Home » When would you use an additional file descriptor?

When would you use an additional file descriptor?

Solutons:


Most commands have a single input channel (standard input, file descriptor 0) and a single output channel (standard output, file descriptor 1) or else operate on several files which they open by themselves (so you pass them a file name). (That’s in addition from standard error (fd 2), which usually filters up all the way to the user.) It is however sometimes convenient to have a command that acts as a filter from several sources or to several targets. For example, here’s a simple script that separates the odd-numbered lines in a file from the even-numbered ones

while IFS= read -r line; do
  printf '%sn' "$line"
  if IFS= read -r line; then printf '%sn' "$line" >&3; fi
done >odd.txt 3>even.txt

Now suppose you want to apply a different filter to the odd-number lines and to the even-numbered lines (but not put them back together, that would be a different problem, not feasible from the shell in general). In the shell, you can only pipe a command’s standard output to another command; to pipe another file descriptor, you need to redirect it to fd 1 first.

{ while … done | odd-filter >filtered-odd.txt; } 3>&1 | even-filter >filtered-even.txt

Another, simpler use case is filtering the error output of a command.

exec M>&N redirects a file descriptor to another one for the remainder of the script (or until another such command changes the file descriptors again). There is some overlap in functionality between exec M>&N and somecommand M>&N. The exec form is more powerful in that it does not have to be nested:

exec 8<&0 9>&1
exec >output12
command1
exec <input23
command2
exec >&9
command3
exec <&8

Other examples that may be of interest:

  • What does “3>&1 1>&2 2>&3” do in a script? (it swaps stdout with stderr)
  • File descriptors & shell scripting
  • How big is the pipe buffer?
  • Bash script testing if a command has run correctly

And for even more examples:

  • questions tagged io-redirection
  • questions tagged file-descriptors
  • search for examples on this site in the Data Explorer (a public read-only copy of the Stack Exchange database)

P.S. This is a surprising question coming from the author of the most upvoted post on the site that uses redirection through fd 3!

Here’s an example of using extra FDs as bash script chattiness control:

#!/bin/bash

log() {
    echo $* >&3
}
info() {
    echo $* >&4
}
err() {
    echo $* >&2
}
debug() {
    echo $* >&5
}

VERBOSE=1

while [[ $# -gt 0 ]]; do
    ARG=$1
    shift
    case $ARG in
        "-vv")
            VERBOSE=3
        ;;
        "-v")
            VERBOSE=2
        ;;
        "-q")
            VERBOSE=0
        ;;
        # More flags
        *)
        echo -n
        # Linear args
        ;;
    esac
done

for i in 1 2 3; do
    fd=$(expr 2 + $i)
    if [[ $VERBOSE -ge $i ]]; then
        eval "exec $fd>&1"
    else
        eval "exec $fd> /dev/null"
    fi
done

err "This will _always_ show up."
log "This is normally displayed, but can be prevented with -q"
info "This will only show up if -v is passed"
debug "This will show up for -vv"

In the context of named pipes (fifos) the use of an additional file descriptor can enable non-blocking piping behaviour.

(
rm -f fifo
mkfifo fifo
exec 3<fifo   # open fifo for reading
trap "exit" 1 2 3 15
exec cat fifo | nl
) &
bpid=$!

(
exec 3>fifo  # open fifo for writing
trap "exit" 1 2 3 15
while true;
do
    echo "blah" > fifo
done
)
#kill -TERM $bpid

See: Named Pipe closing prematurely in script?

Related Solutions

Joining bash arguments into single string with spaces

[*] I believe that this does what you want. It will put all the arguments in one string, separated by spaces, with single quotes around all: str="'$*'" $* produces all the scripts arguments separated by the first character of $IFS which, by default, is a space....

AddTransient, AddScoped and AddSingleton Services Differences

TL;DR Transient objects are always different; a new instance is provided to every controller and every service. Scoped objects are the same within a request, but different across different requests. Singleton objects are the same for every object and every...

How to download package not install it with apt-get command?

Use --download-only: sudo apt-get install --download-only pppoe This will download pppoe and any dependencies you need, and place them in /var/cache/apt/archives. That way a subsequent apt-get install pppoe will be able to complete without any extra downloads....

What defines the maximum size for a command single argument?

Answers Definitely not a bug. The parameter which defines the maximum size for one argument is MAX_ARG_STRLEN. There is no documentation for this parameter other than the comments in binfmts.h: /* * These are the maximum length and maximum number of strings...

Bulk rename, change prefix

I'd say the simplest it to just use the rename command which is common on many Linux distributions. There are two common versions of this command so check its man page to find which one you have: ## rename from Perl (common in Debian systems -- Ubuntu, Mint,...

Output from ls has newlines but displays on a single line. Why?

When you pipe the output, ls acts differently. This fact is hidden away in the info documentation: If standard output is a terminal, the output is in columns (sorted vertically) and control characters are output as question marks; otherwise, the output is...

mv: Move file only if destination does not exist

mv -vn file1 file2. This command will do what you want. You can skip -v if you want. -v makes it verbose - mv will tell you that it moved file if it moves it(useful, since there is possibility that file will not be moved) -n moves only if file2 does not exist....

Is it possible to store and query JSON in SQLite?

SQLite 3.9 introduced a new extension (JSON1) that allows you to easily work with JSON data . Also, it introduced support for indexes on expressions, which (in my understanding) should allow you to define indexes on your JSON data as well. PostgreSQL has some...

Combining tail && journalctl

You could use: journalctl -u service-name -f -f, --follow Show only the most recent journal entries, and continuously print new entries as they are appended to the journal. Here I've added "service-name" to distinguish this answer from others; you substitute...

how can shellshock be exploited over SSH?

One example where this can be exploited is on servers with an authorized_keys forced command. When adding an entry to ~/.ssh/authorized_keys, you can prefix the line with command="foo" to force foo to be run any time that ssh public key is used. With this...

Why doesn’t the tilde (~) expand inside double quotes?

The reason, because inside double quotes, tilde ~ has no special meaning, it's treated as literal. POSIX defines Double-Quotes as: Enclosing characters in double-quotes ( "" ) shall preserve the literal value of all characters within the double-quotes, with the...

What is GNU Info for?

GNU Info was designed to offer documentation that was comprehensive, hyperlinked, and possible to output to multiple formats. Man pages were available, and they were great at providing printed output. However, they were designed such that each man page had a...

Set systemd service to execute after fstab mount

a CIFS network location is mounted via /etc/fstab to /mnt/ on boot-up. No, it is not. Get this right, and the rest falls into place naturally. The mount is handled by a (generated) systemd mount unit that will be named something like mnt-wibble.mount. You can...

Merge two video clips into one, placing them next to each other

To be honest, using the accepted answer resulted in a lot of dropped frames for me. However, using the hstack filter_complex produced perfectly fluid output: ffmpeg -i left.mp4 -i right.mp4 -filter_complex hstack output.mp4 ffmpeg -i input1.mp4 -i input2.mp4...

How portable are /dev/stdin, /dev/stdout and /dev/stderr?

It's been available on Linux back into its prehistory. It is not POSIX, although many actual shells (including AT&T ksh and bash) will simulate it if it's not present in the OS; note that this simulation only works at the shell level (i.e. redirection or...

How can I increase the number of inodes in an ext4 filesystem?

It seems that you have a lot more files than normal expectation. I don't know whether there is a solution to change the inode table size dynamically. I'm afraid that you need to back-up your data, and create new filesystem, and restore your data. To create new...

Why doesn’t cp have a progress bar like wget?

The tradition in unix tools is to display messages only if something goes wrong. I think this is both for design and practical reasons. The design is intended to make it obvious when something goes wrong: you get an error message, and it's not drowned in...