TDF and Portability

January 1998

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4. Conclusions

The philosophy underlying the whole TDF approach to portability is that of separation or isolation. This separation of the various components of the compilation system means that to a large extent they can be considered independently. The separation is only possible because the definition of TDF has mechanisms which facilitate it - primarily the token mechanism, but also the capsule linkage scheme.

The most important separation is that of the abstract description of the syntactic aspects of the API, in the form of the target independent headers, from the API implementation. It is this which enables the separation of target independent from target dependent code which is necessary for any Architecture Neutral Distribution Format. It also means that programs can be checked against the abstract API description, instead of against a particular implementation, allowing for effective API conformance testing of applications. Furthermore, it isolates the actual program from the API implementation, thereby allowing the programmer to work in the idealised world envisaged by the API description, rather than the real world of API implementations and all their faults.

This isolation also means that these API implementation problems are seen to be genuinely separate from the main program development. They are isolated into a single process, TDF library building, which needs to be done only once per API implementation. Because of the separation of the API description from the implementation, this library building process also serves as a conformance check for the syntactic aspects of the API implementation. However the approach is evolutionary in that it can handle the current situation while pointing the way forward. Absolute API conformance is not necessary; the TDF libraries can be used as a medium for workarounds for minor implementation errors.

The same mechanism which is used to separate the API description and implementation can also be used within an application to separate the target dependent code from the main body of target independent code. This use of user-defined APIs also enables a separation of the portability requirements of the program from the particular ways these requirements are implemented on the various target machines. Again, the approach is evolutionary, and not prescriptive. Programs can be made more portable in incremental steps, with the degree of portability to be used being made a conscious decision.

In a sense the most important contribution TDF has to portability is in enabling the various tasks of API description, API implementation and program writing to be considered independently, while showing up the relationships between them. It is often said that well specified APIs are the solution to the world's portability and interoperability problems; but by themselves they can never be. Without methods of checking the conformance of programs which use the API and of API implementations, the APIs themselves will remain toothless. TDF, by providing syntactic API checking for both programs and implementations, is a significant first step towards solving this problem.

[1] tcc User's Guide, DRA, 1993.
[2] tspec - An API Specification Tool, DRA, 1993.
[3] The C to TDF Producer, DRA, 1993.
[4] A Guide to the TDF Specification, DRA, 1993.
[5] TDF Facts and Figures, DRA, 1993.
[6] TDF Specification, DRA, 1993.
[7] The 80386/80486 TDF Installer, DRA, 1992.
[8] A Guide to Porting using TDF, DRA, 1993.
[9] The TDF Notation Compiler, DRA, 1993.

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