Accepting Blame for Safe Tunneled Exceptions
Yizhou Zhang, Guido Salvaneschi, Quinn Beightol, Barbara Liskov, and Andrew C. Myers
Cornell University, T.U. Darmstadt, MIT

PLDI 2016
June 2016, Santa Barbara, California, USA


Unhandled exceptions crash programs, so a compile-time check that exceptions are handled should in principle make software more reliable. But designers of some recent languages have argued that the benefits of statically checked exceptions are not worth the costs. We introduce a new statically checked exception mechanism that addresses the problems with existing checked-exception mechanisms. In particular, it interacts well with higher-order functions and other design patterns. The key insight is that whether an exception should be treated as a “checked” exception is not a property of its type but rather of the context in which the exception propagates. Statically checked exceptions can “tunnel” through code that is oblivious to their presence, but the type system nevertheless checks that these exceptions are handled. Further, exceptions can be tunneled without being accidentally caught, by expanding the space of exception identifiers to identify the exception-handling context. The resulting mechanism is expressive and syntactically light, and can be implemented efficiently. We demonstrate the expressiveness of the mechanism using significant codebases and evaluate its performance. We have implemented this new exception mechanism as part of the new Genus programming language, but the mechanism could equally well be applied to other programming languages.