Declaring, Opening & Closing File Streams in C Programming

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  • 0:04 Handling File Streams in C
  • 0:25 Declaring a File Pointer
  • 0:45 Opening, Creating, Closing
  • 3:05 Writing and Reading
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Meghalee Goswami

Meghalee has a masters of computer science and communication engineering.

This lesson explains handling file operations, like opening and closing a file, in C programming. You will also learn how to perform read and write operations on a file. Various examples are shown to understand file streams.

Handling File Streams in C

A file can be treated as external storage. It consists of a sequence of bytes residing on the disk. Groups of related data can be stored in a single file. A program can create, read, and write to a file. Unlike an array, the data in the file is retained even after the program finishes its execution. It's a permanent storage medium.

Declaring a File Pointer

In C language, in order to declare a file, we use a file pointer. A file pointer is a pointer variable that specifies the next byte to be read or written to. Every time a file is opened, the file pointer points to the beginning of the file. A file is declared as follows:


FILE *fp;
//fp is the name of the file pointer


Opening, Creating, Closing

C language provides a number of functions to perform file handling. fopen() is used to create a new file or open an existing file. The syntax is as follows:


fp = FILE *fopen(const char *filename, const char *mode);


fp is the file pointer that holds the reference to the file, the filename is the name of the file to be opened or created, and mode specifies the purpose of opening a file such as for reading or writing. FILE is an object type used for storing information about the file stream.

A file can be opened in different modes. Below are some of the most commonly used modes for opening or creating a file.

  • r : opens a text file in reading mode.
  • w : opens or creates a text file in writing mode.
  • a : opens a text file in append mode.
  • r+ : opens a text file in both reading and writing mode. The file must exist.
  • w+ : opens a text file in both reading and writing mode. If the file exists, it's truncated first before overwriting. Any old data will be lost. If the file doesn't exist, a new file will be created.
  • a+ : opens a text file in both reading and appending mode. New data is appended at the end of the file and does not overwrite the existing content.
  • rb : opens a binary file in reading mode.
  • wb : opens or creates a binary file in writing mode.
  • ab : opens a binary file in append mode.
  • rb+ : opens a binary file in both reading and writing mode, and the original content is overwritten if the file exists.
  • wb+: opens a binary file in both reading and writing mode and works similar to the w+ mode for binary files. The file content is deleted first and then new content is added.
  • ab+: opens a binary file in both reading and appending mode and appends data at the end of the file without overwriting the existing content.

A file needs to be closed after a read or write operation to release the memory allocated by the program. In C, a file is closed using the fclose() function. This returns 0 on success and EOF in the case of a failure. An EOF is defined in the library called stdio.h. EOF is a constant defined as a negative integer value which denotes that the end of the file has reached.


fclose( FILE *fp );


Writing and Reading

Now that you've learned how to create a file in various modes and also how to close a file, you must be wondering: how would you perform input and output operations in a file? The fputc() and fputs() functions are used to write characters and strings respectively in a file. Let's see how it's used.


int fputc( int c, FILE *fp );


This function writes a character c into the file with the help of the file pointer fp. It returns EOF in the case of an error.


int fputs( const char *s, FILE *fp );


This function writes string s to the file with the help of the reference pointer fp.

The fgetc(), fgets(), and fscanf() are functions used in C programming language to read characters or strings from a file. Let's discuss these, one by one.


int fgetc( FILE *fp );


The fgetc() accepts the file pointer as the parameter and reads one character at a time from the file. The return value is the character that's read. In case of any error, it returns EOF.


char *fgets( char *buffer, int n, FILE *fp );


fgets() reads up to n-1 characters from the input stream referenced by fp. The string read is copied into the character buffer called buffer. It appends the characters read to the string, but terminates when a null character is encountered.


int fscanf(FILE *fp, const char *format, char *buffer)


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