Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Adding custom exception to your Project Design

When you design a package of Java classes that collaborate to provide some useful function to your users, you work hard to ensure that your classes interact well together and that their interfaces are easy to understand and use. You should spend just as much time thinking about and designing the exceptions that your classes throw.

Thinking of Exceptions

Suppose you are writing a linked list class that you're planning to distribute as freeware. Among other methods, your linked list class supports these methods:
objectAt(int n)
Returns the object in the nth position in the list.
Returns the first object in the list.
indexOf(Object n)
Searches the list for the specified Object and returns its position in the list.

What Can Go Wrong?

Because many programmers will be using your linked list class, you can be assured that many will misuse or abuse your class and its methods. Also, some legitimate calls to your linked list's methods may result in an undefined result. Regardless, in the face of errors, you want your linked list class to be as robust as possible, to do something reasonable about errors, and to communicate errors back to the calling program. However, you can't anticipate how each user of your linked list class will want the object to behave under adversity. So, often the best thing to do when an error occurs is to throw an exception.
Each of the methods supported by your linked list might throw an exception under certain conditions, and each method might throw a different type of exception than the others. For example,

Throws an exception if the integer passed into the method is less than 0 or larger than the number of objects currently in the list.
Throws an exception if the list contains no objects.
Throws an exception if the object passed into the method is not in the list.

But what type of exception should each method throw? Should it be an exception provided with the Java development environment? Or should you roll your own?

Choosing the Exception Type to Throw

When faced with choosing the type of exception to throw, you have two choices:
  1. Use one written by someone else. The Java development environment provides a lot of exception classes that you could use.
  2. Write one of your own.
You should go to the trouble of writing your own exception classes if you answer "yes" to any of the following questions. Otherwise, you can probably get away with using someone else's:
  • Do you need an exception type that isn't represented by those in the Java development environment?
  • Would it help your users if they could differentiate your exceptions from those thrown by classes written by other vendors?
  • Does your code throw more than one related exception?
  • If you use someone else's exceptions, will your users have access to those exceptions? A similar question is: Should your package be independent and self-contained?

Your linked list class can throw multiple exceptions, and it would be convenient to be able to catch all exceptions thrown by the linked list with one exception handler. Also, if you plan to distribute your linked list in a package, all related code should be packaged together. Thus for the linked list, you should roll your own exception class hierarchy.
The following diagram illustrates one possible exception class hierarchy for your linked list:

LinkedListException is the parent class of all the possible exceptions that can be thrown by the linked list class. Users of your linked list class can write a single exception handler to handle all linked list exceptions with a catch statement like this:

catch (LinkedListException ex) {. . . }

Or, users could write more specialized handlers for each subclass of LinkedListException.

Choosing a Superclass

The diagram above does not indicate the superclass of the LinkedListException class. As you know, Java exceptions must be Throwable objects (they must be instances of Throwable or a subclass of Throwable). So, your temptation might be to make LinkedListException a subclass of Throwable. However, the java.lang package provides two Throwable subclasses that further divide the type of problems that can occur within a Java program: Errors and Exceptions. Most of the applets and applications that you write will throw objects that are Exceptions. (Errors are reserved for serious hard errors that occur deep in the system.)

Theoretically, any Exception subclass could be used as the parent class of LinkedListException. However, a quick perusal of those classes show that they are either too specialized or completely unrelated to LinkedListException to be appropriate. Thus, the parent class of LinkedListException should be Exception.
Because runtime exceptions don't have to be specified in the throws clause of a method, many packages developers ask: "Isn't it just easier if I make all of my exception inherit from RuntimeException?" The answer to this question is covered in detail on Runtime Exceptions--The Controversy. The bottom line is that you shouldn't subclass RuntimeException unless your class really is a runtime exception! For most of you, this means "No, your exceptions shouldn't inherit from RuntimeException."

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