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Communications of the ACM

Kode Vicious

Forced Exception Handling

Forced Exception Handling, illustration

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates / Shutterstock

back to top  Dear KV,

I subscribe to "The Morning Paper," a daily summary prepared by one person, Adrian Colyer, who curates research papers and sends them out to interested readers ( Last fall he reviewed "Simple Testing Can Prevent Most Critical Failures: An Analysis of Production Failures in Distributed DataIntensive Systems" ( It had some surprising results, including:

  • Almost all catastrophic failures (48 in total, or 92%) are the result of incorrect handling of nonfatal errors explicitly signaled in software;
  • Error handlers with TODO or FIXME in the comments. This example took down a 4,000-node production cluster; and
  • Error handlers that catch an abstract exception type (for example, Exception or Throwable in Java) and then take drastic action such as aborting the system. This example brought down a whole Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) cluster.

And the list went on from there.


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