Error handling with promises

Promise chains are great at error handling. When a promise rejects, the control jumps to the closest rejection handler. That’s very convenient in practice.

For instance, in the code below the URL to fetch is wrong (no such site) and .catch handles the error:

fetch('https://no-such-server.blabla') // rejects
  .then(response => response.json())
  .catch(err => alert(err)) // TypeError: failed to fetch (the text may vary)

As you can see, the .catch doesn’t have to be immediate. It may appear after one or maybe several .then.

Or, maybe, everything is all right with the site, but the response is not valid JSON. The easiest way to catch all errors is to append .catch to the end of chain:

fetch('/article/promise-chaining/user.json')
  .then(response => response.json())
  .then(user => fetch(`https://api.github.com/users/${user.name}`))
  .then(response => response.json())
  .then(githubUser => new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
    let img = document.createElement('img');
    img.src = githubUser.avatar_url;
    img.className = "promise-avatar-example";
    document.body.append(img);

    setTimeout(() => {
      img.remove();
      resolve(githubUser);
    }, 3000);
  }))
  .catch(error => alert(error.message));

Normally, such .catch doesn’t trigger at all. But if any of the promises above rejects (a network problem or invalid json or whatever), then it would catch it.

Implicit try…catch

The code of a promise executor and promise handlers has an "invisible try..catch" around it. If an exception happens, it gets caught and treated as a rejection.

For instance, this code:

new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
  throw new Error("Whoops!");
}).catch(alert); // Error: Whoops!

…Works exactly the same as this:

new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
  reject(new Error("Whoops!"));
}).catch(alert); // Error: Whoops!

The "invisible try..catch" around the executor automatically catches the error and turns it into rejected promise.

This happens not only in the executor function, but in its handlers as well. If we throw inside a .then handler, that means a rejected promise, so the control jumps to the nearest error handler.

Here’s an example:

new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
  resolve("ok");
}).then((result) => {
  throw new Error("Whoops!"); // rejects the promise
}).catch(alert); // Error: Whoops!

This happens for all errors, not just those caused by the throw statement. For example, a programming error:

new Promise((resolve, reject) => {
  resolve("ok");
}).then((result) => {
  blabla(); // no such function
}).catch(alert); // ReferenceError: blabla is not defined

The final .catch not only catches explicit rejections, but also occasional errors in the handlers above.

Rethrowing

As we already noticed, .catch at the end of the chain is similar to try..catch. We may have as many .then handlers as we want, and then use a single .catch at the end to handle errors in all of them.

In a regular try..catch we can analyze the error and maybe rethrow it if can’t handle. The same thing is possible for promises.

If we throw inside .catch, then the control goes to the next closest error handler. And if we handle the error and finish normally, then it continues to the closest successful .then handler.

In the example below the .catch successfully handles the error:

// the execution: catch -> then
new Promise((resolve, reject) => {

  throw new Error("Whoops!");

}).catch(function(error) {

  alert("The error is handled, continue normally");

}).then(() => alert("Next successful handler runs"));

Here the .catch block finishes normally. So the next successful .then handler is called.

In the example below we see the other situation with .catch. The handler (*) catches the error and just can’t handle it (e.g. it only knows how to handle URIError), so it throws it again:

// the execution: catch -> catch -> then
new Promise((resolve, reject) => {

  throw new Error("Whoops!");

}).catch(function(error) { // (*)

  if (error instanceof URIError) {
    // handle it
  } else {
    alert("Can't handle such error");

    throw error; // throwing this or another error jumps to the next catch
  }

}).then(function() {
  /* doesn't run here */
}).catch(error => { // (**)

  alert(`The unknown error has occurred: ${error}`);
  // don't return anything => execution goes the normal way

});

The execution jumps from the first .catch (*) to the next one (**) down the chain.

Unhandled rejections

What happens when an error is not handled? For instance, we forgot to append .catch to the end of the chain, like here:

new Promise(function() {
  noSuchFunction(); // Error here (no such function)
})
  .then(() => {
    // successful promise handlers, one or more
  }); // without .catch at the end!

In case of an error, the promise becomes rejected, and the execution should jump to the closest rejection handler. But there is none. So the error gets “stuck”. There’s no code to handle it.

In practice, just like with regular unhandled errors in code, it means that something has terribly gone wrong.

What happens when a regular error occurs and is not caught by try..catch? The script dies with a message in console. Similar thing happens with unhandled promise rejections.

JavaScript engine tracks such rejections and generates a global error in that case. You can see it in the console if you run the example above.

In the browser we can catch such errors using the event unhandledrejection:

window.addEventListener('unhandledrejection', function(event) {
  // the event object has two special properties:
  alert(event.promise); // [object Promise] - the promise that generated the error
  alert(event.reason); // Error: Whoops! - the unhandled error object
});

new Promise(function() {
  throw new Error("Whoops!");
}); // no catch to handle the error

The event is the part of the HTML standard.

If an error occurs, and there’s no .catch, the unhandledrejection handler triggers, and gets the event object with the information about the error, so we can do something.

Usually such errors are unrecoverable, so our best way out is to inform the user about the problem and probably report the incident to the server.

In non-browser environments like Node.js there are other ways to track unhandled errors.

Summary

  • .catch handles errors in promises of all kinds: be it a reject() call, or an error thrown in a handler.
  • We should place .catch exactly in places where we want to handle errors and know how to handle them. The handler should analyze errors (custom error classes help) and rethrow unknown ones (maybe they are programming mistakes).
  • It’s ok not to use .catch at all, if there’s no way to recover from an error.
  • In any case we should have the unhandledrejection event handler (for browsers, and analogs for other environments), to track unhandled errors and inform the user (and probably our server) about the them, so that our app never “just dies”.

Tasks

What do you think? Will the .catch trigger? Explain your answer.

new Promise(function(resolve, reject) {
  setTimeout(() => {
    throw new Error("Whoops!");
  }, 1000);
}).catch(alert);

The answer is: no, it won’t:

new Promise(function(resolve, reject) {
  setTimeout(() => {
    throw new Error("Whoops!");
  }, 1000);
}).catch(alert);

As said in the chapter, there’s an "implicit try..catch" around the function code. So all synchronous errors are handled.

But here the error is generated not while the executor is running, but later. So the promise can’t handle it.

Tutorial map

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