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10.3 File Descriptors

Don't redirect the same file descriptor several times, as you are doomed to failure under Ultrix.

     ULTRIX V4.4 (Rev. 69) System #31: Thu Aug 10 19:42:23 GMT 1995
     UWS V4.4 (Rev. 11)
     $ eval 'echo matter >fullness' >void
     illegal io
     $ eval '(echo matter >fullness)' >void
     illegal io
     $ (eval '(echo matter >fullness)') >void
     Ambiguous output redirect.

In each case the expected result is of course fullness containing ‘matter’ and void being empty.

Don't try to redirect the standard error of a command substitution: it must be done inside the command substitution: when running ‘: `cd /zorglub` 2>/dev/null’ expect the error message to escape, while ‘: `cd /zorglub 2>/dev/null`’ works properly.

It is worth noting that Zsh (but not Ash nor Bash) makes it possible in assignments though: ‘foo=`cd /zorglub` 2>/dev/null’.

Most shells, if not all (including Bash, Zsh, Ash), output traces on stderr, even for subshells. This might result in undesirable content if you meant to capture the standard-error output of the inner command:

     $ ash -x -c '(eval "echo foo >&2") 2>stderr'
     $ cat stderr
     + eval echo foo >&2
     + echo foo
     $ bash -x -c '(eval "echo foo >&2") 2>stderr'
     $ cat stderr
     + eval 'echo foo >&2'
     ++ echo foo
     $ zsh -x -c '(eval "echo foo >&2") 2>stderr'
     # Traces on startup files deleted here.
     $ cat stderr
     +zsh:1> eval echo foo >&2
     +zsh:1> echo foo

You'll appreciate the various levels of detail...

One workaround is to grep out uninteresting lines, hoping not to remove good ones...

Don't try to move/delete open files, such as in ‘exec >foo; mv foo bar’; see Limitations of Builtins, mv for more details.

Don't rely on file descriptors 0, 1, and 2 remaining closed in a subsidiary program. If any of these descriptors is closed, the operating system may open an unspecified file for the descriptor in the new process image. Posix says this may be done only if the subsidiary program is set-user-ID or set-group-ID, but HP-UX 11.23 does it even for ordinary programs.

Don't rely on open file descriptors being open in child processes. In ksh, file descriptors above 2 which are opened using ‘exec n>file’ are closed by a subsequent ‘exec’ (such as that involved in the fork-and-exec which runs a program or script). Thus, using sh, we have:

     $ cat ./descrips
     #!/bin/sh -
     echo hello >&5
     $ exec 5>t
     $ ./descrips
     $ cat t

But using ksh:

     $ exec 5>t
     $ ./descrips
     $ cat t

Within the process which runs the ‘descrips’ script, file descriptor 5 is closed.

A few ancient systems reserved some file descriptors. By convention, file descriptor 3 was opened to /dev/tty when you logged into Eighth Edition (1985) through Tenth Edition Unix (1989). File descriptor 4 had a special use on the Stardent/Kubota Titan (circa 1990), though we don't now remember what it was. Both these systems are obsolete, so it's now safe to treat file descriptors 3 and 4 like any other file descriptors.

  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire