STDIN(3) Linux Programmer's Manual STDIN(3)
stdin, stdout, stderr - standard I/O streams
extern FILE *stdin;
extern FILE *stdout;
extern FILE *stderr;
Under normal circumstances every UNIX program has three streams opened for it when it
starts up, one for input, one for output, and one for printing diagnostic or error mes-
sages. These are typically attached to the user's terminal (see tty(4) but might instead
refer to files or other devices, depending on what the parent process chose to set up.
(See also the "Redirection" section of sh(1).)
The input stream is referred to as "standard input"; the output stream is referred to as
"standard output"; and the error stream is referred to as "standard error". These terms
are abbreviated to form the symbols used to refer to these files, namely stdin, stdout,
Each of these symbols is a stdio(3) macro of type pointer to FILE, and can be used with
functions like fprintf(3) or fread(3).
Since FILEs are a buffering wrapper around UNIX file descriptors, the same underlying
files may also be accessed using the raw UNIX file interface, that is, the functions like
read(2) and lseek(2).
On program startup, the integer file descriptors associated with the streams stdin, std-
out, and stderr are 0, 1, and 2, respectively. The preprocessor symbols STDIN_FILENO,
STDOUT_FILENO, and STDERR_FILENO are defined with these values in <unistd.h>. (Applying
freopen(3) to one of these streams can change the file descriptor number associated with
Note that mixing use of FILEs and raw file descriptors can produce unexpected results and
should generally be avoided. (For the masochistic among you: POSIX.1, section 8.2.3,
describes in detail how this interaction is supposed to work.) A general rule is that
file descriptors are handled in the kernel, while stdio is just a library. This means for
example, that after an exec(3), the child inherits all open file descriptors, but all old
streams have become inaccessible.
Since the symbols stdin, stdout, and stderr are specified to be macros, assigning to them
is nonportable. The standard streams can be made to refer to different files with help of
the library function freopen(3), specially introduced to make it possible to reassign
stdin, stdout, and stderr. The standard streams are closed by a call to exit(3) and by
normal program termination.
The stdin, stdout, and stderr macros conform to C89 and this standard also stipulates that
these three streams shall be open at program startup.
The stream stderr is unbuffered. The stream stdout is line-buffered when it points to a
terminal. Partial lines will not appear until fflush(3) or exit(3) is called, or a new-
line is printed. This can produce unexpected results, especially with debugging output.
The buffering mode of the standard streams (or any other stream) can be changed using the
setbuf(3) or setvbuf(3) call. Note that in case stdin is associated with a terminal,
there may also be input buffering in the terminal driver, entirely unrelated to stdio
buffering. (Indeed, normally terminal input is line buffered in the kernel.) This kernel
input handling can be modified using calls like tcsetattr(3); see also stty(1), and
csh(1), sh(1), open(2), fopen(3), stdio(3)
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Linux 2008-07-14 STDIN(3)