How often have you seen, or written, Go code like this?
Explicit, inline error handling is necessary since Go doesn't have exceptions. The code is sufficient for small programs, even if the error is returned from more than one level of function call. Hopefully at some point the error is logged and it's fairly easy then to guess what caused the error, especially since os.Open returns a failure helpful error string, for example:
"open someFile: No such file or directory"
We'd like to see a stack trace, so let's add one as soon as we detect the error.
2009/11/10 23:00:00 "open someFile: No such file or directory"
goroutine 1 [running]: main.main() /tmpfs/gosandbox-xxx/prog.go:15 +0xe0 runtime.main() /tmp/sandbox/go/src/pkg/runtime/proc.c:220 +0x1c0 runtime.goexit() /tmp/sandbox/go/src/pkg/runtime/proc.c:1394
Clearly this is too much code to write after each call, but some of the code can be moved into a custom error type. (Also 4K isn't enough to capture deep stack traces which is a shame when there is enough free memory available. Maybe there's room for improvement in the runtime package?)
An important consideration is that of "soft" errors - errors which don't appear to need diagnosing at one level of the stack, but which turn out to be more serious from the perspective of one (or more) of the callers. It will probably be too expensive to capture a stack trace every time an error is detected. But it may be sufficient for the first caller which regards the error as serious to capture the stack trace. The combination of a stack trace of this caller and a reasonably helpful error message may be good enough in most cases of soft errors.
Another consideration is logging of errors. It can be very distracting to see the same error logged over and over again. So it might be necessary to keep state in an error to record whether it has already been logged.
I'm interested to hear what error handling practices are evolving in the Go community. An early blog acknowledges the problem:
It is the error implementation's responsibility to summarize the context.but doesn't address the difficulty of large codebases where the immediate program context isn't always sufficient to diagnose problems.
Some will argue for adding exceptions to Go, but I think that may be overkill, especially for soft errors. I like explicit error handling as it encourages good recovery logic. However, there may be room for improvement in the way the context of an error can be captured. Let's see what nice idioms are beginning to emerge...