I usually advocate for building APIs that have the top level service classes/functions returning results. It’s common to return a value directly, but many times I feel the necessity of returning more things. It can be an error when something goes wrong, or even additional metadata that add information to the returned value.

This is a decision log that discuss if we should use this technique.

How to use results

An approach would be to create a wrapper class for the result:

class Result
  attr_reader :success, :value

def operation
  if ok
    Result.new(success: true, value: 'ok')
    Result.new(success: false, value: 'something is not right')

We may enforce this on the class, but just by having a result returned we force the caller to handle the error scenario. It could be something like:

result = operation
if result.success?

By using results we can express both the success and the failure using the same object. But how is this different from using exceptions? By using this process, exceptions become really exceptional events. Everything that we properly handle and the bad things we detect, we return as error results. I believe this makes the code easier to follow and understand.

Result chains

Instead of relying on exceptions when bad things happen, we embrace errors and have a deep focus on them. But at the same time we can abstract from dealing with errors. Using result based APIs fosters chaining operations. For example:

  .and_then {|data| fetch_dependencies(data, options)}
  .and_then {|data| db_persist(data) }
  .and_then({|model| Return.created(model)})

If everything uses results, we may have that if something in the chain returns a failure, it short circuits the chain and returns the error directly. This is automatic and saves lot of error handling code (and less code, less bugs). It’s also easier to understand the intent of the code.

Not only for humans

From my experience this kind of code is easier to read and change. But by adding metadata to the result we can also add more meaning to results that can be processed by APIs. For example, if we have a Result.created(model) that adds to the metadata of the result that it was created (or saved, or deleted, etc), we can automatically use that information to match to a HTTP Status 201.

We can also add metadata to indicate if the operation was idempotent, add elapsed time or monitoring information, for example a global transaction id.

Really focus on errors

We should naturally do this with exceptions also, but I believe errors make this practice more common. We should always give proper context on the errors. This is necessary if for example we’re aiming for a zero bugs policy. When something happens we need as much context as we can gather.

A typical example is trying to fetch from the database something that is not there and getting a RecordNotFoundException. This is usually troublesome to troubleshoot. It would be better to have something like:

Result.failure(message = "Error verifying if the user has the `admin` role")
  Result.failure(message = "User record with id `123` is not found")

Having an error logged with this information would be excellent. And because of result chains, we could have this report whenever we tried to verify the auth rules for a user.

We could (and should) do this if we use exceptions. But because exceptions are automatic it’s easy to bypass. For example, consider this code:

def has_role?(user_id, role_name)
  User.find!(user_id).role == role_name

So we would return a boolean. But if the operation failed, it could be because lots of things. Using results force us to better build the error pipeline.

def verify_role(user_id, role_name)
    .and_then { |user| verify_user_role(user, role_name) }

def fetch_user(user_id)
rescue RecordNotFoundException
  Result.exception("User with id ${user_id} is not found")

def verify_user_role(user, role_name)
  message = "User ${user_id} has required role ${role_name}"
  if user.role == role_name

One can say that we replaced on line of code with several ones. But we did add much more runtime context that will be important to troubleshoot runtime issues.

Results work well with languages that support macros

If the previous example become more verbose, was because we’re using code that didn’t return results and we had to convert it. Rust is a very interesting language that embraces results (and options) on their standard API.

And because they support macros, we can easily bypass chains and have a macro that does the boilerplate of returning if a result failed. Example:

fn verify(user_id: i32, role: Role) -> Result {
  let user: User = find_user(user_id)?;
  if (user.role == role) {
  } else {
    Err(RoleMismatch(user:id, role))

(note the ? on find_user(user_id)? that will return form the function right away if the result failed)

Using results may seem to require more code, but when we start using it, and creating utilities for handling them, from my experience we actually end up with less code.


Even if we could debate about the amount of extra code necessary, using results is indeed another abstraction to learn. Learning how to use it and read the code that it generates requires getting use to it. And if we use code that isn’t using results, we’ll need to wrap it. While it may add information to it, it’s an extra burden.

If new developers are more used to exceptions and are good at using them it will be even harder to sell.

Another issue that arises comprises with complex chains. Imagine that we have a collection of things to process. What happens if one of them fail? Should we stop right away? Should we process them all and return the ones that failed and the ones that succeed? In my opinion if results bring this discussion to the table they are already a good thing to have. Because sometimes it’s not about making things more complex, but instead managing the complexity that we already have.

Is it good one month later?

The code starts to be easier to read and with a more standard structure. But there are some issues that come up. As an example, let’s see this code from a Javascript promise chain:

apiCall(userId, roleName)
  .then(user => processUser(user))
  .then(user => notifySomethingElse(user))
  .then(user => saveUser);

(note that Javascript also has “macros” for handling results (promises))

The problem here arises when we have a rejected promise (failed result) that doesn’t have a description and a proper stack trace. How to know where the problem is? This happens sometimes. It forces us to really consider the error messages and context.

Another thing we can do is to, on development, register the stack trace whenever we create a failed result. This way we can understand where the result appeared.

This is the bigger issue I’ve found. Sometimes is indeed cumbersome to wrap results and build proper results with additional information. It does get better with time, but honestly it’s always cumbersome to add error handling. The difference is that results force me to be more councious of it.

Is it good 6 months later?

Work in progress


This type of abstraction is very common on functional programmming. It brings several advantages but also has its tradeoffs. It’s another tool and requires some learning and change of practices.

Would I use it again: yes.