In some languages that involve the same kind of elaboration problems, e.g., Java and C++, the programmer needs to take these ordering problems into account, and it is common to write a program in which an incorrect elaboration order gives surprising results, because it references variables before they are initialized. Ada is designed to be a safe language, and a programmer-beware approach is clearly not sufficient. Consequently, the language provides three lines of defense:
Some standard rules restrict the possible choice of elaboration order. In particular, if you `with' a unit, then its spec is always elaborated before the unit doing the `with'. Similarly, a parent spec is always elaborated before the child spec, and finally a spec is always elaborated before its corresponding body.
Dynamic checks are made at run time, so that if some entity is accessed before it is elaborated (typically by means of a subprogram call) then the exception (Program_Error) is raised.
Facilities are provided for the programmer to specify the desired order of elaboration.
Let’s look at these facilities in more detail. First, the rules for dynamic checking. One possible rule would be simply to say that the exception is raised if you access a variable which has not yet been elaborated. The trouble with this approach is that it could require expensive checks on every variable reference. Instead Ada has two rules which are a little more restrictive, but easier to check, and easier to state:
A subprogram can only be called at elaboration time if its body has been elaborated. The rules for elaboration given above guarantee that the spec of the subprogram has been elaborated before the call, but not the body. If this rule is violated, then the exception Program_Error is raised.
A generic unit can only be instantiated if the body of the generic unit has been elaborated. Again, the rules for elaboration given above guarantee that the spec of the generic unit has been elaborated before the instantiation, but not the body. If this rule is violated, then the exception Program_Error is raised.
The idea is that if the body has been elaborated, then any variables it references must have been elaborated; by checking for the body being elaborated we guarantee that none of its references causes any trouble. As we noted above, this is a little too restrictive, because a subprogram that has no non-local references in its body may in fact be safe to call. However, it really would be unsafe to rely on this, because it would mean that the caller was aware of details of the implementation in the body. This goes against the basic tenets of Ada.
A plausible implementation can be described as follows. A Boolean variable is associated with each subprogram and each generic unit. This variable is initialized to False, and is set to True at the point body is elaborated. Every call or instantiation checks the variable, and raises Program_Error if the variable is False.
Note that one might think that it would be good enough to have one Boolean variable for each package, but that would not deal with cases of trying to call a body in the same package as the call that has not been elaborated yet. Of course a compiler may be able to do enough analysis to optimize away some of the Boolean variables as unnecessary, and GNAT indeed does such optimizations, but still the easiest conceptual model is to think of there being one variable per subprogram.