Scala Book

Functional Error Handling in Scala


Because functional programming is like algebra, there are no null values or exceptions. But of course you can still have exceptions when you try to access servers that are down or files that are missing, so what can you do? This lesson demonstrates the techniques of functional error handling in Scala.


We already demonstrated one of the techniques to handle errors in Scala: The trio of classes named Option, Some, and None. Instead of writing a method like toInt to throw an exception or return a null value, you declare that the method returns an Option, in this case an Option[Int]:

def toInt(s: String): Option[Int] = {
    try {
    } catch {
        case e: Exception => None

Later in your code you handle the result from toInt using match and for expressions:

toInt(x) match {
    case Some(i) => println(i)
    case None => println("That didn't work.")

val y = for {
    a <- toInt(stringA)
    b <- toInt(stringB)
    c <- toInt(stringC)
} yield a + b + c

These approaches were discussed in the “No Null Values” lesson, so we won’t repeat that discussion here.


Another trio of classes named Try, Success, and Failure work just like Option, Some, and None, but with two nice features:

  • Try makes it very simple to catch exceptions
  • Failure contains the exception

Here’s the toInt method re-written to use these classes. First, import the classes into the current scope:

import scala.util.{Try,Success,Failure}

After that, this is what toInt looks like with Try:

def toInt(s: String): Try[Int] = Try {

As you can see, that’s quite a bit shorter than the Option/Some/None approach, and it can further be shortened to this:

def toInt(s: String): Try[Int] = Try(Integer.parseInt(s.trim))

Both of those approaches are much shorter than the Option/Some/None approach.

The REPL demonstrates how this works. First, the success case:

scala> val a = toInt("1")
a: scala.util.Try[Int] = Success(1)

Second, this is what it looks like when Integer.parseInt throws an exception:

scala> val b = toInt("boo")
b: scala.util.Try[Int] = Failure(java.lang.NumberFormatException: For input string: "boo")

As that output shows, the Failure that’s returned by toInt contains the reason for the failure, i.e., the exception.

There are quite a few ways to work with the results of a Try — including the ability to “recover” from the failure — but common approaches still involve using match and for expressions:

toInt(x) match {
    case Success(i) => println(i)
    case Failure(s) => println(s"Failed. Reason: $s")

val y = for {
    a <- toInt(stringA)
    b <- toInt(stringB)
    c <- toInt(stringC)
} yield a + b + c

Note that when using a for-expression and everything works, it returns the value wrapped in a Success:

scala.util.Try[Int] = Success(6)

Conversely, if it fails, it returns a Failure:

scala.util.Try[Int] = Failure(java.lang.NumberFormatException: For input string: "a")

Even more …

There are other classes that work in a similar manner, including Either/Left/Right in the Scala library, and other third-party libraries, but Option/Some/None and Try/Success/Failure are commonly used, and good to learn first.

You can use whatever you like, but Try/Success/Failure is generally used when dealing with code that can throw exceptions — because you almost always want to understand the exception — and Option/Some/None is used in other places, such as to avoid using null values.

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