moatPylon moatPylon - 1 year ago 250
C++ Question

<system_error> categories and standard/system error codes

C++11 introduced the

header containing a generic system to handle error codes. An
is a tuple containing an
, the error code, and a reference to an
, which defines the error domain and handling of the error code. The standard library comes with four categories:
, and

There are conflicts on which category to use, both here on SO and on C++ reference sites, when creating
s with
and WinAPI error codes:

can't use the same category, otherwise some error codes would be ambiguous. Error code 33 is one example, as it is both

There are even some places advocating a user-made category for the WinAPI, but I can't find any references to that at the moment. This alternative would be specially painful.

Which category should be used with
, and which should be used with
so that

  • std::error_code::default_error_condition()

  • std::error_code::message()

are unambinguous and appropriate to the underlying error code?

Answer Source

In the C++ standard:


The current C++17 draft states that:

Certain functions in the C ++ standard library report errors via a std::error_code ( object. That object’s category() member shall return std::system_category() for errors originating from the operating system, or a reference to an implementation-defined error_category object for errors originating elsewhere. The implementation shall define the possible values of value() for each of these error > categories. [ Example: For operating systems that are based on POSIX, implementations are encouraged to define the std::system_category() values as identical to the POSIX errno values, with additional values as defined by the operating system’s documentation. Implementations for operating systems that are not based on POSIX are encouraged to define values identical to the operating system’s values. For errors that do not originate from the operating system, the implementation may provide enums for the associated values.

It's not so clear:

  • what is supposed to happen to errno values on Windows?

  • is an errno from a POSIX call "originating from the operating system" or is this supposed to be restricted to non POSIX calls?


  • std::errc is an enumeration with the same values as the C/POSIX EFOOBAR errors code;

    The value of each enum errc constant shall be the same as the value of the <cerrno> macro shown in the above synopsis. Whether or not the implementation exposes the <cerrno> macros is unspecified.

  • make_error_code(std::errc) generates an erro_code using generic_category

    error_code make_error_code(errc e) noexcept;

    Returns: error_code(static_cast<int>(e), generic_category()).

This means that POSIX error code can be used with generic_category. Non POSIX values might possibly not work correctly with generic_catgeory. In practice, they seem to be supported by the implementations I've been using.

In Boost

Boost system itself

The Boost documentation is quite terse about this feature:

The original proposal viewed error categories as a binary choice between errno (i.e. POSIX-style) and the native operating system's error codes.

Moreover you can find legacy declaration such as:

static const error_category & errno_ecat = generic_category();

In linux_error.hpp:

To construct an error_code after a API error: error_code( errno, system_category() )

In windows_error.hpp:

To construct an error_code after a API error: error_code( ::GetLastError(), system_category() )

In cygwin_error.hpp:

To construct an error_code after a API error: error_code( errno, system_category() )

For Windows, Boost uses system_category for non errno errors:

ec = error_code( ERROR_ACCESS_DENIED, system_category() );
ec = error_code( ERROR_ALREADY_EXISTS, system_category() );
ec = error_code( ERROR_BAD_UNIT, system_category() );
ec = error_code( ERROR_WRITE_PROTECT, system_category() );
ec = error_code( WSAEWOULDBLOCK, system_category() );


We find this kind of code in ASIO:

template <typename ReturnType>
inline ReturnType error_wrapper(ReturnType return_value,
    boost::system::error_code& ec)
#if defined(BOOST_ASIO_WINDOWS) || defined(__CYGWIN__)
  ec = boost::system::error_code(WSAGetLastError(),
  ec = boost::system::error_code(errno,
  return return_value;

We find errno as system_category in POSIX code:

int error = ::pthread_cond_init(&cond_, 0);
boost::system::error_code ec(error,


We find errno with generic_category in POSIX code:

if (::chmod(p.c_str(), mode_cast(prms)))
  if (ec == 0)
      "boost::filesystem::permissions", p,
      error_code(errno, system::generic_category())));
    ec->assign(errno, system::generic_category());


In GNU libstdc++


We find errno with generic_category:

if (char* rp = ::realpath(pa.c_str(), buf.get())) {
if (errno != ENAMETOOLONG) {
  ec.assign(errno, std::generic_category());
  return result;

and no usage of system_category.

Using libstdc++

In practice, it seems you can use generic_category for non-POSIX errno with libstdc++:

std::error_code a(EADV, std::generic_category());
std::error_code b(EADV, std::system_category());
std::cerr << a.message() << '\n';
std::cerr << b.message() << '\n';


Advertise error
Advertise error


We find errno with system_category:

int ec = pthread_join(__t_, 0);
if (ec)
  throw system_error(error_code(ec, system_category()), "thread::join failed");

but no usage of generic_category.


I don't find any consistent pattern here but apparently:

  • you are expected to use system_category when using Windows error on Windows;

  • you can safely use generic_category for POSIX values of errno;

  • you are not supposed to be able to use std::generic_category for non-POSIX vales of errno (it might not work);

  • If you do not want to check if your errno value is a POSIX one: on POSIX-based systems you are expected to be able to use system_error with errno (strictly speaking the support for this is not mandated, only encouraged).

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