MirOS Manual: 16.awk(USD)

Awk - A Pattern Scanning and Processing Language         USD:19-1

        Awk - A Pattern Scanning and Processing Language

                        (Second Edition)

                          Alfred V. Aho

                       Brian W. Kernighan

                       Peter J. Weinberger

                     AT&T Bell Laboratories

                  Murray Hill, New Jersey 07974


          Awk is a programming language whose  basic  opera-
     tion  is  to search a set of files for patterns, and to
     perform specified actions upon lines or fields of lines
     which  contain  instances  of those patterns. Awk makes
     certain data selection  and  transformation  operations
     easy to express; for example, the awk program

                           length > 72

     prints all input lines whose length exceeds 72  charac-
     ters; the program

                           NF % 2 == 0

     prints all lines with an even number of fields; and the

                     { $1 = log($1); print }

     replaces the first field of each line by its logarithm.

          Awk patterns may include arbitrary boolean  combi-
     nations of regular expressions and of relational opera-
     tors on strings, numbers, fields, variables, and  array
     elements. Actions may include the same pattern-matching
     constructions as in patterns, as well as arithmetic and
     string expressions and assignments, if-else, while, for
     statements, and multiple output streams.

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          This report contains a user's guide, a  discussion
     of  the design and implementation of awk, and some tim-
     ing statistics.

1. Introduction

     Awk is a programming language designed to make  many  common

information  retrieval  and text manipulation tasks easy to state

and to perform.

     The basic operation of awk is to scan a set of  input  lines

in  order,  searching  for lines which match any of a set of pat-

terns which the user has specified. For each pattern,  an  action

can be specified; this action will be performed on each line that

matches the pattern.

     Readers familiar with the UNIX- program  grep  unix  program

manual  will recognize the approach, although in awk the patterns

may be more general than in grep, and  the  actions  allowed  are

more  involved  than merely printing the matching line. For exam-

ple, the awk program

   {print $3, $2}

prints the third and second columns of a table in that order. The


   $2 ~ /A|B|C/

prints all input lines with an A, B, or C in  the  second  field.

- UNIX is a registered trademark of AT&T  Bell  Labora-
tories in the USA and other countries.

Awk - A Pattern Scanning and Processing Language         USD:19-3

The program

   $1 != prev     { print; prev = $1 }

prints all lines in which the first field is different  from  the

previous first field.

1.1. Usage

     The command

   awk  program  [files]

executes the awk commands in the string program  on  the  set  of

named  files, or on the standard input if there are no files. The

statements can also be placed in a file pfile,  and  executed  by

the command

   awk  -f pfile  [files]

1.2. Program Structure

     An awk program is a sequence of statements of the form:

        pattern   { action }

        pattern   { action }


Each line of input is matched against each  of  the  patterns  in

turn.  For  each  pattern  that matches, the associated action is

executed. When all the patterns have been tested, the  next  line

is fetched and the matching starts over.

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     Either the pattern or the action may be left  out,  but  not

both.  If  there is no action for a pattern, the matching line is

simply copied to the output. (Thus a line which  matches  several

patterns  can  be  printed several times.) If there is no pattern

for an action, then the action is performed for every input line.

A line which matches no pattern is ignored.

     Since patterns and actions are both optional,  actions  must

be enclosed in braces to distinguish them from patterns.

1.3. Records and Fields

     Awk input is divided into ``records'' terminated by a record

separator.  The  default  record  separator  is  a newline, so by

default awk processes its input a line at a time. The  number  of

the current record is available in a variable named NR.

     Each  input  record  is  considered  to  be   divided   into

``fields.'' Fields are normally separated by white space - blanks

or tabs - but the  input  field  separator  may  be  changed,  as

described  below. Fields are referred to as $1, $2, and so forth,

where $1 is the first field, and $0 is  the  whole  input  record

itself.  Fields  may  be assigned to. The number of fields in the

current record is available in a variable named NF.

     The variables FS and RS refer to the input field and  record

separators; they may be changed at any time to any single charac-

ter. The optional command-line argument -Fc may also be  used  to

set FS to the character c.

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     If the record separator is empty, an  empty  input  line  is

taken  as the record separator, and blanks, tabs and newlines are

treated as field separators.

     The variable FILENAME contains the name of the current input


1.4. Printing

     An action may have no pattern, in which case the  action  is

executed  for  all lines. The simplest action is to print some or

all of a record; this is accomplished by the awk  command  print.

The awk program

   { print }

prints each record, thus copying the input to the output  intact.

More  useful  is to print a field or fields from each record. For


   print $2, $1

prints the first two fields in reverse order. Items separated  by

a  comma  in the print statement will be separated by the current

output field separator when output. Items not separated by commas

will be concatenated, so

   print $1 $2

runs the first and second fields together.

     The predefined variables NF and NR can be used; for example

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   { print NR, NF, $0 }

prints each record preceded by the record number and  the  number

of fields.

     Output may be diverted to multiple files; the program

   { print $1 >"foo1"; print $2 >"foo2" }

writes the first field, $1, on the  file  foo1,  and  the  second

field on file foo2. The >> notation can also be used:

   print $1 >>"foo"

appends the output to the file foo. (In  each  case,  the  output

files  are created if necessary.) The file name can be a variable

or a field as well as a constant; for example,

   print $1 >$2

uses the contents of field 2 as a file name.

     Naturally there is a limit on the number  of  output  files;

currently it is 10.

     Similarly, output can be piped into another process (on UNIX

only); for instance,

   print | "mail bwk"

mails the output to bwk.

     The variables OFS and ORS may be used to change the  current

Awk - A Pattern Scanning and Processing Language         USD:19-7

output  field  separator  and output record separator. The output

record separator is appended to the output of  the  print  state-


     Awk also provides the printf statement  for  output  format-


   printf format expr, expr, ...

formats the expressions in the list according to  the  specifica-

tion in format and prints them. For example,

   printf "%8.2f  %10ld\n", $1, $2

prints $1 as a floating point number  8  digits  wide,  with  two

after  the  decimal  point,  and  $2  as  a 10-digit long decimal

number, followed by a newline. No output separators are  produced

automatically;  you  must  add them yourself, as in this example.

The version of printf is identical to that used with  C.  C  pro-

gramm language prentice hall 1978

2. Patterns

     A pattern in front of an action  acts  as  a  selector  that

determines  whether  the  action  is to be executed. A variety of

expressions may be used as patterns: regular expressions,  arith-

metic  relational  expressions,  string-valued  expressions,  and

arbitrary boolean combinations of these.

2.1. BEGIN and END

     The special pattern  BEGIN  matches  the  beginning  of  the

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input,  before  the first record is read. The pattern END matches

the end of the input, after the last record has  been  processed.

BEGIN and END thus provide a way to gain control before and after

processing, for initialization and wrapup.

     As an example, the field separator can be set to a colon by

   BEGIN     { FS = ":" }

   ... rest of program ...

Or the input lines may be counted by

   END  { print NR }

If BEGIN is present, it must be the first pattern;  END  must  be

the last if used.

2.2. Regular Expressions

     The simplest regular expression is a literal string of char-

acters enclosed in slashes, like


This is actually a complete awk  program  which  will  print  all

lines  which  contain  any occurrence of the name ``smith''. If a

line contains ``smith'' as part of a larger word, it will also be

printed, as in


     Awk regular expressions include the regular expression forms

Awk - A Pattern Scanning and Processing Language         USD:19-9

found  in  the  UNIX  text editor ed unix program manual and grep

(without back-referencing). In addition, awk  allows  parentheses

for  grouping,  |  for alternatives, + for ``one or more'', and ?

for ``zero or one'', all as in  lex.  Character  classes  may  be

abbreviated: [a-zA-Z0-9] is the set of all letters and digits. As

an example, the awk program


will print all lines which contain  any  of  the  names  ``Aho,''

``Weinberger'' or ``Kernighan,'' whether capitalized or not.

     Regular expressions (with the extensions listed above)  must

be  enclosed  in slashes, just as in ed and sed. Within a regular

expression, blanks and the regular expression metacharacters  are

significant.  To  turn of the magic meaning of one of the regular

expression characters, precede it with a backslash. An example is

the pattern


which matches any string of characters enclosed in slashes.

     One can also specify that any field or  variable  matches  a

regular  expression  (or  does not match it) with the operators ~

and !~. The program

   $1 ~ /[jJ]ohn/

prints all lines  where  the  first  field  matches  ``john''  or

``John.''  Notice  that  this  will also match ``Johnson'', ``St.

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Johnsbury'', and so on. To restrict it to exactly [jJ]ohn, use

   $1 ~ /^[jJ]ohn$/

The caret ^ refers to the beginning of a line or field; the  dol-

lar sign $ refers to the end.

2.3. Relational Expressions

     An awk pattern can be a relational expression involving  the

usual  relational  operators <, <=, ==, !=, >=, and >. An example


   $2 > $1 + 100

which selects lines where  the  second  field  is  at  least  100

greater than the first field. Similarly,

   NF % 2 == 0

prints lines with an even number of fields.

     In relational tests, if neither operand is numeric, a string

comparison is made; otherwise it is numeric. Thus,

   $1 >= "s"

selects lines that begin with an s, t, u, etc. In the absence  of

any other information, fields are treated as strings, so the pro-


   $1 > $2

will perform a string comparison.

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2.4. Combinations of Patterns

     A pattern can be any boolean combination of patterns,  using

the operators || (or), && (and), and ! (not). For example,

   $1 >= "s" && $1 < "t" && $1 != "smith"

selects lines where the first field begins with ``s'', but is not

``smith''.  &&  and  ||  guarantee  that  their  operands will be

evaluated from left to right; evaluation stops  as  soon  as  the

truth or falsehood is determined.

2.5. Pattern Ranges

     The ``pattern'' that selects an action may also  consist  of

two patterns separated by a comma, as in

   pat1, pat2     { ... }

In this case, the action is performed for each  line  between  an

occurrence  of  pat1 and the next occurrence of pat2 (inclusive).

For example,

   /start/, /stop/

prints all lines between start and stop, while

   NR == 100, NR == 200 { ... }

does the action for lines 100 through 200 of the input.

3. Actions

     An awk action is a sequence of action statements  terminated

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by newlines or semicolons. These action statements can be used to

do a variety of bookkeeping and string manipulating tasks.

3.1. Built-in Functions

     Awk provides a ``length'' function to compute the length  of

a string of characters. This program prints each record, preceded

by its length:

   {print length, $0}

length by itself is a ``pseudo-variable'' which yields the length

of  the  current  record;  length(argument)  is  a function which

yields the length of its argument, as in the equivalent

   {print length($0), $0}

The argument may be any expression.

     Awk also provides the arithmetic functions sqrt,  log,  exp,

and  int,  for  square  root,  base e logarithm, exponential, and

integer part of their respective arguments.

     The name of one of these built-in functions,  without  argu-

ment  or parentheses, stands for the value of the function on the

whole record. The program

   length < 10 || length > 20

prints lines whose length is less than 10 or greater than 20.

     The function substr(s, m, n) produces  the  substring  of  s

that  begins at position m (origin 1) and is at most n characters

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long. If n is omitted, the substring goes to the end  of  s.  The

function  index(s1, s2)  returns the position where the string s2

occurs in s1, or zero if it does not.

     The function sprintf(f, e1, e2, ...) produces the  value  of

the  expressions  e1, e2, etc., in the printf format specified by

f. Thus, for example,

   x = sprintf("%8.2f %10ld", $1, $2)

sets x to the string produced by formatting the values of $1  and


3.2. Variables, Expressions, and Assignments

     Awk variables take on numeric  (floating  point)  or  string

values according to context. For example, in

   x = 1

x is clearly a number, while in

   x = "smith"

it is clearly a string. Strings are converted to numbers and vice

versa whenever context demands it. For instance,

   x = "3" + "4"

assigns 7 to x. Strings which cannot be interpreted as numbers in

a  numerical  context will generally have numeric value zero, but

it is unwise to count on this behavior.

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     By default, variables (other than built-ins) are initialized

to  the  null  string, which has numerical value zero; this elim-

inates the need for most BEGIN sections. For example, the sums of

the first two fields can be computed by

        { s1 += $1; s2 += $2 }

   END  { print s1, s2 }

     Arithmetic is done internally in floating point. The  arith-

metic  operators  are +, -, *, /, and % (mod). The C increment ++

and decrement -- operators are also available,  and  so  are  the

assignment  operators +=, -=, *=, /=, and %=. These operators may

all be used in expressions.

3.3. Field Variables

     Fields in awk share essentially all  of  the  properties  of

variables  - they may be used in arithmetic or string operations,

and may be assigned to. Thus one can replace the first field with

a sequence number like this:

   { $1 = NR; print }

or accumulate two fields into a third, like this:

   { $1 = $2 + $3; print $0 }

or assign a string to a field:

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   { if ($3 > 1000)

        $3 = "too big"



which replaces the third field by ``too big'' when it is, and  in

any case prints the record.

     Field references may be numerical expressions, as in

   { print $i, $(i+1), $(i+n) }

Whether a field is deemed numeric or string depends  on  context;

in ambiguous cases like

   if ($1 == $2) ...

fields are treated as strings.

     Each input line is split into fields automatically as neces-

sary.  It  is  also possible to split any variable or string into


   n = split(s, array, sep)

splits the the string s into array[1], ..., array[n]. The  number

of  elements  found is returned. If the sep argument is provided,

it is used as the field separator; otherwise FS is  used  as  the


3.4. String Concatenation

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     Strings may be concatenated. For example

   length($1 $2 $3)

returns the length of the first  three  fields.  Or  in  a  print


   print $1 " is " $2

prints the two fields  separated  by  ``  is  ''.  Variables  and

numeric expressions may also appear in concatenations.

3.5. Arrays

     Array elements are not declared; they spring into  existence

by  being  mentioned.  Subscripts  may  have  any non-null value,

including non-numeric strings. As an example  of  a  conventional

numeric subscript, the statement

   x[NR] = $0

assigns the current input record to  the  NR-th  element  of  the

array  x.  In  fact,  it is possible in principle (though perhaps

slow) to process the entire input in a random order with the  awk


        { x[NR] = $0 }

   END  { ... program ... }

The first action merely records each input line in the array x.

     Array elements may be named  by  non-numeric  values,  which

gives  awk  a  capability  rather  like the associative memory of

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Snobol tables. Suppose the input contains fields with values like

apple, orange, etc. Then the program

   /apple/   { x["apple"]++ }

   /orange/  { x["orange"]++ }

   END       { print x["apple"], x["orange"] }

increments counts for the named array elements, and  prints  them

at the end of the input.

3.6. Flow-of-Control Statements

     Awk provides the basic flow-of-control  statements  if-else,

while,  for,  and  statement  grouping  with  braces, as in C. We

showed the if statement in section 3.3 without describing it. The

condition  in parentheses is evaluated; if it is true, the state-

ment following the if is done. The else part is optional.

     The while statement is exactly like that of C. For  example,

to print all input fields one per line,

   i = 1

   while (i <= NF) {

        print $i



     The for statement is also exactly that of C:

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   for (i = 1; i <= NF; i++)

        print $i

does the same job as the while statement above.

     There is an alternate form of the  for  statement  which  is

suited for accessing the elements of an associative array:

   for (i in array)


does statement with i set in turn to each element of  array.  The

elements  are  accessed in an apparently random order. Chaos will

ensue if i is altered, or if any new elements are accessed during

the loop.

     The expression in the condition part of an if, while or  for

can  include  relational  operators  like  <, <=, >, >=, == (``is

equal to''),  and  !=  (``not  equal  to'');  regular  expression

matches  with the match operators ~ and !~; the logical operators

||, &&, and !; and of course parentheses for grouping.

     The break statement causes an immediate exit from an enclos-

ing  while  or for; the continue statement causes the next itera-

tion to begin.

     The statement next causes awk to  skip  immediately  to  the

next  record  and  begin  scanning the patterns from the top. The

statement exit causes the program to behave as if the end of  the

input had occurred.

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     Comments may be placed in awk programs: they begin with  the

character # and end with the end of the line, as in

   print x, y     # this is a comment

4. Design

     The UNIX  system  already  provides  several  programs  that

operate by passing input through a selection mechanism. Grep, the

first and simplest, merely prints all lines which match a  single

specified  pattern.  Egrep  provides more general patterns, i.e.,

regular expressions in full generality; fgrep searches for a  set

of keywords with a particularly fast algorithm. Sed unix programm

manual provides most of the editing facilities of the editor  ed,

applied  to  a  stream  of input. None of these programs provides

numeric capabilities, logical relations, or variables.

     Lex lesk lexical  analyzer  cstr  provides  general  regular

expression  recognition capabilities, and, by serving as a C pro-

gram generator, is essentially open-ended  in  its  capabilities.

The  use  of lex, however, requires a knowledge of C programming,

and a lex program must be compiled and loaded before  use,  which

discourages its use for one-shot applications.

     Awk is an attempt to fill in another part of the  matrix  of

possibilities.  It  provides general regular expression capabili-

ties and an implicit input/output loop. But it also provides con-

venient  numeric  processing,  variables, more general selection,

and control flow in the actions. It does not require  compilation

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or  a  knowledge  of C. Finally, awk provides a convenient way to

access fields within lines; it is unique in this respect.

     Awk also tries to integrate strings and numbers  completely,

by  treating  all quantities as both string and numeric, deciding

which representation is appropriate as late as possible. In  most

cases the user can simply ignore the differences.

     Most of the effort in developing awk went into deciding what

awk  should  or should not do (for instance, it doesn't do string

substitution) and what the syntax should be (no explicit operator

for  concatenation) rather than on writing or debugging the code.

We have tried to make the syntax powerful but  easy  to  use  and

well  adapted  to  scanning  files.  For  example, the absence of

declarations and implicit initializations, while probably  a  bad

idea  for a general-purpose programming language, is desirable in

a language that is meant to be used for tiny  programs  that  may

even be composed on the command line.

     In  practice,  awk  usage  seems  to  fall  into  two  broad

categories.  One  is what might be called ``report generation'' -

processing an input to extract  counts,  sums,  sub-totals,  etc.

This  also  includes  the writing of trivial data validation pro-

grams, such as verifying  that  a  field  contains  only  numeric

information or that certain delimiters are properly balanced. The

combination of textual and numeric processing is invaluable here.

     A second area of use is as a  data  transformer,  converting

data  from the form produced by one program into that expected by

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another. The simplest examples merely select fields, perhaps with


5. Implementation

     The actual implementation of awk uses the language  develop-

ment tools available on the UNIX operating system. The grammar is

specified with yacc; yacc johnson cstr the  lexical  analysis  is

done by lex; the regular expression recognizers are deterministic

finite automata constructed directly from the expressions. An awk

program  is  translated  into a parse tree which is then directly

executed by a simple interpreter.

     Awk was designed for ease  of  use  rather  than  processing

speed; the delayed evaluation of variable types and the necessity

to break input into fields makes high speed difficult to  achieve

in  any  case.  Nonetheless,  the  program  has  not proven to be

unworkably slow.

     Table I below shows the execution (user + system) time on  a

PDP-11/70  of the UNIX programs wc, grep, egrep, fgrep, sed, lex,

and awk on the following simple tasks:

  1. count the number of lines.

  2. print all lines containing ``doug''.

  3. print all lines containing ``doug'', ``ken'' or ``dmr''.

  4. print the third field of each line.

  5. print the third and second fields  of  each  line,  in  that

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  6. append all lines containing ``doug'', ``ken'',  and  ``dmr''

     to files ``jdoug'', ``jken'', and ``jdmr'', respectively.

  7. print each line prefixed by ``line-number : ''.

  8. sum the fourth column of a table.

The program wc merely counts words, lines and characters  in  its

input;  we  have  already  mentioned the others. In all cases the

input was a file containing 10,000 lines as created by  the  com-

mand ls -l; each line has the form

   -rw-rw-rw- 1 ava 123 Oct 15 17:05 xxx

The total length of this input is 452,960 characters.  Times  for

lex do not include compile or load.

     As might be expected, awk is not as fast as the  specialized

tools  wc, sed, or the programs in the grep family, but is faster

than the more general tool lex. In  all  cases,  the  tasks  were

about  as  easy  to  express as awk programs as programs in these

other languages; tasks involving fields were considerably  easier

to  express  as awk programs. Some of the test programs are shown

in awk, sed and lex. $LIST$


Program    1       2       3      4      5       6      7      8


  wc       8.6

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 grep  |  11.7|   13.1|       |      |      |       |      |      |
       |      |       |       |      |      |       |      |      |
 egrep |   6.2|   11.5|   11.6|      |      |       |      |      |
       |      |       |       |      |      |       |      |      |
 fgrep |   7.7|   13.8|   16.1|      |      |       |      |      |
       |      |       |       |      |      |       |      |      |
  sed  |  10.2|   11.6|   15.8|  29.0|  30.5|   16.1|      |      |
       |      |       |       |      |      |       |      |      |
  lex  |  65.1|  150.1|  144.2|  67.7|  70.3|  104.0|  81.7|  92.8|
       |      |       |       |      |      |       |      |      |
  awk  |  15.0|   25.6|   29.9|  33.3|  38.9|   46.4|  71.4|  31.1|
       |      |       |       |      |      |       |      |      |
       |      |       |       |      |      |       |      |      |

   Table I.  Execution Times of Programs. (Times are in sec.)

     The programs for some  of
                                      6.   /ken/     {print >"jken"}
these  jobs  are  shown below.
                                           /doug/    {print >"jdoug"}
The lex programs are generally
                                           /dmr/     {print >"jdmr"}
too long to show.

AWK:                                  7.   {print NR ": " $0}

   1.   END  {print NR}               8.        {sum = sum + $4}

                                           END  {print sum}

   2.   /doug/


   3.   /ken|doug|dmr/

                                      1.   $=

   4.   {print $3}

                                      2.   /doug/p

   5.   {print $3, $2}

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   3.   /doug/p                       1.   %{

        /doug/d                            int i;

        /ken/p                             %}

        /ken/d                             %%

        /dmr/p                             \n   i++;

        /dmr/d                             .    ;


   4.   /[^ ]* [ ]*[^ ]* [ ]*\([^ ]*\) .*/s/y/y\w1r/app() {

                                                printf("%d\n", i);

   5.   /[^ ]* [ ]*\([^ ]*\) [ ]*\([^ ]*\) .}*/s//\2 \1/p

   6.   /ken/w jken                   2.   %%

        /doug/w jdoug                      ^.*doug.*$     printf("%s\n", yytext);

        /dmr/w jdmr                        .    ;

                                           \n   ;


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