Win32 File API SetFilePointer function

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Moves the file pointer of the specified file.

This function stores the file pointer in two LONG values. To work with file pointers that are larger than a single LONG value, it is easier to use the SetFilePointerEx function.


DWORD SetFilePointer(
  HANDLE hFile,
  LONG   lDistanceToMove,
  PLONG  lpDistanceToMoveHigh,
  DWORD  dwMoveMethod



A handle to the file.

The file handle must be created with the GENERIC_READ or GENERIC_WRITE access right. For more information, see File Security and Access Rights.


The low order 32-bits of a signed value that specifies the number of bytes to move the file pointer.

If lpDistanceToMoveHigh is not NULLlpDistanceToMoveHigh and lDistanceToMove form a single 64-bit signed value that specifies the distance to move.

If lpDistanceToMoveHigh is NULLlDistanceToMove is a 32-bit signed value. A positive value for lDistanceToMove moves the file pointer forward in the file, and a negative value moves the file pointer back.


A pointer to the high order 32-bits of the signed 64-bit distance to move.

If you do not need the high order 32-bits, this pointer must be set to NULL.

When not NULL, this parameter also receives the high order DWORD of the new value of the file pointer. For more information, see the Remarks section in this topic.


The starting point for the file pointer move.

This parameter can be one of the following values.

Value Meaning
The starting point is zero or the beginning of the file.
The starting point is the current value of the file pointer.
The starting point is the current end-of-file position.

Return Value

If the function succeeds and lpDistanceToMoveHigh is NULL, the return value is the low-order DWORD of the new file pointer.Note  If the function returns a value other than INVALID_SET_FILE_POINTER, the call to SetFilePointer has succeeded. You do not need to call GetLastError.

If function succeeds and lpDistanceToMoveHigh is not NULL, the return value is the low-order DWORD of the new file pointer and lpDistanceToMoveHigh contains the high order DWORD of the new file pointer.

If the function fails, the return value is INVALID_SET_FILE_POINTER. To get extended error information, call GetLastError.

If a new file pointer is a negative value, the function fails, the file pointer is not moved, and the code returned by GetLastError isERROR_NEGATIVE_SEEK.

If lpDistanceToMoveHigh is NULL and the new file position does not fit in a 32-bit value, the function fails and returnsINVALID_SET_FILE_POINTER.

Note  Because INVALID_SET_FILE_POINTER is a valid value for the low-order DWORD of the new file pointer, you must check both the return value of the function and the error code returned by GetLastError to determine whether or not an error has occurred. If an error has occurred, the return value of SetFilePointer is INVALID_SET_FILE_POINTER and GetLastError returns a value other than NO_ERROR. For a code example that demonstrates how to check for failure, see the Remarks section in this topic.


The file pointer that is identified by the value of the hFile parameter is not used for overlapped read and write operations.

The hFile parameter must refer to a file stored on a seeking device; for example, a disk volume. Calling the SetFilePointer function with a handle to a non-seeking device such as a pipe or a communications device is not supported, even though the SetFilePointerfunction may not return an error. The behavior of the SetFilePointer function in this case is undefined.

To specify the offset for overlapped operations

  • Use the Offset and OffsetHigh members of the OVERLAPPED structure.

To determine the file type for hFile

For information about how to determine the position of a file pointer, see Positioning a File Pointer.

Be careful when you set a file pointer in a multithreaded application. You must synchronize access to shared resources. For example, an application with threads that share a file handle, update the file pointer, and read from the file must protect this sequence by using a critical section object or mutex object. For more information, see Critical Section Objects and Mutex Objects.

If the hFile handle is opened with the FILE_FLAG_NO_BUFFERING flag set, an application can move the file pointer only to sector-aligned positions. A sector-aligned position is a position that is a whole number multiple of the volume sector size. An application can obtain a volume sector size by calling the GetDiskFreeSpace function.

If an application calls SetFilePointer with distance to move values that result in a position not sector-aligned and a handle that is opened with FILE_FLAG_NO_BUFFERING, the function fails, and GetLastError returns ERROR_INVALID_PARAMETER.

It is not an error to set a file pointer to a position beyond the end of the file. The size of the file does not increase until you call the SetEndOfFileWriteFile, or WriteFileEx function. A write operation increases the size of the file to the file pointer position plus the size of the buffer written, which results in the intervening bytes uninitialized.

If the return value is INVALID_SET_FILE_POINTER and if lpDistanceToMoveHigh is non-NULL, an application must call GetLastError to determine whether or not the function has succeeded or failed. The following code example shows you that scenario.

  // Case One: calling the function with lpDistanceToMoveHigh == NULL 

  // Try to move hFile file pointer some distance  
  DWORD dwPtr = SetFilePointer( hFile, 
                                FILE_BEGIN ); 
  if (dwPtr == INVALID_SET_FILE_POINTER) // Test for failure
    // Obtain the error code. 
    DWORD dwError = GetLastError() ; 
    // Deal with failure 
    // . . . 
   } // End of error handler 

  // Case Two: calling the function with lpDistanceToMoveHigh != NULL

  // Try to move hFile file pointer a huge distance 
  DWORD dwPtrLow = SetFilePointer( hFile, 
                                   FILE_BEGIN ); 
  // Test for failure
  if ( dwPtrLow == INVALID_SET_FILE_POINTER && 
       GetLastError() != NO_ERROR )
    // Deal with failure
    // . . .

   } // End of error handler

Although the parameter lpDistanceToMoveHigh is used to manipulate huge files, the value of the parameter should be set when moving files of any size. If it is set to NULL, then lDistanceToMove has a maximum value of 2^31–2, or 2 gigabytes less 2, because all file pointer values are signed values. Therefore, if there is even a small chance for the file to increase to that size, it is best to treat the file as a huge file and work with 64-bit file pointers. With file compression on the NTFS file system, and sparse files, it is possible to have files that are large even if the underlying volume is not very large.

If lpDistanceToMoveHigh is not NULL, then lpDistanceToMoveHigh and lDistanceToMove form a single 64-bit signed value. The lDistanceToMove parameter is treated as the low-order 32 bits of the value, and lpDistanceToMoveHigh as the high-order 32 bits, which means that lpDistanceToMoveHigh is a sign extension of lDistanceToMove.

To move the file pointer from zero to 2 gigabytes, lpDistanceToMoveHigh must be set to either NULL or a sign extension of lDistanceToMove. To move the pointer more than 2 gigabytes, use lpDistanceToMoveHigh and lDistanceToMove as a single 64-bit quantity. For example, to move in the range from 2 gigabytes to 4 gigabytes set the contents of lpDistanceToMoveHigh to zero, or to –1 for a negative sign extension of lDistanceToMove.

To work with 64-bit file pointers, you can declare a LONG, treat it as the upper half of the 64-bit file pointer, and pass its address in lpDistanceToMoveHigh. This means that you have to treat two different variables as a logical unit, which can cause an error. It is best to use the LARGE_INTEGER structure to create a 64-bit value and pass the two 32-bit values by using the appropriate elements of the union.

Also, it is best to use a function to hide the interface to SetFilePointer. The following code example shows you that scenario.

__int64 myFileSeek (HANDLE hf, __int64 distance, DWORD MoveMethod)

   li.QuadPart = distance;

   li.LowPart = SetFilePointer (hf, 

   if (li.LowPart == INVALID_SET_FILE_POINTER && GetLastError() 
       != NO_ERROR)
      li.QuadPart = -1;

   return li.QuadPart;

You can use SetFilePointer to determine the length of a file. To do this, use FILE_END for dwMoveMethod and seek to location zero. The file offset returned is the length of the file. However, this practice can have unintended side effects, for example, failure to save the current file pointer so that the program can return to that location. It is best to use GetFileSize instead.

You can also use the SetFilePointer function to query the current file pointer position. To do this, specify a move method of FILE_CURRENT and a distance of zero.