[erlang-questions] Erlang Type specifications and throw

Kostis Sagonas kostis@REDACTED
Tue Apr 2 10:02:57 CEST 2013

On 04/02/2013 08:22 AM, Rudolph van Graan wrote:
> Hi,
> I want to write a type spec for a function that throws exceptions,
> something like this:
>> -spec where(G :: atom()) -> pid() | throw({no_name,atom()}).
> I don't want to use an exit signal, because this behaviour is
> intentional and the calling process will catch this and take specific
> action. But I can't write this using the -spec syntax. The documentation
> says:
>> Some functions in Erlang are not meant to return; either because they
>> define servers or because they are used to throw exceptions as the
>> function below:
>>    my_error(Err) ->  erlang:throw({error, Err}).
>> For such functions we recommend the use of the special no_return()
>> type for their "return", via a contract of the form:
>>    -spec my_error(term()) ->  no_return().
> no_return() is completely the wrong thing to use and just leaving out
> the throw(…) declaration is also wrong in my eyes.

You are right that the current language of function specifications does 
not allow specifying exceptions that a function may throw.  This could 
be done either by extending the spec syntax to include this info, i.e. 
allow one to write in your example something like:

   -spec where(G :: atom()) -> pid() throws {no_name,atom()}.

or by introducing a new attribute -throws(...) or even -exceptions(...) 
to document the exception behavior of functions.

However, neither of these alternatives is currently implemented.

But note that when functions throw exceptions, nothing gets returned. In 
this respect, the no_return() return type that the documentation 
currently suggests to use is correct.


PS. I will not comment on the general use of throw in Erlang programming 
as I realize that your function(s) may be more complicated than the 
simple example you show us.  However, in that one, simply returning 
{no_name,atom()} or simply 'no_such_process' is arguably a better 

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