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RFC 80 (v4) Exception objects and classes for builtins

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October 3, 2000 23:26
RFC 80 (v4) Exception objects and classes for builtins
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=head1 TITLE

Exception objects and classes for builtins

=head1 VERSION

  Maintainer: Peter Scott <>
  Date: 9 Aug 2000
  Last Modified: 3 Oct 2000
  Mailing List:
  Number: 80
  Version: 4
  Status: Frozen


This RFC proposes that builtins that throw exceptions throw them as objects 
belonging to a set of standard classes.  This would enable an exception 
type to be easily recognized by user code.  The behavior if the exception 
were not trapped should be identical to the current behavior (error message 
with optional line number output to STDERR and exit with non-zero exit code).


This RFC is tightly bound with RFC 88, which proposes an exception handling 
mechanism based upon exceptions-as-objects, and in particular specifies 
that fatal exceptions thrown by the core will be objects with certain 
instance attributes.  We assume here that these aspects of RFC 88 are 

Builtins experiencing fatal errors currently call C<die>, which is to say, 
they throw an exception.  Builtins experiencing non-fatal errors return a 
variety of error codes.  RFC 70 proposes that these be trappable exceptions 
if C<use Fatal> is in effect.

This RFC proposes that both exceptions be objects blessed into a standard 
set of classes which can be checked for by the user.

=head2 Object Attributes

The exception object will have attributes filled in by perl.  The 
applicable attributes from RFC 88 will be used, including:

=over 4

=item tag

RFC 88 eschews numeric codes in favor of alphanumeric tags.  A system 
exception should place the symbolic errno constant here, e.g., C<EINVAL>, 
for system errors; something will have to be made up for errors that don't 
have associated errnos.

=item message

The text of the exception, e.g., "Out of memory".

=item severity

Relative level of fatality.  Chosen from some TBD enumeration, e.g., 
"Warning", "Fatal", "Information".

=item sysmsg

Additional information about the exception, the kind of thing currently put 
in C<$^E>.

=item files

This and the next two attributes are used to track the program locations 
the exception has passed through to this point since it was thrown.  This 
attribute returns an array of filenames, starting with the one in which the 
exception was thrown.  This is to preserve C<caller>-type information for 
the catcher to be able to see.  RFC 88 proposes the method C<show> and 
option C<trace> to retrieve filenames and line numbers.

=item lines

An array of line numbers of program locations the exception has passed 
through between being thrown and being caught.

=item subs

An array of (package-qualified) subroutine names the exception has passed 
through between being thrown and being caught.


Stringifying the object itself will yield the C<message> attribute.  A
C<facility> attribute was suggested to indicate what part of perl is
throwing the exception: IMO that is part of the exception class.  In an 
numeric context, the value will be the C<errno> if it corresponds to one, 
otherwise up to the implementor.

=head2 Classes

This is a strawman exception class enumeration.  The merits of this RFC do
not depend on this being a good list, only on it being possible to
find a reasonable one.  A common prefix like C<Exception::> is elided for

Note: conceivably, the implementation could allow an exception to belong to 
more than one class at a time through multiple inheritance (e.g., C<Regex> 
and C<Recursion>).  I haven't explored the ramifications of that.

These class names can be specified in calls to C<> (and appropriate 
language currently appears in RFC 70), qualified with a C<:> to distinguish 
them from core function names.  This allows the user to change the fatality 
or otherwise of whole classes of exceptions.  It would be possible (whether 
it would also be I<desirable> is another matter) for a user to say, e.g., 
C<no Fatal qw(:Reference)> and thereby excise the usual core exception upon 
an incorrect dereference operation, as though they had wrapped it in an 
C<eval>.  This makes the operation of C<> consistent over the 
broadest possible application.

=over 4

=item Arithmetic

Divide by zero and friends.

=item Memory

C<malloc> failed, request too large, that sort of thing.

=item Eval

A compilation error occurred in C<eval>, C</e>, or C<(?{ ... })>.  Possible
candidate for subdividing.

=item Regex

A syntax error occurred in a regex (built at run-time).  Possible candidate
for subdivision.

=item IO

An I/O error occurred.  Almost certainly should be subdivided, perhaps
parallel to the C<IO::> hierarchy.

=item Format

Error in format given to C<pack>, C<printf>, octal/hex/binary number
etc.  Could use a better name.

=item Thread

Some goof in threading.

=item Object

Tried to call non-existent method, that kind of thing.

=item System

Attempt to interact with external program failed (maybe it ran out of
process slots, that kind of thing).

=item Taint


=item Reference

Attempt to dereference wrong kind of thing.

=item Recursion

Excessive subroutine recursion, maybe also infinite C<split> or C<s///>
loops (although arguably they would throw a C<Regex> exception).


There are bound to be other categories that should be covered.  This
is just to put meat on the bones.  This is the province of librarians;
the fact that it's possible to argue endlessly about the choices doesn't
preclude coming up with good ones.


This should not be construed as requiring that clearly fatal errors (e.g.
pointer corrupted) should be trappable, or throw O-O exceptions.  Note that
compilation errors don't have to be classified.


RFC 70: Allow exception-based error-reporting.

RFC 85: All perl generated errors should have a unique identifier

RFC 88: Omnibus Structured Exception/Error Handling Mechanism (C<>).


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