/dev/zero is a special file in Unix-like operating systems that provides as many null characters (ASCII NUL, 0x00) as are read from it. One of the typical uses is to provide a character stream for initializing data storage.
Read operations from /dev/zero return as many null characters (0x00) as requested in the read operation.
Unlike /dev/null, /dev/zero may be used as a source, not only as a sink for data. All write operations to /dev/zero succeed with no other effects. However, /dev/null is more commonly used for this purpose.
When /dev/zero is memory-mapped, e.g., with mmap, to the virtual address space, it is equivalent to using anonymous memory; i.e. memory not connected to any file.
/dev/zero was introduced in 1988 by SunOS-4.0 in order to allow a mappable BSS segment for shared libraries using anonymous memory. HP-UX 8.x introduced the MAP_ANONYMOUS flag for mmap(), which maps anonymous memory directly without a need to open /dev/zero. Since the late 1990s, MAP_ANONYMOUS or MAP_ANON are supported by most UNIX versions, removing the original purpose of /dev/zero.
The dd Unix utility program reads octet streams from a source to a destination, possibly performing data conversions in the process. Destroying existing data on a file system partition (low-level formatting):
dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/<destination partition>
dd if=/dev/zero of=foobar count=1024 bs=1024
Note: The block size value can be given in SI (decimal) values, e.g. in GB, MB, etc. To create a 1 GB file one would simply type:
dd if=/dev/zero of=foobar count=1 bs=1GB
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- Love, Robert (2007), "Mapping /dev/zero", Linux System Programming: Talking Directly to the Kernel and C Library, O'Reilly Media, Inc., pp. 259–260, ISBN 9780596009588
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- Sparse file