The Universe of Discourse

Fri, 21 Mar 2008

Closed file descriptors: the answer
This is the answer to yesterday's article about a small program that had a mysterious error.

        my $command = shift;
        for my $file (@ARGV) {
          if ($file =~ /\.gz$/) {
            my $fh;
            unless (open $fh, "<", $file) {
              warn "Couldn't open $file: $!; skipping\n";
            my $fd = fileno $fh;
            $file = "/proc/self/fd/$fd";

        exec $command, @ARGV;
        die "Couldn't run command '$command': $!\n";
When the loop exits, $fh is out of scope, and the filehandle it contains is garbage-collected, closing the file.


Several people suggested that it was because open files are not preserved across an exec, or because the meaning of /proc/self would change after an exec, perhaps because the command was being run in a separate process; this is mistaken. There is only one process here. The exec call does not create a new process; it reuses the same one, and it does not affect open files, unless they have been flagged with FD_CLOEXEC.

Abhijit Menon-Sen ran a slightly different test than I did:

        % z cat foo.gz bar.gz
        cat: /proc/self/fd/3: No such file or directory
        cat: /proc/self/fd/3: No such file or directory
As he said, this makes it completely obvious what is wrong, since the two files are both represented by the same file descriptor.

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