Document numberP2467R0
Reply-toJonathan Wakely <>

Support exclusive mode for fstreams


Historically, C++ iostreams libraries had a noreplace open mode that corresponded to the O_EXCL flag for POSIX open. That mode was not included in the C++98 standard, presumably for portability reasons, because it wasn't in ISO C90.

Since then, ISO C added support for "exclusive" mode to fopen, so now C++'s <fstream> is missing a feature that is present in both ISO C and POSIX. We should fix this for C++23.


C11 added an 'x' modifier to the fopen flags for files opened in write mode. This opens the file in "exclusive" mode, meaning the fopen call fails if the file already exists. This is quite an important feature for certain use cases. As the WG14 N1339 proposal explained, "This is necessary to eliminate a time-of-creation to time-of-use race condition vulnerability. [...] fopen() does not indicate if an existing file has been opened for writing or a new file has been created. This may lead to a program overwriting or accessing an unintended file." See N1339 for additional rationale.

C++ already incorporates the C11 changes to fopen by reference, but std::fstream has no way to achieve the same thing. To avoid the time-of-creation to time-of-use (TOCTTOU) problem it's necessary to use fopen and FILE* (or non-standard APIs to hand an existing file handle or file descriptor to an fstream).

The 'x' modifier is widely supported. It was already supported as an extension by Glibc's fopen (since at least version 2.4 from 2006), and is in the draft for the next revision of POSIX (because it's rebasing on C11).

Support for opening an ofstream in exclusive mode isn't even a new idea, pre-ISO iostreams provided it. References to a noreplace flag can be found in texts such as:

The flag is still present in the MSVC library, as ios_base::_Noreplace, and in the Apache stdcxx implementation, as ios_base::noreplace.

Design Considerations

The historical name was "noreplace" but we could consider something like ios_base::excl to correspond more closely with POSIX and C. I originally preferred that, but have since decided that it's better to be consistent with the historical noreplace name, which is still present as ios_base::_Noreplace in MSVC. I think that the meaning of "noreplace" is a bit more intuitable than "exclusive". If you don't already know what POSIX or C means by "exclusive mode" then the name doesn't help you.

We could also consider not using an ios_base::openmode for this, but just add new constructors to basic_filebuf, basic_ofstream etc. to request the file be opened in exclusive mode. This would be novel, as all existing options for opening files (such as binary mode) are done via openmode flags. There was no interest in doing it any differently when the idea was discussed on the LEWG reflector.

Niall Douglas raised a concern related to the ISO C specification for fopen, which is vague about what "exclusive" mode means, and allows it to be ignored. I feel we should not deviate from C, so any fixes should be done "upstream" in the C standard. That makes it simpler to implement the C++ feature in terms of fopen, rather than having to do use OS-specific APIs.

Proposed wording

This is relative to the N4901 working draft.

Add a feature test macro to [version.syn]:

      #define __cpp_lib_ios_noreplace    YYYYDDL // also in <ios>

Add a new openmode constant to the ios_base synopsis in [ios.base.general] as indicated:

      // [ios.openmode], openmode
      using openmode = T3;
      static constexpr openmode app = unspecified;
      static constexpr openmode ate = unspecified;
      static constexpr openmode binary = unspecified;
      static constexpr openmode in = unspecified;
      static constexpr openmode out = unspecified;
      static constexpr openmode trunc = unspecified;
      static constexpr openmode noreplace = unspecified;

Add a new row to Table 123 [tag:ios.openmode]:

Element Effect(s) if set
app seek to end before each write
ate open and seek to end immediately after opening
binary perform input and output in binary mode (as opposed to text mode)
in open for input
out open for output
trunc truncate an existing stream when opening
noreplace open in exclusive mode

Add a new column to Table 130 [], as indicated:

binary in out trunc app noreplace  
+ "w"
+ + "wx"
+ + "w"
+ + + "wx"
+ + "a"
+ "a"
+ "r"
+ + "r+"
+ + + "w+"
+ + + + "w+x"
+ + + "a+"
+ + "a+"
+ + "wb"
+ + + "wbx"
+ + + "wb"
+ + + + "wbx"
+ + + "ab"
+ + "ab"
+ + "rb"
+ + + "r+b"
+ + + + "w+b"
+ + + + + "w+bx"
+ + + + "a+b"
+ + + "a+b"