The finally Block
Trail: Essential Classes
Lesson: Exceptions
Section: Catching and Handling Exceptions

The finally Block

The finally block always executes when the try block exits. This ensures that the finally block is executed even if an unexpected exception occurs. But finally is useful for more than just exception handling — it allows the programmer to avoid having cleanup code accidentally bypassed by a return, continue, or break. Putting cleanup code in a finally block is always a good practice, even when no exceptions are anticipated.

Note: If the JVM exits while the try or catch code is being executed, then the finally block may not execute. Likewise, if the thread executing the try or catch code is interrupted or killed, the finally block may not execute even though the application as a whole continues.

The try block of the writeList method that you've been working with here opens a PrintWriter. The program should close that stream before exiting the writeList method. This poses a somewhat complicated problem because writeList's try block can exit in one of three ways.

  1. The new FileWriter statement fails and throws an IOException.
  2. The list.get(i) statement fails and throws an IndexOutOfBoundsException.
  3. Everything succeeds and the try block exits normally.

The runtime system always executes the statements within the finally block regardless of what happens within the try block. So it's the perfect place to perform cleanup.

The following finally block for the writeList method cleans up and then closes the PrintWriter.

finally {
    if (out != null) { 
        System.out.println("Closing PrintWriter");
    } else { 
        System.out.println("PrintWriter not open");

Important: The finally block is a key tool for preventing resource leaks. When closing a file or otherwise recovering resources, place the code in a finally block to ensure that resource is always recovered.

Consider using the try-with-resources statement in these situations, which automatically releases system resources when no longer needed. The The try-with-resources Statement section has more information.

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