Python os.set_inheritable() Method

Vaibhav Vaibhav Nov 05, 2023
  1. Introduction to the os.set_inheritable() in Python
  2. Syntax of the Python os.set_inheritable() Method
  3. Example 1: Use the os.set_inheritable() to Set the inheritable Flag for a File in Python
  4. Example 2: Use the os.set_inheritable() to Set the non-inheritable Flag for a File in Python
  5. Practical Applications
  6. Considerations and Best Practices
  7. Conclusion
Python os.set_inheritable() Method

The Python programming language offers an os module to interact with the operating system and perform various low-level operations such as reading files, spawning new processes, file management, environment operations, etc. Among these, the os.set_inheritable() method is a crucial tool for managing file descriptor inheritance within processes.

Whenever a file is opened, a file descriptor is associated with that file. A file descriptor is essentially an integer value uniquely identifying an open file on a system.

A file descriptor has an inheritable flag that indicates if any child process can inherit that file descriptor. By default, all the file descriptors are set as non-inheritable.

On UNIX and Windows systems, non-inheritable file descriptors are closed inside child processes except for inheritable file descriptors.

The os module has a set_inheritable() method that we can use to set the inheritable flag of a valid file descriptor to a Boolean value. In this article, we will explore the purpose, functionality, and practical applications of os.set_inheritable().

Introduction to the os.set_inheritable() in Python

The os module in Python is a powerful library for system interactions. One of its key functions, os.set_inheritable(), enables developers to control whether child processes inherit a file descriptor.

Understanding File Descriptors

Before diving into os.set_inheritable(), it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of file descriptors.

In Unix-like systems, a file descriptor is a unique non-negative integer associated with an open file, socket, or other I/O resource. It serves as a reference to the resource.

File Descriptor Inheritance

When a new process is created in Unix-based systems, it often inherits file descriptors from its parent process. This inheritance allows the child process to access the same resources (like files or sockets) as its parent.

However, there are scenarios where you may want to control which file descriptors are inherited.

the Role of the os.set_inheritable()

os.set_inheritable(fd, inheritable) is a method that allows you to explicitly set whether a file descriptor (fd) should be inherited by child processes. The inheritable argument is a Boolean value (True or False) indicating whether the file descriptor should be inherited.

Syntax of the Python os.set_inheritable() Method

os.set_inheritable(fd, inheritable)


Type Explanation
fd Integer It is a file descriptor associated with a valid resource. The file descriptor you want to control.
inheritable Boolean A Boolean value (True or False) indicating whether the file descriptor should be inherited.


The set_inheritable() method does not return anything. Instead, it sets a file descriptor’s inheritable flag to a Boolean value.

Example 1: Use the os.set_inheritable() to Set the inheritable Flag for a File in Python

This code snippet demonstrates the use of the os.get_inheritable() and the os.set_inheritable() methods.

import os

path = os.getcwd() + "/file.txt"
fd =, os.O_RDWR | os.O_CREAT)
print("Inheritable Flag Status:", os.get_inheritable(fd))
os.set_inheritable(fd, True)
print("Inheritable Flag Status:", os.get_inheritable(fd))


Inheritable Flag Status: False
Inheritable Flag Status: True

The Python code above first defines a path to a file. It can be a file system path to any file, but the above code considers a file file.txt in the current working directory.

The os.getcwd() method returns a string representation for the current working directory. Next, we open the file using the method.

Note that if the file is missing, it is created and ultimately opened in read and write mode. Currently, the file descriptor is inheritable (refer to the first line of the output)

Lastly, we set the inheritable flag to True. The second line in the output depicts the same.

Example 2: Use the os.set_inheritable() to Set the non-inheritable Flag for a File in Python

Let’s go through another example to demonstrate how to use the os.set_inheritable(). Below is a simple example of how to use the function to open a file and then use the os.set_inheritable() to mark the file descriptor as non-inheritable (set to False).

import os

# Open a file
file_descriptor ="myfile.txt", os.O_RDONLY)

# Set the file descriptor as non-inheritable
os.set_inheritable(file_descriptor, False)

In this example, we first open a file called myfile.txt in read-only mode, obtaining a file descriptor. Next, we use the os.set_inheritable() to mark this file descriptor as non-inheritable.

The purpose of setting a file descriptor as non-inheritable is to ensure that it is not passed down to any child processes that may be spawned later in the program. This can be important for managing resources and ensuring that child processes do not accidentally access or modify files that they shouldn’t.

It’s worth noting that in practice, you would typically perform additional operations on the file using its file descriptor after it has been opened and then later close the file descriptor when it is no longer needed to release system resources.

Practical Applications

Controlling File Descriptor Inheritance

By using the os.set_inheritable(), you can precisely control which file descriptors are inherited by child processes. This can be crucial in scenarios where you want to restrict access to certain resources or prevent unintended interactions.

Managing Communication Channels

In scenarios where inter-process communication is required, you can use the os.set_inheritable() to carefully manage the file descriptors used for communication, ensuring they are only accessible to the intended processes.

Considerations and Best Practices

  • Resource Security: Use os.set_inheritable() to limit access to sensitive resources, enhancing security in multi-process environments.
  • Clear Documentation: Clearly document which file descriptors are set as inheritable and which are not, especially in complex applications.


os.set_inheritable() is a powerful method for controlling file descriptor inheritance in Python. By understanding and leveraging this function, you gain precise control over which resources are accessible to child processes.

This is invaluable in scenarios where security and controlled resource access are paramount. By implementing this method effectively, you can design robust and secure multi-process applications.

Vaibhav Vaibhav avatar Vaibhav Vaibhav avatar

Vaibhav is an artificial intelligence and cloud computing stan. He likes to build end-to-end full-stack web and mobile applications. Besides computer science and technology, he loves playing cricket and badminton, going on bike rides, and doodling.

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