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Date: 2005-08-27 13:10:04

Feature Requests item #1274707, was opened at 2005-08-27 14:10
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Category: thread
Group: None
Status: Open
Resolution: None
Priority: 5
Submitted By: Matthew Gruenke (mgruenke)
Assigned to: William E. Kempf (bill_kempf)
Summary: Remove try/catch(...) in thread.cpp:thread_proxy()

Initial Comment:
THE CASE AGAINST try {} catch (...) {} IN

The only platform on which I've used boost::thread is
Linux + GCC. So, on the debugging front, I can only
speak to that. In this configuration (using pthreads),
the behavior of an exception being allowed to propagate
outside of a thread function is quite useful - you get
a backtrace of the entire call sequence leading up to
the throw, AND a full unwind back from that point
(which looks like further entries in the call stack).
However, if an exception is caught & rethrown, all of
the prior call & unwind history is lost. Obviously,
this also happens if an exception is caught and not
rethrown - which is the current (circa version 1.33.0)
behavior of thread_proxy().

I've tried a number of experiments, as well as
inspecting pthreads & glibc code, and have been
unsuccessful at reproducing this behavior in user code.
 However it's so useful that, on virtually every
project where I'd like to use boost::thread, I
eventually resort patching the source to remove this
last-resort try/catch block.

For a library to be of much practical value, debugging
must not be significantly impaired (and even enhanced,
where possible without significant compromises). The
additional complexity of multithreaded programs makes
this all the more important. I think this point stands
pretty well, on its own.

A more troubling aspect of this try/catch block is that
the thread terminates in exactly the same way via an
otherwise unhandled exception as it does when the
user-supplied threadfunc exits cleanly. If the user of
boost::thread didn't think to catch the particular
exception in question, then it's unlikely it employed
and is inspecting any other mechanism for determining
whether the thread accomplished its goal. This
assumption violated, it's unsafe to assume the program
will continue to function correctly.

Since the thread exists in the same memory space as the
rest of the process (and shares library state, if not
also other data structures), an unhandled exception
indicates bad state in the process, or some other
invalidated assumption. In fact, in non-exception-safe
code, it may even produce bad state. Any of these
conditions makes it unsafe to assume the program will
continue to operate correctly.

Finally, there's a more philosophical point that should
probably be made. The primary purpose of exceptions is
to provide proactive notification of program errors (as
opposed to relying on return codes - which facilitate
errors being silently ignored). Why should behavior of
uncaught exceptions in other threads be any different
than main? Yet thread_proxy() just quietly drops them
on the floor. As a user, I normally expect that no
unhandled exceptions were thrown, if my program runs to


If the user specifically wants this behavior, it can
suitably augment its user-supplied threadfunc to
contain the catchall. There's nothing wrong with
simply stating that the behavior of exceptions that
propagate outside threadfunc is undefined.

While changing this might "break" some existing code,
it's really quite likely that code is already broken -
though the user simply doesn't know it. IMO, there's
nothing wrong with libraries evolving to detect more
errors and invalid conditions.


In summary, I believe the current behavior is:
    1. Dangerous - hides program errors in a most
                   un-exception-like manner.
    2. Unfriendly - defeats useful debugging functionality,
                    on some platforms.
    3. Surprising - users don't expect libraries to inhibit
                    propagation of their exceptions.
    4. Unnecessary - the user can easily supply this
                     if desired.


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