Ada 95 Quality and Style Guide Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Program Structure - TOC - 4.3 EXCEPTIONS

4.3.1 Using Exceptions to Help Define an Abstraction


  • For unavoidable internal errors for which no user recovery is possible, declare a single user-visible exception. Inside the abstraction, provide a way to distinguish between the different internal errors.
  • Do not borrow an exception name from another context.
  • Export (declare visibly to the user) the names of all exceptions that can be raised.
  • In a package, document which exceptions can be raised by each subprogram and task entry.
  • Do not raise exceptions for internal errors that can be avoided or corrected within the unit.
  • Do not raise the same exception to report different kinds of errors that are distinguishable by the user of the unit.
  • Provide interrogative functions that allow the user of a unit to avoid causing exceptions to be raised.
  • When possible, avoid changing state information in a unit before raising an exception.
  • Catch and convert or handle all predefined and compiler-defined exceptions at the earliest opportunity.
  • Do not explicitly raise predefined or implementation-defined exceptions.
  • Never let an exception propagate beyond its scope.

  • example

    This package specification defines two exceptions that enhance the abstraction:

       type Element is private;
    package Stack is
       function Stack_Empty return Boolean;
       function Stack_Full  return Boolean;
       procedure Pop  (From_Top :    out Element);
       procedure Push (Onto_Top : in     Element);
       -- Raised when Pop is used on empty stack.
       Underflow : exception;
       -- Raised when Push is used on full stack.
       Overflow  : exception;
    end Stack;
    procedure Pop (From_Top :    out Element) is
       if Stack_Empty then
          raise Underflow;
       else -- Stack contains at least one element
          Top_Index := Top_Index - 1;
          From_Top  := Data(Top_Index + 1);
       end if;
    end Pop;


    Exceptions should be used as part of an abstraction to indicate error conditions that the abstraction is unable to prevent or correct. Because the abstraction is unable to correct such an error, it must report the error to the user. In the case of a usage error (e.g., attempting to invoke operations in the wrong sequence or attempting to exceed a boundary condition), the user may be able to correct the error. In the case of an error beyond the control of the user, the user may be able to work around the error if there are multiple mechanisms available to perform the desired operation. In other cases, the user may have to abandon use of the unit, dropping into a degraded mode of limited functionality. In any case, the user must be notified.

    Exceptions are a good mechanism for reporting such errors because they provide an alternate flow of control for dealing with errors. This allows error-handling code to be kept separate from the code for normal processing. When an exception is raised, the current operation is aborted and control is transferred directly to the appropriate exception handler.

    Several of the guidelines above exist to maximize the ability of the user to distinguish and correct different kinds of errors. Declaring new exception names, rather than raising exceptions declared in other packages, reduces the coupling between packages and also makes different exceptions more distinguishable. Exporting the names of all exceptions that a unit can raise, rather than declaring them internally to the unit, makes it possible for users of the unit to refer to the names in exception handlers. Otherwise, the user would be able to handle the exception only with an others handler. Finally, use comments to document exactly which of the exceptions declared in a package can be raised by each subprogram or task entry making it possible for the user to know which exception handlers are appropriate in each situation.

    In situations where there are errors for which the abstraction user can take no intelligent action (e.g., there is no workaround or degraded mode), it is better to export a single internal error exception. Within the package, you should consider distinguishing between the different internal errors. For instance, you could record or handle different kinds of internal error in different ways. When you propagate the error to the user, however, you should use a special internal error exception, indicating that no user recovery is possible. You should also provide relevant information when you propagate the error, using the facilities provided in Ada.Exceptions. Thus, for any abstraction, you effectively provide N + 1 different exceptions: N different recoverable errors and one irrecoverable error for which there is no mapping to the abstraction. Both the application requirements and what the client needs/wants in terms of error information help you identify the appropriate exceptions for an abstraction.

    Because they cause an immediate transfer of control, exceptions are useful for reporting unrecoverable errors, which prevent an operation from being completed, but not for reporting status or modes incidental to the completion of an operation. They should not be used to report internal errors that a unit was able to correct invisibly to the user.

    To provide the user with maximum flexibility, it is a good idea to provide interrogative functions that the user can call to determine whether an exception would be raised if a subprogram or task entry were invoked. The function Stack_Empty in the above example is such a function. It indicates whether Underflow would be raised if Pop were called. Providing such functions makes it possible for the user to avoid triggering exceptions.

    To support error recovery by its user, a unit should try to avoid changing state during an invocation that raises an exception. If a requested operation cannot be completely and correctly performed, then the unit should either detect this before changing any internal state information or should revert to the state at the time of the request. For example, after raising the exception Underflow, the stack package in the above example should remain in exactly the same state it was in when Pop was called. If it were to partially update its internal data structures for managing the stack, then future Push and Pop operations would not perform correctly. This is always desirable, but not always possible.

    User-defined exceptions should be used instead of predefined or compiler-defined exceptions because they are more descriptive and more specific to the abstraction. The predefined exceptions are very general and can be triggered by many different situations. Compiler-defined exceptions are nonportable and have meanings that are subject to change even between successive releases of the same compiler. This introduces too much uncertainty for the creation of useful handlers.

    If you are writing an abstraction, remember that the user does not know about the units you use in your implementation. That is an effect of information hiding. If any exception is raised within your abstraction, you must catch it and handle it. The user is not able to provide a reasonable handler if the original exception is allowed to propagate out of the body of your abstraction. You can still convert the exception into a form intelligible to the user if your abstraction cannot effectively recover on its own.

    Converting an exception means raising a user-defined exception in the handler for the original exception. This introduces a meaningful name for export to the user of the unit. Once the error situation is couched in terms of the application, it can be handled in those terms.

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