Error Handling


Handling errors in services in a way that is consistent across all the software layers and provides a documented output to the clients is hard, yet is a requirement for defining crisp API boundaries. goa strives to strike the right balance of providing a simple way to classify all the possible errors without having to write special error handling code in all components. Specifically the goals are:

  • Make it possible to document all the possible responses.
  • Keep the error classification logic in the API endpoints (controllers in goa).
  • Provide a simple way to classify existing errors.

Introducing Error Classes

The abstraction used in goa to achieve the goals listed above is the error class. An error class defines the shape of an error response using the following fields:

  • id: a unique identifier for this particular occurrence of the problem.
  • status: the HTTP status code applicable to this problem.
  • code: an application-specific error code, expressed as a string value.
  • detail: a human-readable explanation specific to this occurrence of the problem. Like title, this field’s value can be localized.
  • meta: a meta object containing non-standard meta-information about the error.

Error classes are created using the NewErrorClass function which accepts the error code and status:

func NewErrorClass(code string, status int) ErrorClass

Error classes are functions themselves that create instances of error given a message and optional key pair values:

type ErrorClass func(message interface{}, keypairs ...interface{}) error

For example:

// Create a new error class:
invalidEndpointErr := goa.NewErrorClass("invalid_endpoint", 422)
// And use it to create errors:
return invalidEndpointErr("endpoint cannot be resolved", "endpoint", endpoint, "error", err)

goa comes with a set of pre-existing error classes that can be leveraged to cover the common cases. One especially useful error class is ErrBadRequest which can be used to return generic bad request errors:

func (c *OperandsController) Divide(ctx *app.OperandsContext) error {
          if ctx.Divisor == 0 {
                  return ctx.BadRequest(goa.ErrBadRequest("cannot divide by zero"))
          // ...

All errors returned by calling error class functions implement the ServiceError interface. This interface exposes the error response status and unique token that middlewares can take advantage of for logging or otherwise processing errors. It’s also possible to determine whether a given error was created via a error class by checking the behavior of the error object:

if _, ok := err.(goa.ServiceError); ok {
    // Error created via a error class
    // Contains the data needed to build a proper response
} else {
    // Error is a generic Go error
    // Will result in an internal error unless wrapped with a error class

Using Error Classes

There are two main use cases for error classes:

  • Error classes can be used to wrap errors returned by internal modules.
  • Error classes may be used to create new errors directly in the API endpoint (e.g. custom validation errors).

Wrapping Existing Errors

Wrapping an existing error is done simply by invoking the error class function on the error instance:

        if err := someInternalMethod(); err != nil {
               return goa.ErrBadRequest(err)

Additional metadata can be attached to the error using the optional key pair parameters:

        if err := someInternalMethod(); err != nil {
               return goa.ErrBadRequest(err, "module", "internal")

Creating New Errors

Sometimes it may be useful to create new error classes. For example it may be necessary for clients to handle a specific class of errors in a specific way. The errors may need to be easily differentiated in logs or by other tracing mechanisms. In this case the error class function acts in a similar fashion as errors.New:

// DoAction is a dummy example of a goa action implementation that defines a new error class and
// uses it to create a new error then to wrap an existing error.
func (c *MyController) DoAction(ctx *DoActionContext) error {
        endpoint := ctx.SomeServiceEndpoint
        invalidEndpointErr := goa.NewErrorClass("invalid_endpoint", 400)
        // Assume endpoint must contain
        if !strings.Contains(endpoint, "") {
              return invalidEndpointErr("endpoint must contain", "endpoint", endpoint)
        // ...

Error Handlers

The ErrorHandler middleware maps any returned error to HTTP responses. Errors that are created via goa’s ErrorClass get serialized in the response body and their status is used to form the response HTTP status. Other errors get wrapped into the ErrInternal which produces responses with a 500 status code. Note however that as best practice errors should be designed and the corresponding context methods used to write the response.

Designing Error Responses

So far we’ve seen how controller code can adapt or create error responses. Ultimately though the API design dictates the correct content for responses. The goa design package provides the ErrorMedia media type that action definitions can take advantage of to describe responses that correspond to errors created via error classes. Here is an example of such an action definition:

var _ = Resource("bottle", func() {
        Action("create", func() {
                Response(BadRequest, ErrorMedia) // Maps errors return by the Create action

The Go type generated for ErrorMedia is error so that the controller code can reuse the error directly to send the response in the generated response method:

func (c *BottleController) Create(ctx *app.CreateBottleContext) error {
        b, err := c.db.Create(ctx.Payload)
        if err != nil {
                // ctx.BadRequest accepts a *goa.Error as argument
                return ctx.BadRequest(goa.ErrBadRequest(err))
        return ctx.OK(b)

Putting It All Together

Going back to the initial goals, the API design defines the possible responses for each action including the error responses via the Response DSL. Error classes provide a way to map the errors produced by the implementation back to the design by wrapping the errors using error classes.

Services should create their own error classes to handle domain specific errors. The controllers must make sure to only return errors with attached error classes so the proper responses are sent. They can do so by creating these errors or wrapping errors coming from deeper layers.

Note that the controller actions are responsible for implementing the contract defined in the design. That is they should not define error classes that use HTTP status codes not listed in the action definitions.