If you need unrelated processes to be able to exchange data you can do this using FIFOs, often referred to as named pipes. A named pipe is a special type of file (everything is a file in linux!) that exists as a name in the file system but behaves like unnamed pipes.   Once created data can be passed through it, i.e. to pass data to your application or read data from it.

Creating A Named Pipe / FIFO For Receiving Input

#include <unistd.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <sys/types.h>
#include <sys/stat.h>

#define OUR_INPUT_FIFO_NAME "/tmp/my_fifo"

	int our_input_fifo_filestream = -1;

	//----- CREATE A FIFO / NAMED PIPE -----
	int result;

	printf("Making FIFO...\n");
	result = mkfifo(OUR_INPUT_FIFO_NAME, 0777);		//(This will fail if the fifo already exists in the system from the app previously running, this is fine)
	if (result == 0)
		printf("New FIFO created: %s\n", OUR_INPUT_FIFO_NAME);

	printf("Process %d opening FIFO %s\n", getpid(), OUR_INPUT_FIFO_NAME);
	our_input_fifo_filestream = open(OUR_INPUT_FIFO_NAME, (O_RDONLY | O_NONBLOCK));
					//Possible flags:
					//	O_RDONLY - Open for reading only.
					//	O_WRONLY - Open for writing only.
					//	O_NDELAY / O_NONBLOCK (same function) - Enables nonblocking mode. When set read requests on the file can return immediately with a failure status
					//											if there is no input immediately available (instead of blocking). Likewise, write requests can also return
					//											immediately with a failure status if the output can't be written immediately.
	if (our_input_fifo_filestream != -1)
		printf("Opened FIFO: %i\n", our_input_fifo_filestream);

Note that although this code asks for a mode of 0777, it will be altered by the user mask (umask) setting just as in normal file creation.

A program may not open a FIFO for reading and writing with the mode O_RDWR.  Use seperate pipes if you want to read and write.

Checking For Received Bytes

		// Read up to 255 characters from the port if they are there
		if (our_input_fifo_filestream != -1)
			unsigned char rx_buffer[256];
			int rx_length = read(our_input_fifo_filestream, (void*)rx_buffer, 255);		//Filestream, buffer to store in, number of bytes to read (max)
			if (rx_length < 0)
				//An error occured (this can happen)
				//printf("FIFO Read error\n");
			else if (rx_length == 0)
				//No data waiting
				//Bytes received
				rx_buffer[rx_length] = '\0';
				printf("FIFO %i bytes read : %s\n", rx_length, rx_buffer);

Closing The FIFO

	//----- CLOSE THE FIFO -----

Close FIFO From Command Line

This can be needed when debugging.  Normally you don't have to close a fifo to be able to use it again but it is possible to sometimes cause a fifo to not work properly when used again ( maybe by not having emptied it before your application closes?), but using this will kill it completely ready for the next time your app is run to re-create it.

sudo rm /tmp/my_fifo

Sending data to your applications FIFO 

Sending from a command prompt

echo "ABCD" > /tmp/my_fifo
Sending from C++

	char buffer[] = "ABCD";
	write(our_input_fifo_filestream, (void*)buffer, strlen(buffer));
Sending bytes from a PHP web page

	system("sudo sh -c 'echo \"ABCD\" > tmp/my_fifo'");

PHP Web page Access

See our PHP web page example here

Using pipes between main application and child threads

See this example here.

Other Methods Of Passing Data Between Processes

See Shared Memory here.


We benefit hugely from resources on the web so we decided we should try and give back some of our knowledge and resources to the community by opening up many of our company’s internal notes and libraries through mini sites like this. We hope you find the site helpful.
Please feel free to comment if you can add help to this page or point out issues and solutions you have found, but please note that we do not provide support on this site. If you need help with a problem please use one of the many online forums.


  1. Andrew Wells

    9 years ago

    When I tried the php method stated above within my php program,
    I get an error: “sudo: no tty present and no askpass program specified”.
    What syntax do I need to avoid this error?
    Thanks in advance.

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