Last week, we had a heated argument about handling nulls in our application's service layer. The question is in the .NET context, but it will be the same in Java and many other technologies.
The question was: should you always check for nulls and make your code work no matter what, or let an exception bubble up when a null is received unexpectedly?
On one side, checking for null where you are not expecting it (i.e. have no user interface to handle it) is, in my opinion, the same as writing a try block with empty catch. You are just hiding an error. The error might be that something has changed in the code and null is now an expected value, or there is some other error and the wrong ID is passed to the method.
On the other hand, checking for nulls may be a good habit in general. Moreover, if there is a check the application may go on working, with just a small part of the functionality not having any effect. Then the customer might report a small bug like "cannot delete comment" instead of much more severe bug like "cannot open page X".
What practice do you follow and what are your arguments for or against either approach?
I want to add some detail about our particular case. We were retrieving some objects from the database and did some processing on them (let's say, build a collection). The developer who wrote the code did not anticipate that the object could be null so he did not include any checks, and when the page was loaded there was an error and the whole page did not load.
Obviously, in this case there should have been a check. Then we got into an argument over whether every object that is processed should be checked, even if it is not expected to be missing, and whether the eventual processing should be aborted silently.
The hypothetical benefit would be that the page will continue working. Think of a search results on Stack Exchange in different groups (users, comments, questions). The method could check for null and abort the processing of users (which due to a bug is null) but return the "comments" and "questions" sections. The page would continue working except that the "users" section will be missing (which is a bug). Should we fail early and break the whole page or continue to work and wait for someone to notice that the "users" section is missing?