Reading os/exec.Cmd Output Without Race Conditions

And without cmd.StdoutPipe

Golang Weekly issue 164 features a nice article, Advanced command execution in Go with os/exec, which details several ways of working with os/exec, especially how to read STDOUT and STDERR while the command is running. This common task is commonly done wrong, where “wrong” means “the code has a race condition”. This blog post shows how to read STDOUT and STDERR from an os/exec.Cmd while it’s running and without race conditions.


The Internet is rife solutions like Krzysztof provides (but afaik no one has provided them in one place and so thoroughly, so his post is a good read nonetheless), but let’s test one:

// cmd.go
package cmd

import (

func Run() {
	var stdoutBuf, stderrBuf bytes.Buffer
	cmd := exec.Command("ls", "-lah")

	stdoutIn, _ := cmd.StdoutPipe()
	stderrIn, _ := cmd.StderrPipe()

	var errStdout, errStderr error
	stdout := io.MultiWriter(os.Stdout, &stdoutBuf)
	stderr := io.MultiWriter(os.Stderr, &stderrBuf)
	err := cmd.Start()
	if err != nil {
		log.Fatalf("cmd.Start() failed with '%s'\n", err)

	go func() {
		_, errStdout = io.Copy(stdout, stdoutIn)

	go func() {
		_, errStderr = io.Copy(stderr, stderrIn)

	err = cmd.Wait()
	if err != nil {
		log.Fatalf("cmd.Run() failed with %s\n", err)
	if errStdout != nil || errStderr != nil {
		log.Fatal("failed to capture stdout or stderr\n")
	outStr, errStr := string(stdoutBuf.Bytes()), string(stderrBuf.Bytes())
	fmt.Printf("\nout:\n%s\nerr:\n%s\n", outStr, errStr)
// cmd_test.go
package cmd

import (

func TestRun(t *testing.T) {

Let’s go test -race it:

$ go test -race

Write at 0x00c420084280 by goroutine 6:
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/os/file_unix.go:143 +0x124
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/os/file_unix.go:132 +0x55
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/os/exec/exec.go:262 +0x67
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/os/exec/exec.go:447 +0x2bd
      /opt/dev/test/cmd-output/cmd/cmd.go:35 +0x4ea
      /opt/dev/test/cmd-output/cmd/cmd_test.go:8 +0x2f
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/testing/testing.go:610 +0xc9

Previous read at 0x00c420084280 by goroutine 7:
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/os/file_unix.go:228 +0x7e
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/os/file.go:101 +0x6f
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/io/io.go:390 +0x168
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/io/io.go:360 +0x7e
      /opt/dev/test/cmd-output/cmd/cmd.go:28 +0x7e

Goroutine 6 (running) created at:
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/testing/testing.go:646 +0x52f
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/testing/testing.go:793 +0xb9
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/testing/testing.go:610 +0xc9
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/testing/testing.go:799 +0x4ba
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/testing/testing.go:743 +0x12f
      _/opt/dev/test/cmd-output/cmd/_test/_testmain.go:54 +0x1b8

Goroutine 7 (finished) created at:
      /opt/dev/test/cmd-output/cmd/cmd.go:29 +0x480
      /opt/dev/test/cmd-output/cmd/cmd_test.go:8 +0x2f
      /usr/local/opt/go/libexec/src/testing/testing.go:610 +0xc9


Found 7 data race(s)
exit status 66
FAIL	_/opt/dev/test/cmd-output/cmd	1.025s

I’ll summarize:

  • goroutine 6:
    • runs cmd
    • writes to stdout
  • goroutine 7
    • runs io.Copy
    • reads from stdout
  • cmd finishes
    • Wait closes stdout (goroutine 6)
    • io.Copy was reading stdout (goroutine 7)
  • Race condition:
    • two goroutines accessing stdout without concurrency guards/sync
    • did io.Copy read everything before Wait closed stdout?

Sidebar: another great article in Golang Weekly issue 164: Don’t defer Close() on writable files

The docs for Cmd.StdoutPipe say:

Wait will close the pipe after seeing the command exit, so most callers need not close the pipe themselves; however, an implication is that it is incorrect to call Wait before all reads from the pipe have completed.

To put it another way: the correct usage is to read everything first, then call Wait. The docs provide an idiomatic example to illustrate. Used correctly, there’s no race condition because the simple flow is reads -> (reads stop) -> close -> wirte. Consequently, and unfortunately for what we’re trying to achieve, reading StdoutPipe before/during Wait is wrong and causes a race condition.


TL;DR: go-cmd/cmd

I agree with Krzysztof: it’s important to understand os/exec. Once you do and you want to make things “just work”, just use go-cmd/cmd; it has 100% test coverage and no race conditions, and it can be used synchronously or asynchronously. It also correctly handles process termination, which is a problem far more subtle and infrequently realized let alone handled.

Here’s how go-cmd/cmd handles it (just code snippets):

// os/exec.Cmd.StdoutPipe is usually used incorrectly. The docs are clear:
// "it is incorrect to call Wait before all reads from the pipe have completed."
// Therefore, we can't read from the pipe in another goroutine because it
// causes a race condition: we'll read in one goroutine and the original
// goroutine that calls Wait will write on close which is what Wait does.
// The proper solution is using an io.Writer for cmd.Stdout. I couldn't find
// an io.Writer that's also safe for concurrent reads (as lines in a []string
// no less), so I created one:
type output struct {
	buf   *bytes.Buffer
	lines []string

func newOutput() *output {
	return &output{
		buf:   &bytes.Buffer{},
		lines: []string{},
		Mutex: &sync.Mutex{},

// io.Writer interface is only this method
func (rw *output) Write(p []byte) (int, error) {
	defer rw.Unlock()
	return rw.buf.Write(p) // and bytes.Buffer implements it, too

func (rw *output) Lines() []string {
	defer rw.Unlock()
	// Scanners are io.Readers which effectively destroy the buffer by reading
	// to EOF. So once we scan the buf to lines, the buf is empty again.
	s := bufio.NewScanner(rw.buf)
	for s.Scan() {
		rw.lines = append(rw.lines, s.Text())
	return rw.lines

// Elsewhere in the code...

cmd := exec.Command(name, args...)

stdout = newOutput()
stderr = newOutput()

cmd.Stdout = stdout
cmd.Stderr = stderr


// Safe to call stdout.Lines()


This this the best way? I don’t know. Is it a correct way? I’m 99% certain it is. Does it work? Yes! I’ve used it extensively in the real world without issues.

go-cmd/cmd saves me a lot of time because it just works. I hope it “just works” for you, too, and I hope this blog post helps turn the tide of racey solutions to the common and important task of reading STDOUT/STDERR from a Go os/exec.Cmd while it’s running.