Checked exceptions in Java

In this post I describe some issues I had with checked exceptions in Java, and my current approach to handle them.

When I developed in Java non-professionally some years ago, I found the checked exception mechanism interesting. The possibility to add to a method's contract the exceptions it throws, and therefore enforce that they are handled at compile seemed a good idea. (I actually missed them when I first started developing in C#). Now that I a more experienced developer and that I try to apply the SOLID principles, I'm not so sure.

Dependency Inversion Principle

When you are applying the Dependency Inversion Principle, classes depend on interfaces, not the actual implementations. Let's say you have a Serializer interface with a single serialize() method and SerializerImpl class. So if SerializerImpl has a serialize() implementation which throws an exception, then Serializer must also declare it throws that exception on serialize(). It seems to me a bit awkward that the interface must know which exceptions the actual implementation throws, but that doesn't seem to break any SOLID principle too much, so I can live with that.

What happens when you need to have must implementations of that class? Let's say you need to implement an XML, a JSON and a Protobuff serializer. Each serialize() implementation will probably need to declare the exceptions it throws. For simplicity sake, let's say XmlSerializer throws XmlException, JsonSerializer throws JsonException, and ProtobuffException (in reality, depending on the framework you use in each of the implementations that may need to throw more than on). But then, the Serializer interface must also declare it throws the exceptions each implementation throws, which mean that each implementation must know all the exceptions the other implementations throw. That means that all the Serializer implementation are coupled with each other, and the interface is coupled with each one of the implementations. This definitely doesn't seem right!

So, my approach was to introduce a new exception: SerializerException and change the serialize() method to throw only this exception. The purpose of this exception is to wrap the actual exceptions thrown by the frameworks used for each of the serialization methods. It adds the extra work of having to define a new exception, but it decouples the Serializer from all the implementations, and decouples each implementation from all the others.

Checked or unchecked?

While this approach seems good, it's only elegant for simple applications, that is, if your application entry point invokes the Serializer. If you have a non-trivial application with a more complex dependency tree, and you just want to handle exceptions at the high-level, then it becomes cumbersome. Let's say you entry point class invokes a method foobar() in class Foobar, which invokes a method foo() in class Foo, which then invokes a method bar() in class Bar, which finally invokes serialize(). All these methods: foo(), bar() and foobar() must declare that they throw SerializerException, regardless of their responsibility. Also, if you have unit tests for these classes, then each test method must also declare it throws SerializerException.

My approach was to make SerializerException extend RuntimeException instead of the (checked) Exception. This means that the Serializer interface (and any implementation) no longer need to declare it throws any exception, so the code becomes much simpler. However, I did document that the method throws the exception using the @throws javadoc comment. (This is pretty much the approach used in C#).

As a I did this, I did do some research. Oracle's documentation on the matter (Unchecked exceptions - the controversy) didn't convince me, and lot of people shared my opinion, but none of them was quite an authority. Then I found Bruce Eckel's book "Thinking in Java" (4th edition). Namely in Chapter 9, section "Perspectives", page 347, he has a similar opinion to mine (and so does Martin Fowler).


In my opinion, avoid checked exceptions in Java unless you are doing a trivial application. If you need to work with checked exceptions, wrap them in your own unchecked exception. The extra work needed outweighs the clarity and decoupling you obtain in your code base. Nevertheless, documenting these exceptions in javadocs and properly (unit) testing your code is also necessary,