I thought about using a macro to auto close FILE pointers at the end of a block. My solution so far is:

FILE *fopen_safe(const char *filename, const char *mode) {
    FILE *fp = fopen(filename, mode);

    if (!fp) {

    return fp;

#define with_fopen(fp, filename, mode) \
    for (FILE *fp = fopen_safe(filename, mode), _invariant = { ._r = 1 }; _invariant._r--; fclose(fp))

// Usage:
with_fopen(fp, "test", "w") {
    fprintf(fp, "test\n");

This solution is not elegant as i am using an int in the struct to create my loop invariant.

Is there another way to auto close files? Can a block be associated with a macro in a smarter way?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there another way to auto close files? Port your code to C++ :-) C really can't do this in any reasonable way. Just a fact of life. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26, 2016 at 4:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Use function pointers along with a void * to fake closures. Not nice, but works unless you're using longjmp. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26, 2016 at 6:24

2 Answers 2


There are few problems with this macro.

  • It relies on an undocumented layout of FILE structure
  • It cannot be nested (try it with -Wshadow)
  • It assumes that the block is always left through the end
  • It may create suprises:

        for (....) {
            with_fopen(fp, ...) {
                int rc = do_something(fp);
                if (rc == -1) {

    The programmer (with or without Python background) expects the outer loop to be broken. Instead the loop hidden inside with is.

Nice try however.


Unfortunately, C just isn't designed for this kind of thing. Or more accurately, C can do this perfectly fine, but not within what is commonly called "structured programming."

In C++, the correct answer would be RAII. In Java, it would be try-with-resources. In C, we have none of those things. Instead, the least bad way to do cleanup code in C is with goto:

int func(/* arguments */) {
    int rc = 0;
    char *buf = NULL;
    FILE *fp = fopen(/*...*/);
        goto err_fp;
    buf = malloc(/*...*/);
        goto err_buf;
    /* Put some code here
     * In this block, don't write return retval;
     * Instead, write rc=retval; goto out;
    /* fclose() error checking elided for simplicity.
     * You have to call it in a loop to handle EINTR correctly.
    return rc;

This ensures that buf is only freed if it was successfully malloc'd,* fp is only closed if it was opened, and all resources are cleaned up on every code path.

* free(NULL) is legal and harmless. In real code, you should take advantage of this (e.g. by merging the err_buf label into the out label). I'm only using malloc/free as an example to show how this pattern nests.


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