How to run an external program from C and parse its output


I've got a utility that outputs a list of files required by a game. How can I run that utility within a C program and grab its output so I can act on it within the same program?

UPDATE: Good call on the lack of information. The utility spits out a series of strings, and this is supposed to be portable across Mac/Windows/Linux. Please note, I'm looking for a programmatic way to execute the utility and retain its output (which goes to stdout).

Best Solution

As others have pointed out, popen() is the most standard way. And since no answer provided an example using this method, here it goes:

#include <stdio.h>

#define BUFSIZE 128

int parse_output(void) {
    char *cmd = "ls -l";    

    char buf[BUFSIZE];
    FILE *fp;

    if ((fp = popen(cmd, "r")) == NULL) {
        printf("Error opening pipe!\n");
        return -1;

    while (fgets(buf, BUFSIZE, fp) != NULL) {
        // Do whatever you want here...
        printf("OUTPUT: %s", buf);

    if(pclose(fp))  {
        printf("Command not found or exited with error status\n");
        return -1;

    return 0;

Sample output:

OUTPUT: total 16
OUTPUT: -rwxr-xr-x 1 14077 14077 8832 Oct 19 04:32 a.out
OUTPUT: -rw-r--r-- 1 14077 14077 1549 Oct 19 04:32 main.c