Course: JavaScript

Progress (0%)

  1. Foundation

  2. Numbers

  3. Strings

  4. Conditions

  5. Loops

  6. Arrays

  7. Functions

  8. Objects

  9. Exceptions

  10. HTML DOM

  11. CSSOM

  12. Events

  13. Drag and Drop

  14. opt Touch Events

  15. Misc

  16. Project: Analog Clock

JavaScript Exceptions

Chapter 41 14 mins

Learning outcomes:

  1. What are errors/exceptions
  2. Error classes in JavaScript
  3. Examples of each error class

Introduction

When JavaScript was first released way back in 1995, with the Netscape Navigator 2.0 browser, and even as late as when the first ECMAScript specification was published in 1998, defining the core JavaScript language, there was no concept of rigorous error-handling in JavaScript.

Some notable languages of the time, including Java and C++, had gained noticeable traction by virtue of their pretty strong error-handling mechanisms. Error-handling was taken seriously in these languages because they were always considered to be professional languages, meant for professionals.

JavaScript, on the otherhand, during these early stages, wasn't really considered by anyone to be a professional language — it was more or less just a simplistic tool aimed at non-techy people so that they could add a couple of bells and whistles on their websites. That's it.

However, with the passage of time, as JavaScript grew and matured, as the web became more and more complex than ever imagined before, and as people started to leverage these advancements to create next-gen applications, it wasn't surprising for the introduction of error-handling features into this scripting language as well.

With ECMAScript 3, the JavaScript community got the try and catch statements to capture and deal with errors in a given program and even the throw keyword to manually dispatch errors.

This chapter is devoted to the study of these error-handling — or otherwise also known as exception-handling — utilities of JavaScript. Let's begin.

What are errors?

When running a program, there are many ways in which we could run into a situation where the program doesn't run at all, or stops executing in between, or produces unexpected output.

Whatever the end result be, each of these errors has, nonetheless, an underlying cause.

For instance, if the program doesn't run at all, there's a 100% chance that the code has an illegal syntax (this is the cause). Similarly, if the program runs but stops executing in between, then it might be the case that a reference to a non-existent variable was made in it (this is the cause).

Anyways, whatever the error be, and whatever its cause be, we as developers are tasked with finding these errors, finding their causes, and then ideally solving them.

This activity is such common in programming that it has a name of its own — debugging.

Debugging is the process of finding and rectifying errors in a computer program.

Following the nomenclature of the word itself, debugging is literally to remove bugs (problems) from a program.

But before we can start debugging our programs, we need a sufficient amount of knowledge about the different kinds of errors that programs can run into.

Some errors end up not allowing the execution of the program at all, some end up terminating it in between, some end up just producing gibberish output, and so on.

Based on the nature of the errors, we can divide them into three broad categories, as follows:

  • Syntax error — means that there is some issue with the grammar of the code. The obvious solution is to look for any invalid symbols, identifiers, statements, and then rewrite them in the proper syntax.
  • Semantic error — means that there is some kind of a problem with the meaning (i.e. the semantics) of the code. For example, a code accessing a variable might be syntactically correct, but semantically erroneous by virtue of referring to a non-existent variable.
  • Logical error — means that there is a problem in the logic of the program. These errors are typically very difficult to find, since they don't cause any visible error messages.

These three broad categories of errors might contain further distinctions downstream for a particular language.

For instance, amongst the different kinds of semantics errors in JavaScript, two are as follows: accessing a non-existent variable and invoking a string (or any other non-function value) as if it were a function.

Next, we discuss the distinction of errors into different classes as laid out by JavaScript.

Error classes in JavaScript

Bringing our entire focus to JavaScript now, we see that the language defines a handful of classes to represent given errors, each having a descriptive name, to help us understand the type of the error, and also a descriptive message to make precise intuition of it.

Note that these classes only represent errors that might be syntactic and/or semantic. There is no way a logical error could be represented by any class whatsoever, simply because it can only be recognized by the developer of the program, not the engine executing the program.

Shown below are the eight predefined error classes of JavaScript along with their meanings:

  1. Error — a generic class that represents all errors.
  2. SyntaxError — means that there is a problem in the syntax of the code.
  3. TypeError — means that a value is used in a way in which it can't be used.
  4. ReferenceError — means that a reference to a non-existent value is made.
  5. RangeError — means that a given value is out of range.
  6. URIError — means that a URI-processing function was used in the wrong way.
  7. EvalError — means that a problem was encountered while running the global eval() function.
  8. AggregateError — serves to group multiple errors as thrown in a chain of promises.

The best thing is that we can even define our own custom error classes based on the ones shown above.

For instance, we can define a derived class of TypeError called ArgumentError to represent a case where a function is called without a required argument.

Each of these classes defines the following two properties:

  1. name — a string representing the name of the error class. For example, the Error class's name is simply 'Error'.
  2. message — a string describing the error.

In the following sections, we'll see how to manually use these classes in our code to throw given errors. But before that, let's have a look at some examples where these classes show up in JavaScript programs.

Error

As stated before, Error is a generic class that represents all kinds of errors in JavaScript programs. Typically, you won't encounter Errors in a given program.

The only purpose of Error is to be used to create the six derived error classes shown above (obviously apart from Error) and even custom error classes.

SyntaxError

The SyntaxError type is used to represent an error in the syntax of the code. Typically, this kind of an error is raised while parsing the text of a program, right before anything is executed.

Consider the following code:

var = 10;

The var keyword is immediately followed by an equals-sign (=) where the parser otherwise expects an identifier. Since this is clearly invalid syntax, the engine throws an error — precisely, a SyntaxError.

This is apparent in the console output below (from Google Chrome):

Uncaught SyntaxError: Unexpected token '='

The word SyntaxError is clearly shown in the error displayed, confirming that the error has something to do with ill-formed syntax of the underlying code.

TypeError

The TypeError class is used to represent an error in using a given value.

Common cases where a TypeError is raised are:

  • Passing in an argument to a function that belongs to a different type than the one the function actually expects.
  • Using a value in a way that it's not meant for, for e.g. calling null as if it were a function.
  • Trying to change a non-writable value, for e.g. setting document to null (in strict mode).

These kinds of errors are instances of semantic errors and are quite common in nearly all JavaScript programs.

Let's quickly consider a few examples.

Consider the following code:

var value = null;
value();

null is called as if it were a function, which it is not. Likewise, a TypeError is thrown as null is used in a way that it's not meant for.

Take a look at the following error message generated in the console (Google Chrome):

Uncaught TypeError: value is not a function at <anonymous>:2:1

It clearly pin-points the cause of the underlying problem, i.e. value is called as if it were a function. Even the line number, where the error occurs, is shown in the message, i.e. 2:1 (2 is the line number, 1 is the column number).

Time for another example. Consider the following code:

'use strict'
Math.PI = 100;

Here we try to change the value of the PI property of the predefined global Math object.

Since the property is configured to be non-writable by the engine, and since strict mode is enabled by the 'use strict' directive at the start of the code, the code throws a TypeError as illustrated below:

Uncaught TypeError: Cannot assign to read only property 'PI' of object '#<Object>' at <anonymous>:2:9

The message is once again pretty self-explanatory: we are trying to assign to a read-only (i.e. non-writable) property and thus, end up with an error.

The reason of shifting the script above into strict mode, via the 'use strict' string at the start of the code, is that changing a non-writable property in non-strict mode in JavaScript doesn't throw an error. We'll learn more about strict mode later in this unit.

ReferenceError

A ReferenceError is thrown when a reference to a non-existent variable is made.

Such an error happens quite often in code because of hitting the wrong keys when typing code. For instance, while typing contains, one might end up with continas (a non-existent variable), and consequently a ReferenceError message.

An example follows:

var message = 'Typos are common!';
console.log(mesage);
Uncaught ReferenceError: mesage is not defined at <anonymous>:2:13

After reading the error message, we'd immediately visit line 2 and notice that the variable mesage is missing an 's' in it.

Whenever we encounter a ReferenceError, our first line of action must be to inspect the reason as to why does the given variable not exist. In the case above, since we just had two lines of code, the reason was apparent, i.e. a typo.

However, in larger and more complex code, the reason of a ReferenceError must have something to do with the scopes of given variables. And this requires us to carefully follow our way through the code trying to find the declarations of the variables and making them global or local depending on the scenario at hand.

RangeError

A RangeError is thrown whenever a given value is out of its range. For example if a value is meant to be between 0 and 10, and we set it to -1, this would lead to a RangeError.

Consider the following code:

var num = 56.715;
console.log(num.toPrecision(0));

The toPrecision() method, as called on a number, rounds it to a given number of significant figures. Since the number of significant figures can't ever be less than 1, it's invalid to call the method with a number less than 1.

The console snippet below confirms this:

Uncaught RangeError: toPrecision() argument must be between 1 and 100 at Number.toPrecision (<anonymous>) at <anonymous>:2:17

The error message does a great job of explaining the reason of the error to us, i.e. we have called the method with a value that's outside the range 1 - 100.

toPrecision() requires a number argument (rounding a float value down to the greatest integer) and what we gave above, i.e. 0, was a number as well. Hence, the error thrown shouldn't be a TypeError, and it really isn't.