View Source Custom Error Pages

New Phoenix projects have two error views called ErrorHTML and ErrorJSON, which live in lib/hello_web/controllers/. The purpose of these views is to handle errors in a general way for each format, from one centralized location.

The Error Views

For new applications, the ErrorHTML and ErrorJSON views looks like this:

defmodule HelloWeb.ErrorHTML do
  use HelloWeb, :html

  # If you want to customize your error pages,
  # uncomment the embed_templates/1 call below
  # and add pages to the error directory:
  #   * lib/<%= @lib_web_name %>/controllers/error_html/404.html.heex
  #   * lib/<%= @lib_web_name %>/controllers/error_html/500.html.heex
  # embed_templates "error_html/*"

  # The default is to render a plain text page based on
  # the template name. For example, "404.html" becomes
  # "Not Found".
  def render(template, _assigns) do

defmodule HelloWeb.ErrorJSON do
  # If you want to customize a particular status code,
  # you may add your own clauses, such as:
  # def render("500.json", _assigns) do
  #   %{errors: %{detail: "Internal Server Error"}}
  # end

  # By default, Phoenix returns the status message from
  # the template name. For example, "404.json" becomes
  # "Not Found".
  def render(template, _assigns) do
    %{errors: %{detail: Phoenix.Controller.status_message_from_template(template)}}

Before we dive into this, let's see what the rendered 404 Not Found message looks like in a browser. In the development environment, Phoenix will debug errors by default, showing us a very informative debugging page. What we want here, however, is to see what page the application would serve in production. In order to do that, we need to set debug_errors: false in config/dev.exs.

import Config

config :hello, HelloWeb.Endpoint,
  http: [port: 4000],
  debug_errors: false,
  code_reloader: true,
  . . .

After modifying our config file, we need to restart our server in order for this change to take effect. After restarting the server, let's go to http://localhost:4000/such/a/wrong/path for a running local application and see what we get.

Ok, that's not very exciting. We get the bare string "Not Found", displayed without any markup or styling.

The first question is, where does that error string come from? The answer is right in ErrorHTML.

def render(template, _assigns) do

Great, so we have this render/2 function that takes a template and an assigns map, which we ignore. When you call render(conn, :some_template) from the controller, Phoenix first looks for a some_template/1 function on the view module. If no function exists, it falls back to calling render/2 with the template and format name, such as "some_template.html".

In other words, to provide custom error pages, we could simply define a proper render/2 function clause in HelloWeb.ErrorHTML.

  def render("404.html", _assigns) do
    "Page Not Found"

But we can do even better.

Phoenix generates an ErrorHTML for us, but it doesn't give us a lib/hello_web/controllers/error_html directory. Let's create one now. Inside our new directory, let's add a template named 404.html.heex and give it some markup – a mixture of our application layout and a new <div> with our message to the user.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="utf-8"/>
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1"/>
    <title>Welcome to Phoenix!</title>
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="/assets/app.css"/>
    <script defer type="text/javascript" src="/assets/app.js"></script>
      <section class="container">
            <li><a href="">Get Started</a></li>
        <a href="" class="phx-logo">
          <img src="/images/logo.svg" alt="Phoenix Framework Logo"/>
    <main class="container">
      <section class="phx-hero">
        <p>Sorry, the page you are looking for does not exist.</p>

After you define the template file, remember to remove the equivalent render/2 clause for that template, as otherwise the function overrides the template. Let's do so for the 404.html clause we have previously introduced in lib/hello_web/controllers/error_html.ex. We also need to tell Phoenix to embed our templates into the module:

+ embed_templates "error_html/*"

- def render("404.html", _assigns) do
-  "Page Not Found"
- end

Now, when we go back to http://localhost:4000/such/a/wrong/path, we should see a much nicer error page. It is worth noting that we did not render our 404.html.heex template through our application layout, even though we want our error page to have the look and feel of the rest of our site. This is to avoid circular errors. For example, what happens if our application failed due to an error in the layout? Attempting to render the layout again will just trigger another error. So ideally we want to minimize the amount of dependencies and logic in our error templates, sharing only what is necessary.

Custom exceptions

Elixir provides a macro called defexception/1 for defining custom exceptions. Exceptions are represented as structs, and structs need to be defined inside of modules.

In order to create a custom exception, we need to define a new module. Conventionally, this will have "Error" in the name. Inside that module, we need to define a new exception with defexception/1, the file lib/hello_web.ex seems like a good place for it.

defmodule HelloWeb.SomethingNotFoundError do
  defexception [:message]

You can raise your new exception like this:

raise HelloWeb.SomethingNotFoundError, "oops"

By default, Plug and Phoenix will treat all exceptions as 500 errors. However, Plug provides a protocol called Plug.Exception where we are able to customize the status and add actions that exception structs can return on the debug error page.

If we wanted to supply a status of 404 for an HelloWeb.SomethingNotFoundError error, we could do it by defining an implementation for the Plug.Exception protocol like this, in lib/hello_web.ex:

defimpl Plug.Exception, for: HelloWeb.SomethingNotFoundError do
  def status(_exception), do: 404
  def actions(_exception), do: []

Alternatively, you could define a plug_status field directly in the exception struct:

defmodule HelloWeb.SomethingNotFoundError do
  defexception [:message, plug_status: 404]

However, implementing the Plug.Exception protocol by hand can be convenient in certain occasions, such as when providing actionable errors.

Actionable errors

Exception actions are functions that can be triggered from the error page, and they're basically a list of maps defining a label and a handler to be executed. As an example, Phoenix will display an error if you have pending migrations and will provide a button on the error page to perform the pending migrations.

When debug_errors is true, they are rendered in the error page as a collection of buttons and follow the format of:

    label: String.t(),
    handler: {module(), function :: atom(), args :: []}

If we wanted to return some actions for an HelloWeb.SomethingNotFoundError we would implement Plug.Exception like this:

defimpl Plug.Exception, for: HelloWeb.SomethingNotFoundError do
  def status(_exception), do: 404

  def actions(_exception) do
        label: "Run seeds",
        handler: {Code, :eval_file, ["priv/repo/seeds.exs"]}