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Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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4.5.6 Named pipes (FIFOs)

A named pipe is a file that acts like a pipe. You put something into the file, and it comes out the other end. Thus it's called a FIFO, or First-In-First-Out: the first thing you put in the pipe is the first thing to come out the other end.

If you write to a named pipe, the process which is writing to the pipe doesn't terminate until the information being written is read from the pipe. If you read from a named pipe, the reading process waits until there's something to read before terminating. The size of the pipe is always zero --- it doesn't store data, it just links two processes like the shell |. However, since this pipe has a name, the two processes don't have to be on the same command line or even be run by the same user.

You can try it by doing the following:

     $ cd; mkfifo mypipe
     $ echo "hello" >mypipe & # put into background
     [1] 5952
     $ ls -l mypipe
     prw-r--r--    1 penguin penguin  0 2003-11-06 23:18 mypipe
     $ cat mypipe
     hello
     [1]+  Done                    echo hello >mypipe
     $ ls mypipe
     prw-r--r--    1 penguin penguin  0 2003-11-06 23:20 mypipe
     $ rm mypipe

Debian GNU/Linux Reference Guide
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