Handling Error Cases Exploring fp-ts (2)

In any codebase there are several paths which can fail. Like I discovered with handling nullable values I want to flow through the code and deal with errors gracefully and in a logical manor. Too many times have I found I’ve written a tangle of if statements and try / catch blocks which make reading a logical set of instructions hard.

The Exploring fp-ts series:

To work with errors I found a good place to start was to use the Either type. It represents a value which could be one of two possible types, either the type we specify first (the one on the Left) or the type we specify second (the one on the Right). Something like this:

Either<Error, IPerson>

I found that if a function creates an error directly then it should return an Either. Here is an example of how I might display some information based on a number of steps. Any of these steps could error but I can handle any of the error cases within the fold at the end.

import { fromNullable } from 'fp-ts/lib/Either'
getRecurringPayment(person)
  .chain((payment) => calculateAmount(payment))
  .chain((amount) => affordability(amount))
  .fold(
    (err) => {
      console.log(
        'Something went wrong',
        err
      )
    },
    (affordability) => {
      console.log(
        'Affordability rating',
        affordability
      )
    }
  )

The fold here provides a way of taking the current value out of the type it is in. An Either could have two possible states and so we provide it a function to handle each of them.

Common Error Structure

I’ve found that it reduces a lot of complexity–and therefore good practice–to standardise a common error structure early. Once you have this in place every error passed around our system conforms to a known structure.

I call this error structure IError and use a simple method for extending the built in JavaScript Error to conform to it.

I’m also very aware that JavaScript can throw pretty much anything as an error. So any error that is caught will need to be checked, unless I resolve it to the common error structure previously designed.

With this in mind I have a resolveCommonError function which can be given anything but will always return an IError. The type signature would look like this:

resolveCommonError: (err: any) => IError

For the remainder of this article I will refer to errors as IError because of this.

Try / Catch

I found that I often don’t want to return an Either. Our code also needs to integrate with outside libraries which don’t use fp-ts. In both of these cases I need some way of gracefully catching any resulting error and converting it to an Either.

In these cases I use the tryCatch function. It will catch any errors and allow you to resolve them.

import { tryCatch } from 'fp-ts/lib/Either'
getListOfPeople()
  .chain((people) =>
    // Get first person in list
    tryCatch(() => head(people), resolveCommonError)
  )
  .map((person) => person.favouriteNumbers)
  .chain((favouriteNumbers) => {
    // Get first number
    return tryCatch(() => head(favouriteNumbers), resolveCommonError)
  })
  .fold(
    (err) => {
      console.log(
        'An error I can rely on',
        err
      )
    },
    (first) => {
      console.log(
        'The first item is',
        first
      )
    }
  )

Working with lots of potential errors

I want to transform each value within an array of which any could produce an error. We looked at a similar thing with the Option type and you can do the same things when working with Either.

I’ll take a similar idea, I want to pass every name in an array through my nice name converter. There is a potential for errors to happen during this conversion so I’ll wrap the function which converts each name with tryCatch.

I’ll need to use traverse, remember it does two things:

  1. You give it a function to process each item and return an Either
  2. It converts this new array of Eithers to an Either holding an array of values.
// We start with an array of strings
[string, string, string]

// 1. We then have an array of Either
=> [Either, Either, Either]

// 2. We end up with our resulting array of
// strings inside an Either
=> Either<IError, [string, string, string]>

When an error occurs I want to stop processing the names and fallback to a default which for simplicity I’ve chosen ['Not all names were nice']. Here is what that would look like.

const niceNameCheck = (name: string) => {
  if (/dude/i.test(name)) {
    return 'Nice name'
  } else {
    throw new Error('Bad name')
  }
}

const names = [
  'Bob Smith',
  'Andy Hedge'
]

const niceNameDude = (name: string) =>
  tryCatch(() => niceNameCheck(name), resolveCommonError)

const result = traverse(either)(names, niceNameDude)
  .getOrElse(['Not all names were nice'])

deepEqual(result, ['Not all names were nice'])

Sometimes, I’m not concerned about the error and just want to provide a default if an error occurs. To solve this I used the same .alt() pattern I used for Option in the previous article.

const names = [
  'Dude Smith',
  'Andy Hedge'
]

const niceNameDude = (name: string) =>
  tryCatch(() => niceNameCheck(name), resolveCommonError)
    .alt(right('Be a dude'))

const result = traverse(either)(names, niceNameDude)
  .getOrElse([])

deepEqual(result, ['Nice name', 'Be a dude'])

I have found that it is a lot easier to visualise working with lots of data in this way. It allows me to reason about a single item and then apply that reasoning to all in a very similar fashion.

View some code examples

I’m continuing to experiment with different patterns for functional–and in this case Monadic–error handling. You can take a look at some example code in the companion exploring-fp-ts-series Github repo

There are a few things I’ve not looked into as part of this article but they can wait for another day.


Cover Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash