Programming Interfaces Guide

Supported File Systems

Both advisory and mandatory locking are supported on the file systems listed in the following table.

Table 6–4 Supported File Systems

File System 



The default disk-based file system 


A pseudo file system of named pipe files that give processes common access to data 


A pseudo file system used mostly by STREAMS for dynamic mounts of file descriptors on top of file 


A pseudo file system that provides access to special character devices and block devices 

Only advisory file locking is supported on NFS. File locking is not supported for the proc and fd file systems.

Opening a File for Locking

You can only request a lock for a file with a valid open descriptor. For read locks, the file must be open with at least read access. For write locks, the file must also be open with write access. In the following example, a file is opened for both read and write access.

 	filename = argv[1];
 	fd = open (filename, O_RDWR);
 	if (fd < 0) {

Setting a File Lock

To lock an entire file, set the offset to zero and set the size to zero.

You can set a lock on a file in several ways. The choice of method depends on how the lock interacts with the rest of the program, performance, and portability. This example uses the POSIX standard-compatible fcntl(2) interface. The interface tries to lock a file until one of the following happens:

Setting and Removing Record Locks

When locking a record, do not set the starting point and length of the lock segment to zero. The locking procedure is otherwise identical to file locking.

Contention for data is why you use record locking. Therefore, you should have a failure response for when you cannot obtain all the required locks:

This example shows a record being locked by using fcntl(2).

 	struct flock lck;
 	lck.l_type = F_WRLCK;	/* setting a write lock */
 	lck.l_whence = 0;	/* offset l_start from beginning of file */
 	lck.l_start = here;
 	lck.l_len = sizeof(struct record);

 	/* lock "this" with write lock */
 	lck.l_start = this;
 	if (fcntl(fd, F_SETLKW, &lck) < 0) {
 		/* "this" lock failed. */
 		return (-1);

The next example shows the lockf(3C) interface.

#include <unistd.h>

 	/* lock "this" */
 	(void) lseek(fd, this, SEEK_SET);
 	if (lockf(fd, F_LOCK, sizeof(struct record)) < 0) {
 		/* Lock on "this" failed. Clear lock on "here". */
 		(void) lseek(fd, here, 0);
 		(void) lockf(fd, F_ULOCK, sizeof(struct record));
 		return (-1);

You remove locks in the same way the locks were set. Only the lock type is different (F_ULOCK). An unlock cannot be blocked by another process and affects only locks placed by the calling process. The unlock affects only the segment of the file specified in the preceding locking call.

Getting Lock Information

You can determine which process is holding a lock. A lock is set, as in the previous examples, and F_GETLK is used in fcntl(2).

The next example finds and prints identifying data on all the locked segments of a file.

Example 6–2 Printing Locked Segments of a File

struct flock lck;

 	lck.l_whence = 0;
 	lck.l_start = 0L;
 	lck.l_len = 0L;
 	do {
 		lck.l_type = F_WRLCK;
 		(void) fcntl(fd, F_GETLK, &lck);
 		if (lck.l_type != F_UNLCK) {
 			(void) printf("%d %d %c %8ld %8ld\n", lck.l_sysid, lck.l_pid,
            (lck.l_type == F_WRLCK) ? 'W' : 'R', lck.l_start, lck.l_len);
 			/* If this lock goes to the end of the address space, no
 			 * need to look further, so break out. */
 			if (lck.l_len == 0) {
 			/* else, look for new lock after the one just found. */
 					lck.l_start += lck.l_len;
 	} while (lck.l_type != F_UNLCK);

fcntl(2) with the F_GETLK command can sleep while waiting for a server to respond. The command can fail, returning ENOLCK, if either the client or the server have a resource shortage.

Use lockf(3C) with the F_TEST command to test if a process is holding a lock. This interface does not return information about the lock's location or ownership.

Example 6–3 Testing a Process With lockf

(void) lseek(fd, 0, 0L);
 /* set the size of the test region to zero (0). to test until the
    end of the file address space. */
if (lockf(fd, (off_t)0, SEEK_SET) < 0) {
    switch (errno) {
        case EACCES:
        case EAGAIN:
            (void) printf("file is locked by another process\n");
        case EBADF:
            /* bad argument passed to lockf */
            (void) printf("lockf: unexpected error <%d>\n", errno);

Process Forking and Locks

When a process forks, the child receives a copy of the file descriptors that the parent opened. Locks are not inherited by the child because the locks are owned by a specific process. The parent and child share a common file pointer for each file. Both processes can try to set locks on the same location in the same file. This problem occurs with both lockf(3C) and fcntl(2). If a program holding a record lock forks, the child process should close the file. After closing the file, the child process should reopen the file to set a new, separate file pointer.

Deadlock Handling

The UNIX locking facilities provide deadlock detection and avoidance. Deadlocks can occur only when the system is ready to put a record-locking interface to sleep. A search is made to determine whether two processes are in a deadlock. If a potential deadlock is detected, the locking interface fails and sets errno to indicate deadlock. Processes setting locks that use F_SETLK do not cause a deadlock because these processes do not wait when the lock cannot be granted immediately.