flock does advisory locking, which is a cooperative locking scheme. This means that you will be able to override the lock if you don't cooperate.
You cooperate by requesting the lock before doing the operation, and then by releasing the lock after you're done. It's the operation that is protected by the lock, not (necessarily) the lock file itself.
flock(2) manual on my system:
Advisory locks allow cooperating processes to perform consistent
operations on files, but do not guarantee consistency (i.e., processes
may still access files without using advisory locks possibly resulting in
Consider this script:
( flock -x 9 || exit 1
echo '1: Locking for 5 secs'; sleep 5; echo '1: Done' ) 9>/tmp/lock &
echo '2: Will now attempt to get lock'
( flock -x 9 || exit 1
echo '2: Got lock' ) 9>/tmp/lock
# Since the second flock call only performs one operation, the whole last
# subshell may be replaced by just
# flock -x /tmp/lock -c echo '2: Got lock'
# (-x and -c are not needed, a lock is exclusive ("write lock")
# unless -s is used to create a shared lock ("read lock"),
# and the -c is optional)
1: Locking for 5 secs
2: Will now attempt to get lock
2: Got lock
You can see that the lock was acquired by the background process and that the other
flock invocation had to wait for it to be released before being able to lock it.
Also note that the lock file is not what's protected here, it's the
echo operations in the subshells that are guaranteed to be exclusive. In particular, the lock file is not protected from uncooperative processes that write or read from it.
This means that each
flock subshell, by locking
/tmp/lock in this example, is guaranteed that operations (on files or other shared data resources) will not be intermingled with conflicting operations from any other program that uses
/tmp/lock as the locking file.
To illustrate the last paragraph above, run my script above in two different terminals (possibly with slightly increased sleep time), as simultaneously as possible, and verify that the two competing scripts acquire the locks appropriately (waiting for each other). Since one lock is requested in a background process, this means that the locks might be acquired out of order from what specified in the script when running two instances of the script concurrently.
In your example, the interactive shell is not cooperating with the locking mechanism. This is why you're able to read from and write to the file even though the lock is held by the backgrounded subshell.
Note also that not all filesystems may support file locking with
flock (or its C library equivalent,
flock()). For example, the network filesystems AFS and NFS may be problematic in this regard. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File_locking#Problems