Python Exception Handling

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Python Exception Handling

Summary: in this tutorial, you learn how to handle exceptions in Python in the right way by using the try statement.

Introduction to the exception handling in Python

To handle exceptions, you use the try statement. The try statement has the following clauses:

try:
# code that you want to protect from exceptions
except <ExceptionType> as ex:
# code that handle the exception
finally:
# code that always execute whether the exception occurred or not
else:
# code that excutes if try execute normally (an except clause must be present)

Code language: Python (python)

Let’s examine the try statement in greater detail.

try

In the try clause, you place the code that protects from one or more potential exceptions. It’s a good practice to keep the code as short as possible. Often, you’ll have a single statement in the try clause.

The try clause appears exactly one time in the try statement.

except

In the except clause, you place the code that handles a specific exception type. A try statement can have zero or more except clauses. Typically, each except clause handles different exception types in specific ways.

In an except clause, the as ex is optional. And the <ExceptionType> is also optional. However, if you omit the <ExceptionType> as ex, you’ll have a bare exception handler.

When specifying exception types in the except clauses, you place the most specific to least specific exceptions from top to bottom.

If you have the same logic that handles different exception types, you can group them in a single except clause. For example:

try:
...
except <ExceptionType1> as ex:
log(ex)
except <ExceptionType2> as ex:
log(ex)

Code language: Python (python)

Become

try:
...
except (<ExceptionType1>, <ExceptionType2>) as ex:
log(ex)

Code language: Python (python)

It’s important to note that the except order matters because Python will run the first except clause whose exception type matches the occurred exception.

finally

The finally clause may appear zero or 1 time in a try statement. The finally clause always executes whether an exception occurred or not.

else

The else clause also appears zero or 1 time. And the else clause is only valid if the try statement has at least one except clause.

Typically, you place the code that executes if the try clause terminates normally.

Python exception handling example

The following defines a function that returns the result of a number by another:

def divide(a, b):
return a / b

Code language: Python (python)

If you pass 0 to the second argument, you’ll get a ZeroDivisionError exception:

divide(10, 0)

Code language: Python (python)

Error:

ZeroDivisionError: division by zero

Code language: Python (python)

To fix it, you can handle the ZeroDivisionError exception in the divide() function as follows:

def divide(a, b):
try:
return a / b
except ZeroDivisionError as ex:
return None

Code language: Python (python)

In this example, the divide() function returns None if the ZeroDivisionError occurs:

def divide(a, b):
try:
return a / b
except ZeroDivisionError as ex:
return None

Code language: Python (python)

When using the divide() function, you need to check if the result is None:

result = divide(10, 0)

if result is not None:
print('result:', result)
else:
print('Invalid inputs')

Code language: Python (python)

But returning None may not be the best because others may accidentally evaluate the result in the if statement like this:

result = divide(10, 0)

if result:
print('result:', result)
else:
print('Invalid inputs')

Code language: Python (python)

In this case, it works. However, it won’t work if the first argument is zero. For example:

result = divide(0, 10)

if result:
print('result:', result)
else:
print('Invalid inputs')

Code language: Python (python)

A better approach is to raise an exception to the caller if the ZeroDivisionError exception occurred. For example:

def divide(a, b):
try:
return a / b
except ZeroDivisionError as ex:
raise ValueError('The second argument (b) must not be zero')

Code language: Python (python)

In this example, the divide() function will raise an error if b is zero. To use the divide() function, you need to catch the ValueError exception:

def divide(a, b):
try:
return a / b
except ZeroDivisionError as ex:
raise ValueError('The second argument (b) must not be zero')

try:
result = divide(10, 0)
except ValueError as e:
print(e)
else:
print('result:', result)

Code language: Python (python)

Output:

The second argument (b) must not be zero

Code language: Python (python)

It’s a good practice to raise an exception instead of returning None in special cases.

Except order example

When you catch an exception in the except clause, you need to place the exceptions from most specific to the least specific in terms of exception hierarchy.

The following shows three exception classes: Exception, LookupError, and IndexError:

If you catch the exception, you need to place them in the following order: IndexError, LookupErorr, and Exception.

For example, the following defines a list of three strings and attempts to access the 4th element:

colors = ['red', 'green', 'blue']
try:
print(colors[3])
except IndexError as e:
print(type(e), 'Index error')
except LookupError as e:
print(type(e), 'Lookup error')

Code language: Python (python)

It issues the following error:

<class 'IndexError'> Index error

Code language: Python (python)

The colors[3] access causes an IndexError exception. However, if you swap the except clauses and catch the LookupError first and the IndexError second like this:

colors = ['red', 'green', 'blue']
try:
print(colors[3])
except LookupError as e:
print(type(e), 'Lookup error')
except IndexError as e:
print(type(e), 'Index error')

Code language: Python (python)

Output:

<class 'IndexError'> Lookup error

Code language: Python (python)

The exception is still IndexError but the following message is misleading.

Bare exception handlers

When you want to catch any exception, you can use the bare exception handlers. A bare exception handler does not specify an exception type:

try:
...
except:
...

Code language: Python (python)

It’s equivalent to the following:

try:
...
except BaseException:

...

Code language: Python (python)

A bare exception handler will catch any exceptions including the SystemExit and KeyboardInterupt exceptions.

A bare exception will make it harder to interrupt a program with Control-C and disguise other programs.

If you want to catch all exceptions that signal program errors, you can use except Exception instead:

try:
...
except Exception:
...

Code language: Python (python)

In practice, you should avoid using bare exception handlers. If you don’t know exceptions to catch, just let the exception occurs and then modify the code to handle these exceptions.

To get exception information from a bare exception handler, you use the exc_info() function from the sys module.

The sys.exc_info() function returns a tuple that consists of three values:

  • type is the type of the exception occurred. It’s a subclass of the BaseException.
  • value is the instance of the exception type.
  • traceback is an object that encapsulates the call stack at the point where the exception originally ocurred.

The following example uses the sys.exc_info() function to examine the exception when a string is divided by a number:

import sys

try:
'20' / 2
except:
exc_info = sys.exc_info()
print(exc_info)

Code language: Python (python)

Output:

(<class 'TypeError'>, TypeError("unsupported operand type(s) for /: 'str' and 'int'"), <traceback object at 0x000001F19F42E700>)

Code language: Python (python)

The output shows that the code in the try clause causes a TypeError exception. Therefore, you can modify the code to handle it specifically as follows:

try:
'20' / 2
except TypeError as e:
print(e)

Code language: Python (python)

Output:

unsupported operand type(s) for /: 'str' and 'int'

Code language: Python (python)

Summary

  • Use the try statement to handle exception.
  • Place only minimal code that you want to protect from potential exceptions in the try clause.
  • Handle exceptions from most specific to least specific in terms of exception types. The order of except clauses is important.
  • The finally always executes whether the exceptions occurred or not.
  • The else clause only executes when the try clause terminates normally. The else clause is valid only if the try statement has at least one except clause.
  • Avoid using bare exception handlers.

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