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perlopentut (1)


perlopentut - tutorial on opening things in Perl


Please see following description for synopsis


Perl Programmers Reference Guide                   PERLOPENTUT(1)

     perlopentut - tutorial on opening things in Perl

     Perl has two simple, built-in ways to open files: the shell
     way for convenience, and the C way for precision.  The shell
     way also has 2- and 3-argument forms, which have different
     semantics for handling the filename.  The choice is yours.

Open a la shell
     Perl's "open" function was designed to mimic the way
     command-line redirection in the shell works.  Here are some
     basic examples from the shell:

         $ myprogram file1 file2 file3
         $ myprogram    <  inputfile
         $ myprogram    >  outputfile
         $ myprogram    >> outputfile
         $ myprogram    |  otherprogram
         $ otherprogram |  myprogram

     And here are some more advanced examples:

         $ otherprogram      | myprogram f1 - f2
         $ otherprogram 2>&1 | myprogram -
         $ myprogram     <&3
         $ myprogram     >&4

     Programmers accustomed to constructs like those above can
     take comfort in learning that Perl directly supports these
     familiar constructs using virtually the same syntax as the

  Simple Opens
     The "open" function takes two arguments: the first is a
     filehandle, and the second is a single string comprising
     both what to open and how to open it.  "open" returns true
     when it works, and when it fails, returns a false value and
     sets the special variable $! to reflect the system error.
     If the filehandle was previously opened, it will be
     implicitly closed first.

     For example:

         open(INFO,      "datafile") || die("can't open datafile: $!");
         open(INFO,   "<  datafile") || die("can't open datafile: $!");
         open(RESULTS,">  runstats") || die("can't open runstats: $!");
         open(LOG,    ">> logfile ") || die("can't open logfile:  $!");

     If you prefer the low-punctuation version, you could write
     that this way:

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         open INFO,   "<  datafile"  or die "can't open datafile: $!";
         open RESULTS,">  runstats"  or die "can't open runstats: $!";
         open LOG,    ">> logfile "  or die "can't open logfile:  $!";

     A few things to notice.  First, the leading less-than is
     optional.  If omitted, Perl assumes that you want to open
     the file for reading.

     Note also that the first example uses the "||" logical
     operator, and the second uses "or", which has lower
     precedence.  Using "||" in the latter examples would
     effectively mean

         open INFO, ( "<  datafile"  || die "can't open datafile: $!" );

     which is definitely not what you want.

     The other important thing to notice is that, just as in the
     shell, any whitespace before or after the filename is
     ignored.  This is good, because you wouldn't want these to
     do different things:

         open INFO,   "<datafile"
         open INFO,   "< datafile"
         open INFO,   "<  datafile"

     Ignoring surrounding whitespace also helps for when you read
     a filename in from a different file, and forget to trim it
     before opening:

         $filename = <INFO>;         # oops, \n still there
         open(EXTRA, "< $filename") || die "can't open $filename: $!";

     This is not a bug, but a feature.  Because "open" mimics the
     shell in its style of using redirection arrows to specify
     how to open the file, it also does so with respect to extra
     whitespace around the filename itself as well.  For
     accessing files with naughty names, see "Dispelling the

     There is also a 3-argument version of "open", which lets you
     put the special redirection characters into their own

         open( INFO, ">", $datafile ) || die "Can't create $datafile: $!";

     In this case, the filename to open is the actual string in
     $datafile, so you don't have to worry about $datafile
     containing characters that might influence the open mode, or
     whitespace at the beginning of the filename that would be
     absorbed in the 2-argument version.  Also, any reduction of
     unnecessary string interpolation is a good thing.

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  Indirect Filehandles
     "open"'s first argument can be a reference to a filehandle.
     As of perl 5.6.0, if the argument is uninitialized, Perl
     will automatically create a filehandle and put a reference
     to it in the first argument, like so:

         open( my $in, $infile )   or die "Couldn't read $infile: $!";
         while ( <$in> ) {
             # do something with $_
         close $in;

     Indirect filehandles make namespace management easier.
     Since filehandles are global to the current package, two
     subroutines trying to open "INFILE" will clash.  With two
     functions opening indirect filehandles like "my $infile",
     there's no clash and no need to worry about future

     Another convenient behavior is that an indirect filehandle
     automatically closes when it goes out of scope or when you
     undefine it:

         sub firstline {
             open( my $in, shift ) && return scalar <$in>;
             # no close() required

  Pipe Opens
     In C, when you want to open a file using the standard I/O
     library, you use the "fopen" function, but when opening a
     pipe, you use the "popen" function.  But in the shell, you
     just use a different redirection character.  That's also the
     case for Perl.  The "open" call remains the same--just its
     argument differs.

     If the leading character is a pipe symbol, "open" starts up
     a new command and opens a write-only filehandle leading into
     that command.  This lets you write into that handle and have
     what you write show up on that command's standard input.
     For example:

         open(PRINTER, "| lpr -Plp1")    || die "can't run lpr: $!";
         print PRINTER "stuff\n";
         close(PRINTER)                  || die "can't close lpr: $!";

     If the trailing character is a pipe, you start up a new
     command and open a read-only filehandle leading out of that
     command.  This lets whatever that command writes to its
     standard output show up on your handle for reading.  For

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         open(NET, "netstat -i -n |")    || die "can't fork netstat: $!";
         while (<NET>) { }               # do something with input
         close(NET)                      || die "can't close netstat: $!";

     What happens if you try to open a pipe to or from a non-
     existent command?  If possible, Perl will detect the failure
     and set $! as usual.  But if the command contains special
     shell characters, such as ">" or "*", called
     'metacharacters', Perl does not execute the command
     directly.  Instead, Perl runs the shell, which then tries to
     run the command.  This means that it's the shell that gets
     the error indication.  In such a case, the "open" call will
     only indicate failure if Perl can't even run the shell.  See
     "How can I capture STDERR from an external command?" in
     perlfaq8 to see how to cope with this.  There's also an
     explanation in perlipc.

     If you would like to open a bidirectional pipe, the
     IPC::Open2 library will handle this for you.  Check out
     "Bidirectional Communication with Another Process" in

     perl-5.6.x introduced a version of piped open that executes
     a process based on its command line arguments without
     relying on the shell. (Similar to the "system(@LIST)"
     notation.) This is safer and faster than executing a single
     argument pipe-command, but does not allow special shell
     constructs. (It is also not supported on Microsoft Windows,
     Mac OS Classic or RISC OS.)

     Here's an example of "open '-|'", which prints a random Unix
     fortune cookie as uppercase:

         my $collection = shift(@ARGV);
         open my $fortune, '-|', 'fortune', $collection
             or die "Could not find fortune - $!";
         while (<$fortune>)
             print uc($_);

     And this "open '|-'" pipes into lpr:

         open my $printer, '|-', 'lpr', '-Plp1'
             or die "can't run lpr: $!";
         print {$printer} "stuff\n";
             or die "can't close lpr: $!";

  The Minus File
     Again following the lead of the standard shell utilities,

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     Perl's "open" function treats a file whose name is a single
     minus, "-", in a special way.  If you open minus for
     reading, it really means to access the standard input.  If
     you open minus for writing, it really means to access the
     standard output.

     If minus can be used as the default input or default output,
     what happens if you open a pipe into or out of minus?
     What's the default command it would run?  The same script as
     you're currently running!  This is actually a stealth "fork"
     hidden inside an "open" call.  See "Safe Pipe Opens" in
     perlipc for details.

  Mixing Reads and Writes
     It is possible to specify both read and write access.  All
     you do is add a "+" symbol in front of the redirection.  But
     as in the shell, using a less-than on a file never creates a
     new file; it only opens an existing one.  On the other hand,
     using a greater-than always clobbers (truncates to zero
     length) an existing file, or creates a brand-new one if
     there isn't an old one.  Adding a "+" for read-write doesn't
     affect whether it only works on existing files or always
     clobbers existing ones.

         open(WTMP, "+< /usr/adm/wtmp")
             || die "can't open /usr/adm/wtmp: $!";

         open(SCREEN, "+> lkscreen")
             || die "can't open lkscreen: $!";

         open(LOGFILE, "+>> /var/log/applog")
             || die "can't open /var/log/applog: $!";

     The first one won't create a new file, and the second one
     will always clobber an old one.  The third one will create a
     new file if necessary and not clobber an old one, and it
     will allow you to read at any point in the file, but all
     writes will always go to the end.  In short, the first case
     is substantially more common than the second and third
     cases, which are almost always wrong.  (If you know C, the
     plus in Perl's "open" is historically derived from the one
     in C's fopen(3S), which it ultimately calls.)

     In fact, when it comes to updating a file, unless you're
     working on a binary file as in the WTMP case above, you
     probably don't want to use this approach for updating.
     Instead, Perl's -i flag comes to the rescue.  The following
     command takes all the C, C++, or yacc source or header files
     and changes all their foo's to bar's, leaving the old
     version in the original filename with a ".orig" tacked on
     the end:

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         $ perl -i.orig -pe 's/\bfoo\b/bar/g' *.[Cchy]

     This is a short cut for some renaming games that are really
     the best way to update textfiles.  See the second question
     in perlfaq5 for more details.

     One of the most common uses for "open" is one you never even
     notice.  When you process the ARGV filehandle using
     "<ARGV>", Perl actually does an implicit open on each file
     in @ARGV.  Thus a program called like this:

         $ myprogram file1 file2 file3

     can have all its files opened and processed one at a time
     using a construct no more complex than:

         while (<>) {
             # do something with $_

     If @ARGV is empty when the loop first begins, Perl pretends
     you've opened up minus, that is, the standard input.  In
     fact, $ARGV, the currently open file during "<ARGV>"
     processing, is even set to "-" in these circumstances.

     You are welcome to pre-process your @ARGV before starting
     the loop to make sure it's to your liking.  One reason to do
     this might be to remove command options beginning with a
     minus.  While you can always roll the simple ones by hand,
     the Getopts modules are good for this:

         use Getopt::Std;

         # -v, -D, -o ARG, sets $opt_v, $opt_D, $opt_o

         # -v, -D, -o ARG, sets $args{v}, $args{D}, $args{o}
         getopts("vDo:", \%args);

     Or the standard Getopt::Long module to permit named

         use Getopt::Long;
         GetOptions( "verbose"  => \$verbose,        # --verbose
                     "Debug"    => \$debug,          # --Debug
                     "output=s" => \$output );
                 # --output=somestring or --output somestring

     Another reason for preprocessing arguments is to make an
     empty argument list default to all files:

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         @ARGV = glob("*") unless @ARGV;

     You could even filter out all but plain, text files.  This
     is a bit silent, of course, and you might prefer to mention
     them on the way.

         @ARGV = grep { -f && -T } @ARGV;

     If you're using the -n or -p command-line options, you
     should put changes to @ARGV in a "BEGIN{}" block.

     Remember that a normal "open" has special properties, in
     that it might call fopen(3S) or it might called popen(3S),
     depending on what its argument looks like; that's why it's
     sometimes called "magic open".  Here's an example:

         $pwdinfo = `domainname` =~ /^(\(none\))?$/
                         ? '< /etc/passwd'
                         : 'ypcat passwd |';

         open(PWD, $pwdinfo)
                     or die "can't open $pwdinfo: $!";

     This sort of thing also comes into play in filter
     processing.  Because "<ARGV>" processing employs the normal,
     shell-style Perl "open", it respects all the special things
     we've already seen:

         $ myprogram f1 "cmd1|" - f2 "cmd2|" f3 < tmpfile

     That program will read from the file f1, the process cmd1,
     standard input (tmpfile in this case), the f2 file, the cmd2
     command, and finally the f3 file.

     Yes, this also means that if you have files named "-" (and
     so on) in your directory, they won't be processed as literal
     files by "open".  You'll need to pass them as "./-", much as
     you would for the rm program, or you could use "sysopen" as
     described below.

     One of the more interesting applications is to change files
     of a certain name into pipes.  For example, to autoprocess
     gzipped or compressed files by decompressing them with gzip:

         @ARGV = map { /\.(gz|Z)$/ ? "gzip -dc $_ |" : $_  } @ARGV;

     Or, if you have the GET program installed from LWP, you can
     fetch URLs before processing them:

         @ARGV = map { m#^\w+://# ? "GET $_ |" : $_ } @ARGV;

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     It's not for nothing that this is called magic "<ARGV>".
     Pretty nifty, eh?

Open a la C
     If you want the convenience of the shell, then Perl's "open"
     is definitely the way to go.  On the other hand, if you want
     finer precision than C's simplistic fopen(3S) provides you
     should look to Perl's "sysopen", which is a direct hook into
     the open(2) system call.  That does mean it's a bit more
     involved, but that's the price of precision.

     "sysopen" takes 3 (or 4) arguments.

         sysopen HANDLE, PATH, FLAGS, [MASK]

     The HANDLE argument is a filehandle just as with "open".
     The PATH is a literal path, one that doesn't pay attention
     to any greater-thans or less-thans or pipes or minuses, nor
     ignore whitespace.  If it's there, it's part of the path.
     The FLAGS argument contains one or more values derived from
     the Fcntl module that have been or'd together using the
     bitwise "|" operator.  The final argument, the MASK, is
     optional; if present, it is combined with the user's current
     umask for the creation mode of the file.  You should usually
     omit this.

     Although the traditional values of read-only, write-only,
     and read-write are 0, 1, and 2 respectively, this is known
     not to hold true on some systems.  Instead, it's best to
     load in the appropriate constants first from the Fcntl
     module, which supplies the following standard flags:

         O_RDONLY            Read only
         O_WRONLY            Write only
         O_RDWR              Read and write
         O_CREAT             Create the file if it doesn't exist
         O_EXCL              Fail if the file already exists
         O_APPEND            Append to the file
         O_TRUNC             Truncate the file
         O_NONBLOCK          Non-blocking access

     Less common flags that are sometimes available on some
     operating systems include "O_BINARY", "O_TEXT", "O_SHLOCK",
     Consult your open(2) manpage or its local equivalent for
     details.  (Note: starting from Perl release 5.6 the
     "O_LARGEFILE" flag, if available, is automatically added to
     the sysopen() flags because large files are the default.)

     Here's how to use "sysopen" to emulate the simple "open"
     calls we had before.  We'll omit the "|| die $!" checks for

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     clarity, but make sure you always check the return values in
     real code.  These aren't quite the same, since "open" will
     trim leading and trailing whitespace, but you'll get the

     To open a file for reading:

         open(FH, "< $path");
         sysopen(FH, $path, O_RDONLY);

     To open a file for writing, creating a new file if needed or
     else truncating an old file:

         open(FH, "> $path");
         sysopen(FH, $path, O_WRONLY | O_TRUNC | O_CREAT);

     To open a file for appending, creating one if necessary:

         open(FH, ">> $path");
         sysopen(FH, $path, O_WRONLY | O_APPEND | O_CREAT);

     To open a file for update, where the file must already

         open(FH, "+< $path");
         sysopen(FH, $path, O_RDWR);

     And here are things you can do with "sysopen" that you
     cannot do with a regular "open".  As you'll see, it's just a
     matter of controlling the flags in the third argument.

     To open a file for writing, creating a new file which must
     not previously exist:

         sysopen(FH, $path, O_WRONLY | O_EXCL | O_CREAT);

     To open a file for appending, where that file must already

         sysopen(FH, $path, O_WRONLY | O_APPEND);

     To open a file for update, creating a new file if necessary:

         sysopen(FH, $path, O_RDWR | O_CREAT);

     To open a file for update, where that file must not already

         sysopen(FH, $path, O_RDWR | O_EXCL | O_CREAT);

     To open a file without blocking, creating one if necessary:

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         sysopen(FH, $path, O_WRONLY | O_NONBLOCK | O_CREAT);

  Permissions a la mode
     If you omit the MASK argument to "sysopen", Perl uses the
     octal value 0666.  The normal MASK to use for executables
     and directories should be 0777, and for anything else, 0666.

     Why so permissive?  Well, it isn't really.  The MASK will be
     modified by your process's current "umask".  A umask is a
     number representing disabled permissions bits; that is, bits
     that will not be turned on in the created file's permissions

     For example, if your "umask" were 027, then the 020 part
     would disable the group from writing, and the 007 part would
     disable others from reading, writing, or executing.  Under
     these conditions, passing "sysopen" 0666 would create a file
     with mode 0640, since "0666 & ~027" is 0640.

     You should seldom use the MASK argument to "sysopen()".
     That takes away the user's freedom to choose what permission
     new files will have.  Denying choice is almost always a bad
     thing.  One exception would be for cases where sensitive or
     private data is being stored, such as with mail folders,
     cookie files, and internal temporary files.

Obscure Open Tricks
  Re-Opening Files (dups)
     Sometimes you already have a filehandle open, and want to
     make another handle that's a duplicate of the first one.  In
     the shell, we place an ampersand in front of a file
     descriptor number when doing redirections.  For example,
     "2>&1" makes descriptor 2 (that's STDERR in Perl) be
     redirected into descriptor 1 (which is usually Perl's
     STDOUT).  The same is essentially true in Perl: a filename
     that begins with an ampersand is treated instead as a file
     descriptor if a number, or as a filehandle if a string.

         open(SAVEOUT, ">&SAVEERR") || die "couldn't dup SAVEERR: $!";
         open(MHCONTEXT, "<&4")     || die "couldn't dup fd4: $!";

     That means that if a function is expecting a filename, but
     you don't want to give it a filename because you already
     have the file open, you can just pass the filehandle with a
     leading ampersand.  It's best to use a fully qualified
     handle though, just in case the function happens to be in a
     different package:


     This way if somefunction() is planning on opening its
     argument, it can just use the already opened handle.  This

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     differs from passing a handle, because with a handle, you
     don't open the file.  Here you have something you can pass
     to open.

     If you have one of those tricky, newfangled I/O objects that
     the C++ folks are raving about, then this doesn't work
     because those aren't a proper filehandle in the native Perl
     sense.  You'll have to use fileno() to pull out the proper
     descriptor number, assuming you can:

         use IO::Socket;
         $handle = IO::Socket::INET->new("");
         $fd = $handle->fileno;
         somefunction("&$fd");  # not an indirect function call

     It can be easier (and certainly will be faster) just to use
     real filehandles though:

         use IO::Socket;
         local *REMOTE = IO::Socket::INET->new("");
         die "can't connect" unless defined(fileno(REMOTE));

     If the filehandle or descriptor number is preceded not just
     with a simple "&" but rather with a "&=" combination, then
     Perl will not create a completely new descriptor opened to
     the same place using the dup(2) system call.  Instead, it
     will just make something of an alias to the existing one
     using the fdopen(3S) library call.  This is slightly more
     parsimonious of systems resources, although this is less a
     concern these days.  Here's an example of that:

         $fd = $ENV{"MHCONTEXTFD"};
         open(MHCONTEXT, "<&=$fd")   or die "couldn't fdopen $fd: $!";

     If you're using magic "<ARGV>", you could even pass in as a
     command line argument in @ARGV something like
     "<&=$MHCONTEXTFD", but we've never seen anyone actually do

  Dispelling the Dweomer
     Perl is more of a DWIMmer language than something like
     Java--where DWIM is an acronym for "do what I mean".  But
     this principle sometimes leads to more hidden magic than one
     knows what to do with.  In this way, Perl is also filled
     with dweomer, an obscure word meaning an enchantment.
     Sometimes, Perl's DWIMmer is just too much like dweomer for

     If magic "open" is a bit too magical for you, you don't have
     to turn to "sysopen".  To open a file with arbitrary weird
     characters in it, it's necessary to protect any leading and

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     trailing whitespace.  Leading whitespace is protected by
     inserting a "./" in front of a filename that starts with
     whitespace.  Trailing whitespace is protected by appending
     an ASCII NUL byte ("\0") at the end of the string.

         $file =~ s#^(\s)#./$1#;
         open(FH, "< $file\0")   || die "can't open $file: $!";

     This assumes, of course, that your system considers dot the
     current working directory, slash the directory separator,
     and disallows ASCII NULs within a valid filename.  Most
     systems follow these conventions, including all POSIX
     systems as well as proprietary Microsoft systems.  The only
     vaguely popular system that doesn't work this way is the
     "Classic" Macintosh system, which uses a colon where the
     rest of us use a slash.  Maybe "sysopen" isn't such a bad
     idea after all.

     If you want to use "<ARGV>" processing in a totally boring
     and non-magical way, you could do this first:

         #   "Sam sat on the ground and put his head in his hands.
         #   'I wish I had never come here, and I don't want to see
         #   no more magic,' he said, and fell silent."
         for (@ARGV) {
             $_ .= "\0";
         while (<>) {
             # now process $_

     But be warned that users will not appreciate being unable to
     use "-" to mean standard input, per the standard convention.

  Paths as Opens
     You've probably noticed how Perl's "warn" and "die"
     functions can produce messages like:

         Some warning at scriptname line 29, <FH> line 7.

     That's because you opened a filehandle FH, and had read in
     seven records from it.  But what was the name of the file,
     rather than the handle?

     If you aren't running with "strict refs", or if you've
     turned them off temporarily, then all you have to do is

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         open($path, "< $path") || die "can't open $path: $!";
         while (<$path>) {
             # whatever

     Since you're using the pathname of the file as its handle,
     you'll get warnings more like

         Some warning at scriptname line 29, </etc/motd> line 7.

  Single Argument Open
     Remember how we said that Perl's open took two arguments?
     That was a passive prevarication.  You see, it can also take
     just one argument.  If and only if the variable is a global
     variable, not a lexical, you can pass "open" just one
     argument, the filehandle, and it will get the path from the
     global scalar variable of the same name.

         $FILE = "/etc/motd";
         open FILE or die "can't open $FILE: $!";
         while (<FILE>) {
             # whatever

     Why is this here?  Someone has to cater to the hysterical
     porpoises.  It's something that's been in Perl since the
     very beginning, if not before.

  Playing with STDIN and STDOUT
     One clever move with STDOUT is to explicitly close it when
     you're done with the program.

         END { close(STDOUT) || die "can't close stdout: $!" }

     If you don't do this, and your program fills up the disk
     partition due to a command line redirection, it won't report
     the error exit with a failure status.

     You don't have to accept the STDIN and STDOUT you were
     given.  You are welcome to reopen them if you'd like.

         open(STDIN, "< datafile")
             || die "can't open datafile: $!";

         open(STDOUT, "> output")
             || die "can't open output: $!";

     And then these can be accessed directly or passed on to
     subprocesses.  This makes it look as though the program were
     initially invoked with those redirections from the command

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     It's probably more interesting to connect these to pipes.
     For example:

         $pager = $ENV{PAGER} || "(less || more)";
         open(STDOUT, "| $pager")
             || die "can't fork a pager: $!";

     This makes it appear as though your program were called with
     its stdout already piped into your pager.  You can also use
     this kind of thing in conjunction with an implicit fork to
     yourself.  You might do this if you would rather handle the
     post processing in your own program, just in a different

         while (<>) {

         sub head {
             my $lines = shift || 20;
             return if $pid = open(STDOUT, "|-");       # return if parent
             die "cannot fork: $!" unless defined $pid;
             while (<STDIN>) {
                 last if --$lines < 0;

     This technique can be applied to repeatedly push as many
     filters on your output stream as you wish.

Other I/O Issues
     These topics aren't really arguments related to "open" or
     "sysopen", but they do affect what you do with your open

  Opening Non-File Files
     When is a file not a file?  Well, you could say when it
     exists but isn't a plain file.   We'll check whether it's a
     symbolic link first, just in case.

         if (-l $file || ! -f _) {
             print "$file is not a plain file\n";

     What other kinds of files are there than, well, files?
     Directories, symbolic links, named pipes, Unix-domain
     sockets, and block and character devices.  Those are all
     files, too--just not plain files.  This isn't the same issue
     as being a text file. Not all text files are plain files.

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     Not all plain files are text files.  That's why there are
     separate "-f" and "-T" file tests.

     To open a directory, you should use the "opendir" function,
     then process it with "readdir", carefully restoring the
     directory name if necessary:

         opendir(DIR, $dirname) or die "can't opendir $dirname: $!";
         while (defined($file = readdir(DIR))) {
             # do something with "$dirname/$file"

     If you want to process directories recursively, it's better
     to use the File::Find module.  For example, this prints out
     all files recursively and adds a slash to their names if the
     file is a directory.

         @ARGV = qw(.) unless @ARGV;
         use File::Find;
         find sub { print $File::Find::name, -d && '/', "\n" }, @ARGV;

     This finds all bogus symbolic links beneath a particular

         find sub { print "$File::Find::name\n" if -l && !-e }, $dir;

     As you see, with symbolic links, you can just pretend that
     it is what it points to.  Or, if you want to know what it
     points to, then "readlink" is called for:

         if (-l $file) {
             if (defined($whither = readlink($file))) {
                 print "$file points to $whither\n";
             } else {
                 print "$file points nowhere: $!\n";

  Opening Named Pipes
     Named pipes are a different matter.  You pretend they're
     regular files, but their opens will normally block until
     there is both a reader and a writer.  You can read more
     about them in "Named Pipes" in perlipc.  Unix-domain sockets
     are rather different beasts as well; they're described in
     "Unix-Domain TCP Clients and Servers" in perlipc.

     When it comes to opening devices, it can be easy and it can
     be tricky.  We'll assume that if you're opening up a block
     device, you know what you're doing.  The character devices
     are more interesting.  These are typically used for modems,
     mice, and some kinds of printers.  This is described in "How

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     do I read and write the serial port?" in perlfaq8 It's often
     enough to open them carefully:

         sysopen(TTYIN, "/dev/ttyS1", O_RDWR | O_NDELAY | O_NOCTTY)
                     # (O_NOCTTY no longer needed on POSIX systems)
             or die "can't open /dev/ttyS1: $!";
         open(TTYOUT, "+>&TTYIN")
             or die "can't dup TTYIN: $!";

         $ofh = select(TTYOUT); $| = 1; select($ofh);

         print TTYOUT "+++at\015";
         $answer = <TTYIN>;

     With descriptors that you haven't opened using "sysopen",
     such as sockets, you can set them to be non-blocking using

         use Fcntl;
         my $old_flags = fcntl($handle, F_GETFL, 0)
             or die "can't get flags: $!";
         fcntl($handle, F_SETFL, $old_flags | O_NONBLOCK)
             or die "can't set non blocking: $!";

     Rather than losing yourself in a morass of twisting, turning
     "ioctl"s, all dissimilar, if you're going to manipulate
     ttys, it's best to make calls out to the stty(1) program if
     you have it, or else use the portable POSIX interface.  To
     figure this all out, you'll need to read the termios(3)
     manpage, which describes the POSIX interface to tty devices,
     and then POSIX, which describes Perl's interface to POSIX.
     There are also some high-level modules on CPAN that can help
     you with these games.  Check out Term::ReadKey and

  Opening Sockets
     What else can you open?  To open a connection using sockets,
     you won't use one of Perl's two open functions.  See
     "Sockets: Client/Server Communication" in perlipc for that.
     Here's an example.  Once you have it, you can use FH as a
     bidirectional filehandle.

         use IO::Socket;
         local *FH = IO::Socket::INET->new("");

     For opening up a URL, the LWP modules from CPAN are just
     what the doctor ordered.  There's no filehandle interface,
     but it's still easy to get the contents of a document:

         use LWP::Simple;
         $doc = get('');

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  Binary Files
     On certain legacy systems with what could charitably be
     called terminally convoluted (some would say broken) I/O
     models, a file isn't a file--at least, not with respect to
     the C standard I/O library.  On these old systems whose
     libraries (but not kernels) distinguish between text and
     binary streams, to get files to behave properly you'll have
     to bend over backwards to avoid nasty problems.  On such
     infelicitous systems, sockets and pipes are already opened
     in binary mode, and there is currently no way to turn that
     off.  With files, you have more options.

     Another option is to use the "binmode" function on the
     appropriate handles before doing regular I/O on them:

         while (<STDIN>) { print }

     Passing "sysopen" a non-standard flag option will also open
     the file in binary mode on those systems that support it.
     This is the equivalent of opening the file normally, then
     calling "binmode" on the handle.

         sysopen(BINDAT, "", O_RDWR | O_BINARY)
             || die "can't open $!";

     Now you can use "read" and "print" on that handle without
     worrying about the non-standard system I/O library breaking
     your data.  It's not a pretty picture, but then, legacy
     systems seldom are.  CP/M will be with us until the end of
     days, and after.

     On systems with exotic I/O systems, it turns out that,
     astonishingly enough, even unbuffered I/O using "sysread"
     and "syswrite" might do sneaky data mutilation behind your

         while (sysread(WHENCE, $buf, 1024)) {
             syswrite(WHITHER, $buf, length($buf));

     Depending on the vicissitudes of your runtime system, even
     these calls may need "binmode" or "O_BINARY" first.  Systems
     known to be free of such difficulties include Unix, the Mac
     OS, Plan 9, and Inferno.

  File Locking
     In a multitasking environment, you may need to be careful
     not to collide with other processes who want to do I/O on
     the same files as you are working on.  You'll often need
     shared or exclusive locks on files for reading and writing

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     respectively.  You might just pretend that only exclusive
     locks exist.

     Never use the existence of a file "-e $file" as a locking
     indication, because there is a race condition between the
     test for the existence of the file and its creation.  It's
     possible for another process to create a file in the slice
     of time between your existence check and your attempt to
     create the file.  Atomicity is critical.

     Perl's most portable locking interface is via the "flock"
     function, whose simplicity is emulated on systems that don't
     directly support it such as SysV or Windows.  The underlying
     semantics may affect how it all works, so you should learn
     how "flock" is implemented on your system's port of Perl.

     File locking does not lock out another process that would
     like to do I/O.  A file lock only locks out others trying to
     get a lock, not processes trying to do I/O.  Because locks
     are advisory, if one process uses locking and another
     doesn't, all bets are off.

     By default, the "flock" call will block until a lock is
     granted.  A request for a shared lock will be granted as
     soon as there is no exclusive locker.  A request for an
     exclusive lock will be granted as soon as there is no locker
     of any kind.  Locks are on file descriptors, not file names.
     You can't lock a file until you open it, and you can't hold
     on to a lock once the file has been closed.

     Here's how to get a blocking shared lock on a file,
     typically used for reading:

         use 5.004;
         use Fcntl qw(:DEFAULT :flock);
         open(FH, "< filename")  or die "can't open filename: $!";
         flock(FH, LOCK_SH)      or die "can't lock filename: $!";
         # now read from FH

     You can get a non-blocking lock by using "LOCK_NB".

         flock(FH, LOCK_SH | LOCK_NB)
             or die "can't lock filename: $!";

     This can be useful for producing more user-friendly
     behaviour by warning if you're going to be blocking:

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         use 5.004;
         use Fcntl qw(:DEFAULT :flock);
         open(FH, "< filename")  or die "can't open filename: $!";
         unless (flock(FH, LOCK_SH | LOCK_NB)) {
             $| = 1;
             print "Waiting for lock...";
             flock(FH, LOCK_SH)  or die "can't lock filename: $!";
             print "got it.\n"
         # now read from FH

     To get an exclusive lock, typically used for writing, you
     have to be careful.  We "sysopen" the file so it can be
     locked before it gets emptied.  You can get a nonblocking
     version using "LOCK_EX | LOCK_NB".

         use 5.004;
         use Fcntl qw(:DEFAULT :flock);
         sysopen(FH, "filename", O_WRONLY | O_CREAT)
             or die "can't open filename: $!";
         flock(FH, LOCK_EX)
             or die "can't lock filename: $!";
         truncate(FH, 0)
             or die "can't truncate filename: $!";
         # now write to FH

     Finally, due to the uncounted millions who cannot be
     dissuaded from wasting cycles on useless vanity devices
     called hit counters, here's how to increment a number in a
     file safely:

         use Fcntl qw(:DEFAULT :flock);

         sysopen(FH, "numfile", O_RDWR | O_CREAT)
             or die "can't open numfile: $!";
         # autoflush FH
         $ofh = select(FH); $| = 1; select ($ofh);
         flock(FH, LOCK_EX)
             or die "can't write-lock numfile: $!";

         $num = <FH> || 0;
         seek(FH, 0, 0)
             or die "can't rewind numfile : $!";
         print FH $num+1, "\n"
             or die "can't write numfile: $!";

         truncate(FH, tell(FH))
             or die "can't truncate numfile: $!";
             or die "can't close numfile: $!";

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  IO Layers
     In Perl 5.8.0 a new I/O framework called "PerlIO" was
     introduced.  This is a new "plumbing" for all the I/O
     happening in Perl; for the most part everything will work
     just as it did, but PerlIO also brought in some new features
     such as the ability to think of I/O as "layers".  One I/O
     layer may in addition to just moving the data also do
     transformations on the data.  Such transformations may
     include compression and decompression, encryption and
     decryption, and transforming between various character

     Full discussion about the features of PerlIO is out of scope
     for this tutorial, but here is how to recognize the layers
     being used:

     o   The three-(or more)-argument form of "open" is being
         used and the second argument contains something else in
         addition to the usual '<', '>', '>>', '|' and their
         variants, for example:

             open(my $fh, "<:crlf", $fn);

     o   The two-argument form of "binmode" is being used, for

             binmode($fh, ":encoding(utf16)");

     For more detailed discussion about PerlIO see PerlIO; for
     more detailed discussion about Unicode and I/O see

     See attributes(5) for descriptions of the following

     |Availability   | runtime/perl-512 |
     |Stability      | Uncommitted      |
     The "open" and "sysopen" functions in perlfunc(1); the
     system open(2), dup(2), fopen(3), and fdopen(3) manpages;
     the POSIX documentation.

     Copyright 1998 Tom Christiansen.

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     This documentation is free; you can redistribute it and/or
     modify it under the same terms as Perl itself.

     Irrespective of its distribution, all code examples in these
     files are hereby placed into the public domain.  You are
     permitted and encouraged to use this code in your own
     programs for fun or for profit as you see fit.  A simple
     comment in the code giving credit would be courteous but is
     not required.

     First release: Sat Jan  9 08:09:11 MST 1999

     This software was built from source available at  The original
     community source was downloaded from

     Further information about this software can be found on the
     open source community website at

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