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GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual

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When an error is signaled, signal searches for an active handler for the error. A handler is a sequence of Lisp expressions designated to be executed if an error happens in part of the Lisp program. If the error has an applicable handler, the handler is executed, and control resumes following the handler. The handler executes in the environment of the condition-case that established it; all functions called within that condition-case have already been exited, and the handler cannot return to them.

If there is no applicable handler for the error, the current command is terminated and control returns to the editor command loop, because the command loop has an implicit handler for all kinds of errors. The command loop's handler uses the error symbol and associated data to print an error message.

An error that has no explicit handler may call the Lisp debugger. The debugger is enabled if the variable debug-on-error (see section 18.1.1 Entering the Debugger on an Error) is non-nil. Unlike error handlers, the debugger runs in the environment of the error, so that you can examine values of variables precisely as they were at the time of the error.

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