Less Than Exceptional


As of a few weeks ago, I’ve become part of Evil’s new maintainer team. Most of the bugs we get are not quite Evil’s fault, but rather that of other components it relies upon, such as Emacs. #785 is a perfect example of this observation. Take a look at the sources of the function responsible for the reported behavior and see whether you can find what’s wrong about it:

DEFUN ("lookup-key", Flookup_key, Slookup_key, 2, 3, 0,
       doc: ...)
  (Lisp_Object keymap, Lisp_Object key, Lisp_Object accept_default)
  ptrdiff_t idx;
  Lisp_Object cmd;
  Lisp_Object c;
  ptrdiff_t length;
  bool t_ok = !NILP (accept_default);

  keymap = get_keymap (keymap, 1, 1);

  length = CHECK_VECTOR_OR_STRING (key);
  if (length == 0)
    return keymap;

  idx = 0;
  while (1)
      c = Faref (key, make_number (idx++));

      if (CONSP (c) && lucid_event_type_list_p (c))
        c = Fevent_convert_list (c);

      /* Turn the 8th bit of string chars into a meta modifier.  */
      if (STRINGP (key) && XINT (c) & 0x80 && !STRING_MULTIBYTE (key))
        XSETINT (c, (XINT (c) | meta_modifier) & ~0x80);

      /* Allow string since binding for `menu-bar-select-buffer'
         includes the buffer name in the key sequence.  */
      if (!INTEGERP (c) && !SYMBOLP (c) && !CONSP (c) && !STRINGP (c))
        message_with_string ("Key sequence contains invalid event %s", c, 1);

      cmd = access_keymap (keymap, c, t_ok, 0, 1);
      if (idx == length)
        return cmd;

      keymap = get_keymap (cmd, 0, 1);
      if (!CONSP (keymap))
        return make_number (idx);

      maybe_quit ();

If you haven’t spotted it, the function never signals an exception for the exceptional case of an invalid key sequence. Instead, it returns one of the few types that aren’t allowed in a definition, namely an integer. It’s up to the caller to handle this case on their own, something the majority of Emacs packages rightfully neglect to do as even + informs you about invalid input. This design decision reeks of the many ways of signalling errors in C and worse, cannot be properly fixed as there’s code inside Emacs relying on the integer return type. There is even a lookup-key-ignore-too-long in Emacs core that looks a lot like what I wrote, but it’s part of menu-bar.el for whatever reason and not advertised at all.

tl;dr: In-band signalling sucks big time.