3.9.3 Abstract Types and Subprograms
is a tagged type intended for use as an
ancestor of other types a parent type for
, but which is not allowed to have objects of its
An abstract subprogram
is a subprogram that has no body, but is intended to be overridden at
some point when inherited. Because objects of an abstract type cannot
be created, a dispatching call to an abstract subprogram always dispatches
to some overriding body.]
Glossary entry: An
abstract type is a tagged type intended for use as an ancestor of other
types, but which is not allowed to have objects of its own.
Language Design Principles
An abstract subprogram has no body, so the rules in this subclause clause
are designed to ensure (at compile time) that the body will never be
invoked. We do so primarily by disallowing the creation of values of
the abstract type. Therefore, since type conversion and parameter passing
don't change the tag, we know we will never get a class-wide value with
a tag identifying an abstract type. This means that we only have to disallow
nondispatching calls on abstract subprograms (dispatching calls will
never reach them).
types (see 3.9.4) are abstract types. In
addition, a tagged type that has the reserved word abstract in
its declaration is an abstract type. The class-wide type (see 3.4.1)
rooted at an abstract type is not itself an abstract type.
Only a tagged type shall have
An abstract type is a specific type that has
the reserved word abstract
in its declaration.Only
a tagged type is allowed to be declared abstract.
Ramification: Untagged types are never
abstract, even though they can have primitive abstract subprograms. Such
subprograms cannot be called, unless they also happen to be dispatching
operations of some tagged type, and then only via a dispatching call.
Class-wide types are never abstract. If T is
abstract, then it is illegal to declare a stand-alone object of type
T, but it is OK to declare a stand-alone object of type T'Class; the
latter will get a tag from its initial value, and this tag will necessarily
be different from T'Tag.
Note that for a private type, this applies to both views. The following
package P is
type T is abstract tagged private;
function Foo (X : T) return Boolean is abstract; -- Illegal!
type T is tagged null record; -- Illegal!
X : T;
Y : Boolean := Foo (T'Class (X));
The full view of T is not abstract, but has
an abstract operation Foo, which is illegal. The two lines marked "-- Illegal!" are illegal when taken together.
We considered disallowing untagged types from having abstract primitive
subprograms. However, we rejected that plan, because it introduced some
silly anomalies, and because such subprograms are harmless (if not terribly useful)
. For example:
package P is
type Field_Size is range 0..100;
type T is abstract tagged null record;
procedure Print(X : in T; F : in Field_Size := 0) is abstract abstract;
. . .
package Q is
type My_Field_Size is new Field_Size;
-- implicit declaration of Print(X : T; F : My_Field_Size := 0) is abstract is abstract;
It seemed silly to make the derivative of My_Field_Size
illegal, just because there was an implicitly declared abstract subprogram
that was not primitive on some tagged type. Other rules could be formulated
to solve this problem, but the current ones seem like the simplest.
In Ada 2005, abstract primitive subprograms of
an untagged type may be used to “undefine” an operation.
Note that the second sentence does not apply to
abstract formal subprograms, as they are never primitive operations of
If a type has an implicitly declared primitive
subprogram that is inherited or is a the predefined equality
operator, and the corresponding primitive
subprogram of For a derived type, if
the parent or ancestor type is abstract or is a
function with a controlling access result, or if a type other than a
extension inherits a has an abstract primitive
subprogram, or a primitive
function with a controlling result,
These rules apply to each view of the type individually.
That is necessary to preserve privacy. For instance, in the following
package P is
type I is interface;
procedure Op (X : I) is abstract;
package Q is
type T is abstract new P.I with private;
-- Op inherited here.
type T is abstract new P.I with null record;
procedure Op (X : T) is null;
package R is
type T2 is new Q.T with null record;
-- Illegal. Op inherited here, but requires overriding.
If this did not depend
on the view, this would be legal. But in that case, the fact that Op
is overridden in the private part would be visible; package R would have
to be illegal if no overriding was in the private part.
Note that this means that
whether an inherited subprogram is abstract or concrete depends on where
it inherited. In the case of Q, Q.Op in the visible part is abstract,
while Q.Op in the private part is concrete. That is, R is illegal since
it is an unrelated unit (and thus it cannot see the private part), but
if R had been a private child of Q, it would have been legal.
If the derived
type is abstract or untagged,
the implicitly declared inherited
subprogram is abstract
Ramification: Note that it is possible
to override a concrete subprogram with an abstract one.
Otherwise, the subprogram shall be overridden with a nonabstract subprogram or, in the case of a private extension inheriting a function with a controlling
result, have a full type that is a null extension
[; for a type
declared in the visible part of a package, the overriding may be either
in the visible or the private part]. Such a subprogram
is said to require overriding.
if the type is a generic formal type, the subprogram need not be overridden
for the formal type itself; [a nonabstract version will necessarily be
provided by the actual type.]
A function that returns the parent type requires
overriding becomes abstract
for a an
type extension (or becomes abstract
for an abstract type)(if not overridden)
because conversion from a parent type to a type extension is not defined,
and function return semantics is defined in terms of conversion (other than for a null extension; see below)
. (Note that parameters
of mode in out
do not have this problem, because
the tag of the actual is not changed.)
Note that the
overriding required above can be in the private part, which allows the
package Pack1 is
type Ancestor is abstract ...;
procedure Do_Something(X : in Ancestor) is abstract;
with Pack1; use Pack1;
package Pack2 is
type T1 is new Ancestor with record ...;
-- A concrete type.
procedure Do_Something(X : in T1); -- Have to override.
with Pack1; use Pack1;
with Pack2; use Pack2;
package Pack3 is
type T2 is new Ancestor with private;
-- A concrete type.
type T2 is new T1 with -- Parent different from ancestor.
record ... end record;
-- Here, we inherit Pack2.Do_Something.
T2 inherits an abstract Do_Something, but T2 T
is not abstract, so Do_Something has to be overridden. However, it is
OK to override it in the private part. In this case, we override it by
inheriting a concrete version from a different type. Nondispatching calls
to Pack3.Do_Something are allowed both inside and outside package Pack3,
as the client “knows” that the subprogram was necessarily
For a null extension, the result of a function
with a controlling result is defined in terms of an extension_aggregate
with a null record extension part (see 3.4).
This means that these restrictions on functions with a controlling result
do not have to apply to null extensions.
However, functions with controlling access results
still require overriding. Changing the tag in place might clobber a preexisting
object, and allocating new memory would possibly change the pool of the
object, leading to storage leaks. Moreover, copying the object isn't
possible for limited types. We don't need to restrict functions that
have an access return type of an untagged type, as derived types with
primitive subprograms have to have the same representation as their parent
A call on an abstract subprogram shall be a dispatching
call; [nondispatching calls to an abstract subprogram are not allowed.]
If an abstract subprogram is not a dispatching operation of some tagged
type, then it cannot be called at all. In Ada 2005,
such subprograms are not even considered by name resolution (see 6.4).
The type of an aggregate
or of an object created by an object_declaration
or an allocator
or a generic formal object of mode in
, shall not be abstract.
The type of the target of an assignment operation (see 5.2
shall not be abstract. The type of a component shall not be abstract.
If the result type of a function is abstract, then the function shall
be abstract. If a function has an access result
type designating an abstract type, then the function shall be abstract.
The type denoted by a return_subtype_indication
(see 6.5) shall not be abstract. A generic
function shall not have an abstract result type or an access result type
designating an abstract type.
Reason: This ensures that values of an
abstract type cannot be created, which ensures that a dispatching call
to an abstract subprogram will not try to execute the nonexistent body.
Generic formal objects of mode in are
like constants; therefore they should be forbidden for abstract types.
Generic formal objects of mode in out are like renamings; therefore,
abstract types are OK for them, though probably not terribly useful.
Generic functions returning a formal abstract type
are illegal because any instance would have to be instantiated with a
nonabstract type in order to avoid violating the function rule (generic
functions cannot be declared abstract). But that would be an implied
contract; it would be better for the contract to be explicit by the formal
type not being declared abstract. Moreover, the implied contract does
not add any capability.
If a partial view is not abstract, the corresponding
full view shall not be abstract. If a generic formal type is abstract,
then for each primitive subprogram of the formal that is not abstract,
the corresponding primitive subprogram of the actual shall not be abstract.
Discussion: By contrast, we allow the
actual type to be nonabstract even if the formal type is declared abstract.
Hence, the most general formal tagged type possible is "type
T(<>) is abstract tagged limited private;".
For an abstract private extension declared in
the visible part of a package, it is only possible for the full type
to be nonabstract if the private extension has no abstract dispatching
In the sentence about primitive subprograms above,
there is some ambiguity as to what is meant by “corresponding”
in the case where an inherited operation is overridden. This is best
explained by an example, where the implicit declarations are shown as
package P1 is
type T1 is abstract tagged null record;
procedure P (X : T1); -- (1)
package P2 is
type T2 is abstract new P1.T1 with null record;
-- procedure P (X : T2); -- (2)
procedure P (X : T2) is abstract; -- (3)
type D is abstract new P1.T1 with private;
-- procedure P (X : D); -- (4)
procedure G (X : D);
procedure I is new G (P2.T2); -- Illegal.
Type T2 inherits a nonabstract
procedure P (2) from the primitive procedure P (1) of T1. P (2) is overridden
by the explicitly declared abstract procedure P (3). Type D inherits
a nonabstract procedure P (4) from P (1). In instantiation I, the operation
corresponding to P (4) is the one which is not overridden, that is, P
(3): the overridden operation P (2) does not “reemerge”.
Therefore, the instantiation is illegal.
For an abstract type declared in a visible part, an abstract primitive
subprogram shall not be declared in the private part, unless it is overriding
an abstract subprogram implicitly declared in the visible part. For a
tagged type declared in a visible part, a primitive function with a controlling
result or a controlling access result
not be declared in the private part, unless it is overriding a function
implicitly declared in the visible part.
“visible part” could be that of a package or a generic package.
This rule is needed because a nonabstract type extension declared outside
the package would not know about any abstract primitive subprograms or
primitive functions with controlling results declared in the private
part, and wouldn't know that they need to be overridden with nonabstract
subprograms. The rule applies to a tagged record type or record extension
declared in a visible part, just as to a tagged private type or private
extension. The rule applies to explicitly and implicitly declared abstract
package Pack is
type T is abstract new T1 with private;
type T is abstract new T2 with record ... end record;
The above example would be illegal if T1 has
a nonabstract primitive procedure P, but T2 overrides P with an abstract
one; the private part should override P with a nonabstract version. On
the other hand, if the P were abstract for both T1 and T2, the example
would be legal as is.
The part about generic actual subprograms includes those given by default. Of course, an abstract formal subprogram's actual subprogram can be abstract.
79 Abstractness is not inherited; to declare
an abstract type, the reserved word abstract has to be used in
the declaration of the type extension.
Ramification: A derived type can be abstract
even if its parent is not. Similarly, an inherited concrete subprogram
can be overridden with an abstract subprogram.
80 A class-wide type is never abstract.
Even if a class is rooted at an abstract type, the class-wide type for
the class is not abstract, and an object of the class-wide type can be
created; the tag of such an object will identify some nonabstract type
in the class.
Example of an abstract
type representing a set of natural numbers:
package Sets is
subtype Element_Type is Natural;
type Set is abstract tagged null record;
function Empty return Set is abstract;
function Union(Left, Right : Set) return Set is abstract;
function Intersection(Left, Right : Set) return Set is abstract;
function Unit_Set(Element : Element_Type) return Set is abstract;
procedure Take(Element : out Element_Type;
From : in out Set) is abstract;
81 Notes on the example: Given the
above abstract type, one could then derive various (nonabstract) extensions
of the type, representing alternative implementations of a set. One might
use a bit vector, but impose an upper bound on the largest element representable,
while another might use a hash table, trading off space for flexibility.
Discussion: One way to export a type
from a package with some components visible and some components private
is as follows:
package P is
type Public_Part is abstract tagged
type T is new Public_Part with private;
type T is new Public_Part with
The fact that Public_Part is abstract tells
clients they have to create objects of type T instead of Public_Part.
Note that the public part has to come first; it would be illegal to declare
a private type Private_Part, and then a record extension T of it, unless
T were in the private part after the full declaration of Private_Part,
but then clients of the package would not have visibility to T.
Extensions to Ada 95
It is not necessary to override
functions with a controlling result for a null extension. This makes
it easier to derive a tagged type to complete a private type.
Wording Changes from Ada 95
Updated the wording to reflect the addition of
abstract formal subprograms (see 12.6).
The wording of shall-be-overridden was clarified
so that it clearly applies to abstract predefined equality.
We define the term require overriding to
make other wording easier to understand.
Incompatibilities With Ada 2005
Correction: Added rules
to eliminate holes with controlling access results and generic functions
that return abstract types. While these changes are technically incompatible,
it is unlikely that they could be used in a program without violating
some other rule of the use of abstract types.
Correction: Corrected a minor glitch having
to do with abstract null extensions. The Ada 2005 rule allowed such extensions
to inherit concrete operations in some rare cases. It is unlikely that
these cases exist in user code.
Extensions to Ada 2005
Wording Changes from Ada 2005
Correction: Clarified that the predefined
operator corresponding to an inherited abstract operator is also abstract.
The Ada 2005 rules caused the predefined operator and the inherited operator
to override each other, which is weird. But the effect is the same either
way (the operator is not considered for resolution).
Correction: Added wording to disallow abstract
return objects. These were illegal in Ada 2005 by other rules; the extension
to support class-wide type better opened a hole which has now been plugged.
Ada 2005 and 2012 Editions sponsored in part by Ada-Europe