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HOWTO-Open FilesHOWTO-Open Files

Super Brief Quick Reference

  • Use File::open to open files (for reading) as before.
  • However, do *not* use (absolute) paths with File::open()!
  • an FSNode is kind of a "portable path". If you need to process a path (e.g. coming from the config file), first create an FSNode from it, then use that for whatever you need to (e.g. pass the FSNode to File::open())

How to Open a File

Here is just a quick guide on the various ways to open a file, without explaining much background.

The basic case: you want to open a file called "datafile.dat":

#include "common/file.h"

Common::File f;
if (!"datafile.dat")) {
  // handle failure to find/open file
// access f

Or, you want to open a file called "datafile.dat" in a subdirectory "data" of the game directory:

#include "common/file.h"

Common::File f;
if (!"data/datafile.dat")) {
  // handle failure to find/open file
// access f

This functions by searching through a default search path managed by the SearchManager (short: SearchMan). The default search path contains:

  • the game directory
  • the global "extrapath" from the config file
  • the game-specific "extrapath" from the config file

Also, by default it contains a number of system-specific paths, such as:

  • on some platforms, a global data dir (e.g., /usr/share/scummvm )
  • on Mac OS X, the Resource directory of the .app bundle
  • the current directory [subject to change in the future]


  • A File is a SeekableReadStream. See the doxygen documentation of that class to see how to access the contents of a file.
  • You must not pass absolute paths to File::open()! If you must open a file using a path, the correct way is to first create an FSNode from the path, then pass that to File::open.
  • You can pass relative paths in a limited fashion; you must use the "/" character as separator. See the doxygen docs of class FSDirectory for details.
  • There are new File::open methods: You can pass an "Archive" subclass (e.g. a ZIPArchive) to it, and it will search for that file in the Archive). In particular, the SearchMan is such an Archive subclass, and can wrap arbitrary paths, ZIP or ARJ archives, etc. By providing Archive subclasses, you can extend this arbitrarily.

The Parts of the System

FSNode (from common/fs.h)

Represents one specific file or directory in the filesystem (which may or may not exist). Think of it as a generalization of a path. Example: A FSNode could refer to "/home/you/foo.txt" (for the Windows folks, "C:\Documents\foo.txt"). This might be a file or a directory, or it might not exist at all. The FSNode provides methods for checking this, though.

Ways to create FSNodes:

  • from a simple filename (assumes that the file resides in the current directory)
  • from another FSNode:
    • by making a copy of an existing FSNode
    • by asking a node for the node of its parent dir
    • by asking a directory FSNode for a child node

Finally, you can create FSNodes from "paths". Caveat: You may not assume anything about the path format, like what the separator char is; in fact, there may not even exist the *concept* of a path separator on the target system. Hence, the only valid way to do that is to feed a "path" created by another FSNode to this FSNode. I.e. you can "serialize" an FSNode to a path, via the FSNode::getPath() method, then write that to a config file. Later, you read it back in, and create a new FSNode from it. That works fine, as long as you stay on the same OS / platform.

Warning: a "path" as returned by FSNode::getPath should *not* be passed to File::open(). If you want to open a file at a specific path, first create an FSNode from it, then use that to open the file by calling node->openForReading();.

SearchMan (from common/archive.h)

Think of this class as the analog of the "PATH" environment variable: It manages a list of locations (usually, just directories in your filesystem, but more elaborate things are possible, more on that later). When you want to open a file using class File, all these locations are searched.

This replaces the old "File::addDefaultDirectory()" system (these methods currently still exist for backwards compatibility, but directly call through to the SearchManager; they will be scrapped eventually).

Archive (from common/archive.h)

This class represents an accumulation of "files". It can be a filesystem directory (implemented by FSDirectory), and then "contains" all the files in that directory (and possibly also files contained some levels deep in that dir). It can be a ZIP or ARJ archive (see resp. common/unzip.h and common/unarj.h), and then the "files" in it are members of that compressed file. It can even be an accumulation of multiple other archives, and then it contains all files contained in all of these dirs (see class SearchSet). The SearchManager is in fact just an instance of this class, too.

This concept is simple yet powerful. By using SearchSet, you can group together multiple directories and compressed files, and then with a single call, search for files in all of them simultaneously.

You can ask an Archive whether it contains a given file; open a file (either via the openFile() method, which returns a ReadStream pointer you have to delete later on; or via the new File::open(name, archive) method); get a list of all files in the archive; or get a list of files matching a specific pattern.

Important note: Archives look up files in a case *in*sensitive fashion. This is very convenient for most engines, but it can of course in some cases lead to clashes. These are normally resolved by just taking the first match, and then assuming that normal games do not have multiple files with the same name, only differing in case.

Also, if you a file simple occurs multiple times (say, an engine-data file, like "kyra.dat", may live in the current dir, extrapath and gamepath, in multiple versions), then the basic API of Archive will just give you any of these. If you need to distinguish multiple files with the same name (e.g. because you want to pick the "kyra.dat" with the correct version), there is also an advanced API which lets you deal with that.

Notes to Implementers / Porters

Porters can fully customize file I/O by overloading certain methods:

  • Provide a custom (Abstract)FSNode subclass if your system handles paths / the filesystem differently from one of the existing FSNode subclasses.
  • If you need custom file I/O code (e.g. because the standard C I/O stuff, like fopen/fread is not available/buggy/too limited), you can overload Abstract FSNode::openForReading() and Abstract FSNode::openForWriting(). The Symbian port already makes use of that, so look there and/or ask me if you need details. Note that supporting writable FSNodes is optional, so your subclass can simply return 0 in its openForWriting() method.

Savestates are by default handled via FSNodes, too. If you need to handle savestates differently (like many console ports do), by providing a custom SavefileManager implementation (many ports do that already).

If your port has the config file in a special location (be it in a special path, or you want to store it in the Windows registry, or in some special NVRAM, or whatever -- go nuts with ideas), you can overload OSystem::openConfigFileForReading() and OSystem::openConfigFileForWriting() methods.

If you want ScummVM to look for file in additional dirs (like, on OSX, we store the engine-data files like sky.cpt and kyra.dat inside the application bundle), your port can overload the OSystem::addSysArchivesToSearchSet() method to hook these extra locations into the SearchMan -- this way, the location is checked whenever the default File::open method is used, for example. You can hook up arbitrary Archive classes here (even .ZIP or .ARJ files), not just directories, so it's quite flexible.


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