system(3p) — Linux manual page


SYSTEM(3P)                POSIX Programmer's Manual               SYSTEM(3P)

PROLOG         top

       This manual page is part of the POSIX Programmer's Manual.  The Linux
       implementation of this interface may differ (consult the
       corresponding Linux manual page for details of Linux behavior), or
       the interface may not be implemented on Linux.

NAME         top

       system — issue a command

SYNOPSIS         top

       #include <stdlib.h>

       int system(const char *command);

DESCRIPTION         top

       The functionality described on this reference page is aligned with
       the ISO C standard. Any conflict between the requirements described
       here and the ISO C standard is unintentional. This volume of
       POSIX.1‐2008 defers to the ISO C standard.

       If command is a null pointer, the system() function shall determine
       whether the host environment has a command processor. If command is
       not a null pointer, the system() function shall pass the string
       pointed to by command to that command processor to be executed in an
       implementation-defined manner; this might then cause the program
       calling system() to behave in a non-conforming manner or to

       The system() function shall behave as if a child process were created
       using fork(), and the child process invoked the sh utility using
       execl() as follows:

           execl(<shell path>, "sh", "-c", command, (char *)0);

       where <shell path> is an unspecified pathname for the sh utility. It
       is unspecified whether the handlers registered with pthread_atfork()
       are called as part of the creation of the child process.

       The system() function shall ignore the SIGINT and SIGQUIT signals,
       and shall block the SIGCHLD signal, while waiting for the command to
       terminate. If this might cause the application to miss a signal that
       would have killed it, then the application should examine the return
       value from system() and take whatever action is appropriate to the
       application if the command terminated due to receipt of a signal.

       The system() function shall not affect the termination status of any
       child of the calling processes other than the process or processes it
       itself creates.

       The system() function shall not return until the child process has

       The system() function need not be thread-safe.

RETURN VALUE         top

       If command is a null pointer, system() shall return non-zero to
       indicate that a command processor is available, or zero if none is
       available.  The system() function shall always return non-zero when
       command is NULL.

       If command is not a null pointer, system() shall return the
       termination status of the command language interpreter in the format
       specified by waitpid().  The termination status shall be as defined
       for the sh utility; otherwise, the termination status is unspecified.
       If some error prevents the command language interpreter from
       executing after the child process is created, the return value from
       system() shall be as if the command language interpreter had
       terminated using exit(127) or _exit(127).  If a child process cannot
       be created, or if the termination status for the command language
       interpreter cannot be obtained, system() shall return −1 and set
       errno to indicate the error.

ERRORS         top

       The system() function may set errno values as described by fork(3p).

       In addition, system() may fail if:

       ECHILD The status of the child process created by system() is no
              longer available.

       The following sections are informative.

EXAMPLES         top



       If the return value of system() is not −1, its value can be decoded
       through the use of the macros described in <sys/wait.h>.  For
       convenience, these macros are also provided in <stdlib.h>.

       Note that, while system() must ignore SIGINT and SIGQUIT and block
       SIGCHLD while waiting for the child to terminate, the handling of
       signals in the executed command is as specified by fork() and exec.
       For example, if SIGINT is being caught or is set to SIG_DFL when
       system() is called, then the child is started with SIGINT handling
       set to SIG_DFL.

       Ignoring SIGINT and SIGQUIT in the parent process prevents
       coordination problems (two processes reading from the same terminal,
       for example) when the executed command ignores or catches one of the
       signals. It is also usually the correct action when the user has
       given a command to the application to be executed synchronously (as
       in the '!'  command in many interactive applications). In either
       case, the signal should be delivered only to the child process, not
       to the application itself. There is one situation where ignoring the
       signals might have less than the desired effect. This is when the
       application uses system() to perform some task invisible to the user.
       If the user typed the interrupt character ("^C", for example) while
       system() is being used in this way, one would expect the application
       to be killed, but only the executed command is killed. Applications
       that use system() in this way should carefully check the return
       status from system() to see if the executed command was successful,
       and should take appropriate action when the command fails.

       Blocking SIGCHLD while waiting for the child to terminate prevents
       the application from catching the signal and obtaining status from
       system()'s child process before system() can get the status itself.

       The context in which the utility is ultimately executed may differ
       from that in which system() was called. For example, file descriptors
       that have the FD_CLOEXEC flag set are closed, and the process ID and
       parent process ID are different. Also, if the executed utility
       changes its environment variables or its current working directory,
       that change is not reflected in the caller's context.

       There is no defined way for an application to find the specific path
       for the shell. However, confstr() can provide a value for PATH that
       is guaranteed to find the sh utility.

       Using the system() function in more than one thread in a process or
       when the SIGCHLD signal is being manipulated by more than one thread
       in a process may produce unexpected results.

RATIONALE         top

       The system() function should not be used by programs that have set
       user (or group) ID privileges. The fork() and exec family of
       functions (except execlp() and execvp()), should be used instead.
       This prevents any unforeseen manipulation of the environment of the
       user that could cause execution of commands not anticipated by the
       calling program.

       There are three levels of specification for the system() function.
       The ISO C standard gives the most basic. It requires that the
       function exists, and defines a way for an application to query
       whether a command language interpreter exists. It says nothing about
       the command language or the environment in which the command is

       POSIX.1‐2008 places additional restrictions on system().  It requires
       that if there is a command language interpreter, the environment must
       be as specified by fork() and exec.  This ensures, for example, that
       close-on-exec works, that file locks are not inherited, and that the
       process ID is different. It also specifies the return value from
       system() when the command line can be run, thus giving the
       application some information about the command's completion status.

       Finally, POSIX.1‐2008 requires the command to be interpreted as in
       the shell command language defined in the Shell and Utilities volume
       of POSIX.1‐2008.

       Note that, system(NULL) is required to return non-zero, indicating
       that there is a command language interpreter. At first glance, this
       would seem to conflict with the ISO C standard which allows
       system(NULL) to return zero. There is no conflict, however. A system
       must have a command language interpreter, and is non-conforming if
       none is present.  It is therefore permissible for the system()
       function on such a system to implement the behavior specified by the
       ISO C standard as long as it is understood that the implementation
       does not conform to POSIX.1‐2008 if system(NULL) returns zero.

       It was explicitly decided that when command is NULL, system() should
       not be required to check to make sure that the command language
       interpreter actually exists with the correct mode, that there are
       enough processes to execute it, and so on. The call system(NULL)
       could, theoretically, check for such problems as too many existing
       child processes, and return zero. However, it would be inappropriate
       to return zero due to such a (presumably) transient condition. If
       some condition exists that is not under the control of this
       application and that would cause any system() call to fail, that
       system has been rendered non-conforming.

       Early drafts required, or allowed, system() to return with errno set
       to [EINTR] if it was interrupted with a signal. This error return was
       removed, and a requirement that system() not return until the child
       has terminated was added. This means that if a waitpid() call in
       system() exits with errno set to [EINTR], system() must reissue the
       waitpid().  This change was made for two reasons:

        1. There is no way for an application to clean up if system()
           returns [EINTR], short of calling wait(), and that could have the
           undesirable effect of returning the status of children other than
           the one started by system().

        2. While it might require a change in some historical
           implementations, those implementations already have to be changed
           because they use wait() instead of waitpid().

       Note that if the application is catching SIGCHLD signals, it will
       receive such a signal before a successful system() call returns.

       To conform to POSIX.1‐2008, system() must use waitpid(), or some
       similar function, instead of wait().

       The following code sample illustrates how system() might be
       implemented on an implementation conforming to POSIX.1‐2008.

           #include <signal.h>
           int system(const char *cmd)
               int stat;
               pid_t pid;
               struct sigaction sa, savintr, savequit;
               sigset_t saveblock;
               if (cmd == NULL)
               sa.sa_handler = SIG_IGN;
               sa.sa_flags = 0;
               sigaction(SIGINT, &sa, &savintr);
               sigaction(SIGQUIT, &sa, &savequit);
               sigaddset(&sa.sa_mask, SIGCHLD);
               sigprocmask(SIG_BLOCK, &sa.sa_mask, &saveblock);
               if ((pid = fork()) == 0) {
                   sigaction(SIGINT, &savintr, (struct sigaction *)0);
                   sigaction(SIGQUIT, &savequit, (struct sigaction *)0);
                   sigprocmask(SIG_SETMASK, &saveblock, (sigset_t *)0);
                   execl("/bin/sh", "sh", "-c", cmd, (char *)0);
               if (pid == -1) {
                   stat = -1; /* errno comes from fork() */
               } else {
                   while (waitpid(pid, &stat, 0) == -1) {
                       if (errno != EINTR){
                           stat = -1;
               sigaction(SIGINT, &savintr, (struct sigaction *)0);
               sigaction(SIGQUIT, &savequit, (struct sigaction *)0);
               sigprocmask(SIG_SETMASK, &saveblock, (sigset_t *)0);

       Note that, while a particular implementation of system() (such as the
       one above) can assume a particular path for the shell, such a path is
       not necessarily valid on another system. The above example is not
       portable, and is not intended to be.

       One reviewer suggested that an implementation of system() might want
       to use an environment variable such as SHELL to determine which
       command interpreter to use. The supposed implementation would use the
       default command interpreter if the one specified by the environment
       variable was not available. This would allow a user, when using an
       application that prompts for command lines to be processed using
       system(), to specify a different command interpreter. Such an
       implementation is discouraged. If the alternate command interpreter
       did not follow the command line syntax specified in the Shell and
       Utilities volume of POSIX.1‐2008, then changing SHELL would render
       system() non-conforming. This would affect applications that expected
       the specified behavior from system(), and since the Shell and
       Utilities volume of POSIX.1‐2008 does not mention that SHELL affects
       system(), the application would not know that it needed to unset



SEE ALSO         top

       exec(1p), pipe(3p), pthread_atfork(3p), wait(3p)

       The Base Definitions volume of POSIX.1‐2008, limits.h(0p),
       signal.h(0p), stdlib.h(0p), sys_wait.h(0p)

       The Shell and Utilities volume of POSIX.1‐2008, sh(1p)

COPYRIGHT         top

       Portions of this text are reprinted and reproduced in electronic form
       from IEEE Std 1003.1, 2013 Edition, Standard for Information
       Technology -- Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX), The Open
       Group Base Specifications Issue 7, Copyright (C) 2013 by the
       Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc and The Open
       Group.  (This is POSIX.1-2008 with the 2013 Technical Corrigendum 1
       applied.) In the event of any discrepancy between this version and
       the original IEEE and The Open Group Standard, the original IEEE and
       The Open Group Standard is the referee document. The original
       Standard can be obtained online at .

       Any typographical or formatting errors that appear in this page are
       most likely to have been introduced during the conversion of the
       source files to man page format. To report such errors, see .

IEEE/The Open Group                 2013                          SYSTEM(3P)

Pages that refer to this page: stdio.h(0p)stdlib.h(0p)getconf(1p)make(1p)sh(1p)exec(3p)execl(3p)execle(3p)execlp(3p)execv(3p)execve(3p)execvp(3p)popen(3p)wait(3p)