request / response

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(by Matt Silverlock)


http.Handler and Error Handling in Go

•••

I wrote an article a while back on implementing custom handler types to avoid a few common problems with the existing http.HandlerFunc—the func MyHandler(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) signature you often see. It’s a useful “general purpose” handler type that covers the basics, but—as with anything generic—there are a few shortcomings:

My previous approach used the func(http.ResponseWriter, *http.Request) (int, error) signature. This has proven to be pretty neat, but a quirk is that returning “non error” status codes like 200, 302, 303 was often superfluous—you’re either setting it elsewhere or it’s effectively unused - e.g.

func SomeHandler(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) (int, error) {
    db, err := someDBcall()
    if err != nil {
        // This makes sense.
        return 500, err
    }

    if user.LoggedIn {
        http.Redirect(w, r, "/dashboard", 302)
        // Superfluous! Our http.Redirect function handles the 302, not 
        // our return value (which is effectively ignored).
        return 302, nil
    }

}

It’s not terrible, but we can do better.

A Little Different

So how can we improve on this? Let’s lay out some code:

package handler

// Error represents a handler error. It provides methods for a HTTP status 
// code and embeds the built-in error interface.
type Error interface {
	error
	Status() int
}

// StatusError represents an error with an associated HTTP status code.
type StatusError struct {
	Code int
	Err  error
}

// Allows StatusError to satisfy the error interface.
func (se StatusError) Error() string {
	return se.Err.Error()
}

// Returns our HTTP status code.
func (se StatusError) Status() int {
	return se.Code
}

// A (simple) example of our application-wide configuration.
type Env struct {
	DB   *sql.DB
	Port string
	Host string
}

// The Handler struct that takes a configured Env and a function matching
// our useful signature.
type Handler struct {
	*Env
	H func(e *Env, w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) error
}

// ServeHTTP allows our Handler type to satisfy http.Handler.
func (h Handler) ServeHTTP(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
	err := h.H(h.Env, w, r)
	if err != nil {
		switch e := err.(type) {
		case Error:
			// We can retrieve the status here and write out a specific
			// HTTP status code.
			log.Printf("HTTP %d - %s", e.Status(), e)
			http.Error(w, e.Error(), e.Status())
		default:
			// Any error types we don't specifically look out for default
			// to serving a HTTP 500
			http.Error(w, http.StatusText(http.StatusInternalServerError),
				http.StatusInternalServerError)
		}
	}
}

The code above should be self-explanatory, but to clarify any outstanding points:

If we don’t want to inspect them, our default case catches them. Remember that the ServeHTTP method allows our Handler type to satisfy the http.Handler interface and be used anywhere http.Handler is accepted: Go’s net/http package and all good third party frameworks. This is what makes custom handler types so useful: they’re flexible about where they can be used.

Note that the net package does something very similar. It has a net.Error interface that embeds the built-in error interface and then a handful of concrete types that implement it. Functions return the concrete type that suits the type of error they’re returning (a DNS error, a parsing error, etc). A good example would be defining a DBError type with a Query() string method in a ‘datastore’ package that we can use to log failed queries.

Full Example

What does the end result look like? And how would we split it up into packages (sensibly)?

package handler

import (
    "net/http"
)

// Error represents a handler error. It provides methods for a HTTP status 
// code and embeds the built-in error interface.
type Error interface {
	error
	Status() int
}

// StatusError represents an error with an associated HTTP status code.
type StatusError struct {
	Code int
	Err  error
}

// Allows StatusError to satisfy the error interface.
func (se StatusError) Error() string {
	return se.Err.Error()
}

// Returns our HTTP status code.
func (se StatusError) Status() int {
	return se.Code
}

// A (simple) example of our application-wide configuration.
type Env struct {
	DB   *sql.DB
	Port string
	Host string
}

// The Handler struct that takes a configured Env and a function matching
// our useful signature.
type Handler struct {
	*Env
	H func(e *Env, w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) error
}

// ServeHTTP allows our Handler type to satisfy http.Handler.
func (h Handler) ServeHTTP(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
	err := h.H(h.Env, w, r)
	if err != nil {
		switch e := err.(type) {
		case Error:
			// We can retrieve the status here and write out a specific
			// HTTP status code.
			log.Printf("HTTP %d - %s", e.Status(), e)
			http.Error(w, e.Error(), e.Status())
		default:
			// Any error types we don't specifically look out for default
			// to serving a HTTP 500
			http.Error(w, http.StatusText(http.StatusInternalServerError),
				http.StatusInternalServerError)
		}
	}
}

func GetIndex(env *Env, w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) error {
    users, err := env.DB.GetAllUsers()
    if err != nil {
        // We return a status error here, which conveniently wraps the error
        // returned from our DB queries. We can clearly define which errors 
        // are worth raising a HTTP 500 over vs. which might just be a HTTP 
        // 404, 403 or 401 (as appropriate). It's also clear where our 
        // handler should stop processing by returning early.
        return StatusError{500, err}
    }

    fmt.Fprintf(w, "%+v", users)
    return nil
}

… and in our main package:

package main

import (
    "net/http"
    "github.com/you/somepkg/handler"
)

func main() {
    db, err := sql.Open("connectionstringhere")
    if err != nil {
          log.Fatal(err)
    }

    // Initialise our app-wide environment with the services/info we need.
    env := &handler.Env{
        DB: db,
        Port: os.Getenv("PORT"),
        Host: os.Getenv("HOST"),
        // We might also have a custom log.Logger, our 
        // template instance, and a config struct as fields 
        // in our Env struct.
    }

    // Note that we're using http.Handle, not http.HandleFunc. The 
    // latter only accepts the http.HandlerFunc type, which is not 
    // what we have here.
    http.Handle("/", handler.Handler{env, handler.GetIndex})

    // Logs the error if ListenAndServe fails.
    log.Fatal(http.ListenAndServe(":8000", nil))
}

In the real world, you’re likely to define your Handler and Env types in a separate file (of the same package) from your handler functions, but I’ve keep it simple here for the sake of brevity. So what did we end up getting from this?

If you have questions about the post, drop me a line via @elithrar on Twitter, or the Gopher community on Slack.


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