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An exception denotes an unpredictable situation at runtime, like "out of disk storage", "read protected file", "user removed disk while reading", "syntax error in user input". These are situation which occur relatively seldom and thus their immediate handling would clutter the code which should describe the regular processing. Since exceptions must be expected at runtime there are also mechanisms for (selectively) handling them.

) Unfortunately Haskell's standard library names common exceptions of IO actions
and the module
is about exception handling not error handling.

In general you should be very careful, not to mix up exceptions with errors. Actually, an unhandled exception is an error.

1 Implementation

The great thing about Haskell is, that it is not necessary to hard-wire the exception handling into the language. Everything is already there to implement definition and handling of exceptions nicely.

See the implementation in
(and please, excuse the misleading name, for now).

First for non-monadic functions.

data ExAction e a =
     Success a
   | Exception e
   deriving (Show)
instance Monad (ExAction e) where
   return              =  Success
   Exception l >>= _   =  Exception l
   Success  r  >>= k   =  k r
throw :: e -> ExAction e a
throw = Exception
catch :: ExAction e a -> (e -> ExAction e a) -> ExAction e a
catch (Exception  l) h = h l
catch (Success r)    _ = Success r

Now we extend this monadic functions.

This is not restricted to IO, but may also immediately used for non-deterministic algorithms implemented with
newtype ExActionT e m a =
   ExActionT {runExActionT :: m (ExAction e a)}
instance Monad m => Monad (ExActionT e m) where
   return   =  ExActionT . return . Success
   m >>= k  =  ExActionT $
      runExActionT m >>= \ a ->
         case a of
            Exception e -> return (Exception e)
            Success   r -> runExActionT (k r)
throwT :: Monad m => e -> ExActionT e m a
throwT = ExActionT . return . Exception
catchT :: Monad m =>
   ExActionT e m a -> (e -> ExActionT e m a) -> ExActionT e m a
catchT m h = ExActionT $
   runExActionT m >>= \ a ->
      case a of
         Exception l -> runExActionT (h l)
         Success   r -> return (Success r)
bracketT :: Monad m =>
   ExActionT e m h ->
   (h -> ExActionT e m ()) ->
   (h -> ExActionT e m a) ->
   ExActionT e m a
bracketT open close body =
   open >>= (\ h ->
      ExActionT $
         do a <- runExActionT (body h)
            runExActionT (close h)
            return a)

data IOException =
   | FileDoesNotExist
   | ReadProtected
   | WriteProtected
   | NoSpaceOnDevice
   deriving (Show, Eq, Enum)
open :: FilePath -> ExActionT IOException IO Handle
close :: Handle -> ExActionT IOException IO ()
read :: Handle -> ExActionT IOException IO String
write :: Handle -> String -> ExActionT IOException IO ()
readText :: FilePath -> ExActionT IOException IO String
readText fileName =
   bracketT (open fileName) close $ \h ->
      read h

2 See also