Best Practice – WCF and Exceptions

Best Practice Recommendation

In your WCF service, never let an exception propagate outside the service boundary without managing it. 2 Alternatives then :

  • Either you manage the exception inside the service boundary and never propagate it outside
  • Or you convert the .Net typed exception in your exception manager as a FaultException before propagating it.


Most of the developers know how to handle exception in .Net code and good strategy can consist in letting an exception bubble up if it cannot be handled correctly, ultimately this exception will be managed by one of the .Net framework default handler which can depending of the situation close the application.

WCF manages things slightly differently, indeed if the developer let an exception bubbles up to the WCF default handler, it will convert this .Net typed exception (which has no representation in the SOA world) as a Fault Exception (which is represented in the SOA world as a SOAP fault ) and then propagate this exception to the client. Up to this point, you think everything is OK, and you are right indeed it’s legitimate the client application receives the exception and manages it. However there are 2 problems here :

  • One minor, indeed by default you don’t control the conversion, and you may want to send a custom Fault Exception to the client application, something not too generic.
  • The WCF default handler will fault the channel and this is far more problematic because if the client reuse the proxy (what is a quite common approach after managing the exception), it will fail. It’s quite easy in .Net to work around this issue just by testing if the proxy is faulted in the exception manager but all the languages may not offer these facilities and I remind you by essence SOA is very opened.

For those of you who wants more information this blog is very good : from a general point of view, the implementation of IErrorHandler is a popular approach to handle this issue so from your favorite search engine ( just search for IErrorhandler.

Contributed by Fabrice Aubert

Comments (1)

  1. There is another reason to handle the exceptions. Exception shielding is just as important as the other two points.

    All exceptions thrown within a service implementation should be shielded from the client. Known exceptions should be thrown as FaultException<T> as defined by the operation contract.

    The operation contract should also define something like a generic SystemFailure fault contract against each operation contract. This can be used for shielding all other exceptions to ensure that the client doesn’t see potentially sensitive information and to avoid the channel being faulted.

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