Ruby Exception Handling

Ruby Exception Handling: StandardError — default for rescue

This is an exciting day in the life of our Ruby Exception Handling series, as we tackle the big daddy of all Ruby exceptions, the StandardError. StandardError is a superclass with many exception subclasses of its own, but like all errors, it descends from the Exception superclass. StandardErrors occur anytime a rescue clause catches an exception without an explicit Exception class specified.

In this post we’ll take a closer look at the StandardError class, examining where it lands within Ruby’s Exception class hierarchy and how to handle StandardErrors. Let’s get this party started!

The Technical Rundown

  • All Ruby exceptions are descendants of the Exception class, or a subclass therein.
  • StandardError is a direct descendant of the Exception class, and is also a superclass with many descendants of its own.

When Should You Use It?

Since StandardError is the parent to just about every fundamental, typical exception that is likely to be raised in normal Ruby execution, it’s critical to understand that the StandardError class itself is never actually passed along within a rescue code block. Instead, it simply behaves as the default exception class when no explicit class is provided for any given rescue clause. This behavior is particularly beneficial when your code attempts to account for (and rescue) a wide range of expected, explicit exception classes, but you must also include a rescue clause for anything unexpected.

For example, here we have a simple example snippet that attempts to rescue a number of explicit exception classes, such as IndexError and NameError, that we might expect to pop up. However, as a final resort, we’re also specifying a rescue clause at the end with no explicit exception class specified. This final rescue clause defaults to using StandardError, which means it will catch any and all exception classes that are descendants of StandardError that were not already rescued in a previous clause.

In this case, because we’re simply raising a made up exception (“Uh oh!”), we expect none of our explicit exception classes to match, and instead for our backup StandardError exception to catch it, as the default. Once it does, it will then identify which of its own descendants apply to this particular exception, which in the case of an explicit raise call, defaults to RuntimeError. Sure enough, this is the resulting output we get:

While this baseline behavior of using StandardError as a catchall for unknown exceptions is a very powerful, it’s also handy for being the baseline class to extend when creating your own exception classes within your application.

In this example, we’ve defined a custom MissingName exception class, which descends from StandardError. It also initializes with its own msg output in case one isn’t provided when the exception is raised.

Now within our begin-rescue block we once again have a rescue clause without an explicit exception class specified, so it will default to StandardError and any subsequent descendant class that matches:

In our case, this means our MissingName exception class is raised and rescued as expected:

The fundamental takeaway when examining StandardError is that, unlike Exception from which it inherits, StandardErrorsimply encompasses all normal, expected exceptions that a typical Ruby application may encounter during execution. These can all be properly rescued and dealt with from within the Ruby application, without any need for a user interference or without any detrimental effects to the underlying system.

Conversely, exceptions outside of the scope of StandardErrors, which simply fall elsewhere under the superclass of Exceptions, are inherently system-level errors, and thus will typically indicate a non-functional application.


To get the most out of your own applications and to fully manage any and all Ruby Exceptions, check out the Airbrake Ruby exception handling tool, offering real-time alerts and instantaneous insight into what went wrong with your Ruby code, including integrated support for a variety of popular Ruby gems and frameworks.