What is a “file descriptor”, really?
People say “in UNIX, everything is a file”. And that we interact with the operating system through “file descriptors”.
I don’t find this very enlightening. All it means is that the word “file” is overloaded to mean “some sort of resource”. Here are things that a file descriptor can represent:
- A handle to an honest-to-goodness file
- One end of a TCP connection
- A listening TCP port
- A listening UDP port
- A reference to a kernel event queue
Depending on how you got your “file descriptor”, the operations you can do on it are different. There is no universal API for interacting with a “file descriptor”. For example, if you call
kqueue() to get a new kernel queue, you should not perform a
write operation on it. Just because it’s a “file descriptor”, it doesn’t mean you can write to it like that. It’s a kernel queue, which is completely different from a file.
“File descriptor” should be renamed “resource descriptor”.
I wrote this because I felt like it. This post is not associated with my employer.