POPEN(3) BSD Programmer's Manual POPEN(3)
popen, pclose - process I/O
popen(const char *command, const char *type);
The popen() function ``opens'' a process by creating an IPC connection,
forking, and invoking the shell. Historically, popen was implemented
with a unidirectional pipe; hence many implementations of popen only al-
low the type argument to specify reading or writing, not both. Since
popen is now implemented using sockets, the type may request a bidirec-
tional data flow. The type argument is a pointer to a null-terminated
string which must be `r' for reading, `w' for writing, or `r+' for read-
ing and writing.
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 return value from popen() is a normal standard I/O stream in all re-
spects 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, read-
ing 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
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), pipe(2), or socket-
pair(2) calls fail, or if it cannot allocate memory.
The pclose() function returns -1 if stream is not associated with a
``popened'' command, if stream already ``pclosed'', or if wait4 returns
The popen() function does not reliably set errno.
fork(2), sh(1), pipe(2), socketpair(2), wait4(2), fflush(3),
fclose(3), fopen(3), stdio(3), system(3)
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 command's input position may not be as expect-
ed. Similarly, the output from a command opened for writing may become
intermingled with that of the original process. The latter can be avoid-
ed by calling fflush(3) before popen().
Failure to execute the shell is indistinguishable from the shell's fail-
ure to execute command, or an immediate exit of the command. The only
hint is an exit status of 127.
The popen() argument always calls sh, never calls csh.
A popen() and a pclose() function appeared in Version 7 AT&T UNIX.
4.4BSD May 3, 1995 2