Chapter 11: Error Handling in C Programming

C Programming
C Programming

Today, we’re embarking on an expedition into one of the less-charted territories in the realm of C programming — Error Handling. Yes, it may seem intimidating, and it’s certainly a bit twisty, but fear not! With a strong understanding of error types and some solid exception handling techniques, you’ll be well equipped to tackle anything the Code Cosmos throws your way. So, let’s start the journey!

Understanding Error Types

Error, bugs, glitches — whatever we call them, they’re a coder’s greatest foes. In C programming, we generally divide errors into three types: Syntax errors, Runtime errors, and Logical errors.

Syntax Errors

Syntax errors are your basic “you can’t do that!” kind of errors. They occur when the structure of your code does not conform to the rules of the C language. Misspelled keywords, forgotten semicolons, mismatched braces — these all fall under syntax errors. Your compiler is pretty good at catching these, and it will usually tell you exactly what you did wrong.

Runtime Errors

Runtime errors, on the other hand, are a little trickier. These errors pop up when your program is running, and they are often due to illegal operations. This could be anything from dividing by zero, trying to access an out-of-bounds index of an array, or failing to open a file that doesn’t exist.

Logical Errors

The last type, logical errors, are the sneakiest. These are errors where the program runs and completes without crashing, but it doesn’t deliver the correct output. These are often the hardest to debug because they don’t come with error messages and require you to carefully investigate your code’s logic.

Exception Handling Techniques

Unlike some other languages, C does not provide direct support for exception handling. However, there are several techniques we can utilize to deal with errors effectively.

Return Codes

One common method for handling errors in C is by using return codes. In this method, functions that can potentially cause errors will return some specific value indicating the type of error that occurred. This requires us to check the value returned by functions and handle potential errors accordingly.

Error Handling Functions

C also provides several functions that can be used to report or react to errors. For example, perror() and strerror() are two functions which can be used to display error messages, which can be incredibly helpful during debugging.

Use of setjmp and longjmp Functions

C provides setjmp() and longjmp() functions which can be used to perform a sort of pseudo-exception handling. These functions essentially allow a program to jump back to a certain point in execution, kind of like a checkpoint system.

Signal Handling

C also supports a form of event-driven programming with signals. Signals are a way for a program to react to specific events. By using the signal() function, you can specify a function to be called when a particular signal occurs.

Let’s look at an example of using return codes to handle an error:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

int divide(int a, int b, int *result) {
    if(b == 0) {
        return -1;
    *result = a / b;
    return 0;

int main() {
    int result;
    int error = divide(5, 0, &result);
    if(error) {
        printf("An error occurred!\n");
        return -1;
    printf("The result is: %d\n", result);
    return 0;

In this program, the divide function returns -1 if an attempt is made to divide by zero. In the main function, we check the return value of the divide function. If it’s -1, we know an error occurred, and we can handle it appropriately.

In the world of aerospace software development, it is imperative that our programs can handle unexpected events, also known as signals. These could range from interruptions from the user, power failures, to hardware faults. The C language provides mechanisms for dealing with these events – signal handling.

Let’s envision a hypothetical scenario where we have a spacecraft control program that adjusts the angle of the spacecraft. If we receive a signal for system failure (SIGINT), we would want to stop adjusting the angle and start taking measures to prevent any damage.

Here’s an example C program that might handle such a situation:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <signal.h>

volatile sig_atomic_t flag = 0;

void handle_failure(int sig){
    flag = 1;

int adjust_angle(int angle){
    // Complex function to adjust angle
    printf("Adjusting angle to %d degrees\n", angle);
    return 0;

int main(){
    // Set up the signal handler
    signal(SIGINT, handle_failure);
    int angle = 0;

    // Main control loop
        // If we've received the signal
            printf("System failure detected! Stopping angle adjustment.\n");
            // Code to handle the failure and prevent damage

        // Adjust the angle of the spacecraft
        angle = (angle + 10) % 360;

        // Wait for a bit

    return 0;

In this code, we define a signal handler function handle_failure(). When a SIGINT signal (which is sent when you press Ctrl+C) is received, this function sets the flag to 1. In our main control loop, we continuously adjust the angle of the spacecraft, unless the flag has been set, in which case we stop adjusting the angle and start dealing with the system failure.

Remember, error handling is all about creating robust and reliable programs. Your users will thank you for the extra effort you’ve put into considering edge cases and handling them appropriately.

And that wraps up our journey into error handling in C! By understanding these concepts, you’re now better equipped to navigate any bumps on the road of your C programming journey. Remember, the secret to becoming a better programmer is practice, so keep coding and exploring. Until next time, happy coding!

Chapter 11: Error Handling in C Programming
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