[erlang-questions] Ports and piping output between them

Nathan Fiedler <>
Sat Jul 16 19:13:56 CEST 2016

My ultimate goal is to run two external processes, with the output of one
feeding into the input of the other, a la shell piping. So something like
`zfs send | zfs recv` or `tar | split`, but from within my Erlang
application. Below is my simple example that fairly quickly balloons memory
out of control and eventually explodes (i.e. the OS kills it).

#!/usr/bin/env escript

main(_Args) ->
    SendCmd = "cat /dev/random",
    % not using 'binary' with open_port makes memory size grow really fast,
    % but that's fine, I want that option anyway, just pointing it out
    SendPort = erlang:open_port({spawn, SendCmd}, [exit_status, binary]),
    RecvCmd = "strings",
    RecvPort = erlang:open_port({spawn, RecvCmd}, [exit_status, binary]),
    {ok, 0} = pipe_until_exit(SendPort, RecvPort, 0),

pipe_until_exit(SendPort, RecvPort, N) ->
    % invoking garbage_collect/0 helps a little bit, but memory still grows
    io:format("iteration ~w~n", [N]),
        {SendPort, {exit_status, Status}} ->
            {ok, Status};
        {RecvPort, {exit_status, Status}} ->
            io:format("error: receive port exited ~w~n", [Status]);
        {SendPort, {data, Data}} ->
            true = erlang:port_command(RecvPort, Data),
            pipe_until_exit(SendPort, RecvPort, N + 1);
        {RecvPort, {data, _Data}} ->
            pipe_until_exit(SendPort, RecvPort, N + 1);
        Msg ->
            io:format("some other message: ~w", [Msg])

ensure_port_closed(Port) ->
    case erlang:port_info(Port) of
        undefined -> ok;
        _         -> erlang:port_close(Port)

My assumption is that I am doing something wrong, but I can't see it. I'll
explore other solutions, such as simply generating a shell script and
invoking it. In the mean time, if you can see something obvious, please let
me know.

Yes, I am aware of os:cmd/1, but that does not return the exit code, which
I really want to have so I know that something at least appeared to work
(zfs send|zfs recv and tar|split do not generate any success indication
other than exit code).


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