Detect if stdin is a terminal or pipe?


When I execute "python" from the terminal with no arguments it brings up the Python interactive shell.

When I execute "cat | python" from the terminal it doesn't launch the interactive mode. Somehow, without getting any input, it has detected that it is connected to a pipe.

How would I do a similar detection in C or C++ or Qt?

10/3/2016 4:22:11 PM

Accepted Answer

Use isatty:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <io.h>
if (isatty(fileno(stdin)))
    printf( "stdin is a terminal\n" );
    printf( "stdin is a file or a pipe\n");

(On windows they're prefixed with underscores: _isatty, _fileno)

8/21/2009 4:29:40 PM


For many use cases the POSIX function isatty() is all what it is needed to detect if stdin is connected to a terminal. A minimal example:

#include <unistd.h>
#include <stdio.h>

int main(int argc, char **argv)
  if (isatty(fileno(stdin)))
    puts("stdin is connected to a terminal");
    puts("stdin is NOT connected to a terminal");
  return 0;

The following section compares different methods that can be used if different degrees of interactivity have to be tested.

Methods in Detail

There are several methods to detect if a program is running interactively. Following table shows an overview:

cmd\method             ctermid    open   isatty   fstat
./test                 /dev/tty   OK     YES      S_ISCHR
./test ≺       /dev/tty   OK     NO       S_ISREG
cat | ./test   /dev/tty   OK     NO       S_ISFIFO
echo ./test | at now   /dev/tty   FAIL   NO       S_ISREG

The results are from a Ubuntu Linux 11.04 system using following program:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <sys/stat.h>
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <termios.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <iostream>
using namespace std;
int main() {
  char tty[L_ctermid+1] = {0};
  cout << "ID: " << tty << '\n';
  int fd = ::open(tty, O_RDONLY);
  if (fd < 0) perror("Could not open terminal");
  else {
    cout << "Opened terminal\n";
    struct termios term;
    int r = tcgetattr(fd, &term);
    if (r < 0) perror("Could not get attributes");
    else cout << "Got attributes\n";
  if (isatty(fileno(stdin))) cout << "Is a terminal\n";
  else cout << "Is not a terminal\n";
  struct stat stats;
  int r = fstat(fileno(stdin), &stats);
  if (r < 0) perror("fstat failed");
  else {
    if (S_ISCHR(stats.st_mode)) cout << "S_ISCHR\n";
    else if (S_ISFIFO(stats.st_mode)) cout << "S_ISFIFO\n";
    else if (S_ISREG(stats.st_mode)) cout << "S_ISREG\n";
    else cout << "unknown stat mode\n";
  return 0;

Termimal device

If the interactive session needs certain capabilities, you can open the terminal device and (temporarily) set terminal attributes you need via tcsetattr().

Python Example

The Python code that decides whether the interpreter runs interactively uses isatty(). The Function PyRun_AnyFileExFlags()

/* Parse input from a file and execute it */

PyRun_AnyFileExFlags(FILE *fp, const char *filename, int closeit,
                     PyCompilerFlags *flags)
    if (filename == NULL)
        filename = "???";
    if (Py_FdIsInteractive(fp, filename)) {
        int err = PyRun_InteractiveLoopFlags(fp, filename, flags);

calls Py_FdIsInteractive()

 * The file descriptor fd is considered ``interactive'' if either
 *   a) isatty(fd) is TRUE, or
 *   b) the -i flag was given, and the filename associated with
 *      the descriptor is NULL or "<stdin>" or "???".
Py_FdIsInteractive(FILE *fp, const char *filename)
    if (isatty((int)fileno(fp)))
        return 1;

which calls isatty().


There are different degrees of interactivity. For checking if stdin is connected to a pipe/file or a real terminal isatty() is a natural method to do that.

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