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open may also refer to the module: open

Opens the file whose filename is given by EXPR, and associates it with FILEHANDLE.

Simple examples to open a file for reading:

open(my $fh, "<", "input.txt") 
    or die "cannot open < input.txt: $!";

and for writing:

open(my $fh, ">", "output.txt") 
    or die "cannot open > output.txt: $!";

(The following is a comprehensive reference to open(): for a gentler introduction you may consider perlopentut.)

If FILEHANDLE is an undefined scalar variable (or array or hash element), a new filehandle is autovivified, meaning that the variable is assigned a reference to a newly allocated anonymous filehandle. Otherwise if FILEHANDLE is an expression, its value is the real filehandle. (This is considered a symbolic reference, so use strict "refs" should not be in effect.)

If EXPR is omitted, the global (package) scalar variable of the same name as the FILEHANDLE contains the filename. (Note that lexical variables--those declared with my or state--will not work for this purpose; so if you're using my or state, specify EXPR in your call to open.)

If three (or more) arguments are specified, the open mode (including optional encoding) in the second argument are distinct from the filename in the third. If MODE is < or nothing, the file is opened for input. If MODE is >, the file is opened for output, with existing files first being truncated ("clobbered") and nonexisting files newly created. If MODE is >>, the file is opened for appending, again being created if necessary.

You can put a + in front of the > or < to indicate that you want both read and write access to the file; thus +< is almost always preferred for read/write updates--the +> mode would clobber the file first. You cant usually use either read-write mode for updating textfiles, since they have variable-length records. See the -i switch in perlrun for a better approach. The file is created with permissions of 0666 modified by the process's umask value.

These various prefixes correspond to the fopen(3) modes of r, r+, w, w+, a, and a+.

In the one- and two-argument forms of the call, the mode and filename should be concatenated (in that order), preferably separated by white space. You can--but shouldn't--omit the mode in these forms when that mode is <. It is always safe to use the two-argument form of open if the filename argument is a known literal.

For three or more arguments if MODE is |-, the filename is interpreted as a command to which output is to be piped, and if MODE is -|, the filename is interpreted as a command that pipes output to us. In the two-argument (and one-argument) form, one should replace dash (-) with the command. See "Using open() for IPC" in perlipc for more examples of this. (You are not allowed to open to a command that pipes both in and out, but see IPC::Open2, IPC::Open3, and "Bidirectional Communication with Another Process" in perlipc for alternatives.)

In the form of pipe opens taking three or more arguments, if LIST is specified (extra arguments after the command name) then LIST becomes arguments to the command invoked if the platform supports it. The meaning of open with more than three arguments for non-pipe modes is not yet defined, but experimental "layers" may give extra LIST arguments meaning.

In the two-argument (and one-argument) form, opening <- or - opens STDIN and opening >- opens STDOUT.

You may (and usually should) use the three-argument form of open to specify I/O layers (sometimes referred to as "disciplines") to apply to the handle that affect how the input and output are processed (see open and PerlIO for more details). For example:

open(my $fh, "<:encoding(UTF-8)", "filename")
  || die "can't open UTF-8 encoded filename: $!";

opens the UTF8-encoded file containing Unicode characters; see perluniintro. Note that if layers are specified in the three-argument form, then default layers stored in ${^OPEN} (see perlvar; usually set by the open pragma or the switch -CioD) are ignored.

Open returns nonzero on success, the undefined value otherwise. If the open involved a pipe, the return value happens to be the pid of the subprocess.

If you're running Perl on a system that distinguishes between text files and binary files, then you should check out "binmode" for tips for dealing with this. The key distinction between systems that need binmode and those that don't is their text file formats. Systems like Unix, Mac OS, and Plan 9, that end lines with a single character and encode that character in C as "\n" do not need binmode. The rest need it.

When opening a file, it's seldom a good idea to continue if the request failed, so open is frequently used with die. Even if die won't do what you want (say, in a CGI script, where you want to format a suitable error message (but there are modules that can help with that problem)) always check the return value from opening a file.

As a special case the three-argument form with a read/write mode and the third argument being undef:

open(my $tmp, "+>", undef) or die ...

opens a filehandle to an anonymous temporary file. Also using +< works for symmetry, but you really should consider writing something to the temporary file first. You will need to seek() to do the reading.

Since v5.8.0, Perl has built using PerlIO by default. Unless you've changed this (such as building Perl with Configure -Uuseperlio), you can open filehandles directly to Perl scalars via:

open($fh, ">", \$variable) || ..

To (re)open STDOUT or STDERR as an in-memory file, close it first:

close STDOUT;
open(STDOUT, ">", \$variable)
    or die "Can't open STDOUT: $!";

General examples:

$ARTICLE = 100;
open(ARTICLE) or die "Can't find article $ARTICLE: $!\n";
while (<ARTICLE>) {...

open(LOG, ">>/usr/spool/news/twitlog");  # (log is reserved)
# if the open fails, output is discarded

open(my $dbase, "+<", "dbase.mine")      # open for update
    or die "Can't open 'dbase.mine' for update: $!";

open(my $dbase, "+<dbase.mine")          # ditto
    or die "Can't open 'dbase.mine' for update: $!";

open(ARTICLE, "-|", "caesar <$article")  # decrypt article
    or die "Can't start caesar: $!";

open(ARTICLE, "caesar <$article |")      # ditto
    or die "Can't start caesar: $!";

open(EXTRACT, "|sort >Tmp$$")            # $$ is our process id
    or die "Can't start sort: $!";

# in-memory files
open(MEMORY, ">", \$var)
    or die "Can't open memory file: $!";
print MEMORY "foo!\n";                   # output will appear in $var

# process argument list of files along with any includes

foreach $file (@ARGV) {
    process($file, "fh00");

sub process {
    my($filename, $input) = @_;
    $input++;    # this is a string increment
    unless (open($input, "<", $filename)) {
        print STDERR "Can't open $filename: $!\n";

    local $_;
    while (<$input>) {    # note use of indirection
        if (/^#include "(.*)"/) {
            process($1, $input);
        #...          # whatever

See perliol for detailed info on PerlIO.

You may also, in the Bourne shell tradition, specify an EXPR beginning with >&, in which case the rest of the string is interpreted as the name of a filehandle (or file descriptor, if numeric) to be duped (as dup(2)) and opened. You may use & after >, >>, <, +>, +>>, and +<. The mode you specify should match the mode of the original filehandle. (Duping a filehandle does not take into account any existing contents of IO buffers.) If you use the three-argument form, then you can pass either a number, the name of a filehandle, or the normal "reference to a glob".

Here is a script that saves, redirects, and restores STDOUT and STDERR using various methods:

open(my $oldout, ">&STDOUT")     or die "Can't dup STDOUT: $!";
open(OLDERR,     ">&", \*STDERR) or die "Can't dup STDERR: $!";

open(STDOUT, '>', "foo.out") or die "Can't redirect STDOUT: $!";
open(STDERR, ">&STDOUT")     or die "Can't dup STDOUT: $!";

select STDERR; $| = 1;  # make unbuffered
select STDOUT; $| = 1;  # make unbuffered

print STDOUT "stdout 1\n";  # this works for
print STDERR "stderr 1\n";  # subprocesses too

open(STDOUT, ">&", $oldout) or die "Can't dup \$oldout: $!";
open(STDERR, ">&OLDERR")    or die "Can't dup OLDERR: $!";

print STDOUT "stdout 2\n";
print STDERR "stderr 2\n";

If you specify '<&=X', where X is a file descriptor number or a filehandle, then Perl will do an equivalent of C's fdopen of that file descriptor (and not call dup(2)); this is more parsimonious of file descriptors. For example:

# open for input, reusing the fileno of $fd
open(FILEHANDLE, "<&=$fd")


open(FILEHANDLE, "<&=", $fd)


# open for append, using the fileno of OLDFH
open(FH, ">>&=", OLDFH)


open(FH, ">>&=OLDFH")

Being parsimonious on filehandles is also useful (besides being parsimonious) for example when something is dependent on file descriptors, like for example locking using flock(). If you do just open(A, ">>&B"), the filehandle A will not have the same file descriptor as B, and therefore flock(A) will not flock(B) nor vice versa. But with open(A, ">>&=B"), the filehandles will share the same underlying system file descriptor.

Note that under Perls older than 5.8.0, Perl uses the standard C library's' fdopen() to implement the = functionality. On many Unix systems, fdopen() fails when file descriptors exceed a certain value, typically 255. For Perls 5.8.0 and later, PerlIO is (most often) the default.

You can see whether your Perl was built with PerlIO by running perl -V and looking for the useperlio= line. If useperlio is define, you have PerlIO; otherwise you don't.

If you open a pipe on the command - (that is, specify either |- or -| with the one- or two-argument forms of open), an implicit fork is done, so open returns twice: in the parent process it returns the pid of the child process, and in the child process it returns (a defined) 0. Use defined($pid) or // to determine whether the open was successful.

For example, use either

$child_pid = open(FROM_KID, "|-")   // die "can't fork: $!";

or $child_pid = open(TO_KID, "|-") // die "can't fork: $!";

followed by

if ($child_pid) {
    # am the parent:
    # either write TO_KID or else read FROM_KID
    wait $child_pid;
} else {
    # am the child; use STDIN/STDOUT normally

The filehandle behaves normally for the parent, but I/O to that filehandle is piped from/to the STDOUT/STDIN of the child process. In the child process, the filehandle isn't opened--I/O happens from/to the new STDOUT/STDIN. Typically this is used like the normal piped open when you want to exercise more control over just how the pipe command gets executed, such as when running setuid and you don't want to have to scan shell commands for metacharacters.

The following blocks are more or less equivalent:

open(FOO, "|tr '[a-z]' '[A-Z]'");
open(FOO, "|-", "tr '[a-z]' '[A-Z]'");
open(FOO, "|-") || exec 'tr', '[a-z]', '[A-Z]';
open(FOO, "|-", "tr", '[a-z]', '[A-Z]');

open(FOO, "cat -n '$file'|");
open(FOO, "-|", "cat -n '$file'");
open(FOO, "-|") || exec "cat", "-n", $file;
open(FOO, "-|", "cat", "-n", $file);

The last two examples in each block show the pipe as "list form", which is not yet supported on all platforms. A good rule of thumb is that if your platform has a real fork() (in other words, if your platform is Unix, including Linux and MacOS X), you can use the list form. You would want to use the list form of the pipe so you can pass literal arguments to the command without risk of the shell interpreting any shell metacharacters in them. However, this also bars you from opening pipes to commands that intentionally contain shell metacharacters, such as:

open(FOO, "|cat -n | expand -4 | lpr")
    // die "Can't open pipeline to lpr: $!";

See "Safe Pipe Opens" in perlipc for more examples of this.

Beginning with v5.6.0, Perl will attempt to flush all files opened for output before any operation that may do a fork, but this may not be supported on some platforms (see perlport). To be safe, you may need to set $| ($AUTOFLUSH in English) or call the autoflush() method of IO::Handle on any open handles.

On systems that support a close-on-exec flag on files, the flag will be set for the newly opened file descriptor as determined by the value of $^F. See "$^F" in perlvar.

Closing any piped filehandle causes the parent process to wait for the child to finish, then returns the status value in $? and ${^CHILD_ERROR_NATIVE}.

The filename passed to the one- and two-argument forms of open() will have leading and trailing whitespace deleted and normal redirection characters honored. This property, known as "magic open", can often be used to good effect. A user could specify a filename of "rsh cat file |", or you could change certain filenames as needed:

$filename =~ s/(.*\.gz)\s*$/gzip -dc < $1|/;
open(FH, $filename) or die "Can't open $filename: $!";

Use the three-argument form to open a file with arbitrary weird characters in it,

open(FOO, "<", $file)
    || die "can't open < $file: $!";

otherwise it's necessary to protect any leading and trailing whitespace:

$file =~ s#^(\s)#./$1#;
open(FOO, "< $file\0")
    || die "open failed: $!";

(this may not work on some bizarre filesystems). One should conscientiously choose between the magic and three-argument form of open():

open(IN, $ARGV[0]) || die "can't open $ARGV[0]: $!";

will allow the user to specify an argument of the form "rsh cat file |", but will not work on a filename that happens to have a trailing space, while

open(IN, "<", $ARGV[0])
    || die "can't open < $ARGV[0]: $!";

will have exactly the opposite restrictions.

If you want a "real" C open (see open(2) on your system), then you should use the sysopen function, which involves no such magic (but may use subtly different filemodes than Perl open(), which is mapped to C fopen()). This is another way to protect your filenames from interpretation. For example:

use IO::Handle;
sysopen(HANDLE, $path, O_RDWR|O_CREAT|O_EXCL)
    or die "sysopen $path: $!";
$oldfh = select(HANDLE); $| = 1; select($oldfh);
print HANDLE "stuff $$\n";
seek(HANDLE, 0, 0);
print "File contains: ", <HANDLE>;

Using the constructor from the IO::Handle package (or one of its subclasses, such as IO::File or IO::Socket), you can generate anonymous filehandles that have the scope of the variables used to hold them, then automatically (but silently) close once their reference counts become zero, typically at scope exit:

use IO::File;
sub read_myfile_munged {
    my $ALL = shift;
    # or just leave it undef to autoviv
    my $handle = IO::File->new;
    open($handle, "<", "myfile") or die "myfile: $!";
    $first = <$handle>
        or return ();     # Automatically closed here.
    mung($first) or die "mung failed";  # Or here.
    return (first, <$handle>) if $ALL;  # Or here.
    return $first;                      # Or here.

WARNING: The previous example has a bug because the automatic close that happens when the refcount on handle does not properly detect and report failures. Always close the handle yourself and inspect the return value.

    || warn "close failed: $!";

See "seek" for some details about mixing reading and writing.