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Python Enhancement Proposals

PEP 678 – Enriching Exceptions with Notes

Zac Hatfield-Dodds <zac at>
Irit Katriel
Discourse thread
Standards Track
Discourse post

Table of Contents


Exception objects are typically initialized with a message that describes the error which has occurred. Because further information may be available when the exception is caught and re-raised, or included in an ExceptionGroup, this PEP proposes to add BaseException.add_note(note), a .__notes__ attribute holding a list of notes so added, and to update the builtin traceback formatting code to include notes in the formatted traceback following the exception string.

This is particularly useful in relation to PEP 654 ExceptionGroups, which make previous workarounds ineffective or confusing. Use cases have been identified in the standard library, Hypothesis and cattrs packages, and common code patterns with retries.


When an exception is created in order to be raised, it is usually initialized with information that describes the error that has occurred. There are cases where it is useful to add information after the exception was caught. For example,

  • testing libraries may wish to show the values involved in a failing assertion, or the steps to reproduce a failure (e.g. pytest and hypothesis; example below).
  • code which retries an operation on error may wish to associate an iteration, timestamp, or other explanation with each of several errors - especially if re-raising them in an ExceptionGroup.
  • programming environments for novices can provide more detailed descriptions of various errors, and tips for resolving them.

Existing approaches must pass this additional information around while keeping it in sync with the state of raised, and potentially caught or chained, exceptions. This is already error-prone, and made more difficult by PEP 654 ExceptionGroups, so the time is right for a built-in solution. We therefore propose to add:

  • a new method BaseException.add_note(note: str),
  • BaseException.__notes__, a list of note strings added using .add_note(), and
  • support in the builtin traceback formatting code such that notes are displayed in the formatted traceback following the exception string.

Example usage

>>> try:
...     raise TypeError('bad type')
... except Exception as e:
...     e.add_note('Add some information')
...     raise
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 2, in <module>
TypeError: bad type
Add some information

When collecting exceptions into an exception group, we may want to add context information for the individual errors. In the following example with Hypothesis’ proposed support for ExceptionGroup, each exception includes a note of the minimal failing example:

from hypothesis import given, strategies as st, target

def test(x):
    assert x < 0
    assert x > 0

+ Exception Group Traceback (most recent call last):
|   File "", line 4, in test
|     def test(x):
|   File "hypothesis/", line 1202, in wrapped_test
|     raise the_error_hypothesis_found
|     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
| ExceptionGroup: Hypothesis found 2 distinct failures.
+-+---------------- 1 ----------------
    | Traceback (most recent call last):
    |   File "", line 6, in test
    |     assert x > 0
    |     ^^^^^^^^^^^^
    | AssertionError: assert -1 > 0
    | Falsifying example: test(
    |     x=-1,
    | )
    +---------------- 2 ----------------
    | Traceback (most recent call last):
    |   File "", line 5, in test
    |     assert x < 0
    |     ^^^^^^^^^^^^
    | AssertionError: assert 0 < 0
    | Falsifying example: test(
    |     x=0,
    | )


Tracking multiple notes as a list, rather than by concatenating strings when notes are added, is intended to maintain the distinction between the individual notes. This might be required in specialized use cases, such as translation of the notes by packages like friendly-traceback.

However, __notes__ is not intended to carry structured data. If your note is for use by a program rather than display to a human, we recommend instead (or additionally) choosing a convention for an attribute, e.g. err._parse_errors = ... on the error or ExceptionGroup.

As a rule of thumb, we suggest that you should prefer exception chaining when the error is going to be re-raised or handled as an individual error, and prefer .add_note() when you want to avoid changing the exception type or are collecting multiple exception objects to handle together. [1]


BaseException gains a new method .add_note(note: str). If note is a string, .add_note(note) appends it to the __notes__ list, creating the attribute if it does not already exist. If note is not a string, .add_note() raises TypeError.

Libraries may clear existing notes by modifying or deleting the __notes__ list, if it has been created, including clearing all notes with del err.__notes__. This allows full control over the attached notes, without overly complicating the API or adding multiple names to BaseException.__dict__.

When an exception is displayed by the interpreter’s builtin traceback-rendering code, its notes (if there are any) appear immediately after the exception message, in the order in which they were added, with each note starting on a new line.

If __notes__ has been created, BaseExceptionGroup.subgroup and BaseExceptionGroup.split create a new list for each new instance, containing the same contents as the original exception group’s __notes__.

We do not specify the expected behaviour when users have assigned a non-list value to __notes__, or a list which contains non-string elements. Implementations might choose to emit warnings, discard or ignore bad values, convert them to strings, raise an exception, or do something else entirely.

Backwards Compatibility

System-defined or “dunder” names (following the pattern __*__) are part of the language specification, with unassigned names reserved for future use and subject to breakage without warning. We are also unaware of any code which would be broken by adding __notes__.

We were also unable to find any code which would be broken by the addition of BaseException.add_note(): while searching Google and GitHub finds several definitions of an .add_note() method, none of them are on a subclass of BaseException.

How to Teach This

The add_note() method and __notes__ attribute will be documented as part of the language standard, and explained as part of the “Errors and Exceptions” tutorial.

Reference Implementation

Following discussions related to PEP 654 [2], an early version of this proposal was implemented in and released in CPython 3.11.0a3, with a mutable string-or-none __note__ attribute.

CPython PR #31317 implements .add_note() and __notes__.

Rejected Ideas

Use print() (or logging, etc.)

Reporting explanatory or contextual information about an error by printing or logging has historically been an acceptable workaround. However, we dislike the way this separates the content from the exception object it refers to - which can lead to “orphan” reports if the error was caught and handled later, or merely significant difficulties working out which explanation corresponds to which error. The new ExceptionGroup type intensifies these existing challenges.

Keeping the __notes__ attached to the exception object, in the same way as the __traceback__ attribute, eliminates these problems.

raise Wrapper(explanation) from err

An alternative pattern is to use exception chaining: by raising a ‘wrapper’ exception containing the context or explanation from the current exception, we avoid the separation challenges from print(). However, this has two key problems.

First, it changes the type of the exception, which is often a breaking change for downstream code. We consider always raising a Wrapper exception unacceptably inelegant; but because custom exception types might have any number of required arguments we can’t always create an instance of the same type with our explanation. In cases where the exact exception type is known this can work, such as the standard library http.client code, but not for libraries which call user code.

Second, exception chaining reports several lines of additional detail, which are distracting for experienced users and can be very confusing for beginners. For example, six of the eleven lines reported for this simple example relate to exception chaining, and are unnecessary with BaseException.add_note():

class Explanation(Exception):
    def __str__(self):
        return "\n" + str(self)

    raise AssertionError("Failed!")
except Exception as e:
    raise Explanation("You can reproduce this error by ...") from e
$ python
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "", line 6, in <module>
    raise AssertionError(why)
AssertionError: Failed!
                                                    # These lines are
The above exception was the direct cause of ...     # confusing for new
                                                    # users, and they
Traceback (most recent call last):                  # only exist due
File "", line 8, in <module>              # to implementation
    raise Explanation(msg) from e                   # constraints :-(
Explanation:                                        # Hence this PEP!
You can reproduce this error by ...

In cases where these two problems do not apply, we encourage use of exception chaining rather than __notes__.

An assignable __note__ attribute

The first draft and implementation of this PEP defined a single attribute __note__, which defaulted to None but could have a string assigned. This is substantially simpler if, and only if, there is at most one note.

To promote interoperability and support translation of error messages by libraries such as friendly-traceback, without resorting to dubious parsing heuristics, we therefore settled on the .add_note()-and-__notes__ API.

Subclass Exception and add note support downstream

Traceback printing is built into the C code, and reimplemented in pure Python in To get err.__notes__ printed from a downstream implementation would also require writing custom traceback-printing code; while this could be shared between projects and reuse some pieces of [3] we prefer to implement this once, upstream.

Custom exception types could implement their __str__ method to include our proposed __notes__ semantics, but this would be rarely and inconsistently applicable.

Don’t attach notes to Exceptions, just store them in ExceptionGroups

The initial motivation for this PEP was to associate a note with each error in an ExceptionGroup. At the cost of a remarkably awkward API and the cross-referencing problem discussed above, this use-case could be supported by storing notes on the ExceptionGroup instance instead of on each exception it contains.

We believe that the cleaner interface, and other use-cases described above, are sufficient to justify the more general feature proposed by this PEP.

Add a helper function contextlib.add_exc_note()

It was suggested that we add a utility such as the one below to the standard library. We do not see this idea as core to the proposal of this PEP, and thus leave it for later or downstream implementation - perhaps based on this example code:

def add_exc_note(note: str):
    except Exception as err:

with add_exc_note(f"While attempting to frobnicate {item=}"):

Augment the raise statement

One discussion proposed raise Exception() with "note contents", but this does not address the original motivation of compatibility with ExceptionGroup.

Furthermore, we do not believe that the problem we are solving requires or justifies new language syntax.


We wish to thank the many people who have assisted us through conversation, code review, design advice, and implementation: Adam Turner, Alex Grönholm, André Roberge, Barry Warsaw, Brett Cannon, CAM Gerlach, Carol Willing, Damian, Erlend Aasland, Etienne Pot, Gregory Smith, Guido van Rossum, Irit Katriel, Jelle Zijlstra, Ken Jin, Kumar Aditya, Mark Shannon, Matti Picus, Petr Viktorin, Will McGugan, and pseudonymous commenters on Discord and Reddit.



Last modified: 2022-04-12 02:25:26 GMT