Saturday, 5 May 2018

Handling exceptions thrown from ActivityThread in Android

Sometimes it is desired to prevent the default exception handler from terminating application. This may be done via setting custom default uncaught exception handler.

What happens if the caught exception is thrown from ActivityThread? See Android/Sdk/sources/android-26/android/app/ for the source. When exception is thrown from ActivityThread the Looper.loop() cycle invoked from ActivityThread.main() method terminates. As the exception is caught by custom default exception handler, it does not instruct application to finish. However, application becomes frozen. Main looper no longer processes new messages.

To make application run again, the main looper needs to be revived. This can be done inside the custom exception handler:
    private void setOnErrorFailedExceptionHandler() {
        android.os.Handler handler = new android.os.Handler(Looper.getMainLooper());
        Thread.UncaughtExceptionHandler uncaughtExceptionHandler =
        Thread.setDefaultUncaughtExceptionHandler((t, e) -> {

            if (e instanceof AndroidRuntimeException 
                        /*&& e is a specific exception that needs treatment*/) {
                android.util.Log.e("error", "DefaultUncaughtExceptionHandler", e);
                Looper.loop() // Revive main looper 
            } else if (uncaughtExceptionHandler != null) {
                // All other exceptions should be treated by default
                uncaughtExceptionHandler.uncaughtException(t, e); 

Some edge cases may be solved with this trick. For example, take the introduction of new exception in Android O " Context.startForegroundService() did not then call Service.startForeground()". The stacktrace for this exception shows that is is thrown from ActivityThread:
"java.lang.reflect.Method.invoke(Native Method)"

The is a private exception, that subclasses AndroidRuntimeException.

This exception is meant to terminate application, so that the developers should follow the new foreground service rules. If time span between the startForegroundService() and setForegorund() call in Service.onCreate() is longer than ANR period, then this exception is thrown. It was not designed to be caught. There are a few catches though, when terminating application with a crash is undesired, given that "startForegroundService() -> startForeground()" rule is already implemented.

1. During debug sessions this exception fires quite often, because of slower emulator - or just the breakpoints being hit.
2. When released, the actual user device may lag in the very unfortunate moment between those calls, and app will be hit with the crash.

Especially in the second case it would be much better to retry the service start, or opt it to be started later, instead of crashing app altogether. Catching such exception and reviving main loop afterwards is possible with this approach.


  1. Where do you call setOnErrorFailedExceptionHandler() ?

    1. Preferably as soon as possible, for example in Application onCreate().

  2. Hi , what is the purpose of this line
    android.os.Handler handler = new android.os.Handler(Looper.getMainLooper());

    1. Sorry, it is not used in provided snippet. But this handler can be used inside exception handler to provide some feedback for ui, for example show toast with the call to handler.postDelayed().

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