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GitHub Codespaces Test for the Ada Language

Codespaces is a GitHub facility that is currently being tested, that aims to provided a development environment to be used from within a web browser. This outlines a basic test I did for a very basic Ada language project, from within a GitHub repository to try out Codespaces.


I created a new test repository for the purposes of trying out the new GitHub Codespaces feature, that provides a Visual Studio Code development environment accessible from any computer with a web browser.

The repository I created is here - although there is not much to see really!

The container it uses to encapsulate the development environment is the default Linux (Ubuntu) one that is provided once the Codespace is launched.

This default environment includes support for quite a number of programming languages that includes: Python, Node.js, JavaScript, TypeScript, C++, Java, C#, F#, .NET Core, PHP, PowerShell, Go, Ruby, Rust. Unfortunately this list does not include support for Ada.

In order to provide Ada support so code and be checked, tested, and built, an Ada language development environment is needed as well. These can be installed into the Codespaces in two ways that are relatively easy that include:

ONE: Open the Codespaces built-in Terminal window and install the required support via the Ubuntu package manager called apt. To install the GNAT FSF Ada Compiler, build tools, and some commonly used libraries the following command can be executed. The command did not execute cleanly always, but also entering sudo apt-get update --fix-missing did fix the issues when it was re-run:

sudo apt install -y gnat gprbuild gdb upx-ucl asis-programs \
     libaws19-dev libcurl4-openssl-dev liblzma-dev \
     libgnatcoll-gmp19 libgnatcoll-gmp18-dev libgnatcoll18 libgnatcoll18-dev \
     libgnatcoll-doc libgnatcoll-iconv18-dev libgnatcoll-readline18-dev \

TWO: The other approach than should ensure the tools are installed and available when the Codespaces environment starts up, is for them to added into the Codespaces Dockerfile. The existing Dockerfile that is provided with the Coddespaces environment can be opened, and the content replaced with the following to install the required Ada language support:

FROM mcr.microsoft.com/vscode/devcontainers/universal:1-focal

# ** [Optional] Uncomment this section to install additional packages. **
USER root
RUN apt-get update && export DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive \
     && apt-get -y install --no-install-recommends gnat gprbuild gdb upx-ucl asis-programs \
     libaws19-dev libcurl4-openssl-dev liblzma-dev \
     libgnatcoll-gmp19 libgnatcoll-gmp18-dev libgnatcoll18 libgnatcoll18-dev \
     libgnatcoll-doc libgnatcoll-iconv18-dev libgnatcoll-readline18-dev \
USER codespace

That is it from an environment setup perspective, other packages can be used instead as required. The Codespaces Terminal window can now be used to compile Ada source code, as would be done on system via a terminal (ie gprbuild, gnatpp, etc). The installed packages in the above Dockerfile for this test project are way more than are actually needed, but I just wanted to check that the most commonly used packages can be installed at this stage.

General Usage

The Codespaces environment works very well — especially if you have used Visual Studio Code before. Once you get into the coding, I forget I am using Codespaces in a web browser, the environment it provides is virtually the same as a local Visual Studio Code editor desktop experience.

I have used Codespaces from a few different browser that includes:

Coding Experience

I just created a quick hello world program as a very basic test. I did most of the work in the Codespaces Terminal window primarily through habit — creating a new project folder, and then adding a .gpr project file, and a single hello world main .adb source file.

The support for coding in Ada was provided and worked very well using the AdaCore - Language Support for Ada from the Visual Studio Code Marketplace addon. The experience in the short time I used it was the same as when using it on Linux or Windows desktop versions of Visual Studio Code. The Ada Language Server works well, and provides the normal code completions and support for the source code files — so all good!


It is impressive the consistency in experience between Codespaces in a web browser and Visual Studio Code on a desktop! The fact it works and is relatively easy to get an Ada development up and running in a web browser is very interesting.

Would I use it full time though..? Not sure yet, but it is certainly worth considering as it would offer a quick to use and self contained project environment, without having to set up everything locally. For collaboration it would be interesting, as a common setup could be used by the team — but for an individual hobby developer - it could be convenient once the setup knowledge is in place…

I expect there will be a charge for using Codespaces once it leaves the beta testing period. How much that is, will probably drive its take up, especially for hobby programmers who don’t necessarily have lots of money to throw at remote cloud based services normally.

Next I will try to use Codespaces with an existing project, and see how easy it is to quickly add the environment to a project, and work on it for a while. This might help solidify a view.

It would also be interesting to explore how the use of Alire could help with the Ada language support setup, maybe from a Dockerfile perspective, and perhaps using alr to pull in packages needed, so they don’t all have to be provided via the local package manager. Also, I expect it is possible to script (or use Docker) to pull in the AdaCore GNAT Community version instead, if that was a preference… Lots to think about, but as a portable and quick to use Ada development environment — it is possible!

How to Get More Ada Information

More general information and support for installing Ada can be found at the site:

The AdaCore tools and libraries are all on GitHub here:

There are plenty of good articles for more background on Ada such as:

One great free resource to learn the Ada language, so you can write your own programs is available here:

You can also download a nice PDF book to read of the above course here:

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