Before the introduction of exceptions in SWI-Prolog a runtime error was handled by printing an error message, after which the predicate failed. If the Prolog flag debug_on_error was in effect (default), the tracer was switched on. The combination of the error message and trace information is generally sufficient to locate the error.
With exception handling, things are different. A programmer may wish to trap an exception using catch/3 to avoid it reaching the user. If the exception is not handled by user code, the interactive top level will trap it to prevent termination.
If we do not take special precautions, the context information associated with an unexpected exception (i.e., a programming error) is lost. Therefore, if an exception is raised which is not caught using catch/3 and the top level is running, the error will be printed, and the system will enter trace mode.
If the system is in a non-interactive call-back from foreign code and there is no catch/3 active in the current context, it cannot determine whether or not the exception will be caught by the external routine calling Prolog. It will then base its behaviour on the Prolog flag debug_on_error:
While looking for the context in which an exception takes place, it
is advised to switch on debug mode using the predicate debug/0.
can be used to add more debugging facilities to exceptions. An example
is the library
library(http/http_error), generating a full
stack trace on errors in the HTTP server library.