How to save a specific length string from a file and work with it in C

So what I'm trying to do is open a file and read it until the end in blocks that are 256 bytes long each time it is called. My dilemma is using fgets() or fread() to do it.

I was using fgets() initially, because it returns a string of the bytes that were read, which is great because I can store that data and work with it. However, in my particular file that I'm reading, the 256 bytes often happen over a more than 2 lines, which is a problem because fgets() stops reading when it hits a newline character or the end of the file.

I then thought of using fread(), but I don't know how to save the line that I'm referring to with it because fread() returns an int referring to the number of elements successfully read (according to its documentation).

I've searched and thought of solutions for a while now and can't find anything that works with my particular scenario. I would like some guidance on how to go about this issue, how would you go about this in my position?


You can use fread() to read each 256 bytes block and keep a lineCount variable to keep track of the number of new line characters you have encountered so far in the input. Since you have to process the blocks already this wouldn't mean much of an overhead in the processing.

To read a block of 256 chars, which is what I think you are doing, you just need to create a buffer of chars that can hold 256 of them, in other words a char array of size 256.

#define BLOCK_SIZE 256
char block[BLOCK_SIZE];

Then if you check the documentation for fread() it shows the following signature:

Following is the declaration for fread() function.

size_t fread(void *ptr, size_t size, size_t nmemb, FILE *stream)


  • ptr -- This is the pointer to a block of memory with a minimum size of size*nmemb bytes.
  • size -- This is the size in bytes of each element to be read.
  • nmemb -- This is the number of elements, each one with a size of size bytes.
  • stream -- This is the pointer to a FILE object that an input stream.

So this means it takes a pointer to the buffer where it will write the read information, the size of each element it's supposed to read, the maximum amount of elements you want it to read and the file pointer. In your case it would be:

int read = fread(block, sizeof(char), BLOCK_SIZE, file);

This will copy the information from the file to the block array, which you can later process and keep track of the lines. The characters that were read by fread are in the block array, so the first char in the last read block would be block[0], the second block[1] and so on. The returned value in read indicates how many elements (in your case chars) were inserted in the array block when you call fread, this number will be equal to BLOCK_SIZE for every call, unless you reach the end of the file or there's an error.

I suggest you read some documentation for a full example, play a little with the code and do some reading on pointers in C to gain a better understanding of how everything works in general. If you still have questions after that, we can take it from there or you can create a new SO question.

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