Compiling Ada Library for Use with Non-Ada Main

January 12th, 2019 by Diana Coman

Following a rather bumpy road of compilation troubles trying to link an Ada lib into a CPP main program, I found first a working solution to the task at hand and then a headache trying to disentangle the confusion of what is exactly a "standalone encapsulated dynamic" library, why is it needed and how exactly does it differ on the initialization front from a boring static library. Fortunately it turns out that my headache was due mainly to all that bumping into walls combined with the rather confusing terms used in .gpr files - there was at least nothing that a good dose of hands-on experimentation and several re-reading of the GNAT docs couldn't cure! Still, as I'd rather not repeat the whole process next time I need to mix Ada with others, I'll summarise here my notes on the options I found for compiling an Ada library1 so that it can be safely used from a non-Ada main program.

To use Ada code from a non-Ada main program, one needs to find a way to actually start the Ada run-time environment *before* any calls to Ada code. The Ada run-time does the crucial task of elaboration of Ada code (i.e. getting everything ready for executing code, so broadly speaking it takes care of initializing variables and constants as well as running any code found in the main body of packages that are used). Since elaboration is a concept entirely specific to Ada, there is no way to rely on the non-Ada main code (C, C++ or whatever it might be) to take care of this. Instead, the solution is to make sure that the Ada library itself contains and exposes an initialization procedure that does exactly this: starts the Ada run-time and performs the required elaboration for the library code. Once this exists, the non-Ada code simply has to make sure it calls this initialization procedure *before* calling *any* Ada code from that library and that's all2. This much was clear from the beginning - it's from here on that the headache and confusion started since not ALL Ada libraries actually contain/expose such an initialization routine. Essentially, in addition to the usual classification of libraries into static or dynamic, Ada has another parallel classification: standalone or not! And asking gprbuild to produce a standalone library is NOT done by using the "Library_Standlone" option but by defining an... interface for the library via the "Library_Interface" option in the .gpr file. Specifically, from the beginning:

  • To use an Ada library from a non-Ada main program, one needs to compile the library as "standalone". The standalone type of Ada library is the only one that contains and exposes for outside use an initialization routine that will start the Ada run-time and perform all elaboration tasks required for the library itself. NB: the initialization routine will be called libnameinit so if the library is called "eunet" then the routine will be "eunetinit".
  • To create a standalone Ada library with gprbuild, the corresponding .gpr file has to include the option "Library_Interface" that lists the packages that are actually exposed for use from outside the library. This option is enough by itself to obtain a standlone library and therefore to have the initialization routine! NB: you can build a standalone library as static or dynamic, as you want, simply specifying the kind, via "Library_Kind" - in both cases, the resulting .a or .so file will contain the initialization routine. For example:
      for Object_Dir use "obj";
      for Library_Dir use "lib";
      for Library_Name use "eunet";
      for Library_Kind use "static";
      for Library_Interface use ("Eunet", "Raw_Types");
  • Standalone libraries have subtypes too and it is actually the subtype that is specified via the option "Library_Standalone" in a .gpr file! According to GNAT's user guide, the Library_Standalone can take 3 values: standard (default), no, encapsulated.
    • The "standard" is the option used if your .gpr file does not even mention "Library_Standalone" (but DOES mention "Library_Interface"!) and it means that the initialization routine is contained and exposed.
    • The "encapsulated" option means in addition that the library will depend only on static libraries except for system libraries - so this option will effectively pull in everything the library needs, including the GNAT run-time. This makes for a significantly *easier* use and linkage further downstream BUT it forces the Library_Kind to... "dynamic". I could NOT find out any clear explanation as to WHY this is so but if I'm to guess I'd say it's probably a way of "protecting" users so that they don't encapsulate the Ada run-time in 10 separate libraries and then use all of them in the same program or something.
    • Finally, the "no" option means - surprisingly! - what you'd expect: the library is NOT to be a standalone library after all (and "Library_Interface" be damned)!
  • Summarizing the messy interplay between Library_Interface and Library_Standalone above: you can have a static or dynamic standalone library as long as you leave "Library_Standalone" option alone; you can have only a dynamic standalone library if you actually want to include the GNAT run-time. This item is called "encapsulated standalone library" and means that "Library_Standalone" is set to "encapsulated". You can - unclear why/when is it useful - specify explicitly that you do NOT want a standalone library by setting "Library_Standalone" to "no". Essentially the Library_Standlone chooses between "types" of standalone that include standard, encapsulated or... not standalone at all. I still get slightly nauseaous.
  • Assumming you did go for one sort or another of standalone library, there is a further option to ask the library to "automatically" run its initialization. This is done via "Library_Auto_Init" option being set to "true" (the default value). However, this is the sort of gun that can easily explode in your face since the actual behaviour is platform dependent so you can't rely on it for anything. As a result, I'd say this is best set to "false" clearly and explicitly so that one is not lulled into the idea that someone else will do the initialization auto-magically.
  • If you build a static standalone library, note that its linking into the main program requires also the linking of GNAT runtime as a minimum. The exact things you need depend on what your library really uses but things can get quite gnarly. For instance3 the line for a basic main.cpp test that does ~nothing but it does it with the whole smg_comms + some glue for handling net stuff of Eulora's client:

    gcc main.cpp -o main.o lib/libeunet.a
    -ldl -lpthread -lrt -L/home/eu-test/eulora/eunet/c_wrappers/bin/ -lC_Wrappers
    -L/home/eu-test/eulora/eunet/rsa/bin/ -lRSA -L/home/eu-test/eulora/eunet/mpi/bin/

On the bright side, the investigation that resulted in the above notes means that I'm now satisfied that I can in fact link an eunet Ada library both with Eulora's client (that links mainly with dynamic libs so possibly easier as encapsulated standalone) and with code that runs on GNAT with static libs only. In addition, I certainly got also a much better understanding of Ada's elaboration and elaboration order and how it should be handled for safe use of tasks from within a library. But a set of notes for that might be the topic for another time!

  1. even a rather complex one with tasks that start at elaboration time among other things 

  2. In principle there is also a symmetric finalization procedure that is to be called at the very end by the non-Ada code: this one shuts down the Ada run-time but in practice it doesn't seem to be required all that often. 

  3. Isn't "libgnarl.a" such a great name? 

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