Handling JavaScript Errors by Type

By Rob Gravelle

There are four major error types in programming: compile errors, logic errors, input/validation errors, and runtime errors. Error catching in code is usually limited to the latter two types. It would be nice if you could handle your own logic errors at runtime, but sadly, there is no such code construct yet. As for syntax errors, an interpreted language like JavaScript won't catch those until the script is loaded into and read by the browser. While you normally can't catch syntax errors, as we'll see shortly, there are times that you can. Today's article will discuss the syntax error, along with two other error types, while the next installment will cover the remaining three.

The Six JavaScript Error Types

The JavaScript 1.5 specification defines six primary error types, as follows:

  • EvalError: Raised when the eval() functions is used in an incorrect manner.
  • RangeError: Raised when a numeric variable exceeds its allowed range.
  • ReferenceError: Raised when an invalid reference is used.
  • SyntaxError: Raised when a syntax error occurs while parsing JavaScript code.
  • TypeError: Raised when the type of a variable is not as expected.
  • URIError: Raised when the encodeURI() or decodeURI() functions are used in an incorrect manner.

The Error.name Property

The benefit of having all the different error types is that you can pinpoint more accurately what kind of error you're dealing with. This is done using the Error.name property because JavaScript's loose typing doesn't support specifying which type you want to catch as you would in Java:

catch(ArrayIndexOutOfBoundsException e) {}

In JavaScript, you have to use an if statement within a single "catch" block:

try {
	execute this block
} catch (err) {
	if (error.name === 'RangeError')
  {
  	do this
  }
  else if (error.name === 'ReferenceError')
  {
  	do this
  }
  else
  {
  	do this for more generic errors
  }
}

I personally like to use a switch if I'm checking for several error types at once instead of ifs because the same error name property is evaluated every time.

Here's an example that produces and catches a SyntaxError. The code execution is linked to a button click event using the eval() function. Although there is also an EvalError type, it doesn't happen because the eval() is used correctly; it's the code that's dubious (notice the missing closing quote ["])! In fact, this error type is thrown pretty much exclusively from the eval() method because syntax errors stop code execution immediately. That means that you can often catch them in development and testing.

function captureSyntaxError() {
  try {
  	eval('alert("Hello world)');
  } 
	catch(error) {
		if (error.name === 'SyntaxError') {
  		alert("caught a " + error.name + ": " + error.message);
			//handle that error type
		}
		else {
			alert("caught a " + error.name + ": " + error.message);
			//handle generic errors here
		}
	}
}

This version also checks for an EvalError, so the if statement has been replaced by a switch. An EvalError is pretty rare as the only way to encounter it is to use the eval in any way other than a direct method call. So how do you do that? You can treat it like an object using the new keyword:

var y = new eval();

Setting it to a variable should also throw an EvalError:

eval = 'test';

You shouldn't come across the EvalError all that often because Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 4+ don't seem to ever throw them! Both treat the first example as a TypeError and don't mind setting eval to whatever you want, effectively clobbering it into oblivion!

function captureEvalError() {
  try {
  	var sum = eval('function test(( { return 1 + 1; }');
    alert("NO ERROR CAUGHT: Your browser doesn't seem to mind that we just set eval to the letter 'x'!");
	} catch(error) {
  	switch (error.name) {
  		case 'SyntaxError':
  			alert("caught a " + error.name + ": " + error.message);
  			//handle error…
  			break;
  		case 'EvalError':
  			alert("caught a " + error.name + ": " + error.message);
  			//handle error…
  			break;
  		default:
  			alert("caught a " + error.name + ": " + error.message);
  			//handle all other error types here…
  			break;
  	}
  } 
}

The ReferenceError

Reference errors are one of the most common of all. They're caused by referencing a variable that has not been declared first. For instance:

var tmp = x; //no x variable declared!

Before trying the next demo, be aware that Internet Explorer 8 does not handle these correctly either, throwing a TypeError instead.

function captureReferenceError() {
  try {
  var sum = x + y;
    alert(sum);
	} catch(error) {
  	switch (error.name) {
  		case 'SyntaxError':
  			alert("caught a " + error.name + ": " + error.message);
  			//handle error…
  			break;
  		case 'EvalError':
  			alert("caught a " + error.name + ": " + error.message);
  			//handle error…
  			break;
        case 'ReferenceError':
  			alert("caught a " + error.name + ": " + error.message);
  			//handle error…
  			break;
  		default:
  			alert("caught a " + error.name + ": " + error.message);
  			//handle all other error types here…
  			break;
  	}
  } 
}

 

Conclusion

Today we learned how to distinguish between different error types using the Error.name property as well as three of the six JS error types. In the next article, we'll be covering the RangeError, TypeError, and URIError types.


If you enjoyed this article, please contribute to Rob's less lucrative music career by purchasing one of Rob's cover or original songs from iTunes.com for only 0.99 cents each.

Rob Gravelle resides in Ottawa, Canada, and is the founder of GravelleConsulting.com. Rob has built systems for Intelligence-related organizations such as Canada Border Services, CSIS as well as for numerous commercial businesses. Email Rob to receive a free estimate on your software project. Should you hire Rob and his firm, you'll receive 15% off for mentioning that you heard about it here!

In his spare time, Rob has become an accomplished guitar player, and has released several CDs. His former band, Ivory Knight, was rated as one Canada's top hard rock and metal groups by Brave Words magazine (issue #92).

Rob uses and recommends MochaHost, which provides Web Hosting at $3.10 per month, 2 LifeTime Free Domains, and 6 Months Free!



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