main :: IO ()

main = do

    putStrLn ( "" ++ githubUser )

    putStrLn ( "" ++ twitterUser )

    putStrLn ( "" ++ linkedinUser )

    putStrLn ( "14D4 0CA1 E1A8 06A0 15C4 A06B 372E C33E B388 121A" )

    where twitterUser = "mpmlopes"

          linkedinUser = "mpmlopes"

          githubUser = "mlopes"

The Case for Exceptions?

Jun 4, 2019 • scala,exceptions,good practices,architecture,design( 6 min read )

Not so Exceptional

I’m not keen on exceptions. When it comes to writing code, there are not a lot of situations that can be considered exceptional, and certainly a lot less than one would think when looking at the amount of exceptions thrown by the average code-base.

Expected error situations are better handled through the type system, and the act of throwing creates this whole orthogonal flow to the one created by the call tree of a programme. Also, if you are aware of a possible runtime occurrence, then, there’s nothing exceptional about it, and you should handle it through the flow of the programme.

On top of this, if you’re using an effect system, it is likely that the effect type is able to express error situations through the effect type. In Scala, if you’re using cats, you’ll likely have ApplicativeError and MonadError instances for your effect type, meaning there’s even fewer reasons to throw exceptions.

An Exception Has Occurred: You've Burnt The Toast

Semantic Dissonance

I’ve been developing a library for idiomatic representation of date and time values in Scala. The idea is that it allows representation of these values in a way that is type safe, can be pattern matched, etc.

In order to ensure type safety, values that are usually represented as integers, are made safe using refined types. So, for example, if you want to create an Hour, you can do it by calling the constructor that accepts a refined Int Refined Interval.Closed[W.0.T, W.23.T] (type aliased to NumericHour in the library, for brevity and expressiveness), and this will yield an Hour. Optionally, you can create it from an Int, and because you can’t guarantee that an Int is a valid hour, this constructor will yield an Option[Hour].

Up to now, everything is good, and we can handle things through the type system. But lets now talk about Month. Months are represented by case objects, named after each month, I.E January, February, etc…, all extending a Month trait. Now, the interesting bit here, is that it also makes sense to represent months as integers, because in our daily lives, we also refer to months as 1 to 12. So, we follow a similar pattern. We have a fromInt constructor that returns an Option[Month], and so if we call Month.fromInt(1), we get Some(January). And then we have the constructor that creates a month from a refined type, Month(numericMonth: NumericMonth): Month. Fortunately, you can pattern match on refined types, so we can write a somewhat elegant solution for this problem.

I say “somewhat”, because even though we can pattern match, it is unlikely that this match is forced to be exhaustive, given that we’re matching on Refined of Int, which there’s an infinity of possible values for (technically limited by the size of Int). It is then possible that a value would be generated that we’re not matching against, because it would not yield a valid month. While technically there’s no way that we’re ever going to get a value of Refined of Int that is invalid, because refined makes sure of that, theoretically we could still get an invalid value, if either we failed to define the right refinement for month, of if refined happens to have some bug.

If our refined type is defined correctly, and there’s no obvious bug on refined, then we know for sure that we’ll get a valid number between 1 and 12. Given this situation, then it makes sense to assume we can do the following, where NumericMonth is Int Refined Interval.Closed[W.1.T, W.12.T]:

def apply(numericMonth: NumericMonth): Month =
  numericMonth match {
    case Refined(1)=> January
    case Refined(2)=> February
    case Refined(3)=> March
    case Refined(4)=> April
    case Refined(5)=> May
    case Refined(6)=> June
    case Refined(7)=> July
    case Refined(8)=> August
    case Refined(9)=> September
    case Refined(10)=> October
    case Refined(11)=> November
    case Refined(12)=> December

Here, we’re not accounting for any of the possible integers that are not 1 through 12, so our program can effectively throw an exception at runtime. We could make this returns an Option, have a default match for invalid integers, and return None for those cases. But, since we know our integer value comes from a refined type that only allows for values between 1 and 12, and therefore we can only have valid integer values for month representation, we would have semantic dissonance. In other words, the semantics of Option is a type that represents the existence of 0 or 1 values, but we have a situation where None cannot occur, so there will only ever exist 1 value.

Let it be Exceptional

At this point, I would argue this would be a valid use case to let an exception to happen at runtime. We don’t want to expose this semantic dissonance to the library users, so we should ignore the impossible code paths, and keep them contained in our abstraction. By doing this, we are risking an exception to happen, but this code path that causes the exception should not be possible to trigger, so if it does, we have in fact an exceptional situation, which indicates there’s a bug either in our code, or in refined.

Another benefit of allowing this exception, is that it also doesn’t hide a possible bug. If we return an Option, client code will handle the dissonance, so they’ll expect cases of None, but if we don’t, then the client code will immediately show that something went wrong. At this point the library user can let us know so that we can fix it (or better yet, they can make a pull request ;) ).

This is, in my opinion, the reasonable use for an exception, to deal with a code-path that can’t be prevented, but should never be triggered. If for some reason it is triggered, that’s really exceptional, and we want to know about it. Anything else, is using exceptions for control flow, and it’s a design smell and as to be used wisely as it strongly affects the maintainability of a codebase.

If you'd like to keep up to date with new posts, follow me on twitter @mpmlopes ,
or subscribe to the feed.

Follow me on twitter @mpmlopes