Creating a file only if it doesn't exist in Node.js


Question

We have a buffer we'd like to write to a file. If the file already exists, we need to increment an index on it, and try again. Is there a way to create a file only if it doesn't exist, or should I just stat files until I get an error to find one that doesn't exist already?

For example, I have files a_1.jpg and a_2.jpg. I'd like my method to try creating a_1.jpg and a_2.jpg, and fail, and finally successfully create a_3.jpg.

The ideal method would look something like this:

fs.writeFile(path, data, { overwrite: false }, function (err) {
  if (err) throw err;
  console.log('It\'s saved!');
});

or like this:

fs.createWriteStream(path, { overwrite: false });

Does anything like this exist in node's fs library?

EDIT: My question isn't if there's a separate function that checks for existence. It's this: is there a way to create a file if it doesn't exist, in a single file system call?

1
52
10/16/2012 4:18:42 PM

As your intuition correctly guessed, the naive solution with a pair of exists / writeFile calls is wrong. Asynchronous code runs in unpredictable ways. And in given case it is

  • Is there a file a.txt? — No.
  • (File a.txt gets created by another program)
  • Write to a.txt if it's possible. — Okay.

But yes, we can do that in a single call. We're working with file system so it's a good idea to read developer manual on fs. And hey, here's an interesting part.

'w' - Open file for writing. The file is created (if it does not exist) or truncated (if it exists).

'wx' - Like 'w' but fails if path exists.

So all we have to do is just add wx to the fs.open call. But hey, we don't like fopen-like IO. Let's read on fs.writeFile a bit more.

fs.readFile(filename[, options], callback)#

filename String

options Object

encoding String | Null default = null

flag String default = 'r'

callback Function

That options.flag looks promising. So we try

fs.writeFile(path, data, { flag: 'wx' }, function (err) {
    if (err) throw err;
    console.log("It's saved!");
});

And it works perfectly for a single write. I guess this code will fail in some more bizarre ways yet if you try to solve your task with it. You have an atomary "check for a_#.jpg existence, and write there if it's empty" operation, but all the other fs state is not locked, and a_1.jpg file may spontaneously disappear while you're already checking a_5.jpg. Most* file systems are no ACID databases, and the fact that you're able to do at least some atomic operations is miraculous. It's very likely that wx code won't work on some platform. So for the sake of your sanity, use database, finally.

Some more info for the suffering

Imagine we're writing something like memoize-fs that caches results of function calls to the file system to save us some network/cpu time. Could we open the file for reading if it exists, and for writing if it doesn't, all in the single call? Let's take a funny look on those flags. After a while of mental exercises we can see that a+ does what we want: if the file doesn't exist, it creates one and opens it both for reading and writing, and if the file exists it does so without clearing the file (as w+ would). But now we cannot use it neither in (smth)File, nor in create(Smth)Stream functions. And that seems like a missing feature.

So feel free to file it as a feature request (or even a bug) to Node.js github, as lack of atomic asynchronous file system API is a drawback of Node. Though don't expect changes any time soon.

55
3/8/2016 4:49:05 PM

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