Part 11

Exceptions

When program execution ends with an error, an exception is thrown. For example, a program might call a method with a null reference and throw a NullPointerException, or the program might try to refer to an element outside an array and result in an IndexOutOfBoundsException, and so on.

Some exceptions we have to always prepare for, such as errors when reading from a file or errors related to problems with a network connection. We do not have to prepare for runtime exceptions, such as the NullPointerException, beforehand. Java will always let you know if your code has a statement or an expression which can throw an error you have to prepare for.

Handling exceptions

We use the try {} catch (Exception e) {} block structure to handle exceptions. The keyword try starts a block containing the code which might throw an exception. the block starting with the keyword catch defines what happens if an exception is thrown in the try block. The keyword catch is followed by the type of the exception handled by that block, for example "all exceptions" catch (Exception e).

try {
    // code which possibly throws an exception
} catch (Exception e) {
    // code block executed if an exception is thrown
}

We use the keyword catch, because causing an exception is referred to as throwing an exception.

As mentioned above, we do not have to prepare for runtime exceptions such as the NullPointerException. We do not have to handle these kinds of exceptions, so the program execution stops if an error causes the exception to be thrown. Next, we will look at one such situation, parsing strings to integers.

We have used the parseInt method of the Integer class before. The method throws a NumberFormatException if the string it has been given cannot be parsed into an integer.

Scanner reader = new Scanner(System.in);
System.out.print("Give a number: ");

int readNumber = Integer.parseInt(reader.nextLine());
Sample output

Give a number: dinosaur

Exception in thread "..." java.lang.NumberFormatException: For input string: "dinosaur"

The above program throws an error if the user input is not a valid number. The exception will cause the program execution to stop.

Let's handle the exception. We wrap the call that might throw an exception into a try block, and the code executed if the exception is thrown into a catch block.

Scanner reader = new Scanner(System.in);

System.out.print("Give a number: ");
int readNumber = -1;

try {
    readNumber = Integer.parseInt(reader.nextLine());
} catch (Exception e) {
    System.out.println("User input was not a number.");
}
Sample output

Give a number: 5

Sample output

Give a number: no! User input was not a number.

The code in the catch block is executed immediately if the code in the try block throws an exception. We can demonstrate this by adding a print statement below the line calling the Integer.parseInt method in the try block.

Scanner reader = new Scanner(System.in);

System.out.print("Give a number: ");
int readNumber = -1;

try {
    readNumber = Integer.parseInt(reader.nextLine());
    System.out.println("Good job!");
} catch (Exception e) {
    System.out.println("User input was not a numer.");
}
Sample output

Give a number: 5 Good job!

Sample output

Give a number: no! User input was not a number.

The user input, in this case the string no!, is given to the Integer.parseInt method as a parameter. The method throws an error if the string cannot be parsed into an integer. Note, that the code within the catch block is executed only if an exception is thrown.

Let's make our integer parser a bit more useful. We'll turn it into a method which prompts the user for a number until they give a valid number. The execution stops only when the user gives a valid number.

public int readNumber(Scanner reader) {
    while (true) {
        System.out.print("Give a number: ");

        try {
            int readNumber = Integer.parseInt(reader.nextLine());
            return readNumber;
        } catch (Exception e) {
            System.out.println("User input was not a number.");
        }
    }
}
Sample output

Give a number: no! User input was not a number. Give a number: Matt has moss in his head User input was not a number. Give a number: 43

Exceptions and resources

There is separate exception handling for reading operating system resources such as files. With so called try-with-resources exception handling, the resource to be opened is added to a non-compulsory part of the try block declaration in brackets.

The code below reads all lines from "file.txt" and adds them to an ArrayList. Reading a file might throw an exception, so it requires a try-catch block.

ArrayList<String> lines =  new ArrayList<>();

// create a Scanner object for reading files
try (Scanner reader = new Scanner(new File("file.txt"))) {

    // read all lines from a file
    while (reader.hasNextLine()) {
        lines.add(reader.nextLine());
    }
} catch (Exception e) {
    System.out.println("Error: " + e.getMessage());
}

// do something with the lines

The try-with-resources approach is useful for handling resources, because the program closes the used resources automatically. Now references to files can "disappear", because we do not need them anymore. If the resources are not closed, the operating system sees them as being in use until the program is closed.

Shifting the responsibility

Methods and constructors can throw exceptions. There are roughly two categories of exceptions. There are exceptions we have to handle, and exceptions we do not have to handle. We can handle exceptions by wrapping the code into a try-catch block or throwing them out of the method.

The code below reads the file given to it as a parameter line by line. Reading a file can throw an exception — for example, the file might not exist or the program does not have read rights to the file. This kind of exception has to be handled. We handle the exception by wrapping the code into a try-catch block. In this example we do not really care about the exception, but we do print a message to the user about it.

public List<String> readLines(String fileName){
    List<String> lines =  new ArrayList<>();

    try {
        Files.lines(Paths.get("file.txt")).forEach(line -> lines.add(line));
    } catch (Exception e) {
        System.out.println("Error: " + e.getMessage());
    }

    return lines;
}

A programmer can also leave the exception unhandled and shift the responsibility for handling it to whomever calls the method. We can shift the responsibility of handling an exception forward by throwing the exception out of a method, and adding notice of this to the declaration of the method. Notice on throwing an exception forward throws *ExceptionType* is added before the opening bracket of a method.

public List<String> readLines(String fileName) throws Exception {
    ArrayList<String> lines =  new ArrayList<>();
    Files.lines(Paths.get(fileName)).forEach(line -> lines.add(line));
    return lines;
}

Now the method calling the readLines method has to either handle the exception in a try-catch block or shift the responsibility yet forward. Sometimes the responsibility of handling exceptions is avoided until the end, and even the main method can throw an exception to the caller:

public class MainProgram {
   public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
       // ...
   }
}

Now the exception is thrown to the program executor, or the Java virtual machine. It stops the program execution when an error causing an exception to be thrown occurs.

Throwing exceptions

The throw command throws an exception. For example a NumberFormatException can be done with command throw new NumberFormatException(). The following code always throws an exception.

public class Program {

    public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
        throw new NumberFormatException(); // Program throws an exception
    }
}

One exception that the user does not have to prepare for is IllegalArgumentException. The IllegalArgumentException tells the user that the values given to a method or a constructor as parameters are wrong. It can be used when we want to ensure certain parameter values.

Lets create class Grade. It gets a integer representing a grade as a constructor parameter.

public class Grade {
    private int grade;

    public Grade(int grade) {
        this.grade = grade;
    }

    public int getGrade() {
        return this.grade;
    }
}

We want that the grade fills certain criteria. The grade has to be an integer between 0 and 5. If it is something else, we want to throw an exception. Let's add a conditional statement to the constructor, which checks if the grade fills the criteria. If it does not, we throw the IllegalArgumentException with throw new IllegalArgumentException("Grade must be between 0 and 5.");.

public class Grade {
    private int grade;

    public Grade(int grade) {
        if (grade < 0 || grade > 5) {
            throw new IllegalArgumentException("Grade must be between 0 and 5.");
        }

        this.grade = grade;
    }

    public int getGrade() {
        return this.grade;
    }
}
Grade grade = new Grade(3);
System.out.println(grade.getGrade());

Grade illegalGrade = new Grade(22);
// exception happens, execution will not continue from here
Sample output

3 Exception in thread "..." java.lang.IllegalArgumentException: Grade must be between 0 and 5.

If an exception is a runtime exception, e.g. IllegalArgumentException, we do not have to warn about throwing it on the method declaration.

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Exceptions and Interfaces

An Interface can have methods which throw an exception. For example the classes implementing the following FileServer interface might throw an exception from the methods load or save.

public interface FileServer {
    String load(String fileName) throws Exception;
    void save(String fileName, String textToSave) throws Exception;
}

If an interface declares a throws Exception attribute to a method, so that these methods might throw an exception, the class implementing this interface must also have this attribute. However the class does not have to throw an error, as we can see below.

public class TextServer implements FileServer {

    private Map<String, String> data;

    public TextServer() {
        this.data = new HashMap<>();
    }

    @Override
    public String load(String fileName) throws Exception {
        return this.data.get(fileName);
    }

    @Override
    public void save(String fileName, String textToSave) throws Exception {
        this.data.put(fileName, textToSave);
    }
}

Details of the exception

A catch block defines which exception to prepare for with catch (Exception e). The details of the exception are saved to the e variable.

try {
    // program code which might throw an exception
} catch (Exception e) {
    // details of the exception are stored in the variable e
}

The Exception class has some useful methods. For example printStackTrace() prints the stack trace, which shows how we ended up with an exception. Below is a stack trace printed by the printStackTrace() method.

Sample output

Exception in thread "main" java.lang.NullPointerException at package.Class.print(Class.java:43) at package.Class.main(Class.java:29)

We read a stack trace from the bottom up. At the bottom is the first call, so the execution of the program has begun from the main() method of the Class class. Line 29 of the main method of the Class class calls the print() method. Line 43 of the print method has thrown a NullPointerException exception. The details of an exception are very useful when trying to pinpoint where an error happens.

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