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The maximum system file descriptor, ordinarily 2. System file descriptors are passed to exec()ed processes, while higher file descriptors are not. Also, during an open(), system file descriptors are preserved even if the open() fails. (Ordinary file descriptors are closed before the open() is attempted.) Note that the close-on-exec status of a file descriptor will be decided according to the value of $^F when the open() or pipe() was called, not the time of the exec().