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A Common Error Description Library for UNIX
*******************************************
This manual documents the com_err library.
* Menu:
* Why com_err?::
* Error codes::
* Error table source file::
* The error-table compiler::
* Run-time support routines::
* Coding Conventions::
* Building and Installation::
* Bug Reports::
* Acknowledgements::
File: com_err.info,  Node: Why com_err?,  Next: Error codes,  Prev: Top,  Up: Top
Why com_err?
============
In building application software packages, a programmer often has to
deal with a number of libraries, each of which can use a different
error-reporting mechanism.  Sometimes one of two values is returned,
indicating simply SUCCESS or FAILURE, with no description of errors
encountered.  Sometimes it is an index into a table of text strings,
where the name of the table used is dependent on the library being used
when the error is generated; since each table starts numbering at 0 or
1, additional information as to the source of the error code is needed
to determine which table to look at.  Sometimes no text messages are
supplied at all, and the programmer must supply them at any point at
which he may wish to report error conditions.  Often, a global variable
is assigned some value describing the error, but the programmer has to
know in each case whether to look at `errno', `h_errno', the return
value from `hes_err()', or whatever other variables or routines are
specified.  And what happens if something in the procedure of examining
or reporting the error changes the same variable?
   The package we have developed is an attempt to present a common
error-handling mechanism to manipulate the most common form of error
code in a fashion that does not have the problems listed above.
   A list of up to 256 text messages is supplied to a translator we have
written, along with the three- to four-character "name" of the error
table.  The library using this error table need only call a routine
generated from this error-table source to make the table "known" to the
com_err library, and any error code the library generates can be
converted to the corresponding error message.  There is also a default
format for error codes accidentally returned before making the table
known, which is of the form `unknown code foo 32', where `foo' would be
the name of the table.
File: com_err.info,  Node: Error codes,  Next: Error table source file,  Prev: Why com_err?,  Up: Top
Error codes
===========
Error codes themselves are 32 bit (signed) integers, of which the high
order 24 bits are an identifier of which error table the error code is
from, and the low order 8 bits are a sequential error number within the
table.  An error code may thus be easily decomposed into its component
parts.  Only the lowest 32 bits of an error code are considered
significant on systems which support wider values.
   Error table 0 is defined to match the UNIX system call error table
(`sys_errlist'); this allows `errno' values to be used directly in the
library (assuming that `errno' is of a type with the same width as
long).  Other error table numbers are formed by compacting together the
first four characters of the error table name.  The mapping between
characters in the name and numeric values in the error code are defined
in a system-independent fashion, so that two systems that can pass
integral values between them can reliably pass error codes without loss
of meaning; this should work even if the character sets used are not
the same.  (However, if this is to be done, error table 0 should be
avoided, since the local system call error tables may differ.)
   Any variable which is to contain an error code should be declared
long.  The draft proposed American National Standard for C (as of May,
1988) requires that long variables be at least 32 bits; any system
which does not support 32-bit long values cannot make use of this
package (nor much other software that assumes an ANSI-C environment
base) without significant effort.
File: com_err.info,  Node: Error table source file,  Next: The error-table compiler,  Prev: Error codes,  Up: Top
Error table source file
=======================
The error table source file begins with the declaration of the table
name, as
     error_table TABLENAME
   Individual error codes are specified with
     error_code ERROR_NAME, "TEXT MESSAGE"
   where `ec' can also be used as a short form of `error_code'.  To
indicate the end of the table, use `end'.  Thus, a (short) sample error
table might be:

             error_table     dsc
             error_code      DSC_DUP_MTG_NAME,
                             "Meeting already exists"
             ec              DSC_BAD_PATH,
                             "A bad meeting pathname was given"
             ec              DSC_BAD_MODES,
                             "Invalid mode for this access control list"
             end
File: com_err.info,  Node: The error-table compiler,  Next: Run-time support routines,  Prev: Error table source file,  Up: Top
The error-table compiler
========================
The error table compiler is named `compile_et'.  It takes one argument,
the pathname of a file (ending in `.et', e.g., `dsc_err.et') containing
an error table source file.  It parses the error table, and generates
two output files - a C header file (`discuss_err.h') which contains
definitions of the numerical values of the error codes defined in the
error table, and a C source file which should be compiled and linked
with the executable.  The header file must be included in the source of
a module which wishes to reference the error codes defined; the object
module generated from the C code may be linked in to a program which
wishes to use the printed forms of the error codes.
File: com_err.info,  Node: Run-time support routines,  Next: Coding Conventions,  Prev: The error-table compiler,  Up: Top
Run-time support routines
=========================
Any source file which uses the routines supplied with or produced by the
com_err package should include the header file `<com_err.h>'.  It
contains declarations and definitions which may be needed on some
systems.  (Some functions cannot be referenced properly without the
return type declarations in this file.  Some functions may work
properly on most architectures even without the header file, but
relying on this is not recommended.)
   The run-time support routines and variables provided via this package
include the following:
     void initialize_XXXX_error_table (void);
   One of these routines is built by the error compiler for each error
table.  It makes the XXXX error table "known" to the error reporting
system.  By convention, this routine should be called in the
initialization routine of the XXXX library.  If the library has no
initialization routine, some combination of routines which form the
core of the library should ensure that this routine is called.  It is
not advised to leave it the caller to make this call.
   There is no harm in calling this routine more than once.
     #define ERROR_TABLE_BASE_XXXX NNNNNL
   This symbol contains the value of the first error code entry in the
specified table.  This rarely needs be used by the programmer.
 -- Function: const char *error_message (long CODE);
     This routine returns the character string error message associated
     with `code'; if this is associated with an unknown error table, or
     if the code is associated with a known error table but the code is
     not in the table, a string of the form `Unknown code XXXX NN' is
     returned, where XXXX is the error table name produced by reversing
     the compaction performed on the error table number implied by that
     error code, and NN is the offset from that base value.
     Although this routine is available for use when needed, its use
     should be left to circumstances which render `com_err' (below)
     unusable.

 -- Function:
     void com_err (const char *WHOAMI, long ERROR_CODE,
     const char *FORMAT, ...);
     This routine provides an alternate way to print error messages to
     standard error; it allows the error message to be passed in as a
     parameter, rather than in an external variable.  _Provide
     grammatical context for "message."_
     The module reporting the error should be passed in via WHOAMI.  If
     FORMAT is `(char *)NULL', the formatted message will not be
     printed.  FORMAT may not be omitted.

 -- Function:
     void com_err_va (const char *WHOAMI, long ERROR_CODE, const char
     *FORMAT, va_list ARGS);
     This routine provides an interface, equivalent to `com_err' above,
     which may be used by higher-level variadic functions (functions
     which accept variable numbers of arguments).

 -- Function: void (*set_com_err_hook (void (*PROC) (const char
          *WHOAMI, long ERROR_CODE, va_list ARGS))) (const char
          *WHOAMI, long ERROR_CODE, va_list ARGS);
 -- Function: void reset_com_err_hook ();
     These two routines allow a routine to be dynamically substituted
     for `com_err'.  After `set_com_err_hook' has been called, calls to
     `com_err' will turn into calls to the new hook routine.
     `reset_com_err_hook' turns off this hook.  This may intended to be
     used in daemons (to use a routine which calls `syslog(3)'), or in
     a window system application (which could pop up a dialogue box).
     If a program is to be used in an environment in which simply
     printing messages to the `stderr' stream would be inappropriate
     (such as in a daemon program which runs without a terminal
     attached), `set_com_err_hook' may be used to redirect output from
     `com_err'.  The following is an example of an error handler which
     uses `syslog(3)' as supplied in BSD 4.3:
          #include <stdio.h>
          #include <stdarg.h>
          #include <syslog.h>
          /* extern openlog (const char * name, int logopt, int facility); */
          /* extern syslog (int priority, char * message, ...); */
          void hook (const char * whoami, long code,
                     const char * format, va_list args)
          {
              char buffer[BUFSIZ];
              static int initialized = 0;
              if (!initialized) {
                  openlog (whoami,
                           LOG_NOWAIT|LOG_CONS|LOG_PID|LOG_NDELAY,
                           LOG_DAEMON);
                  initialized = 1;
              }
              vsprintf (buffer, format, args);
              syslog (LOG_ERR, "%s %s", error_message (code), buffer);
          }
     After making the call `set_com_err_hook (hook);', any calls to
     `com_err' will result in messages being sent to the SYSLOGD daemon
     for logging.  The name of the program, `whoami', is supplied to the
     `openlog()' call, and the message is formatted into a buffer and
     passed to `syslog'.
     Note that since the extra arguments to `com_err' are passed by
     reference via the `va_list' value `args', the hook routine may
     place any form of interpretation on them, including ignoring them.
     For consistency, `printf'-style interpretation is suggested, via
     `vsprintf' (or `_doprnt' on BSD systems without full support for
     the ANSI C library).

File: com_err.info,  Node: Coding Conventions,  Next: Building and Installation,  Prev: Run-time support routines,  Up: Top
Coding Conventions
==================
The following conventions are just some general stylistic conventions
to follow when writing robust libraries and programs.  Conventions
similar to this are generally followed inside the UNIX kernel and most
routines in the Multics operating system.  In general, a routine either
succeeds (returning a zero error code, and doing some side effects in
the process), or it fails, doing minimal side effects; in any event,
any invariant which the library assumes must be maintained.
   In general, it is not in the domain of non user-interface library
routines to write error messages to the user's terminal, or halt the
process.  Such forms of "error handling" should be reserved for
failures of internal invariants and consistancy checks only, as it
provides the user of the library no way to clean up for himself in the
event of total failure.
   Library routines which can fail should be set up to return an error
code.  This should usually be done as the return value of the function;
if this is not acceptable, the routine should return a "null" value,
and put the error code into a parameter passed by reference.
   Routines which use the first style of interface can be used from
user-interface levels of a program as follows:
     {
         if ((code = initialize_world(getuid(), random())) != 0) {
             com_err("demo", code,
                     "when trying to initialize world");
             exit(1);
         }
         if ((database = open_database("my_secrets", &code))==NULL) {
             com_err("demo", code,
                     "while opening my_secrets");
             exit(1);
         }
     }
   A caller which fails to check the return status is in error.  It is
possible to look for code which ignores error returns by using lint;
look for error messages of the form "foobar returns value which is
sometimes ignored" or "foobar returns value which is always ignored."
   Since libraries may be built out of other libraries, it is often
necessary for the success of one routine to depend on another.  When a
lower level routine returns an error code, the middle level routine has
a few possible options.  It can simply return the error code to its
caller after doing some form of cleanup, it can substitute one of its
own, or it can take corrective action of its own and continue normally.
For instance, a library routine which makes a "connect" system call to
make a network connection may reflect the system error code
`ECONNREFUSED' (Connection refused) to its caller, or it may return a
"server not available, try again later," or it may try a different
server.
   Cleanup which is typically necessary may include, but not be limited
to, freeing allocated memory which will not be needed any more,
unlocking concurrancy locks, dropping reference counts, closing file
descriptors, or otherwise undoing anything which the procedure did up
to this point.  When there are a lot of things which can go wrong, it
is generally good to write one block of error-handling code which is
branched to, using a goto, in the event of failure.  A common source of
errors in UNIX programs is failing to close file descriptors on error
returns; this leaves a number of "zombied" file descriptors open, which
eventually causes the process to run out of file descriptors and fall
over.
     {
         FILE *f1=NULL, *f2=NULL, *f3=NULL;
         int status = 0;
         if ( (f1 = fopen(FILE1, "r")) == NULL) {
             status = errno;
             goto error;
         }
         /*
          * Crunch for a while
          */
         if ( (f2 = fopen(FILE2, "w")) == NULL) {
             status = errno;
             goto error;
         }
         if ( (f3 = fopen(FILE3, "a+")) == NULL) {
             status = errno;
                 goto error;
         }
         /*
          * Do more processing.
          */
         fclose(f1);
         fclose(f2);
         fclose(f3);
         return 0;
     error:
         if (f1) fclose(f1);
         if (f2) fclose(f2);
         if (f3) fclose(f3);
         return status;
     }
File: com_err.info,  Node: Building and Installation,  Next: Bug Reports,  Prev: Coding Conventions,  Up: Top
Building and Installation
=========================
The distribution of this package will probably be done as a compressed
"tar"-format file available via anonymous FTP from SIPB.MIT.EDU.
Retrieve `pub/com_err.tar.Z' and extract the contents.  A subdirectory
profiled should be created to hold objects compiled for profiling.
Running "make all" should then be sufficient to build the library and
error-table compiler.  The files `libcom_err.a', `libcom_err_p.a',
`com_err.h', and `compile_et' should be installed for use; `com_err.3'
and `compile_et.1' can also be installed as manual pages.
File: com_err.info,  Node: Bug Reports,  Next: Acknowledgements,  Prev: Building and Installation,  Up: Top
Bug Reports
===========
The principal author of this library is: Ken Raeburn, raeburn AT MIT.EDU.
   This version of the com_err library is being maintained by Theodore
Ts'o, and so bugs and comments should be sent to tytso AT thunk.org.
File: com_err.info,  Node: Acknowledgements,  Prev: Bug Reports,  Up: Top
Acknowledgements
================
I would like to thank: Bill Sommerfeld, for his help with some of this
documentation, and catching some of the bugs the first time around;
Honeywell Information Systems, for not killing off the _Multics_
operating system before I had an opportunity to use it; Honeywell's
customers, who persuaded them not to do so, for a while; Ted Anderson of
CMU, for catching some problems before version 1.2 left the nest; Stan
Zanarotti and several others of MIT's Student Information Processing
Board, for getting us started with "discuss," for which this package was
originally written; and everyone I've talked into -- I mean, asked to
read this document and the "man" pages.