Using Elixir's Pattern Matching And Case Statement To Handle Errors


I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m trying to learn Elixir and I’m having so much fun doing it that I thought I would share what I’m learning. So … here goes. The code for the stuff I’m writing is up at Github - feel free to drop over.

In my last post, Ayende Rahien mad a great comment:


Excellent question (of course)! At the time I was just hacking things and wanted to see a result - I didn’t worry too much about errors.

That said, let’s see how we can handle this better. And please, if you know of a better please share in the comments!

Case And Pattern Matching

A better way to execute the query for our call would be to use case:

def register({email, password}) do
  {:ok, pid} = Membership.connect()
  sql = "select * from membership.register($1, $2);"

  case Postgrex.Connection.query(pid, sql, [email, password]) do
    {:ok, res} ->
      cols = res.columns
      [first_row | _] = res.rows
      [new_id, validation_token, auth_token, success, message] = first_row
      {:ok, %RegistrationResult{
        success: success,
        message: message,
        new_id: new_id,
        authentication_token: auth_token,
        validation_token: validation_token

    {:error, err} -> {:error, err}

Case statements are pretty standard for programming languages, and this one essentially operates the same way. Here, we’re evaluating the return of the query and matching against that return. If all is OK, the Postgrex driver will match against {:ok, %Postgrex.Result}, otherwise it will match against {:error, %Postgrex.Error}.

This matching thing is really head-twisty. The nice part is, however, that we only need to think about the atoms (:ok and :error) here, Elixir will see that the second argument is a variable and will bind to it - making the match work out.

Crazy stuff.

So, back to the case statement. If a match is made on :ok, I’ll return the struct I was returning before using an anonymous function (the -> operator). If things aren’t OK and we match on :error, I’ll just pass the error on.

Using This

I can now use this in my test for a cleaner error response if something goes wrong, or just handle it as needed, again, using a case statement:

setup do
  {:ok, pid} = Postgrex.Connection.start_link(database: "bigmachine")

  case Membership.Registration.register({"[email protected]", "password"}) do
     {:ok, res} -> {:ok, [res: res]}
     {:error, err} -> raise err


test "Registration with valid credentials", %{res: res} do
  assert res.success,res.message

This statement evaluates what comes back from register and if it’s OK, returns a tuple that gets set as the test context, which I use down below.

If things aren’t OK, I raise. I could log here as well, or do other things - for now raising works.

Also - I should mention if you haven’t figured it out that the last line in any function is the return value, just like in Ruby.

Case statements return values - you can bind a variable if you like or you can have them as the last operation, as I’m doing here.

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