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Exceptions: 3 Rules for Organizing Exceptions in Code

Organizing Exceptions in Code: A Three-Step Mantra

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Error handling is often an overlooked aspect of software design. Yet, it’s pivotal to ensuring an application’s reliability, usability, and maintainability. When thinking about how to handle exceptions in your codebase, a simple but powerful mantra to remember is: Throw early, let propagate, and catch late. In this post, we’ll unpack each of these principles and discuss why they’re essential in crafting resilient software.

1. Throw Early

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This old saying holds especially true for exceptions.

What does it mean? Throwing exceptions early means detecting an error at its source and raising an exception as soon as something unexpected occurs. This approach ensures that erroneous data or states don’t trickle down deeper into the system.

Why is it essential? By nipping errors in the bud, you prevent potential cascading failures and ensure that the system remains in a coherent state. This proactive stance makes debugging more straightforward, as you’re addressing the error where it originates rather than dealing with its side effects later on.

2. Let Them Propagate

Exceptions, by design, interrupt the regular flow of an application. Once raised, they’ll bubble up the call stack.

What does it mean? Rather than catching exceptions immediately after they’re thrown, you should let them propagate up to a level where it makes sense to handle them. Avoid the temptation of suppressing or catching them prematurely without proper handling.

Why is it essential? Exceptions carry crucial information about what went wrong and where. By letting them propagate, you preserve this context, allowing the layers above to make informed decisions about how to handle the error. It promotes cleaner, more maintainable code, eliminating unnecessary try-catch blocks scattered throughout.

3. Catch Late

Just as it’s vital to throw exceptions early, it’s equally important to catch them as late as feasible.

What does it mean? Catching late means handling the exception at a level where you have enough context to deal with it effectively. Often, this is at the boundary of your application or module, where you can log the error, notify the user, or take corrective action.

Why is it essential? Late catching ensures that your application handles errors gracefully. Instead of crashing or entering an unpredictable state, the system can recover, log the incident for future debugging, or alert the user in a user-friendly manner. It also centralizes error-handling logic, making the application more maintainable.


Effective exception management is much more than just preventing crashes. It’s about designing your system to be resilient and user-friendly, even in the face of unexpected issues. By adopting the mantra of “Throw early, let propagate, and catch late,” you set your software on a path where errors become informative events rather than catastrophic interruptions.

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