CSCI 3500: Studio 7


Pipes are a basic but fundamental method of inter-process communication. They allow processes to communicate with each other as though they were reading and writing to a shared file, when in fact they're accessing a special mechanism provided by the operating system. Along with the system call dup2() they permit the seamless redirection of program input and output.

In this studio, you will:

  1. Create a pipe using the pipe() system call
  2. Redirect file streams usin the dup2() system call
  3. Connect unrelated child processes through the use of pipes

Please complete the required exercises below, as well as any optional enrichment exercises that you wish to complete.

As you work through these exercises, please record your answers in a text file. When finished, submit your work by sending your text file and source code to with the phrase Pipes in the subject line.

Make sure that the name of each person who worked on these exercises is listed in the first answer, and make sure you number each of your responses so it is easy to match your responses with each exercise.

Required Exercises

  1. As the answer to the first exercise, list the names of the people who worked together on this studio.

    The real power of pipes lies in their ability to connect unrelated processes, even if the original programmers didn't intend that! In order to explore pipes today, we will need two simple programs.

    Program 1: Write a short program that:

    1. Prints a string to standard output and then returns.

    Hint! This was the goal of Studio 1!

    Program 2: Write a short program that:

    1. Inside an infinite loop:
    2. Gets an input string from standard input using the function fgets()
    3. If the return value of fgets() is NULL, then break
    4. Prints the user input back to the console with printf("Program 2 got: %s\n", input)

    Hint! This was also the starting point for Studio 6! (minus the infinte loop)

    When you execute program 1, it should print a string and return. When you execute program 2, it should repeatedly receive user input and print the user input back to the console until you enter the end of file character (CTRL-D). Once finished, copy and paste these programs as the answer to this question.

  2. Now, create a new program called pipe.c. This program should fork() and execvp() two children. The first child should execvp() your Program 1, and the second child should execvp() your Program 2. Then the parent program should wait on both children with waitpid().

    Hint: suppose your Program 1 is called print, the code to call execvp() correctly follows. Make sure you understand each part!

    char* cmd = "./print";
    char* myargv[] = {"print", '\0'};
    int ret = execvp( cmd, myargv );
    if( ret == -1 ) perror("Error exec'ing print");

    If your code is working correctly, then your program pipe.c will never return. This is because the input program, Program 2, cannot recieve any input and will never terminate. You can kill these programs with CTRL-C. We will fix this problem eventually.

    Copy and paste your program output as the answer to this exercise.

  3. Now we will create a pipe to connect the two child processes. In the parent, before the first call to fork(), make a call to pipe(). This function accepts a single argument of type int fd[2].

    Look at the manual page at man 2 pipe. Which element of fd[2] contains the read end of the pipe after pipe() successfully returns? Which elemnt contains the write end?

  4. Our goal now is to write the output of Program 1 into the input of Program 2. However, we don't want to have to modify Program 1 or Program 2. The solution is to redirect the stdout stream of Program 1 into the write end of the pipe, and then redirect the read end of the pipe into the stdin stream of Program 2. To do this we will use the system call dup2().

    Open the manual page for this function with man 2 dup2. Unfortunately it can be confusing. Let's rephrase our objective in the language of this manual page. We want to...

    1. close STDOUT_FILENO in Program 1, replacing it with the write end of the pipe
    2. close STDIN_FILENO in Program 2, replacing it with the read end of the pipe

    The function dup2() takes two arguments. Which argument is closed when the function succeeds?

  5. Now use the dup2() function in the manner described in the previous exercise. Insert the call to dup2() after forking the first child, but before executing your Program 1. Replace the STDOUT_FILENO descriptor with the write end of the pipe. Similarly, replace STDIN_FILENO with the read end of the pipe in your second child. Copy and paste your dup2() code.

  6. Now execute your pipe.c program. The output of your Program 1 should be read in by your Program 2, and then re-printed with the Program 2 preface. For example, your output might read:

    Program 2 got: Program 1 output line

    Note that your program still shouldn't terminate. This is because your parent program (pipe.c) is waitpid()-ing on the second child, and the second child still does not terminate. Use the CTRL-C shortcut to kill your processes.

    Copy and paste your program output as the answer to this exercise.

  7. The reason your Program 2 does not terminate is because it will continually check the read end of your pipe for more data as long as the write end of the pipe is still open. Once all of the write ends of the pipe have been closed the pipe will deliver an end-of-file notification, letting the reader(s) know that no further data will be coming.

    Use the close() system call to tidy up your access to the pipe. Remember that three processes now have access: the parent and the two children. Your parent is not reading or writing the pipe, so it should close both the read and write ends. Your Program 1 child does not need to read from the pipe, so it should close the read end. Your Program 2 child does not need to write to the pipe, so it should close the write end.

    Once the above steps are complete, the pipe.c should execute and then terminate correctly. Copy and paste your output.

  8. If you think about it, you just achieved a pretty impressive feat. You just shared data between two programs who had no idea that each other existed. In fact, your programs have no idea where their data comes from, and no idea where it goes. They simply read and write to file streams, and the operating system can redirect these file streams at will. For all they know they could be acting on an actual file, a virtual file, a network socket, or any other suitable I/O channel, and the operating system seamlessly does all the heavy lifting in the background. Give two advantages to this stream ambiguity.

Optional Enrichment Exercises

  1. No optional exercises