May 23, 2017 9:00:48 AM | Ruby Exception Handling: FloatDomainError

A deep dive into the FloatDomainError in Ruby, including functional code examples and a brief examination of the Infinity and NaN special values in Ruby.

Today our journey through the Ruby Exception Handling series takes us to our next stop, the FloatDomainError. A FloatDomainError is most commonly raised when trying to convert special kinds of Float values to other numeric classes which don't support those particular special values.

In this article we'll explore the FloatDomainError in more detail, including where it sits inside the Ruby Exception class hierarchy, as well as giving a few simple code examples to illustrate how FloatDomainErrors might pop up. Let's get 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.
  • RangeError is a direct descendant of the StandardError class, and is a superclass with one descendant of its own.
  • FloatDomainError is the direct descendant of RangeError.

When Should You Use It?

As briefly mentioned in the introduction, a FloatDomainError is raised when an attempt is made to convert certain Floatvalues to other numeric classes which don't have a way to represent those values. To understand what this means, let's briefly look at how Ruby handles Floats and general numeric conversions.

We'll start with a simple #to_integer method that we've created:

def print_exception(exception, explicit)
puts "[#{explicit ? 'EXPLICIT' : 'INEXPLICIT'}] #{exception.class}: #{exception.message}"
puts exception.backtrace.join("\n")

def to_integer(value)
# Convert value to integer.
i = value.to_i
puts "#{value} converted to #{i}"
rescue FloatDomainError => e
print_exception(e, true)
rescue => e
print_exception(e, false)

This little method accepts a single value parameter and then attempts to convert it to an integer using the #to_i method. If successful it outputs the conversion that took place, otherwise it raises an error. It's worth noting that we could obviously use the built-in #to_i method for most value types we're working with (Float, Fixnum, etc), but here we want a bit of extra fluff around the conversion, such as some output and the exception handling block.

To use #to_integer we just pass in some arguments, like so:

# Convert 3.75 to integer.
# Convert 12345.67890 to integer.
# Convert Infinity to integer.

The output shows that the first two examples work just fine:

3.75 converted to 3
12345.6789 converted to 12345

These basic instances of the Float class can be easily converted to Integers by dropping the fractional part of the number. However, our third example, which attempts to convert the special value Infinity to an Integer, fails and raises a FloatDomainError:

[EXPLICIT] FloatDomainError: Infinity

As it happens, this is because the special value of Infinity in Ruby is considered a Float class type. To see this in action, we can launch an irb console and test it out:

irb(main):001:0> 1 / 0
ZeroDivisionError: divided by 0
from (irb):6:in `/'
from (irb):6
from G:/dev/programs/Ruby23-x64/bin/irb.cmd:19:in `<main>'

irb(main):002:0> 1.0 / 0
=> Infinity

irb(main):003:0> infinity = 1.0 / 0
=> Infinity

irb(main):004:0> infinity.class
=> Float

irb(main):005:0> Float::INFINITY == infinity
=> true

irb(main):006:0> Float::INFINITY.class
=> Float

Here we've shown that we can generate an instance of Infinity by dividing a Float value by zero, so we assign that to the infinity variable, then check it's #class to show it's still considered a Float. Ruby also provides access to Infinitythrough the Float::INFINITY constant, which we also show is equivalent to our instance example.

Since we see that Infinity is considered a Float, we can then understand why attempting to convert that to an Integer in our #to_integer method fails. Ruby tries to execute our request, but since Infinity is a special value -- one that is represented by a Float type behind the scenes -- it cannot be made into an Integer as requested.

We can see something similar with other values and numeric class types also, such as Rationals. Here we have the #to_rational method that performs a similar role to def to_rational(value) begin # Convert value to rational number. r = value.to_r puts "#{value} converted to #{r}" rescue FloatDomainError => e print_exception(e, true) rescue => e print_exception(e, false) end end


Let's pass some values to #to_rational and see what we get:

# Convert 3.75 to rational.
# Convert 12345.67890 to rational.
# Convert NaN to rational.

As expected, the first two numbers are converted without much trouble. However, this time we try to convert the special value NaN (not a number) to a Rational, which also raises a FloatDomainError:

3.75 converted to 15/4
12345.6789 converted to 6787108751669409/549755813888
[EXPLICIT] FloatDomainError: NaN

Our issue stems from the same problem as before. Just like Infinity, the special value of NaN is considered a Float class type behind the scenes. Again, we can see this in action with a few statements in an irb console:

irb(main):001:0> 0 / 0
ZeroDivisionError: divided by 0
from (irb):1:in `/'
from (irb):1
from G:/dev/programs/Ruby23-x64/bin/irb.cmd:19:in `<main>'

irb(main):002:0> 0.0 / 0.0
=> NaN

irb(main):003:0> nan = 0.0 / 0.0
=> NaN

irb(main):004:0> nan.class
=> Float

irb(main):005:0> Float::NAN
=> NaN

irb(main):006:0> Float::NAN.class
=> Float

Here we see that we cannot divide by zero using Integer representations, but if we use Floats we can create an instance of NaN, indicating that the resulting value is not actually a number. Furthermore, we see that nan#class is a Float type, and that Ruby provides another constant that represents the NaN value: Float::NAN.

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Written By: Frances Banks