AWK command in Unix/Linux

AWK: A Versatile Tool for Text Processing

AWK is a powerful scripting language designed for manipulating data and generating reports. Named after its creators—Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan—AWK excels in text processing, making it an essential tool in Unix/Linux environments. The AWK command programming language requires no compiling, allowing the user to employ variables, numeric functions, string functions, and logical operators seamlessly.

Core Capabilities of AWK

AWK is a utility that enables programmers to write concise and effective programs using a series of statements. These statements define text patterns to search for in each line of a document and specify the actions to take when a match is found. Primarily used for pattern scanning and processing, AWK searches one or more files for lines matching specified patterns and then performs associated actions.

Basic Syntax

An AWK program consists of patterns and actions, written in the form:

pattern { action }

If a line matches the pattern, the associated action is executed. If no pattern is provided, the action is executed for every input line.

Patterns and Actions

  • Patterns: Can be regular expressions, numeric comparisons, string comparisons, or combinations thereof.
/pattern/ { action }    # Matches lines containing the specified pattern
NR > 5 { action }       # Matches lines with line number greater than 5
$1 == "value" { action } # Matches lines where the first field is equal to "value"
  • Actions: Enclosed in curly braces {} and define what to do when a pattern is matched.
{ print $2 }            # Prints the second field of each line
{ sum += $3 }           # Calculates the sum of the third field
/pattern/ { print "Found!" } # Prints "Found!" for lines matching the pattern

Fields and Records

AWK automatically splits input lines into fields based on whitespace by default. Fields can be accessed using $1, $2, etc., where $1 refers to the first field, $2 to the second field, and so on. The entire line is referred to as $0. Records are lines of input separated by record separators (usually newline characters).

{ print $1, $3 }  # Prints the first and third fields of each line

Built-in Variables

AWK provides several built-in variables for convenience:

  • NR: Current record number
  • NF: Number of fields in the current record
  • FS: Input field separator
  • RS: Input record separator
  • OFS: Output field separator
  • ORS: Output record separator
NR > 10 { print $NF }  # Prints the last field of lines with record number greater than 10


AWK supports built-in functions for string manipulation, mathematical operations, and more.

{ result = toupper($1) }  # Converts the first field to uppercase

Command-Line Usage

AWK can be invoked from the command line using the awk command followed by the AWK program and input files.

awk '/pattern/ { action }' input.txt

Advanced Features

AWK supports advanced features like arrays, user-defined functions, formatted printing, and input redirection.

BEGIN { FS = "," }  # Sets the field separator to comma
{ array[$1] = $2 }  # Populates an array with values from the first and second fields
END { for (key in array) print key, array[key] }  # Prints the contents of the array

Common Use Cases

AWK is commonly used for:

  • Text searching and filtering
  • Extracting specific columns from CSV files
  • Performing calculations on numeric data
  • Generating reports

Here’s a simple example of an AWK program that prints lines containing the word “error” from a log file:

awk '/error/ { print }' logfile.txt

This command prints all lines from logfile.txt that contain the word “error”.

AWK Programming Constructs

AWK supports various programming constructs that make it a versatile tool:

  • Format output lines
  • Arithmetic and string operations
  • Conditionals and loops

Example Commands

  • Print every line of data from a file:
$ awk '{print}' employee.txt

By default, AWK prints every line of data from the specified file.

  • Print lines that match a given pattern:
$ awk '/manager/ {print}' employee.txt
  • Split a line into fields:
$ awk '{print $1,$4}' employee.txt
  • Display record number and line:
$ awk '{print NR,$0}' employee.txt
  • Display the first and last fields:
$ awk '{print $1,$NF}' employee.txt
  • Display lines from 3 to 6:
$ awk 'NR>=3, NR<=6 {print NR,$0}' employee.txt

AWK is a versatile tool for text processing and data manipulation in UNIX/Linux environments. Its concise syntax and powerful features make it an essential tool for any programmer or system administrator working with structured text data. Whether you need to search and filter text, extract columns, perform calculations, or generate reports, AWK offers a robust and efficient solution.

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