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The GNU Awk User's Guide

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2. Getting Started with awk

The basic function of awk is to search files for lines (or other units of text) that contain certain patterns. When a line matches one of the patterns, awk performs specified actions on that line. awk keeps processing input lines in this way until it reaches the end of the input files.

Programs in awk are different from programs in most other languages, because awk programs are data-driven; that is, you describe the data you want to work with and then what to do when you find it. Most other languages are procedural; you have to describe, in great detail, every step the program is to take. When working with procedural languages, it is usually much harder to clearly describe the data your program will process. For this reason, awk programs are often refreshingly easy to read and write.

When you run awk, you specify an awk program that tells awk what to do. The program consists of a series of rules. (It may also contain function definitions, an advanced feature that we will ignore for now. See section User-Defined Functions.) Each rule specifies one pattern to search for and one action to perform upon finding the pattern.

Syntactically, a rule consists of a pattern followed by an action. The action is enclosed in curly braces to separate it from the pattern. Newlines usually separate rules. Therefore, an awk program looks like this:

pattern { action }
pattern { action }

2.1 How to Run awk Programs  How to run gawk programs; includes command-line syntax.
2.2 Data Files for the Examples  Sample data files for use in the awk programs illustrated in this Web page.
2.3 Some Simple Examples  A very simple example.
2.4 An Example with Two Rules  A less simple one-line example using two rules.
2.5 A More Complex Example  A more complex example.
2.6 awk Statements Versus Lines  Subdividing or combining statements into lines.
2.7 Other Features of awk  
2.8 When to Use awk  When to use gawk and when to use other things.

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