Ada offers robust, reliable code for safety-conscious industries

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Ada offers robust, reliable code for safety-conscious industries

Nick Langley

Ada specialists can find work in avionics and security.

What is it?

The telecoms, defence, aerospace and medical technology industries all depend on Ada, described by the Ada compiler and tools company Adacore as "a modern programming language designed for large, long-lived applications - and embedded systems in particular - where reliability and efficiency are essential". 

The Ada Resource Association says there are 322 million lines of Ada Code in use, in applications of up to five million lines.

The last major revision was Ada 95; now Ada 2005 is being implemented.

Where did it originate?

Ada was based on Pascal (and more distantly Algol), and first developed (Ada 83) by Honeywell-Bull, winners of a US Department of Defense contract to find one language to replace the 2000-odd then used in critical applications.

It is named after Augusta Ada Lovelace, regarded by computer historians as the first programmer. Ada 95 became an ISO standard. Much of the work behind Ada 2005 has been done by the user community, and Adacore and others are committed to open source.

What is it for?

An Ada Resource Association survey found 34% of Ada applications in embedded systems, 27% in command and control systems, and most of the rest in tools, simulation projects and graphics. 

Software company Adacore describes Ada as a classical stack-based general-purpose language, not tied to any specific development methodology, with a simple syntax, but with modern features like encapsulation and modularisation, classes, polymorphism, inheritance and dynamic binding.

Ada 83 was object oriented from the outset. But if an application does not need object oriented programming, the object oriented features do not have to be used, and there is no runtime penalty. Ada also allows the developer to get close to the hardware for systems programming. It supports event-driven, real-time programming. 

The language has other characteristics which enable it to meet the demanding certification standards of defence agencies.

What makes it special?

The programmer community claims Ada offers safe and reliable code with reduced development and certification costs, with support for new and developing technologies (Ada 2005 has "Java-like interfaces"). Ada code is portable. With safety-conscious industries like aerospace dependent on it, Ada is stable and robust.

How difficult is it to master?

Knowledge of "algorithmic" languages such as C/C++ or Pascal is an asset. Ada is said to be easier to learn than any of these.

Where is it used?

Sectors currently looking for Ada specialists include avionics, security and real-time embedded systems companies.

What systems does it run on?

Windows, Unix, Linux, OpenVMS and others.

What is coming up?

Ada software companies and suppliers of the public licence Gnat Ada compiler are implementing Ada 2005 features in their products.

Rates of pay

Junior Ada developers start on about £25,000, rising to £40,000+ with experience. You may need UML or another modelling/design methodology. Many defence-related jobs also require security clearance.

Training

There is a lot of Ada tutorial material available free on the web. See in particular Lovelace, which like others, includes one directed at people with a C/C++ background. Searching using "Public Ada Library" will find you tools, tutorials and other resources which, like the Gnat (GNU/NYU Ada 95 Translator) compiler, are open source. Some of this material may appear dated, but remember that Ada 95 is still the most widely used version.

See also the Ada UK User Group website/ www.the-training-centre.co.uk/ Adaxia/AdaUKHome.html

www.adahome.com /Tutorials


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