Swift 2: Error handling using ErrorType, throws, try and do-catch

Swift 2.0 brought us ErrorType. Let’s take a brief look on it.


I believe this protocol is implemented by every error type in Apple’s frameworks. There is no documentation for this protocol so far, just a page for it with notice that this is preliminary document and by which other types this one is adopted.

Protocol declaration and its extension is pretty much simple like the documentation, meaning, it is empty.

public protocol ErrorType {}
extension ErrorType {}

It is empty but enums, error-like classes/structs have to implement it to be able to throw them in methods.

throws is nice addition to Swift, it makes methods declaration simpler and error handling easier.

Before ErrorType

In Objective-C method declaration which might return error look like this

- (BOOL)removeFileAtURL(NSURL *)url error:(NSError **)error;

In Swift older than Swift 2.0 it changed a bit to

func removeFileAt(url: NSURL, error: NSErrorPointer) -> Bool

error parameter is not declared as optional but it may take nil. It is possible because NSErrorPointer is just typealias of AutoreleasingUnsafeMutablePointer<NSError?>. Struct AutoreleasingUnsafeMutablePointer as inline documentation comment says is just mutable pointer to Objective-C pointer argument. It may take nil or inout argument of referenced type.

To call such method in Swift you need to pass nil or create variable of type NSError? and pass it by reference using &amp; operator (&amp;err) and you can get some Bool value from a method as well as error object if returned - How many times did you just pass nil in Objective-C because you didn’t want to handle errors because of increased code complexity?! :> … I thought that you answered “0 times, I always handle errors.” :)

throw and ErrorType in use

It was always the case that when something failed in such kind of method then it returned false and filled passed error variable or just return true and error was nil. Apple figured that out it could be improved. They added throws in Swift 2.0.

In Swift 2.0 the method might be defined as

func removeFileAt(url: NSURL) throws -> Bool

It means, that it returns Bool or throws if something goes wrong. The method declaration could be even simpler in this case, since we expect that method throws which means something went wrong or returns Bool which is always true if returned which means success - the return type can be dropped.

func removeFileAt(url: NSURL) throws

throws forces us to use do-catch around the code that can throw errors.

Let’s pretend we’ve got secure store which is somewhere in an app directory and we’re using SecureStore class to store data inside. There is a method which takes NSData object and path to a directory where this data will be stored. It returns identifier of stored data if successfully saved or throws an error. Here is possible declaration of such method:

func storeData(data: NSData, path: String) throws -> String

Let’s say method just throws some error if something went wrong, NSError for example. To execute the method it has to be around do-catch.

do {
    let dataIdentifier = try store.storeData(NSData(), path: "path/to/dir")
    // do something with the dataIdentifier
} catch {
    // or catch let error as NSError {
    // if you want to use the thrown error.
    // or any other type of error you expect here.
    print("some error")

But that’s not all. NSError needs some error domain and code to be defined. We can use ErrorType protocol and create own errors, e.g. using enums.

Let’s define some enumeration which implements ErrorType protocol so it can be throw by our method.

enum SecureStoreError: ErrorType {
    case DirectoryNotExist
    case NoRights

Handling could look like this:

do {
    try store.storeData(NSData(), path: "path/to/dir")
} catch SecureStoreError.DirectoryNotExist {
    print("dir not exist")
} catch SecureStoreError.NoRights {
    print("no rights")
} catch {
    print("not handled error")

You can omit do-catch by calling a method with try! instead of try. You can do this when you’re sure that your specific case of calling the method will not throw errors. It disables error handling and if any error occurs it will end with runtime error and crash of your code. Use it carefully!

But, how the method look inside? How to throw? What with the value that method returns? Here is simple implementation of above method.

class SecureStore {

    func storeData(data: NSData, path: String) throws -> String {
        // Some logic goes here...
        // More logic...

        // Ooops, directory not exist, throw error
        throw SecureStoreError.DirectoryNotExist

        // the code here is executed when directory exist.

        // checking rights...
        // Oops, no write-rights, throw error
        throw SecureStoreError.NoRights

        // We've got rights

        // Saving logic goes here
        // Generates some identifier for stored data
        // This will be only returned if method didn't throw above.
        return NSUUID().UUIDString

Asynchronous code

UPDATE 1: As Charlag Khan rightly noted that I didn’t cover handling errors in asynchronous code at all - Thanks, this is also important thing worth to mention about. Post on twitter

So new error handling works well in synchronous code. Unfortunately we’re not able to use do-catch and handle errors the same way with asynchronous code because the method returns/ends before asynchronous operation ends. There is no best solution for this (at least for now), we can use some kind of Result enum which will wrap errors in case of failure and returned value in a case of success. Here is good example of our SecureStore.

// Errors for loading process.
enum SecureStoreLoadDataError: ErrorType {
    case NoFileForIdentifier
    case FileCorrupted
    case NotHandled

// Wrapper for errors and success value.
// Can be initialized with some T value or U error.
enum Result<T, U> {
    case Success(T)
    case Failure(U)

class SecureStore {
	// ...

	func loadData(identifier: String, completion: (result: Result<NSData, SecureStoreLoadDataError>) -> Void) {
        dispatch_async(dispatch_get_global_queue(DISPATCH_QUEUE_PRIORITY_BACKGROUND, 0)) {
            do {
                let data = try self.loadingLogicGoesHere(identifier)
                completion(result: Result.Success(data))

            } catch let error as SecureStoreLoadDataError {
                completion(result: Result.Failure(error))

            } catch {
                completion(result: Result.Failure(SecureStoreLoadDataError.NotHandled))

    private func loadingLogicGoesHere(identifier: String) throws -> NSData {
        // Check if there is such file associated with identifier and throw
        // proper error if there is any.
        throw SecureStoreLoadDataError.NoFileForIdentifier

        // Check if we're able to load a content of a file or whether file is
        // corrupted and throw error if needed
        throw SecureStoreLoadDataError.FileCorrupted

        // All good, data loaded
        return NSData()

// usage of such method
store.loadData("ABC") { result in
    switch result {
    case let .Success(d):
        print("good \(d)")

    case let .Failure(error):
        print("error \(error)")

So, as you can see it reminds a bit Objective-C’s way of handling errors in asynchronous code. There is a private loadingLogicGoesHere method which is do-catched inside and then the error is passed via Result enum to the block which handles all the errors and does specific things for them. I tried to figure out a better solution but do not have idea. I browse Apple Developer Forums and found this topic where person with nick mmm suggested a nice way to solve this problem in Swift. I like it, we’ll see whether this will be live with next updates or not (The post is 2 months to date).

UPDATE 2: Charlag Khan replied on my tweet and wrote there is another way we can tackle with asynchronous error handling.

He shared link to Jeremy W. Sherman post about “Swift throws with completion callbacks”.

Jeremy figured out that if function call can throw we can pass the function as parameter to a callback and execute it in the block and handle error there. This let us drop this Result struct presented above and simplify loadData method.

// create typealias for function that will be passed to the completion callback.
typealias LoadDataResult = (identifier: String) throws -> NSData

// here is updated method.
func loadData(completion: LoadDataResult -> Void) {
    dispatch_async(dispatch_get_global_queue(DISPATCH_QUEUE_PRIORITY_BACKGROUND, 0)) {

// let's call that method
store.loadData { (result: SecureStore.LoadDataResult) -> Void in
    do {
        // execute result function with identifier of data we want.
        let data = try result(identifier: "ABC")
        print("data \(data)")
    } catch let err as SecureStoreLoadDataError {
        print("err: \(err)")
    } catch {
        print("not handled")

Wrap up

try, do-catch, throws and ErrorType are nice additions to the Swift 2.0. I believe it will makes our code easier to read, understand and debug without thinking if error will be returned or not if there is some other thing returned by the method like in example above. It creates nice separation between success and failure scenarios, handling is clearer than with NSError floating around the method in Objective-C.

It still needs some additional work to make it more consistent in terms of handling synchronous and asynchronous code. Would be nice to not have to use any additional transfer data enums like Result.

Declaring own error types and errors is very easy. We do not need to subclass NSError or wrap it somehow, just create simple enum that implements ErrorType protocol and it is ready to use.