CodeQL documentation

Non-standard exception raised in special method

ID: py/unexpected-raise-in-special-method
Kind: problem
Severity: recommendation
Precision: very-high
   - reliability
   - maintainability
   - convention
Query suites:
   - python-security-and-quality.qls

Click to see the query in the CodeQL repository

User-defined classes interact with the Python virtual machine via special methods (also called “magic methods”). For example, for a class to support addition it must implement the __add__ and __radd__ special methods. When the expression a + b is evaluated the Python virtual machine will call type(a).__add__(a, b) and if that is not implemented it will call type(b).__radd__(b, a).

Since the virtual machine calls these special methods for common expressions, users of the class will expect these operations to raise standard exceptions. For example, users would expect that the expression a.b might raise an AttributeError if the object a does not have an attribute b. If a KeyError were raised instead, then this would be unexpected and may break code that expected an AttributeError, but not a KeyError.

Therefore, if a method is unable to perform the expected operation then its response should conform to the standard protocol, described below.

  • Attribute access, a.b: Raise AttributeError

  • Arithmetic operations, a + b: Do not raise an exception, return NotImplemented instead.

  • Indexing, a[b]: Raise KeyError.

  • Hashing, hash(a): Use __hash__ = None to indicate that an object is unhashable.

  • Equality methods, a != b: Never raise an exception, always return True or False.

  • Ordering comparison methods, a < b: Raise a TypeError if the objects cannot be ordered.

  • Most others: Ideally, do not implement the method at all, otherwise raise TypeError to indicate that the operation is unsupported.


If the method is meant to be abstract, then declare it so using the @abstractmethod decorator. Otherwise, either remove the method or ensure that the method raises an exception of the correct type.


This example shows two unhashable classes. The first class is unhashable in a non-standard way which may cause maintenance problems. The second, corrected, class uses the standard idiom for unhashable classes.

#Incorrect unhashable class
class MyMutableThing(object):
    def __init__(self):
    def __hash__(self):
        raise NotImplementedError("%r is unhashable" % self)

#Make class unhashable in the standard way
class MyCorrectMutableThing(object):
    def __init__(self):
    __hash__ = None

In this example, the first class is implicitly abstract; the __add__ method is unimplemented, presumably with the expectation that it will be implemented by sub-classes. The second class makes this explicit with an @abstractmethod decoration on the unimplemented __add__ method.

#Abstract base class, but don't declare it.
class ImplicitAbstractClass(object):
    def __add__(self, other):
        raise NotImplementedError()
#Make abstractness explicit.
class ExplicitAbstractClass:
    __metaclass__ = ABCMeta

    def __add__(self, other):
        raise NotImplementedError()

In this last example, the first class implements a collection backed by the file store. However, should an IOError be raised in the __getitem__ it will propagate to the caller. The second class handles any IOError by reraising a KeyError which is the standard exception for the __getitem__ method.

#Incorrect file-backed table
class FileBackedTable(object):
    def __getitem__(self, key):
        if key not in self.index:
            raise IOError("Key '%s' not in table" % key)
            #May raise an IOError
            return self.backing.get_row(key)
#Correct by transforming exception
class ObjectLikeFileBackedTable(object):
    def get_from_key(self, key):
        if key not in self.index:
            raise IOError("Key '%s' not in table" % key)
            #May raise an IOError
            return self.backing.get_row(key)
    def __getitem__(self, key):
            return self.get_from_key(key)
        except IOError:
            raise KeyError(key)