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Exception Best Practices in PHP 5.3

Note: This article was originally published at Planet PHP on 16 September 2010.
Planet PHP

Every new feature added to the PHP runtime creates an exponential number of ways developers can use and abuse that new feature-set. However, it's not until developers have had that chance that some agreed-upon good usage and bad usage cases start to emerge. Once they do emerge, we can finally start to classify them as best or worst practices.

Exception handling in PHP is not a new feature by any stretch. In this article, we'll discuss two new features in PHP 5.3 based around exceptions. The first is nested exceptions and the second is a new set of exception types offered by the SPL extension (which is now a core extension of the PHP runtime). Both of these new features have found their way into the book of best best practices and deserve to be examined in detail.

Special note: some of these features have existed in PHP


Previously in PHP 5.2, there was a single exception class Exception. Generally, speaking from a Zend Framework / PEAR coding standard perspective, this exception class became the root for all exceptions that might be thrown from within your library. For example, if you created a library for your company MyCompany, then you would, according to ZF/PEAR standards, have prefixed all code with MyCompany_. For this library, you might create a base exception for your library code: MyCompany_Exception, which extends the PHP class Exception and from which all your components might inherit, subclass, and throw. So, if you created a component MyCompany_Foo, it might have a base exception class called MyCompany_Foo_Exception that is expected to be thrown from within the MyCompany_Foo component. These exceptions can be caught by attempting to catch MyCompany_Foo_Exception, MyCompany_Exception, or simply Exception. This would allow 3 levels of granularity (or more depending on how many times the MyCompany_Foo_Exception was subclassed) to consumers of this component in this particular library, and handle that exception in a way they deem fit.

New Feature: Nesting

In PHP 5.3, the base exception class now handles nesting. What is nesting? Nesting is the ability to catch a particular exception, create a new exception object to be thrown with a reference to the original exception. This then allows the caller access to both the exception thrown from within the consumed library of the more well known type, but also access to the exception that originated this exceptional behavior as well.

Why is this useful? Typically, this is most useful in code that consumes other code that throws exceptions of its own type. This might be code that utilizes the adapter pattern to wrap 3rd party code to deliver some kind of adaptable functionality, or simply code that utilizes some exception throwing PHP extension.

For example, in the component Zend_Db, it uses the adapter pattern to wrap specific PHP extensions in order to create a database abstraction layer. In one adapter, Zend_Db wraps PDO, and PDO throws its own exception PDOException, Zend_Db needs to catch these PDO specific exceptions and re-throw them as the expected and known type of Zend_Db_Exception. This gives developers the assurance that Zend_Db will always throw exceptions of type Zend_Db_Exception (so it can be caught), but they will also have access to the original PDOException that was thrown in case it is needed.

The following is an example of how a fictitious database adapter might implement nested exceptions:

class MyCompany_Database { /** * @var PDO object setup during construction */ protected $_pdoResource = null; /** * @throws MyCompany_Database_Exception * @return int */ public function executeQuery($sql) { try { $numRows = $this-_pdoResource-exec($sql); } catch (PDOException $e) { throw new MyCompany_Database_Exception('Query was unexecutable', null, $e); } return $numRows; }}

To utilize a nested exception, you would call the getPrevious() metho

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