Exception handling using enumerations in Java (II)

In the first part of this blog post I discussed how Java Enumerations can be conveniently used as

  1. Fault codes in exceptions; and
  2. Provide formatted and localized error messages

The major drawback with the approach is that the fault codes make exception handling more complicated for cases when the same logic should be applied to different enumeration types.

This part of the blog post discusses a possible extension of Java Syntax for better exception handling when using enumeration fault codes.

First we need a way to distinguish the exceptions that support fault code enumerations from those that do not. We also need to indicate what type of fault code is supported by the exception. We therefore introduce a a new Fault interface from which all fault code exceptions must inherit:

public interface Fault<C extends Enum<C>> {
    C code();

If we for a given application assume an ApplicationFault Exception class defined as

public class ApplicationFault
extends RuntimeException
implements Fault<ApplicationFault.Code> {

    public enum Code {
        A1, A2, A3, A4

    private final Code code;

    public ApplicationFault(Code code) {
            this.code = code;

    public Code code() {
        return code;

… we can then specify the fault code as constant values for the exception, i.e. something like

try {
    // do something
} catch(ApplicationFault{A1, A2} | IOException e) {
    // handle ApplicationFault A1, A2 faults and IO Exceptions
} catch(ApplicationFault{A3} | IOException e) {
    // handle A3 faults

This new syntax should be interpreted as

  • Handle all ApplicationExceptions for fault codes Code.A1 and A2 and
    IOExceptions in the same way
  • Handle ApplicationExceptions for Code.A3 faults separately
  • Allow all ApplicationExceptions for Code.A4 faults to propagate up the
    call chain

(The Code enumeration type can be deduced from the ApplicationException.)

In addition, compile time errors would occur if

  • Non-existing or the wrong enumeration fault codes for the class are referenced
  • ApplicationFault does not implement Fault
  • ApplicationFault is a checked exception and not all fault codes are caught

We could even take it one step further if Java would allow generic type parameters for Exception classes. (Exceptions in Java do not support generic type parameters as there is no evident use for them, but if we introduce fault codes they would start making sense.)

Let us assume that the JDK defines a generic RuntimeFault:

public class RuntimeFault<C extends Enum<C>>
extends RuntimeException
implements Fault<C> {

    public RuntimeFault(C code, Object... args)  {

    public Code code() {

We would then only need to define our fault codes in an enumeration (Localized or not), throw them as follows:

throw new RuntimeFault<CodeA>(A1, arg0, arg1);

… and catch them like so

try {
    // do something
} catch(RuntimeFault<CodeA>{A1, A2} | RuntimeFault<CodeB> | IOException e) {
    // handle RuntimeFault for Code.A1 and A2 together with all CodeB faults and IO Exceptions

The main motivation for allowing generics in this way would be to have fewer exceptions. Instead of defining a new exception for each application or module with its own set of fault codes we would only define the fault codes and in most or all cases use the default RutimeFault exception class.

While this might be tempting we need to answer a number of questions introduced by the additional complication of allowing generics in exceptons:

  • Would other exceptions besides RuntimeFault be allowed to be generic in the
    same way?
  • Would the generic type parameters be limited to enums? If not, what would that
  • Should we perhaps allowing catching the interface Fault as well? What class
    object would be assumed in the catch clause?

There are probably limitations related to type erasure and how the catch clause is implemented in Java that would answer these and other questions. Unfortunately I lack the insight to provide a good answer on the feasibility of any of the extensions suggested above.

In a blog post from last year the author proposes changes to Java 9 that pretty much attempts to solve the same problems as discussed in this post, but instead of using enum codes the solution is based on Strings. He actually goes as far as making a forked JDK to test the the new feature!

To catch the codes the author introduces a new syntax:

} catch (CodedException | IOException ex, "code4", "code5") {

The CodedException class is required to be part of the catch clause for the codes to be caught.

To me the syntax is a bit clumsy as the CodedException is not kept together with the codes and using String constants is error prone. How do we known the fault code is ever thrown? With enumerations you get type safety and all codes has at least to be defined somewhere.

Last defining a single code is a bit more verbose, compare:

public static final String CODE_A = "error.code.a";
public static final FaultCode FAULT_CODE_A = new FaultCode(CODE_A, 1, "error message: {0}");

… as opposed to

CODE_A("error message: {0}")

Granted, there is a little bit of overhead not shown where we store the MessageFormat in the enumeration but this is quickly regained when there are more than a few codes.