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Thinking in Java
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Exception handlers

Of course, the thrown exception must end up someplace. This “place” is the exception handler, and there’s one for every exception type you want to catch. Exception handlers immediately follow the try block and are denoted by the keyword catch:

try {
  // Code that might generate exceptions
} catch(Type1 id1) {
  // Handle exceptions of Type1
} catch(Type2 id2) {
  // Handle exceptions of Type2
} catch(Type3 id3) {
  // Handle exceptions of Type3
}

// etc...


Each catch clause (exception handler) is like a little method that takes one and only one argument of a particular type. The identifier (id1, id2, and so on) can be used inside the handler, just like a method argument. Sometimes you never use the identifier because the type of the exception gives you enough information to deal with the exception, but the identifier must still be there.

The handlers must appear directly after the try block. If an exception is thrown, the exception handling mechanism goes hunting for the first handler with an argument that matches the type of the exception. Then it enters that catch clause, and the exception is considered handled. The search for handlers stops once the catch clause is finished. Only the matching catch clause executes; it’s not like a switch statement in which you need a break after each case to prevent the remaining ones from executing.

Note that within the try block, a number of different method calls might generate the same exception, but you need only one handler.

Termination vs. resumption

There are two basic models in exception handling theory. In termination (which is what Java and C++ support), you assume that the error is so critical that there’s no way to get back to where the exception occurred. Whoever threw the exception decided that there was no way to salvage the situation, and they don’t want to come back.

The alternative is called resumption. It means that the exception handler is expected to do something to rectify the situation, and then the faulting method is retried, presuming success the second time. If you want resumption, it means you still hope to continue execution after the exception is handled. In this case, your exception is more like a method call—which is how you should set up situations in Java in which you want resumption-like behavior. (That is, don’t throw an exception; call a method that fixes the problem.) Alternatively, place your try block inside a while loop that keeps reentering the try block until the result is satisfactory.

Historically, programmers using operating systems that supported resumptive exception handling eventually ended up using termination-like code and skipping resumption. So although resumption sounds attractive at first, it isn’t quite so useful in practice. The dominant reason is probably the coupling that results; your handler must often be aware of where the exception is thrown, and contain nongeneric code specific to the throwing location. This makes the code difficult to write and maintain, especially for large systems where the exception can be generated from many points.
Thinking in Java
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire