Error Handling

C++'s exception handling mechanism is a perfect match for error handling in the framework. Imagine a complete parser as a maze. At each branch, the input dictates where we will turn. Given an erroneous input, we may reach a dead end. If we ever reach one, it would be a waste of time to backtrack from where we came from. Instead, we supply guards in strategic points. Beyond a certain point, we put put parser assertions in places where one is not allowed to go.

The assertions are like springs that catapult us back to the guard. If we ever reach a brick wall, everything unwinds quickly and it we are thrown right back to the guard. This can be a very effective optimization when used wisely. Right back at the guard, we have a chance to correct the situation, if possible.

The Parser Exception

The parser_error class is the generic parser exception class used by Spirit. This is the base class for all parser exceptions.

template <typename ErrorDescrT, typename IteratorT = char const*>
class parser_error {
                    parser_error(IteratorT where, ErrorDescrT what);
    IteratorT       where() const;
    ErrorDescrT     what() const;

The exception holds the iterator position where the error was encountered. This can be queried through the exception's where member function. In addition to the iterator, parser_error also holds information regarding the error (error descriptor). This can be queried through the exception's what member function.

Semantic actions are free to throw parser exceptions when necessary. A utility function throw_ may be called. This function creates and throws a parser_error given an iterator and an error descriptor:

template <typename ErrorDescrT, typename IteratorT>
throw_(IteratorT where, ErrorDescrT what);

The Parser Assertion:

Assertions may be put in places where we don't have any other option other than expect parsing to succeed. If parsing fails, a specific type of exception is thrown.

Before declaring the grammar, we declare some assertion objects. The assertion is a template class parameterized by the type of error that will be thrown once the assertion fails. The following assertions are parameterized by a user defined Error enumeration:


enum Errors {

assertion<Errors> expect_program(program_expected);
assertion<Errors> expect_begin(begin_expected);
assertion<Errors> expect_end(end_expected);

The example above uses enums to hold the information regarding the error, we are free to use other types such as integers and strings. For example, assertion<string> accepts a string as its info. It is advisable to use light-weight objects though, after all, error descriptors are usually static. Enums are convenient for error handlers to detect and easily catch since C++ treats enums as unique types.

The assertive_parser

Actually, the expression:


creates an assertive_parser object. An assertive_parser is a parser that throws an exception in response to a parsing failure. The assertive_parser throws a parser_error exception rather than returning an unsuccessful match to signal that the parser failed to match the input.

During parsing, parsers are given an iterator of type IteratorT. This is combined with the error descriptor type (ErrorDescrT) of the assertion (in this case enum Errors). Both are used to create a parser_error<Errors, IteratorT> which is then thrown to signal the exception.

The predeclared expect_end assertion object may now be used in the grammar as wrappers around parsers. For example:


This will throw an exception if it fails to see "end" from the input.

The Guard:

The guard is used to catch a specific type of parser_error. guards are typically predeclared just like assertions. Extending our previous example:

guard<Errors> my_guard;

Errors, in this example is the error descriptor type we want to detect. This is the same enum as above. my_guard may now be used in a grammar declaration:

my_guard(expr, error_handler)
The fallback_parser

Actually, the expression:

my_guard(expr, error_handler)

creates a fallback_parser object. The fallback_parser handles parser_error exceptions of a specific type. Since my_guard is declared as guard<Errors>, the fallback_parser catches 'Errors' specific parser errors: parser_error<Errors, IteratorT>.

The class sets up a try block. When an exception is caught, the catch block then calls the error_handler.

where expr is an expression that evaluates to a parser. Somewhere inside expr, a parser may throw a parser exception. error_handler is the error handler which may be a function or functor compatible with the interface:

match f(
    IteratorT&  first, 
    IteratorT   last, 
    IteratorT   where, 
    ErrorDescrT what);

Where first points to the current input, last points to one after the end of the input (same as STL algorithms), where points to the position where the error was found and what describes the nature of the error (the error descriptor). The error handler may recover from the error and return a successful match while advancing the iterator in the process. Otherwise, it may return a no-match or re-throw another exception.