Robust error handling for Lua (try(), catch(), and finally() .... finally!)
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Robust error handling for Lua which features:

  • try(), catch(), finally() functions
  • custom error objects


-- import creates a base Error class and global funcs try(), catch(), finally()

local Error = require 'lua_error'

-- do this anywhere in your code:

    -- make a call which could raise an error
    function( err )
      -- handle the error
      -- do some cleanup

Note: the catch{} and finally{} are optional.


The library is a culmination of several ideas found on the Internet put into a cohesive package. It was also inspired by the error handling in Python. (see References below)

There are two different components to this library which can either be used together or independently:

  1. Gobal functions: try, catch, and finally which give structure
  2. Error object class: which can be used by itself or subclassed for more refined errors

Lua Errors

The basic pieces of error handling built into Lua are the functions error() and pcall(). We only need to focus on error(), since that's what we use to raise an error condition in a program, like so:

error( "this is my error" )

that in turn will create something like this:

my_lua_file.lua:17: this is my error
stack traceback:
	[C]: in function 'error'
	/path_to_file/my_lua_file.lua:17: in main chunk
	[C]: in function 'require'
	?: in function 'require'
	/path_to_file/main.lua:104: in function 'main'
	/path_to_file/main.lua:110: in main chunk

In the error we can see our error string "this is my error" and the corresponding traceback.

As shown in our simple example, error() is often only used to create string-type errors. There are a couple of drawbacks to these types of errors in that they are:

  1. they are fragile

Is that string "ProtocolError" from my module or yours? If string "out of data" changes then my code will break

  1. they are harder to represent other, finer-grained errors

Like error.overflow, app.error.protocol, etc

Though one feature of error() which can help is that its argument can be anything, not just a string, so later we'll give it some Error objects.

try(), catch(), finally()

This function trio is the backbone of awesome error handling. The following is the basic structure using all three of the functions.

Note: in the example below, <func ref> represents a function reference, for example:

local func_ref = function() end

  <func ref>,
    <func ref>
    <func ref>

This format works because it takes advantage of Lua's dual-way to call functions, eg:

hello() or hello{}, the latter being equivalent to hello( {} )

So essentially this format is really a function try() which accepts a single array argument containing up to three function references like so, { <func ref>, catch{}, finally{} }.

Keep in mind that the terms catch and finally are themselves global functions just like try, and like try these each take a single array argument but contain only a single function like so { <func ref> }.

Here are some alternate layouts showing the same thing:

flattened out:
try{ <func ref>, catch{ <func ref> }, finally{ <func ref> } }

same thing, including parens:
try({ <func ref>, catch({ <func ref> }), finally({ <func ref> }) })

Custom Errors

The objects in this framework use lua-objects as the backbone.

Here's a quick example how to create a custom error type:

-- import module
local Error = require 'lua_error'

-- create custom error class
-- this class could be more complex,
-- but this is all we need for a custom error
local ProtocolError = newClass( Error, { name="Protocol Error" } )

-- raise an error
error( ProtocolError( "bad protocol" ) )

For more examples of custom errors, you can check out the unit tests or the projects dmc-wamp, lua-bytearray, etc.


The following code snippet is a real-life example taken from dmc-wamp:

			self._session:onOpen( { transport=self } )

				if type(e)=='string' then
					error( e )
				elseif e:isa( Error.ProtocolError ) then
					print( e.traceback )
						reason="WAMP Protocol Error"
					print( e.traceback )
						reason="WAMP Internal Error ({})"

In the catch you see that:

  • first, we're checking to see if it's a regular string-type error. if so, re-raise the error since we only care about Error objects.
  • second, by using the method isa, see if the error is type ProtocolError, bailout with protocol error.
  • third, it's not an error we can handle, so bailout with an internal error.