pipe — overview of pipes and FIFOs
Pipes and FIFOs (also known as named pipes) provide a unidirectional interprocess communication channel. A pipe has a read end and a write end. Data written to the write end of a pipe can be read from the read end of the pipe.
A pipe is created using pipe(2), which creates a new pipe and returns two file descriptors, one referring to the read end of the pipe, the other referring to the write end. Pipes can be used to create a communication channel between related processes; see pipe(2) for an example.
A FIFO (short for First In First Out) has a name within
the filesystem (created using mkfifo(3)), and is opened
using open(2). Any process may
open a FIFO, assuming the file permissions allow it. The read
end is opened using the
O_RDONLY flag; the write end is opened
O_WRONLY flag. See
fifo(7) for further
although FIFOs have a pathname in the filesystem, I/O on
FIFOs does not involve operations on the underlying device
(if there is one).
The only difference between pipes and FIFOs is the manner in which they are created and opened. Once these tasks have been accomplished, I/O on pipes and FIFOs has exactly the same semantics.
If a process attempts to read from an empty pipe, then
read(2) will block until
data is available. If a process attempts to write to a full
pipe (see below), then write(2) blocks until
sufficient data has been read from the pipe to allow the
write to complete. Nonblocking I/O is possible by using the
F_SETFL operation to enable the
O_NONBLOCK open file status
The communication channel provided by a pipe is a byte stream: there is no concept of message boundaries.
If all file descriptors referring to the write end of a
pipe have been closed, then an attempt to read(2) from the pipe
will see end-of-file (read(2) will return 0).
If all file descriptors referring to the read end of a pipe
have been closed, then a write(2) will cause a
SIGPIPE signal to be
generated for the calling process. If the calling process
is ignoring this signal, then write(2) fails with the
error EPIPE. An application
that uses pipe(2) and fork(2) should use
suitable close(2) calls to close
unnecessary duplicate file descriptors; this ensures that
SIGPIPE/EPIPE are delivered when
It is not possible to apply lseek(2) to a pipe.
A pipe has a limited capacity. If the pipe is full, then
a write(2) will block or
fail, depending on whether the
O_NONBLOCK flag is set (see below).
Different implementations have different limits for the
pipe capacity. Applications should not rely on a particular
capacity: an application should be designed so that a
reading process consumes data as soon as it is available,
so that a writing process does not remain blocked.
In Linux versions before 2.6.11, the capacity of a pipe
was the same as the system page size (e.g., 4096 bytes on
i386). Since Linux 2.6.11, the pipe capacity is 65536
bytes. Since Linux 2.6.35, the default pipe capacity is
65536 bytes, but the capacity can be queried and set using
F_SETPIPE_SZ operations. See fcntl(2) for more
POSIX.1 says that write(2)s of less than
PIPE_BUF bytes must be
atomic: the output data is written to the pipe as a
contiguous sequence. Writes of more than
PIPE_BUF bytes may be nonatomic: the
kernel may interleave the data with data written by other
processes. POSIX.1 requires
PIPE_BUF to be at least 512 bytes. (On
PIPE_BUF is 4096
bytes.) The precise semantics depend on whether the file
descriptor is nonblocking (
O_NONBLOCK), whether there are multiple
writers to the pipe, and on
n, the number of bytes to
bytes are written atomically; write(2) may block
if there is not room for
n bytes to be written
If the pipe is full, then write(2) fails,
errno set to
from 1 to
bytes may be written (i.e., a "partial write" may
occur; the caller should check the return value from
write(2) to see how
many bytes were actually written), and these bytes
may be interleaved with writes by other
The only open file status flags that can be meaningfully
applied to a pipe or FIFO are
for the read end of a pipe causes a signal (
SIGIO by default) to be generated when
new input becomes available on the pipe. The target for
delivery of signals must be set using the fcntl(2)
F_SETOWN command. On Linux,
O_ASYNC is supported for pipes and FIFOs
only since kernel 2.6.
This page is part of release 4.07 of the Linux
man-pages project. A
description of the project, information about reporting bugs,
and the latest version of this page, can be found at
Copyright (C) 2005 Michael Kerrisk <mtk.manpagesgmail.com>
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