Exception handling in PowerBuilder

When a runtime error occurs in a PowerBuilder application, unless that error is trapped, a single application event (SystemError) fires to handle the error no matter where in the application the error happened. Although some errors can be handled in the system error event, catching the error closer to its source increases the likelihood of recovery from the error condition.

You can use exception-handling classes and syntax to handle context-sensitive errors in PowerBuilder applications. This means that you can deal with errors close to their source by embedding error-handling code anywhere in your application. Well-designed exception-handling code can give application users a better chance to recover from error conditions and run the application without interruption.

Exception handling allows you to design an application that can recover from exceptional conditions and continue execution. Any exceptions that you do not catch are handled by the runtime system and can result in the termination of the application.

Exception handling can be found in such object-oriented languages as Java and C++. The implementation for PowerBuilder is similar to the implementation of exception handling in Java. In PowerBuilder, the TRY, CATCH, FINALLY, THROW, and THROWS reserved words are used for exception handling. There are also several PowerBuilder objects that descend from the Throwable object.

Basics of exception handling

Exceptions are objects that are thrown in the event of some exceptional (or unexpected) condition or error and are used to describe the condition or error encountered. Standard errors, such as null object references and division by zero, are typically thrown by the runtime system. These types of errors could occur anywhere in an application and you can include catch clauses in any executable script to try to recover from these errors.

User-defined exceptions

There are also exceptional conditions that do not immediately result in runtime errors. These exceptions typically occur during execution of a function or a user-event script. To signal these exceptions, you create user objects that inherit from the PowerScript Exception class. You can associate a user-defined exception with a function or user event in the prototype for the method.

For example, a user-defined exception might be created to indicate that a file cannot be found. You could declare this exception in the prototype for a function that is supposed to open the file. To catch this condition, you must instantiate the user-defined exception object and then throw the exception instance in the method script.

Objects for exception handling support

Several system objects support exception handling within PowerBuilder.

Throwable object type

The object type Throwable is the root datatype for all user-defined exception and system error types. Two other system object types, RuntimeError and Exception, derive from Throwable.

RuntimeError and its descendants

PowerBuilder runtime errors are represented in the RuntimeError object type. For more robust error-handling capabilities, the RuntimeError type has its own system-defined descendants; but the RuntimeError type contains all information required for dealing with PowerBuilder runtime errors.

One of the descendants of RuntimeError is the NullObjectError type that is thrown by the system whenever a null object reference is encountered. This allows you to handle null-object-reference errors explicitly without having to differentiate them from other runtime errors that might occur.

Error types that derive from RuntimeError are typically used by the system to indicate runtime errors. RuntimeErrors can be caught in a try-catch block, but it is not necessary to declare where such an error condition might occur. (PowerBuilder does that for you, since a system error can happen anywhere anytime the application is running.) It is also not a requirement to catch these types of errors.

Exception object type

The system object Exception also derives from Throwable and is typically used as an ancestor object for user-defined exception types. It is the root class for all checked exceptions. Checked exceptions are user-defined exceptions that must be caught in a try-catch block when thrown, or that must be declared in the prototype of a method when thrown outside of a try-catch block.

The PowerScript compiler checks the local syntax where you throw checked exceptions to make sure you either declare or catch these exception types. Descendants of RuntimeError are not checked by the compiler, even if they are user defined or if they are thrown in a script rather than by the runtime system.

Handling exceptions

Whether an exception is thrown by the runtime system or by a THROW statement in an application script, you handle the exception by catching it. This is done by surrounding the set of application logic that throws the exception with code that indicates how the exception is to be dealt with.


To handle an exception in PowerScript, you must include some set of your application logic inside a try-catch block. A try-catch block begins with a TRY clause and ends with the END TRY statement. It must also contain either a CATCH clause or a FINALLY clause. A try-catch block normally contains a FINALLY clause for error condition cleanup. In between the TRY and FINALLY clauses you can add any number of CATCH clauses.

CATCH clauses are not obligatory, but if you do include them you must follow each CATCH statement with a variable declaration. In addition to following all of the usual rules for local variable declarations inside a script, the variable being defined must derive from the Throwable system type.

You can add a TRY-CATCH-FINALLY, TRY-CATCH, or TRY-FINALLY block using the Script view Paste Special feature for PowerScript statements. If you select the Statement Templates check box on the AutoScript tab of the Design Options dialog box, you can also use the AutoScript feature to insert these block structures.


Example catching a system error

This is an example of a TRY-CATCH-FINALLY block that catches a system error when an arccosine argument, entered by the application user (in a SingleLineEdit) is not in the required range. If you do not catch this error, the application goes to the system error event, and eventually terminates:

Double ld_num
ld_num = Double (sle_1.text)
   sle_2.text = string (acos (ld_num))
CATCH (runtimeerror er)   
   MessageBox("Runtime Error", er.GetMessage())
   // Add cleanup code here   
MessageBox("After", "We are finished.")

The system runtime error message might be confusing to the end user, so for production purposes, it would be better to catch a user-defined exception -- see the example in Creating user-defined exception types -- and set the message to something more understandable.

The TRY reserved word signals the start of a block of statements to be executed and can include more than one CATCH clause. If the execution of code in the TRY block causes an exception to be thrown, then the exception is handled by the first CATCH clause whose variable can be assigned the value of the exception thrown. The variable declaration after a CATCH statement indicates the type of exception being handled (a system runtime error, in this case).

CATCH order

It is important to order your CATCH clauses in such a way that one clause does not hide another. This would occur if the first CATCH clause catches an exception of type Exception and a subsequent CATCH clause catches a descendant of Exception. Since they are processed in order, any exception thrown that is a descendant of Exception would be handled by the first CATCH clause and never by the second. The PowerScript compiler can detect this condition and signals an error if found.

If an exception is not dealt with in any of the CATCH clauses, it is thrown up the call stack for handling by other exception handlers (nested try-catch blocks) or by the system error event. But before the exception is thrown up the stack, the FINALLY clause is executed.

FINALLY clause

The FINALLY clause is generally used to clean up after execution of a TRY or CATCH clause. The code in the FINALLY clause is guaranteed to execute if any portion of the try-catch block is executed, regardless of how the code in the try-catch block completes.

If no exceptions occur, the TRY clause completes, followed by the execution of the statements contained in the FINALLY clause. Then execution continues on the line following the END TRY statement.

In cases where there are no CATCH clauses but only a FINALLY clause, the code in the FINALLY clause is executed even if a return is encountered or an exception is thrown in the TRY clause.

If an exception occurs within the context of the TRY clause and an applicable CATCH clause exists, the CATCH clause is executed, followed by the FINALLY clause. But even if no CATCH clause is applicable to the exception thrown, the FINALLY clause still executes before the exception is thrown up the call stack.

If an exception or a return is encountered within a CATCH clause, the FINALLY clause is executed before execution is transferred to the new location.

FINALLY clause restriction

Do not use RETURN statements in the FINALLY clause of a TRY-CATCH block. This can prevent the exception from being caught by its invoker.

Creating user-defined exception types

You can create your own user-defined exception types from standard class user objects that inherit from Exception or RuntimeError or that inherit from an existing user object deriving from Exception or RuntimeError.

Inherit from Exception object type

Normally, user-defined exception types should inherit from the Exception type or a descendant, since the RuntimeError type is used to indicate system errors. These user-defined objects are no different from any other nonvisual user object in the system. They can contain events, functions, and instance variables.

This is useful, for example, in cases where a specific condition, such as the failure of a business rule, might cause application logic to fail. If you create a user-defined exception type to describe such a condition and then catch and handle the exception appropriately, you can prevent a runtime error.

Throwing exceptions

Exceptions can be thrown by the runtime engine to indicate an error condition. If you want to signal a potential exception condition manually, you must use the THROW statement.

Typically, the THROW statement is used in conjunction with some user-defined exception type. Here is a simple example of the use of the THROW statement:

Exception    le_ex
le_ex = create Exception
Throw le_ex
MessageBox ("Hmm", "We would never get here if" &   
   + "the exception variable was not instantiated")

In this example, the code throws the instance of the exception le_ex. The variable following the THROW reserved word must point to a valid instance of the exception object that derives from Throwable. If you attempt to throw an uninstantiated Exception variable, a NullObjectError is thrown instead, indicating a null object reference in this routine. That could only complicate the error handling for your application.

Declaring exceptions thrown from functions

If you signal an exception with the THROW statement inside a method script -- and do not surround the statement with a try-catch block that can deal with that type of exception -- you must also declare the exception as an exception type (or as a descendant of an exception type) thrown by that method. However, you do not need to declare that a method can throw runtime errors, since PowerBuilder does that for you.

The prototype window in the Script view of most PowerBuilder painters allows you to declare what user-defined exceptions, if any, can be thrown by a function or a user-defined event. You can drag and drop exception types from the System Tree or a Library painter view to the Throws box in the prototype window, or you can type in a comma-separated list of the exception types that the method can throw.


Example catching a user-defined exception

This code displays a user-defined error when an arccosine argument, entered by the application user, is not in the required range. The try-catch block calls a method, wf_acos, that catches the system error and sets and throws the user-defined error:


CATCH (uo_exception u_ex)   
   MessageBox("Out of Range", u_ex.GetMessage())

This code in the wf_acos method catches the system error and sets and throws the user-defined error:

uo_exception lu_error
Double ld_num
ld_num = Double (sle_1.text)
   sle_2.text = string (acos (ld_num))
CATCH (runtimeerror er)   
   lu_error = Create uo_exception
   lu_error.SetMessage("Value must be between -1" &
      + "and 1")
   Throw lu_error

Adding flexibility and facilitating object reuse

You can use exception handling to add flexibility to your PowerBuilder applications, and to help in the separation of business rules from presentation logic. For example, business rules can be stored in a non-visual object (nvo) that has:

  • An instance variable to hold a reference to the presentation object:

    powerobject my_presenter
  • A function that registers the presentation object

    The registration function could use the following syntax:

    SetObject (string my_purpose, powerobject myobject)
  • Code to call a dynamic function implemented by the presentation object, with minimal assumptions about how the data is displayed

    The dynamic function call should be enclosed in a try-catch block, such as:

             my_presenter.Dynamic nf_displayScreen(" ")
          CATCH (Throwable lth_exception)      
             Throw lth_exception
    END TRY   

    This try-catch block catches all system and user-defined errors from the presentation object and throws them back up the calling chain (to the object that called the nvo). In the above example, the thrown object in the CATCH statement is an object of type Throwable, but you could also instantiate and throw a user exception object:

    uo_exception luo_exception
             my_presenter.Dynamic nf_displayScreen(" ")
    CATCH (Throwable lth_exception)      
             luo_exception = Create uo_exception
             luo_exception.SetMessage & +
             Throw luo_exception
    END TRY   

Code for data processing could be added to the presentation object, to the business rules nvo, or to processing objects called by the nvo. The exact design depends on your business objectives, but this code should also be surrounded by try-catch blocks. The actions to take and the error messages to report (in case of code processing failure) should be as specific as possible in the try-catch blocks that surround the processing code.

There are significant advantages to this type of approach, since the business nvo can be reused more easily, and it can be accessed by objects that display the same business data in many different ways. The addition of exception handling makes this approach much more robust, giving the application user a chance to recover from an error condition.

Using the SystemError and Error events

Error event

If a runtime error occurs, an error structure that describes the error is created. If the error occurs in the context of a connection to a remote server then the Error event on the Connection, DataWindow, or OLE control object is triggered, with the information in the error structure as arguments.

The error can be handled in this Error event by use of a special reference argument that allows the error to be ignored. If the error does not occur in the context described above, or if the error in that context is not dealt with, then the error structure information is used to populate the global error variable and the SystemError event on the Application object is triggered.

SystemError event

In the SystemError event, unexpected error conditions can be dealt with in a limited way. In general, it is not a good idea to continue running the application after the SystemError event is triggered. However, error-handling code can and should be added to this event. Typically you could use the SystemError event to save data before the application terminates and to perform last-minute cleanup (such as closing files or database connections).

Precedence of exception handlers and events

If you write code in the Error event, then that code is executed first in the event of a thrown exception.

If the exception is not thrown in any of the described contexts or the object's Error event does not handle the exception or you do not code the Error event, then the exception is handled by any active exception handlers (CATCH clauses) that are applicable to that type of exception. Information from the exception class is copied to the global error variable and the SystemError event on the Application object is fired only if there are no exception handlers to handle the exception.

Error handling for new applications

For new PowerBuilder applications, the recommended approach for handling errors is to use a try-catch block instead of coding the Error event on Connection, DataWindow, or OLE control objects. You should still have a SystemError event coded in your Application object to handle any uncaught exceptions. The SystemError event essentially becomes a global exception handler for a PowerBuilder application.