. For example:

with Ada.Strings.Unbounded; use Ada.Strings.Unbounded; with Ada.Text_IO; use Ada.Text_IO; procedure Show_Unbounded_String_Op is S1, S2 : Unbounded_String := Null_Unbounded_String; begin S1 := S1 & "Hello"; S2 := S2 & "Hello!"; Append (S1, " World"); Put_Line ("String: " & To_String (S1)); S1 := S1 & " " & S2; Put_Line ("String: " & To_String (S1)); end Show_Unbounded_String_Op;