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Ayesha Sahar
Ayesha Sahar

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Part 9: File handling

Hey guys, welcome to the 9th and final part of my series, C++: Explain like I’m five. We have already covered all necessary concepts to get started programming in C++. Therefore, now we will discuss file handling as it is a relatively important and useful skill to have while programming.

In C++, files are interpreted as a sequence of bytes stored on any storage media.
The data of any file is stored in either readable form or in binary code that is called a text file or a binary file. This is achieved through a header file called "fstream". This library manages two aspects that are interface and the transfer of data. It has a predefined set of operations for file handling through certain classes.

The library has predefined a set of operations for all file handling-related actions through some certain classes.

The general file handling steps

  1. Declaring a file name variable
  2. Associate the file name variable with the disk file name
  3. Open the file
  4. Use the file
  5. Close the file


Streams act as an interface between the files and the programs. It indicates the flow of data from a particular device to the program’s variables. The device here refers to files, keyboards, arrays, etc. These streams are treated as objects to support a consistent access interface. Streams represent a sequence of bytes and then deal with the flow of data.

Each stream is associated with a class. Those classes have functions and operations for a certain kind of data flow.

• File -> Program (Input stream) - reads

• Program -> File (Output stream) – write

Diagramatically speaking:

A stream is basically a series of bytes. It acts either as a source from where data can be extracted or as a destination to where the output can be sent. Streams resemble the producer and consumer models a lot.
The producer produces the items that have to be consumed by the consumer.
Here, the producer and the consumers are connected by operators: ">>" or "<<".

Pre-defined console streams

C++ has various predefined streams that are opened automatically when the execution of a program starts.

  1. cin : standard input (usually keyboard) corresponding to stdio header file in C
  2. cout: standard output (usually screen) corresponding to stdout header file in C
  3. cerr: standard error output (usually screen) corresponding to stderr in C
  4. clog: A fully buffered version of cerr (No C equivalent)

Some necessary definitions

interactive (iostream)

  1. cin: input stream associated with keyboard.
  2. cout: output stream associated with display.

file (fstream)

  1. ifstream: defines new input stream (normally associated with a file).
  2. ofstream: defines new output stream (normally associated with a file).

Why use files?

• They are a convenient way to deal with large quantities of data.

• They store data permanently or atleast until the file is deleted.

• With help of files, you can avoid typing data into program multiple times.

• You can also share data between programs.

Some necessary things to know before using files

• How to "connect" a file to a program.

• How to ask the program to read the data.

• How to ask the program to write data.

• How to handle and check errors and EOF.

Classes for stream I/O in C++

• ios (input/output stream) is the base class.

• istream and ostream inherit from ios

• ifstream inherits from istream and ios.

• ofstream inherits from ostream and ios.

• iostream inherits from istream and ostream and ios.

• fstream inherits from ifstream, iostream, and ofstream

In C++, following can be used:

ofstream: to write data to a file

ifstream: to read data from a file

fstream: for both reading and writing

File Modes

There are various operations you can perform on the file and that are:

ios::in - Open file to read

ios::out - Open file to write

ios::app - All the date you write, is put at the end of the file. It calls ios::out

ios::ate - All the date you write, is put at the end of the file. It does not call ios::out

ios::trunc - Deletes all previous content in the file. (empties the file)

ios::nocreate - If the file does not exist, opening it with the open() function gets impossible.

ios::noreplace - If the file exists, trying to open it with the open() function, returns an error.

ios::binary - Opens the file in binary mode.

File Pointers

Both the istream and ostream provide some member functions for repositioning the file-position pointer. The members functions for doing so are seekg ("seek get") for istream and seekp ("seek put") for ostream. The file-position pointer is an integer value that specifies the location in the file as a number of bytes from the file's starting location.


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This action moves the file pointer to the byte number 20. The bytes in a file are numbered starting from zero. Thus, the pointer will be pointing to the 21st byte in the file.

Opening the file

#include <fstream>
int main(void)
    ofstream outFile("file1.txt", ios::out);
    outFile << "That's new!\n";
        return 0;

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If you want to set more than one open mode, just use the OR operator "|" in this way:

 ios::ate | ios::binary
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How to deal with Binary files?

The functions used for binary file handling are:

get(): read a byte and point to the next byte to read

put(): write a byte and point to the next location to write

read(): block reading

write(): block writing

• **flush(): **Save data from the buffer to the output file


#include <iostream>
#include <fstream>
void main()
    fstream File("test_file",ios::out | ios::in | ios::binary);
    char ch;
    File.put(ch); //put the content of ch to the file
    File.seekg(ios::beg); //go to the beginning of the file
    File.get(ch); //read one character
    cout << ch << endl; //display it
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How to write to a file?

#include <iostream>
#include <fstream>
using namespace std;

int main() {
  // Creating and opening a text file
  ofstream MyFile("file_name.txt");

  // Write to the file
  MyFile << "Het, you just created your first file!";

  // Close the file
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Writing to a file and then reading it's data

#include <iostream>
#include <fstream>
#include <string>
using namespace std;

int main () {
  // Creating a text file
  ofstream MyFile("hey.txt");

  // Writing to the file
  MyWriteFile << "Hey, you just made your own file and then read it's data. That's so cool!";

  // Closing the file

  // Creating a text string, which is used to output the text file
  string myText;

  // Read from the text file
  ifstream MyFile("hey.txt");

  // Using a while loop together with the getline() function to read the file line by line
  while (getline (MyFile, myText)) {
    // Output the text from the file
    cout << myText;

  // Closing the file

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Hey, you just made your own file and then read it's data. That's so cool!
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And that's all folks. You guys are now ready to fly on your own! Go and do some programming in C++ 😆

Note: See the examples of some basic C++ programs here. See how file handling can be used in a project here.

Let's connect!



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