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Mon, 29 Aug 2011

Third Grant Report: Structured Error Messages

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Progress on my grant for error message is slower than expected, as expected :-). Yes, you've read that sentence before.

In the past months, general hacking on the nom branch of Rakudo was just too much fun -- and partially a prerequisite for the exceptions work.

I did manage to redo the backtraces that are generated from error messages.

Backtraces are now generated mostly in Perl 6 code, making them much more hackable. There's a Backtrace class, which is a list of Backtrace::Frame objects, each knowing the code object associated with it, as well as line number and file. (This is both specced and works in Rakudo)

Routines can have the is hidden_from_backtrace trait, which makes them not show up in the default backtrace stringification (one can still request a .full string representation). This is useful for routines which are internally used to generate exceptions, like die().

Rakudo also has a --ll-exceptions command line option which provides PIR-level backtraces, in the rare case the Perl 6 level backtraces hide too much information.

I've also started the nom-exceptions branch in Rakudo, which aims at lifting current limitations in Rakudo's exception handling. Currently die() and friends generate a parrot exception, and then there's a routine that fills the error variable $!. This routine generates a new Exception object, and sticks the parrot exception into it.

This practice means that if you create a subclass of Exception, instantiate it and throw it, you still only get an Exception in the error handler, not an object of the subclass. Since the actual exception type is very important for the ongoing work, that has to change. The branch mentioned earlier allows one to generate a Perl 6 exception, and pass that on as the payload of the parrot exception, which is then unwrapped when filling $!.

As a proof of concept this works, but it suffers from not being robust enough -- as it is, we could accidentally unwrap the payload of a CONTROL exception, placing meaningless junk into $!. So this needs a bit more work, which I plan to do this week (or next, if it proves to be more difficult than anticipated).

As always, your feedback is very welcome.

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