Proposal: Extensible exceptions

Yitzchak Gale gale at
Mon Jul 7 07:16:12 EDT 2008

Henning Thielemann wrote:
> It is not possible to handle
> errors in a way like exceptions, because exceptions are (rare but) expected
> situations, that can well be handled. In contrast to that you do not know
> the concrete errors in your program, otherwise you would have fixed them
> already.

I agree with you that it makes sense to reflect this conceptual
distinction in our module system, and in our hierarchy of exceptions
and errors.

However, this distinction is only really useful during development.
Once a system is deployed, there is little difference. In the face
of an error, it is often just not an option to print a rude error message
and shut down the system. Picture, for example, a program that
is controlling an aircraft in flight, or that is participating in sensitive
negotiations for a valuable business deal.

Instead, the system must do the best it can to keep a smile on
its face and keep going. Any condition that could interfere
with normal operation is the same, it doesn't matter whether
the reason is a programming error or anything else.

So we also need a way to treat all exceptional conditions the
same in a deployed system, whether or not they are "errors".

Historically, a famous example is the cryptic error condition
that kept popping up every few seconds as the Apollo 11 lander
was about to touch down on the moon. All eyes in Mission Control
were on the person who wrote the program. Sweat pouring down
his back, he just kept saying quietly, "Go."

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