Unhandled Exceptions

The Java language divides its exceptions into two groups: Handled Exceptions and Unhandled Exceptions.

Using the throws keyword indicates that the function checkAge may or may not throw a given Exception. This enables the compiler to check whether callers of this method handles the exception or propagates it.

You may throws checked or even unchecked exceptions, but even if it is in the throws statement, unchecked exceptions are STILL unchecked!

public class MyClass {
  static void checkAge(int age) throws ArithmeticException {
    if (age < 18) {
      throw new ArithmeticException("Access denied - You must be at least 18 years old.");

  public static void main(String[] args) {
    // Note that calling checkAge doesn't raise any compiler errors even though
    // there is an `ArithmeticException` in a throws statement on `checkAge`.
    // This is because `ArithmeticException` is still a subclass of `RuntimeException`,
    // and is therefore unchecked.  It does, however, give some readability to
    // users of the method.

If you use a method that throws a checked exception, you must either:

  1. Handle the exception, or
  2. Propagate the exception
import java.io.IOException;

public class MyClass {
    public static void throwsIOExceptionWhichIsChecked() throws IOException {
        throw new IOException("whatever");

    public static void handlesTheException() {
        try {
        } catch (IOException exception) {
            System.out.println("Caught an IOException!");

    public static void propagatesTheException() throws IOException {

So what is an Unhandled Exception?

In contrast, an Unhandled Exception is not required to appear in the function signature of a method. They all extend from RuntimeException, meaning they otherwise compile and look to the compiler that the program is correct, but given certain inputs it may fail.

When using third party packages, you have no guarantees on whether it may throw an unhandled exception or not.

Most common Unhandled Exceptions:

  • NullPointerException
  • ArrayIndexOutofBound
  • IllegalArgumentException
  • IllegalStateException
  • NumberFormatException
  • ArithmeticException


  1. Putting RuntimeException and its ilk in a throws statement doesn't do anything other than provide documentation to method users.
  2. You have no guarantees about whether a third party package might throw a RuntimeException or not, you'd have to read their code to know.
  3. Make sure you know whether errors you are using extend from RuntimeException or not, they are treated very differently by the compiler.
  4. Checked exceptions must be handled in one of the two ways explained above.