Exception handling

A good app is prepared even when something goes wrong: a service is down, the application didn’t expect a given input type or many other errors that can happen in a web application. To react to these cases, we need a good exception handling mechanism and prepare the app to handle the unexpected scenarios.

HTTP exceptions

WebOb provides a collection of exceptions that correspond to HTTP status codes. They all extend a base class, webob.exc.HTTPException, also available in webapp2 as webapp2.HTTPException.

An HTTPException is also a WSGI application, meaning that an instance of it can be returned to be used as response. If an HTTPException is not handled, it will be used as a standard response, setting the header status code and a default error message in the body.

Exceptions in handlers

Handlers can catch exceptions implementing the method webapp2.RequestHandler.handle_exception(). It is a good idea to define a base class that catches generic exceptions, and if needed override handle_exception() in extended classes to set more specific responses.

Here we will define a exception handling function in a base class, and the real app classes extend it:

import logging

import webapp2

class BaseHandler(webapp2.RequestHandler):
    def handle_exception(self, exception, debug):
        # Log the error.

        # Set a custom message.
        response.write('An error occurred.')

        # If the exception is a HTTPException, use its error code.
        # Otherwise use a generic 500 error code.
        if isinstance(exception, webapp2.HTTPException):

class HomeHandler(BaseHandler):
    def get(self):
        self.response.write('This is the HomeHandler.')

class ProductListHandler(BaseHandler):
    def get(self):
        self.response.write('This is the ProductListHandler.')

If something unexpected happens during the HomeHandler or ProductListHandler lifetime, handle_exception() will catch it because they extend a class that implements exception handling.

You can use exception handling to log errors and display custom messages instead of a generic error. You could also render a template with a friendly message, or return a JSON with an error code, depending on your app.

Exceptions in the WSGI app

Uncaught exceptions can also be handled by the WSGI application. The WSGI app is a good place to handle ‘404 Not Found’ or ‘500 Internal Server Error’ errors, since it serves as a last attempt to handle all uncaught exceptions, including non-registered URI paths or unexpected application behavior.

We catch exceptions in the WSGI app using error handlers registered in webapp2.WSGIApplication.error_handlers. This is a dictionary that maps HTTP status codes to callables that will handle the corresponding error code. If the exception is not an HTTPException, the status code 500 is used.

Here we set error handlers to handle “404 Not Found” and “500 Internal Server Error”:

import logging

import webapp2

def handle_404(request, response, exception):
    response.write('Oops! I could swear this page was here!')

def handle_500(request, response, exception):
    response.write('A server error occurred!')

app = webapp2.WSGIApplication([
    webapp2.Route('/', handler='handlers.HomeHandler', name='home')
app.error_handlers[404] = handle_404
app.error_handlers[500] = handle_500

The error handler can be a simple function that accepts (request, response, exception) as parameters, and is responsible for setting the response status code and, if needed, logging the exception.


The function webapp2.abort() is a shortcut to raise one of the HTTP exceptions provided by WebOb: it takes an HTTP status code (403, 404, 500 etc) and raises the corresponding exception.

Use abort (or webapp2.RequestHandler.abort() inside handlers) to raise an HTTPException to be handled by an exception handler. For example, we could call abort(404) when a requested item is not found in the database, and have an exception handler ready to handle 404s.

Besides the status code, some extra keyword arguments can be passed to abort():

An explanation about the error.
An more detailed comment to be included in the response body.
Extra response headers to be set.
A string to be used as template for the response body. The default template has the following format, with variables replaced by arguments, if defined:
${explanation}<br /><br />