The kernel maintains exactly one pipe object for each FIFO special file that is opened by at least one process. The FIFO must be opened on both ends (reading and writing) before data can be passed. Normally, opening the FIFO blocks until the other end is opened also.
A process can open a FIFO in non-blocking mode. In this case, opening for read only will succeed even if no-one has opened on the write side yet; opening for write only will fail with ENXIO (no such device or address) unless the other end has already been opened.
Under Linux, opening a FIFO for read and write will succeed both in blocking and non-blocking mode. POSIX leaves this behaviour undefined. This can be used to open a FIFO for writing while there are no readers available. A process that uses both ends of the connection in order to communicate with itself should be very careful to avoid deadlocks.
FIFO special files can be created by mkfifo(3), and are specially indicated in ls -l.