Fix Python – What exactly is file.flush() doing?

Question

Asked By – geek

I found this in the Python documentation for File Objects:

flush() does not necessarily write the file’s data to disk. Use flush() followed by os.fsync() to ensure this behavior.

So my question is: what exactly is Python’s flush doing? I thought that it forces to write data to the disk, but now I see that it doesn’t. Why?

Now we will see solution for issue: What exactly is file.flush() doing?


Answer

There’s typically two levels of buffering involved:

  1. Internal buffers
  2. Operating system buffers

The internal buffers are buffers created by the runtime/library/language that you’re programming against and is meant to speed things up by avoiding system calls for every write. Instead, when you write to a file object, you write into its buffer, and whenever the buffer fills up, the data is written to the actual file using system calls.

However, due to the operating system buffers, this might not mean that the data is written to disk. It may just mean that the data is copied from the buffers maintained by your runtime into the buffers maintained by the operating system.

If you write something, and it ends up in the buffer (only), and the power is cut to your machine, that data is not on disk when the machine turns off.

So, in order to help with that you have the flush and fsync methods, on their respective objects.

The first, flush, will simply write out any data that lingers in a program buffer to the actual file. Typically this means that the data will be copied from the program buffer to the operating system buffer.

Specifically what this means is that if another process has that same file open for reading, it will be able to access the data you just flushed to the file. However, it does not necessarily mean it has been “permanently” stored on disk.

To do that, you need to call the os.fsync method which ensures all operating system buffers are synchronized with the storage devices they’re for, in other words, that method will copy data from the operating system buffers to the disk.

Typically you don’t need to bother with either method, but if you’re in a scenario where paranoia about what actually ends up on disk is a good thing, you should make both calls as instructed.


Addendum in 2018.

Note that disks with cache mechanisms is now much more common than back in 2013, so now there are even more levels of caching and buffers involved. I assume these buffers will be handled by the sync/flush calls as well, but I don’t really know.

This question is answered By – Lasse V. Karlsen

This answer is collected from stackoverflow and reviewed by FixPython community admins, is licensed under cc by-sa 2.5 , cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0