Handling errors in Ruby on Rails

13.03.2015 - Pascal Betz

Rails offers multiple ways to deal with exceptions and depending on what you want to achieve you can pick either of those solutions. Let me walk you through the possibilities.

begin/rescue block

begin/rescue blocks are the standard ruby mechanism to deal with exceptions. It might look like this:


This works nice for exceptions that might happen in your code. But what if you want to rescue every occurrence of a specific exception, say a NoPermissionError which might be raised from your security layer? Clearly you do not want to add a begin/rescue block in all your actions just to render an error message, right?

Around filter

An around filter could be used to catch all those exceptions of a given class. Honestly I haven’t used a before filter for this, this idea came to my mind when writing this blog post.

class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  around_action :handle_exceptions

  def handle_exceptions
    rescue NoPermissionError
      redirect_to 'permission_error'


rescue_from gives you the same possibilities as the around filter. It’s just shorter and easier to read and if the framework offers a convenient way, then why not use it. There are multiple ways to define a handler for an exception, for a short and sweet handler I prefer the block syntax:

class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
 rescue_from 'NoPermissionError' do |exception|
   redirect_to 'permission_error'


There is an additional feature (added in Rails 3.2) that allows to handle exceptions. You can specify an exceptions_app which is used to handle errors. You can use your own Rails app for this:

config.exceptions_app = self.routes

If you do so, then your routing must be configured to match error codes like so:

match '/404', to: 'exceptions#handle_404'

Alternatively you can specify a lambda which receives the whole Rack env:

config.exceptions_app = lambda do |env|
  # do something

Do you wonder how you can call an arbitrary action when you have the env? It’s pretty easy:

action = ExceptionsController.action(:render_error)

In any case you want to set following configuration for exceptions_app to be used:

Rails.application.config.consider_all_requests_local = false
Rails.application.config.action_dispatch.show_exceptions = true

But where is the exception you ask? It is stored in the Rack env:


And as a bonus: here is how you can determine an appropriate status code for an exception:

wrapper = ActionDispatch::ExceptionWrapper.new(env, exception)

There is more information you can extract using the exception wrapper. Best you look it up in the API description.

Most of this code can be seen in action in our infrastructure gem which we use to add error pages to apps we build.