CPS 250, 356, & 444/544 Lecture notes: System Libraries and I/O

Coverage: [UPE] Chapters 3 and 6

Standard I/O vs. file I/O

  • file streams and standard streams (really one in the same)
  • to what do you connect the stream? file or device?
  • what streams are automatically open for you?
    • stdin
      • C analog of cin in C++
      • connected to keyboard by default
    • stdout
      • C analog of cout in C++
      • connected to display by default
    • stderr (connected to display by default)
  • can redirect stdin, stdout, and stderr to files

Standard I/O redirection

(setup for free by the shell)
  • < (redirects stdin)
  • << (redirects stdin to HERE file)
  • > (redirects stdout, overwrites)
  • >> (redirects stdout, but appends)

Demo of cat

  • cat [<file(s)>] (concatenate): displays contents of one or more files to standard output
  • capable of reading from file input or standard input
  • only writes to standard output

Redirecting standard I/O

devices in UNIX are represented as files,
for instance, /dev/console.

UNIX commands receive their input from the standard input (stdin) and send their output to the standard output (stdout), by default these files are the console or terminal.
  • shells allow I/O to be redirected to other devices; thus UNIX commands are unaware of the device from which their input may originate or to what device their output may be sent.

  • the output redirection symbol, >, sends a command's output to the specified file instead of the console/terminal screen.

      command name [args] > filename

      ls -l > ls.out

      the file ls.out is created if it does not exist (or emptied and overwritten if it exists prior to command execution) and sent the directory listing.

  • programs which send their output to the console/terminal may also be redirected.

      ./a.out > out.txt

      this allows execution results of a program to be captured in a file.

  • the output redirection symbol >> appends the output to a file, rather than overwriting an existing file.

      ./a.out >> out.txt

      the results of several program runs can thus be saved in a single file out.txt.

  • the input redirection symbol, <, sends the command input from the specified file instead of the console/terminal keyboard.

      command name [args] < filename

      ./a.out < in.txt > out.txt

      this allows program execution with several data sets very easily.

  • the input redirection symbol << is known as the "here is" symbol, and provides a mechanism for reading data from the same file as a command is contained in (why might one want to do this?).

      ./a.out > out.txt << HERE
      $ cat << HERE
      hello folks
      stop reading when you

      ./a.out > out.txt << HERE
      first line of data
      second line of data
      . . .
      last line of data

      the string following <<, in this example, the term HERE, when appearing at the beginning of a line, terminates the data input. The HERE here logically acts like EOF (<ctrl-d>).

  • pipes | are the logical extension of I/O redirection.
    • pipes allow the stdout of one program to become the stdin of another program.
    • specifically, a pipe redirects the standard output of the command to the immediate left from the screen to the standard input of the command to the immediate right.

      ls -l | more

      this command allows the viewing of the long listing of a large directory one screen at a time.

      ls -l > ls.out
      more < ls.out
      rm ls.out

      this I/O redirection is an equivalent set of commands as the prior, but requires the ls.out temporary file.
    • pipes support interprocess communication and introduce concurrency
    • recall UNIX model of computation
      • pipes are the powerful communication mechanism
      • pipes are the glue
    • how can you verify that the processes in a pipeline are running concurrently?

  • tee: reads from standard input and writes to standard output and files (e.g., cat .profile | tee profile.bak)

More on redirecting standard error

  • shell time vs. UNIX time
    • former writes to terminal
    • latter writes to standard error; use fully qualified path: /usr/bin/time
  • examples:
    $ time cat /etc/termcap >/dev/null 2>timelog.txt
    $ /usr/bin/time cat /etc/termcap >/dev/null 2>timelog.txt
  • redirecting stderr to the same place as stdout
    $ /usr/bin/time 2>&1 | wc -l
    $ wc ~/.profile ~/.kshrc > output 2>output # which will happen first?
    $ wc ~/.profile ~/.kshrc > output 2>&1 # order not preserved
    $ cat ~/.profile doesnotexist &>output-and-error
  • investigate tee (e.g., $ cat ~/.profile doesnotexist | tee output-and-error)

File descriptors

  • 0 for stdin, 1 for stdout, 2 for stderr
  • the 0 is implicit in < when redirecting stdin
  • the 1 is implicit in > and >> when redirecting stdout
  • must use the file descriptor to redirect stderr
    • for instance, wc -q 2> errors
    • often to /dev/null (e.g., wc -q 2> /dev/null)

I/O in C

  • scanf and printf
    • what do they return?
    • we must develop the habit of checking return values
  • opening and closing files: fopen and fclose
  • file pointer: FILE*
  • fscanf is the C analog of the C++ extraction operator (>>)
  • fprintf is the C analog of the C++ insertion operator (<<)
  • conversion specifiers
    • %d for decimal
    • %f for floating-point
    • %c for single character
    • %s for string
    • %x for hex
  • formatted output ([CPL] §7.2, pp. 153-155), between % and conversion character, there may be, in order
    • a minus sign, - indicating left justification
    • a minimum field-width
    • a period which separates the field-width from the precision
    • a precision
  • EOF
    • a #defined constant in stdio.h
    • is <crtl-d> character on UNIX system
  • getchar
  • declared in stdio.h: the C analog of iostream in C++

Effect of a Successful Open on a File

    (ref. [C] 7-17)

    -Old contents
    File created
    File created
    Does Not

  • "r+", "w+", "a+"         Updating; allows reading and writing

  • "r+"                                Commonly used to read and change an existing file

Analogs from C++ to C

    C++ C
    iostream stdio.h
    cin stdin
    cout stdout
    >> fscanf
    << fprintf

    Also, unlike C++, in C you must declare all variables in any function prior to any other code; in other words, you cannot declare variables in lexically scoped blocks in C.

Review of standard I/O functions

    (ref. [C] 7-7)

    stdin and stdout file I/O
    character getchar
    line gets
    formatted scanf
    record -

Developing cat in C

    (ref. [CPL] Chapter 7, §§7.5-7.6, pp. 160-164)
    /* ref. [CPL] Chapter 7, 7.5, p. 162 with minor modification by Perugini */
    /* cat: version 1 */
    void filecopy (FILE* ifp, FILE* ofp) {
       char c;
       while ((c = getc (ifp)) != EOF)
          putc (c, ofp);
    int main (int argc, char** argv) {
       FILE* fp = NULL;
       if (argc == 1)
          filecopy (stdin, stdout);
          while (--argc > 0)
             if ((fp = fopen (*(++argv), "r")) == NULL) {
                 printf ("cat: can't open %s\n", *argv);
             } else {
                 filecopy (fp, stdout);
                 fclose (fp);
       return 0;
    /* ref. [CPL] Chapter 7, 7.6, p. 163 with minor modifications by Perugini */
    /* cat: version 2 */
    int main (int argc, char** argv) {
       void filecopy (FILE* ifs, FILE* ofs);
       int exit_status = 0;
       char* pgm = *argv;
       char* s = malloc (sizeof(*s)*16);
       FILE* fp = NULL;
       if (argc == 1)
          filecopy (stdin, stdout);
          while (--argc > 0)
             if ((fp = fopen (*(++argv), "r")) == NULL) {
                //fprintf (stderr, "%s: %s: No such file or directory\n", pgm, *argv);
                //fprintf (stderr, "%s: %s: %s.\n", pgm, *argv, strerror(errno));
                //perror("preprended message");
                sprintf (s, "%s: %s", pgm, *argv);
                //exit (1);
                /* or use following line to continue processing */
                exit_status = 1;
             } else {
                  filecopy (fp, stdout);
                  fclose (fp);
       if (ferror (stdout)) {
          fprintf (stderr, "%s: error writing stdout\n", pgm);
          //perror("error writing stdout.");
          exit_status = 2;
       exit (exit_status);
    void filecopy (FILE* ifp, FILE* ofp) {
       int c;
       while ((c = getc (ifp)) != EOF)
          putc (c, ofp);

Portability (safety)

    char c;
    while ((c = getchar()) != EOF) { ... }
  • use /* C-style comments */ vs. // C++-style comments
  • also, do not use TABs in your code

String copy code from first day of class

    #include <stdio.h>
    main() {
       char* q = "copy this";
       char* p = malloc (sizeof (*p)*10);
       char* r = p;
       printf ("%s\n", q);
       while (*p++ = *q++);
       *p = '\0';  /* necessary? no */
       printf ("%s\n", r);

String functions

  • prototyped, not defined, in <string.h>
  • int strlen (char*),
  • int strcmp (char*, char*), int strncmp (char*, char*, int)
  • char* strcpy (char*, char*), char* strncpy (char*, char*, n),
  • char* strcat (char*, char*), char* strncat(char*, char*)
  • char* strdup (const char*)
  • when copying or concatenating strings, make sure destination string has sufficient space (memory)

`s' family of printf/scanf functions

  • sprintf
  • snprintf
  • sscanf

Command-line arguments

  • argc (argument count; command name is included)
  • argv (argument vector, termined by null pointer; argv[0] is command name)
  • main (int argc, char* argv[]) or main (int argc, char** argv)
  • echoargs.c
    int main (int argc, char* argv[]) {
       int i;
       printf ("argc is %d\n", argc);
       for (i = 0; i < argc; i++)
          printf ("argv[%1d] is %s\n", i, argv[i]);
       exit (0);
  • echopargs.c
    int main (int argc, char** argv) {
       printf ("argc is %d\n", argc);
       for (; *argv; argv++)
          printf ("Next argument is %s\n", *argv);
       exit (0);

argv array for the call ./a.out -wlc myfile

(regenerated with minor modifications from [USP] Fig. 2.2, p. 32)

Using a pointer to traverse an array

Demo of wc

  • word, line, and byte count program
  • capable of standard or file input
  • always writes to standard output
  • example: $ wc ~/.login ~/.tcshrc



    [C] C Language for Experienced Programmers, Version 2.0.0, AT&T, 1988.
    [CPL] B.W. Kernighan and D.M. Ritchie. The C Programming Language. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Second edition, 1988.
    [UPE] B.W. Kernighan and R. Pike. The UNIX Programming Environment. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Second edition, 1984.
    [USP] K.A. Robbins and S. Robbins. UNIX Systems Programming: Concurrency, Communication, and Threads. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Second edition, 2003.

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