I have the following series of commands:

cd / && ls | ( cd /tmp && cat >dumpfile)

This series of commands does the following: it creates a file named /tmp/dumpfile. This file contains a listing of the root directory.

The cd / && ls output gets piped to a subshell. What I find odd is that in the subshell, instead of cd /tmp swallowing the ls output, the later cat >dumpfile gets it and writes it to a file. What is going on here?

2 Answers 2


The pipe sets up stdout to go from ls to the subshell.

In the subshell, cd /tmp and cat are done in the same process.

cd /tmp doesn't read from stdin (the pipe), so when cat reads from stdin, it gets all of ls's output.

  • Is it sufficient for the first command to have no process? What about ls | ( /bin/echo hi; /bin/cat ) which runs echo and cat as separate processes, but cat still reads stdin from ls instead of /bin/echo?
    – mrb
    Aug 17, 2012 at 13:31
  • If the first command is not a builtin, the shell will have to do an extra fork. But that doesn't matter, because children inherit their parents' file descriptors.
    – Mikel
    Aug 17, 2012 at 13:35
  • Thanks! To elaborate on your answer even further: I checked the cd's definition in IEEE Std 1003.1-2008. In the "STDIN" and "STDOUT" sections it says both streams are (almost always) not used by cd.
    – Abdull
    Aug 17, 2012 at 13:42

cd doesn't swallow the output because it doesn't want to. Consider this:

{ ls; date; } | (cd /tmp && date >> date.txt && cat date.txt && cat >dumpfile)

Only the last cat >dumpfile will save the stdin coming from the pipe, because none of the other commands want to consume it.

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