Do not throw Exceptions in C#

Exception handling is a crucial aspect of software development, and the concern about its performance implications is valid. In this blog post, we’ll explore the idea of avoiding exceptions to control the flow of code in C# and opting for alternative approaches to achieve the same results more efficiently. We’ll delve into why exceptions can be costly, explain what happens when an exception occurs, and provide C# examples of how to use defaults for better control.

The Cost of Exceptions

Exceptions are a powerful tool in C#, but they come with a performance cost. When an exception is thrown, the runtime system has to unwind the call stack to find an appropriate catch block, which can be computationally expensive. Additionally, creating exception objects and handling them can introduce overhead.

What Happens When an Exception Occurs

When an exception is thrown in a program, it means that an abnormal condition has occurred, and the program’s normal flow of execution is disrupted. To handle this exception, the runtime environment needs to find an appropriate exception handler to process it. This process involves unwinding the call stack, which means going back through the function call hierarchy to find the closest matching exception handler.

Here’s why the runtime must unwind the call stack:

  1. Locating the Handler: Exception handlers are defined in a program to handle specific types of exceptions. These handlers could be in different parts of the code. To find the right handler for a particular exception, the runtime starts at the point where the exception was thrown and looks up the call stack to find the nearest catch block that can handle the exception type. Unwinding the stack is the process of moving up the stack to check each function call and see if there’s a matching handler. Once a suitable handler is found, the control is transferred to that handler.
  2. Preserving State: As the stack is unwound, the runtime environment needs to preserve the state of each function call. This typically involves saving variables, parameters, and other context information, so that when the exception is handled, the program can resume its execution from the point where the exception was thrown. This state preservation is essential to ensure that the program doesn’t lose critical data or context during the exception handling process.
  3. Releasing Resources: In addition to preserving state, unwinding the stack also allows for the orderly release of resources acquired during the execution of the functions on the call stack. Resources like memory, file handles, or network connections need to be properly released to prevent resource leaks. Unwinding the stack ensures that cleanup code, such as destructors in C++, is executed appropriately.
  4. Ensuring Consistency: Unwinding the stack helps maintain program consistency. If an exception is thrown, and the stack is not unwound, the program might be left in an inconsistent state, with resources not released and data not properly cleaned up. Unwinding the stack provides a mechanism to restore the program to a consistent state before the exception handler takes over.

Using Defaults for Flow Control

In C#, you can use several alternatives to control the flow of your code without incurring the cost of exceptions:

1. Return Values:

Instead of throwing exceptions to indicate errors, design your methods to return status codes or specific error values. For example, you can return -1 to signify an error in a method that processes data. This way, the calling code can check the return value and act accordingly.

public int ProcessData(string data)
    if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(data))
        return -1;
    // Process data here
    return 0;

2. Nullable Types:

C# supports nullable value types that allow you to indicate missing or erroneous data without exceptions. You can return null to signify such situations. This approach simplifies code and reduces the need for exception handling.

public int? FindElement(int[] array, int target)
    if (array.Contains(target))
        return Array.IndexOf(array, target);
    return null;

3. Conditional Statements:

Another way to control the flow is by using conditional statements. Instead of raising an exception for an error condition, you can use if statements to handle it gracefully.

public int Divide(int a, int b)
    if (b == 0)
        // Handle division by zero
        return 0;
    return a / b;

When to Use Exceptions

Exceptions still have their place in C# development. They are best suited for exceptional conditions that you can’t reasonably handle within your current context. For example, file not found, network errors, or other situations that genuinely require an immediate exit from a method or block.


Avoiding exceptions for flow control can lead to more efficient code in terms of performance. By using return values, nullable types, and conditional statements, you can maintain control over your code’s execution without the computational cost of exceptions. However, exceptions should not be completely discarded; they are essential for handling truly exceptional and unexpected situations.

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