POPEN(3) Linux Programmer's Manual POPEN(3)
popen, pclose - process I/O
FILE *popen(const char *command, const char *type);
int pclose(FILE *stream);
The popen() function opens a process by creating a pipe, forking, and invoking the shell.
Since a pipe is by definition unidirectional, the type argument may specify only reading
or writing, not both; the resulting stream is correspondingly read-only or write-only.
The command argument is a pointer to a null-terminated string containing a shell command
line. This command is passed to /bin/sh using the -c flag; interpretation, if any, is
performed by the shell. The mode argument is a pointer to a null-terminated string which
must be either `r' for reading or `w' for writing.
The return value from popen() is a normal standard I/O stream in all respects save that it
must be closed with pclose() rather than fclose(). Writing to such a stream writes to the
standard input of the command; the command's standard output is the same as that of the
process that called popen(), unless this is altered by the command itself. Conversely,
reading from a ``popened'' stream reads the command's standard output, and the command's
standard input is the same as that of the process that called popen.
Note that output popen streams are fully buffered by default.
The pclose function waits for the associated process to terminate and returns the exit
status of the command as returned by wait4.
The popen function returns NULL if the fork(2) or pipe(2) calls fail, or if it cannot
The pclose function returns -1 if wait4 returns an error, or some other error is detected.
The popen function does not set errno if memory allocation fails. If the underlying
fork() or pipe() fails, errno is set appropriately. If the mode argument is invalid, and
this condition is detected, errno is set to EINVAL.
If pclose() cannot obtain the child status, errno is set to ECHILD.
Since the standard input of a command opened for reading shares its seek offset with the
process that called popen(), if the original process has done a buffered read, the com-
mand's input position may not be as expected. Similarly, the output from a command opened
for writing may become intermingled with that of the original process. The latter can be
avoided by calling fflush(3) before popen.
Failure to execute the shell is indistinguishable from the shell's failure to execute com-
mand, or an immediate exit of the command. The only hint is an exit status of 127.
A popen() and a pclose() function appeared in Version 7 AT&T UNIX.
fork(2), sh(1), pipe(2), wait4(2), fflush(3), fclose(3), fopen(3), stdio(3), system(3)
BSD MANPAGE 1998-05-07 POPEN(3)