Throwing Exceptions

There are times when it makes sense for a program to deliberately throw an exception. This is the case when the program discovers some sort of exceptional or error condition, but there is no reasonable way to handle the error at the point where the problem is discovered. The program can throw an exception in the hope that some other part of the program will catch and handle the exception. This can be done with a throw statement. The syntax of the throw statement is:

throw exception-object ;

The exception-object must be an object belonging to one of the subclasses of Throwable. Usually, it will in fact belong to one of the subclasses of Exception. In most cases, it will be a newly constructed object created with the new operator. For example:

throw new ArithmeticException("Division by zero");

The parameter in the constructor becomes the error message in the exception object; if e refers to the object, the error message can be retrieved by calling e.getMessage(). (You might find this example a bit odd, because you might expect the system itself to throw an ArithmeticException when an attempt is made to divide by zero. So why should a programmer bother to throw the exception? Recall that if the numbers that are being divided are of type int, then division by zero will indeed throw an ArithmeticException. However, no arithmetic operations with floating-point numbers will ever produce an exception. Instead, the special value Double.NaN is used to represent the result of an illegal operation. In some situations, you might prefer to throw an ArithmeticException when a real number is divided by zero.)

An exception can be thrown either by the system or by a throw statement. The exception is processed in exactly the same way in either case. Suppose that the exception is thrown inside a try statement. If that try statement has a catch clause that handles that type of exception, then the computer jumps to the catch clause and executes it. The exception has been handled. After handling the exception, the computer executes the finally clause of the try statement, if there is one. It then continues normally with the rest of the program, which follows the try statement. If the exception is not immediately caught and handled, the processing of the exception will continue.

When an exception is thrown during the execution of a subroutine and the exception is not handled in the same subroutine, then that subroutine is terminated (after the execution of any pending finally clauses). Then the routine that called that subroutine gets a chance to handle the exception. That is, if the subroutine was called inside a try statement that has an appropriate catch clause, then that catch clause will be executed and the program will continue on normally from there. Again, if the second routine does not handle the exception, then it also is terminated and the routine that called it (if any) gets the next shot at the exception. The exception will crash the program only if it passes up through the entire chain of subroutine calls without being handled. (In fact, even this is not quite true: In a multi-threaded program, only the thread in which the exception occurred is terminated.)

A subroutine that might generate an exception can announce this fact by adding a clause “throws exception-class-name” to the header of the routine. For example:

 * Returns the larger of the two roots of the quadratic equation
 * A*x*x + B*x + C = 0, provided it has any roots.  If A == 0 or
 * if the discriminant, B*B - 4*A*C, is negative, then an exception
 * of type IllegalArgumentException is thrown.
static public double root( double A, double B, double C )
                              throws IllegalArgumentException {
    if (A == 0) {
      throw new IllegalArgumentException("A can't be zero.");
    else {
       double disc = B*B - 4*A*C;
       if (disc < 0)
          throw new IllegalArgumentException("Discriminant < zero.");
       return  (-B + Math.sqrt(disc)) / (2*A);

The computation in this subroutine has the preconditions that A != 0 and B*B-4*A*C >= 0. The subroutine throws an exception of type IllegalArgumentException when either of these preconditions is violated. When an illegal condition is found in a subroutine, throwing an exception is often a reasonable response. If the program that called the subroutine knows some good way to handle the error, it can catch the exception. If not, the program will crash — and the programmer will know that the program needs to be fixed.

throws clause in a subroutine heading can declare several different types of exception, separated by commas. For example:

void processArray(int[] A) throws NullPointerException,ArrayIndexOutOfBoundsException { ...

Next: Mandatory Exception Handling