Error responses on Node.js with Koa

Koa is a web framework that’s the next generation Express in that it’s built by the same team, and aims to be smaller, more expressive, and more robust for building web applications and APIs. It accomplishes this in large part by using generators which enables writing asynchronous JS without callbacks and greatly simplifies flow control and handling errors.

In this article I’m gonna show how you can use Koa to simplify sending error responses. If you get lost with the terminology here I recommend skimming over the Koa docs or asking me a question.

A Koa application is an object containing an array of middleware generator functions that are composed and ran in a stack-like manner upon request. The most basic error response middleware would look something like this:

app.use(function *(next) {
  try {
    // yield downstream
    yield next;
  } catch (err) {
    this.status = err.status || 500;
    this.body = err.message;
  }
});

Somewhere downstream you’d have a call to a generator like findByEmail below that would throw. For example, we’re throwing an error here when the given user isn’t found.

Users.prototype.findByEmail = function*(email) {
  let user = yield this.db.findOne({ email: email });
  if (!user) {
    let err = new Error('User not found');
    err.status = 404;
    err.message = `User not found with email: ${email}`;
    throw err;
  }
  return user;
}

With this implementation, you’d have to do something similar for each of your APIs and error responses. E.g. 401 for when the user isn’t logged-in, 403 for bad attributes, etc.

Let’s find another way to have a well contained and clean way to send back those error responses and even share those responses between code bases with different languages.

First we put our error response schema in YAML. This makes for a very clean and nicely structured schema, and also means that you could use the same error schema in another language.

user_not_found:
  message: User not found with ":email"
  status: 404

Our findByEmail implementation looks like this now:

Users.prototype.findByEmail = function*(email) {
  let query = { email: email };
  let user = yield this.db.findOne(query);
  if (!user) {
    this.thrower.throw('user_not_found', query);
  }
  return user;
}

Here’s thrower.throw, which is used to add the key/values from extra onto the error which will then be used to fill in the user’s email into the error message.

Thrower.prototype.throw = function(msg, extra) {
  let err = new Error(msg);
  for (let k in extra) {
    err[k] = extra[k];
  }
  throw err;
}

And for our error middleware we have:

let fmt = require('format-string');

app.use(function *(next) {
  try {
    yield next;
  } catch (err) {
    let schema = schemas[err.message];
    if (schema) {
      this.status = schema.status;
      this.body = fmt(schema.message, err);
    } else {
      this.status = err.status || 500;
      this.body = err.message;
    }
  }
});

And voila you have a scalable and simple system for sending back error responses.

This is also makes adding error tracking very easy too, since you have a single point of contact where all errors with go through. So you can make a single call to Sentry, or some other JS error tracker here.

let fmt = require('format-string');

app.use(function *(next) {
  try {
    yield next;
  } catch (err) {
    let schema = schemas[err.message];
    this.errorTracker.track(err); // Send error to sentry or wherever
    if (schema) {
      this.status = schema.status;
      this.body = fmt(schema.message, err);
    } else {
      this.status = err.status || 500;
      this.body = err.message;
    }
  }
});

I’ll be open sourcing a lib to help bootstrap this setup shortly.


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Written: October 21st, 2015
Categories: node, koa, errors