intro — introduction to system calls


Section 2 of the manual describes the Linux system calls. A system call is an entry point into the Linux kernel. Usually, system calls are not invoked directly: instead, most system calls have corresponding C library wrapper functions which perform the steps required (e.g., trapping to kernel mode) in order to invoke the system call. Thus, making a system call looks the same as invoking a normal library function.

For a list of the Linux system calls, see syscalls(2).


On error, most system calls return a negative error number (i.e., the negated value of one of the constants described in errno(3)). The C library wrapper hides this detail from the caller: when a system call returns a negative value, the wrapper copies the absolute value into the errno variable, and returns −1 as the return value of the wrapper.

The value returned by a successful system call depends on the call. Many system calls return 0 on success, but some can return nonzero values from a successful call. The details are described in the individual manual pages.

In some cases, the programmer must define a feature test macro in order to obtain the declaration of a system call from the header file specified in the man page SYNOPSIS section. (Where required, these feature test macros must be defined before including any header files.) In such cases, the required macro is described in the man page. For further information on feature test macros, see feature_test_macros(7).


Certain terms and abbreviations are used to indicate UNIX variants and standards to which calls in this section conform. See standards(7).


Calling directly

In most cases, it is unnecessary to invoke a system call directly, but there are times when the Standard C library does not implement a nice wrapper function for you. In this case, the programmer must manually invoke the system call using syscall(2). Historically, this was also possible using one of the _syscall macros described in _syscall(2).

Authors and copyright conditions

Look at the header of the manual page source for the author(s) and copyright conditions. Note that these can be different from page to page!


_syscall(2), syscall(2), syscalls(2), errno(3), intro(3), capabilities(7), credentials(7), feature_test_macros(7), mq_overview(7), path_resolution(7), pipe(7), pty(7), sem_overview(7), shm_overview(7), signal(7), socket(7), standards(7), svipc(7), symlink(7), time(7)


This page is part of release 3.52 of the Linux man-pages project. A description of the project, and information about reporting bugs, can be found at−pages/.

  Copyright (C) 2007 Michael Kerrisk <>

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2007-10-23 mtk: moved the _syscallN specific material to the
    new _syscall(2) page, and substantially enhanced and rewrote
    the remaining material on this page.