Perl file maintenance

Modifying a file in place without a temporary file

From Perl Cookbook by Tom Christiansen and Nathan Torkington, O'Reilly and Associates, 1998.


You need to insert, delete, or change one or more lines in a file, and you don't want to (or can't) use a temporary file.


Open the file in update mode ("+<"), read the whole file into an array of lines, change the array, then rewrite the file and truncate it to its current seek pointer.

 	open (FH, "+< FILE")	   or die "Opening: $!";
 	@ARRAY = ;
 	#  change ARRAY here
 	seek (FH, 0, 0)		     or die "Seeking: $!";
 	print FH @ARRAY		  or die "Printing: $!";
 	truncate (FH, tell (FH))   or die "Truncating: $!";
 	close (FH)	          or die "Closing: $!";

The operating system treats files as unstructured streams of bytes. This makes it impossible to insert, modify, or change bits of the file in place. You can use a temporary file to hold the changed output, or you can read the entire file into memory, change it, and write it back out again.

Reading everything into memory works for small files, but it doesn't scale well. Trying to on your 800 MB web server log files will either deplete your virtual memory or thrash your machine's VM system. For small files, though, it works:

 	open (F, "+< $infile")	           or die "can't read $infile: $!";
 	$out = '';
 	while () {
 		$out .= $_;
 	seek (F, 0, 0)	            or die "can't seek to start of $infile: $!";
 	print F $out	             or die "can't print to $infile: $!"; 	
        truncate (F, tell (F))	    or die "can't truncate $infile: $!";
 	close (F)		       or die "can't close $infile: $!"; 

For more information on the book Perl Cookbook go to http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/cookbook/

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This was first published in March 2000

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