Files and Streams


For the latest documentation on Visual Studio 2017, see Visual Studio 2017 Documentation.

A program communicates with the target environment by reading and writing files. A file can be:

  • A data set that you can read and write repeatedly.

  • A stream of bytes generated by a program (such as a pipeline).

  • A stream of bytes received from or sent to a peripheral device.

The last two items are interactive files. Files are typically the principal means by which to interact with a program. You manipulate all these kinds of files in much the same way — by calling library functions. You include the standard header STDIO.H to declare most of these functions.

Before you can perform many of the operations on a file, the file must be opened. Opening a file associates it with a stream, a data structure within the Standard C Library that glosses over many differences among files of various kinds. The library maintains the state of each stream in an object of type FILE.

The target environment opens three files before program startup. You can open a file by calling the library function fopen, _wfopen with two arguments. (The fopen function has been deprecated, use fopen_s, _wfopen_s instead.) The first argument is a filename. The second argument is a C string that specifies:

  • Whether you intend to read data from the file or write data to it or both.

  • Whether you intend to generate new contents for the file (or create a file if it did not previously exist) or leave the existing contents in place.

  • Whether writes to a file can alter existing contents or should only append bytes at the end of the file.

  • Whether you want to manipulate a text stream or a binary stream.

Once the file is successfully opened, you can then determine whether the stream is byte oriented (a byte stream) or wide oriented (a wide stream). A stream is initially unbound. Calling certain functions to operate on the stream makes it byte oriented, while certain other functions make it wide oriented. Once established, a stream maintains its orientation until it is closed by a call to fclose or freopen.

© 1989-2001 by P.J. Plauger and Jim Brodie. All rights reserved.

Text and Binary Streams
Byte and Wide Streams
Controlling Streams
Stream States