New Ada 2012 ISO standard offers security boost

The new version of Ada allows developers to do contract-based programming

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has published as a standard the latest version of the Ada programming language, Ada 2012, which offers a new security feature found in few other languages, called contract-based programming.

As Ada tends to be used in mission-critical embedded systems, standardization allows cautious users to upgrade to the new version with the assurance that the fresh features work as they are designed to, and that these features will be supported by Ada-compliant tool vendors.

Contract-based programming allows programmers to better fortify their programs against bugs and malicious misuse. With contract-based programming, the programmer has the ability to specify a set of conditions that must be met before a program's routine executes, as well as to set a range of permissible output values.

By checking such pre- and post-conditions during run time, a program ensures that it can't be injected with or emit malicious or incorrect data, potentially making it safer and more reliable.

While contract programming is generally considered to be a good idea by many computer science academicians, few languages today support it, at least without additional add-ons for the compiler. The Eiffel programming language is probably the most widely known language that natively supports design by contract.

Contract-based programming fits with DO-178C / ED-12C, a new safety standard for avionics software managed by the RTCA (Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics).

Ada 2012 has a number of other new features as well. The updated language is better suited for working in multicore environments. The designers also worked on making the language more expressive, adding in more powerful iterators and additional ways of formulating conditional expressions.

The U.S. Defense Department commissioned the development of Ada in the late 1970s as a way to consolidate the proliferating number of languages then being used across the military.

While Ada never caught on as a general use language -- or even as the sole language for the Defense Department -- it has found a home in aviation as well as other industries that require real-time ultra-reliable systems.

Ada 2012 is the first major update to the Ada standard in seven years. The Ada Rapporteur Group (ARG) of the ISO/IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) JTC 1 (Joint Technical Committee) revised the language.

AdaCore has already released an Ada 2012 complier and associated tools. Green Hills Software and Atego also offer Ada tools as well.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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Joab Jackson

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