Working With Exceptions

Introduction

Working with exceptions in a sane way is a frequently asked topic. This section aims to give some good advice on how to deal with exceptions in TYPO3 world and especially which types of exceptions should be thrown under which circumstances.

First of, exceptions are a good thing - there is nothing bad with throwing them. It is often better to throw an exception than to return a “mixed” return value from a method to signal that something went wrong. TYPO3 has a tradition of methods that return either an expected result set - for instance an array - or alternatively a boolean false on error. This is often confusing for callers and developers tend to forget to implement proper error handling for such “false was returned” cases. This easily leads to hard to track problems. It is often a much better choice to throw an exception if something went wrong: This gives the chance to throw a meaningful message directly to the developer or to a log file for later analysis. Additionally, an exception usually comes along with a backtrace.

Exception Types

Exceptions are a good thing, but how to decide on what to throw exactly? The basic idea is: If it is possible that an exception needs to be caught by a higher level code segment, then a specific exception type - mostly unique for this case - should be thrown. If the exception should never be caught, then a top-level PHP built-in exception should be thrown. For PHP built-in exceptions, the actual class is not crucial, if in doubt, a \RuntimeException fits - it is much more important to throw a meaningful exception message in those cases.

Typical Cases for Exceptions That are Designed to be Caught

  • Race conditions than can be created by editors in a normal workflow:
    • Editor 1 calls list module and a record is shown.
    • Editor 2 deletes this record.
    • Editor 1 clicks the link to open this deleted record.
    • The code throws a catchable, specific named exception that is turned into a localized error message shown to the user “The record 12 from table tt_content you tried to open has been deleted …”.
  • Temporary issues: Updating the extension list in the Extension Manager fails because of a network issue - The code throws a catchable, named exception that is turned into a localized error message shown to the user “Can not connect to update servers, please check internet connection …”.

Typical Cases for Exceptions That Should not be Caught

  • Wrong configuration: A flexform contains a type=inline field. At the time of this writing, this case was not implemented, so the code checks for this case and throws a top-level PHP built-in exception (\RuntimeException in this case) to point developers to an invalid configuration scenario.
  • Programming error/ wrong API usage: Code that can not do its job because a developer did not take care and used an API in a wrong way. This is a common reason to throw an exception and can be found at lots of places in the core. A top-level exception like \RuntimeException should be thrown.

Typical Exception Arguments

The standard exception signature:

public function __construct($message = "", $code = 0, Exception $previous = null) { }

TYPO3 typically uses a meaningful exception message and a unique code. Uniqueness of $code is created by using a UNIX timestamp of now (the time when the exception is created): This can be easily created, for instance using the trivial shell command date +%s. The resulting number of this command should be directly used as the exception code and never changed again.

Throwing a meaningful message is important especially if top-level exceptions are thrown. A developer receiving this exception should get all useful data that can help to debug and mitigate the issue.

Example:

use Vendor\Package\File\FileNotAccessibleException;
use Vendor\Package\File\FileNotFoundException;

// ...

if ($pid === 0) {
    throw new \RuntimeException('The page "' . $pid . '" cannot be accessed.', 1548145665);
}

$absoluteFilePath = GeneralUtility::getFileAbsFileName($filePath);

if (is_file($absoluteFilePath)) {
    $file = fopen($absoluteFilePath, 'rb');
} else {
    // prefer speaking exception names, add custom exceptions if necessary
    throw new FileNotFoundException('File "' . $absoluteFilePath . '" does not exist.', 1548145672);
}

if ($file == null) {
    throw new FileNotAccessibleException('File "' . $absoluteFilePath . '" cannot be read.', 1548145672);
}

Exception Inheritance

A typical exception hierarchy for specific exceptions in the core looks like Vendor\MyExt\Exception extends TYPO3\CMS\Core\Exception, where TYPO3\CMS\Core\Exception is the base of all exceptions in TYPO3.

Building on that you can have Vendor\MyExt\Exception\AFunctionality\ASpecificException extends Vendor\MyExt\Exception for more specific exceptions. All of your exceptions should extend your extension-specific base exception.

So, rule:

As soon as multiple different specific exceptions are thrown within some extension, there should be a generic base exception within the extension that is not thrown itself, and the specific exceptions that are thrown then extend from this class.

Typically, only the specific exceptions are caught however. In general, the inheritance hierarchy shouldn’t be extended much deeper and should be kept relatively flat.

Extending Exceptions

It can become handy to extend exceptions in order to transport further data to the code that catches the exception. This can be useful if an exception is caught and transformed into a localized flash message or a notification. Typically, those additional pieces of information should be added as additional constructor arguments:

__construct($message = "", $code = 0, Exception $previous = null,
            string $additionalArgument, int $anotherArgument)

There should be getters for those additional data parts within the exception class. Enriching an exception with additional data should not happen with setter methods: Exceptions have a characteristica similar to “value objects” that should not be changed. Having setters would spoil this idea: Once thrown, exceptions should be immutable, thus the only way to add data is by handing it over as constructor arguments.

Good Examples

  • \TYPO3\CMS\Backend\Form\FormDataProvider\AbstractDatabaseRecordProvider, \TYPO3\CMS\Backend\Form\FormDataProvider\DatabaseEditRow, \TYPO3\CMS\Backend\Form\Exception\DatabaseRecordException, \TYPO3\CMS\Backend\Form\FormDataProvider\TcaInline
    • Scenario: DatabaseEditRow may throw a DatabaseRecordException if the record to open has been deleted meanwhile. This can happen in inline scenarios, so the TcaInline data provider catches this exception.
    • Good: Next to a meaningful exception message, the exception is enriched with the table name and the uid it was handling in __construct() to hand over further useful information to the catching code.
    • Good: The catching code catches this specific exception, uses the getters of the exception to get the additional data and creates a localized error message from it that is enriched with further data that only the catching code knows.
    • Good: The exception hierarchy is relatively flat - it extends from a more generic Backend\Form\Exception which itself extends from Backend\Exception which extends \Exception. The Backend\Form\Exception could have been left out, but since the backend extension is so huge, the author decided to have this additional class layer in between.
    • Good: The method that throws has @throws annotations to hint IDEs like PhpStorm that an exception may be received using that method.
    • Bad: The exception could have had a more dedicated name like DatabaseRecordVanishedException or similar.
  • \TYPO3\CMS\Backend\Form\FormDataProvider\AbstractDatabaseRecordProvider
    • Good: method getRecordFromDatabase() throws exceptions at four different places with only one of them being catchable (DatabaseRecordException) and the other three being top-level PHP built-in exceptions that indicate a developer/ code usage error.
    • Bad: The generic exception messages could be more verbose and explain in more detail on what went wrong.

Bad Examples

  • TYPO3\CMS\Core\Resource\FileRepository method findFileReferenceByUid()

    • Bad: The top-level PHP built-in is caught.

      This is not a good idea and indicates something is wrong in the code that may throw this exception. A specific exception should be caught here only.

    • Bad: Catching \RuntimeException.

      This may hide more serious failures from an underlying library that should better have been bubbling up. The same holds for \Exception.

    • Bad: Catching this exception is used to change the return value of the method to false.

      This would make it a method that returns multiple different types.

See https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/kcwalina/2007/01/30/how-to-design-exception-hierarchies/.