To return or not to return

Apex allows you to handle Exceptions using the try-catch-finally block. The documentation states that the Finally block always gets executed. The documentation also says that when the compiler encounters the Return statement it will instantly return the control back to the calling function/block. But when you use (or in this case misuse) the two constructs together you see some interesting and surprising results.

Consider the following code below. Pretend to be a compiler for a moment and predict the outcome in the final System.debug() statement.

public class FinallyReturnTest {
    // Function returns from the finally block
    public String returnAString() {
      String returnVar;
      try {
        returnVar = null;
        returnVar.length(); // Will throw null pointer exception
      } catch(Exception ex) {
        // the exception will be caught
        System.debug('Exception caught is: '+ex);
        returnVar = 'I am set in the Catch block.';
        return returnVar;
      } finally {
        returnVar = 'I am set in the Finally block.';
        return returnVar;
      returnVar = 'I am set in the main function';
      return returnVar; // Execution will never reach this statement

  // Instantiate the class and call the method
  // from anonymous apex 
  FinallyReturnTest frtInstance = new FinallyReturnTest();
  System.debug('The return string is: ' + frtInstance.returnAString());

The odd thing about this code is not that it has more Return statements than Homer Simpson has hair on his head. If you were expecting the outcome to be The return string is: I am set in the Catch block., then you are in for a surprise.

The actual outcome is - The return string is: I am set in the Finally block.. Yep, they were not kidding when they said that the Finally block will always get executed. Even overriding the nature of the Return statement in the Catch block.

I would argue that it is generally a bad practice to return from a Catch or Finally block and you shouldn’t do it. But if you do decide to return from these blocks then be aware of this idiosyncracy. Since apex is “modelled” (and I use the term modelled very loosely here) on Java, I decided to test this in Java and voila I could replicate this in Java as well.

Before you return to your daily routine, here is some food for thought. If I modify the code slightly by commenting out the return in the Finally block then the outcome is as expected - The return string is: I am set in the Catch block.. That is, it now returns from the Catch block. Go figure!

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