4.12 When the Final Size of the FITS HDU is Unknown

It is not required to know the total size of a FITS data array or table before beginning to write the data to the FITS file. In the case of the primary array or an image extension, one should initially create the array with the size of the highest dimension (largest NAXISn keyword) set to a dummy value, such as 1. Then after all the data have been written and the true dimensions are known, then the NAXISn value should be updated using the fits_update_key routine before moving to another extension or closing the FITS file.

When writing to FITS tables, CFITSIO automatically keeps track of the highest row number that is written to, and will increase the size of the table if necessary. CFITSIO will also automatically insert space in the FITS file if necessary, to ensure that the data 'heap', if it exists, and/or any additional HDUs that follow the table do not get overwritten as new rows are written to the table.

As a general rule it is best to specify the initial number of rows = 0 when the table is created, then let CFITSIO keep track of the number of rows that are actually written. The application program should not manually update the number of rows in the table (as given by the NAXIS2 keyword) since CFITSIO does this automatically. If a table is initially created with more than zero rows, then this will usually be considered as the minimum size of the table, even if fewer rows are actually written to the table. Thus, if a table is initially created with NAXIS2 = 20, and CFITSIO only writes 10 rows of data before closing the table, then NAXIS2 will remain equal to 20. If however, 30 rows of data are written to this table, then NAXIS2 will be increased from 20 to 30. The one exception to this automatic updating of the NAXIS2 keyword is if the application program directly modifies the value of NAXIS2 (up or down) itself just before closing the table. In this case, CFITSIO does not update NAXIS2 again, since it assumes that the application program must have had a good reason for changing the value directly. This is not recommended, however, and is only provided for backward compatibility with software that initially creates a table with a large number of rows, than decreases the NAXIS2 value to the actual smaller value just before closing the table.