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The GNU Awk User's Guide

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9.2.3 Calling User-Defined Functions

Calling a function means causing the function to run and do its job. A function call is an expression and its value is the value returned by the function.

A function call consists of the function name followed by the arguments in parentheses. awk expressions are what you write in the call for the arguments. Each time the call is executed, these expressions are evaluated, and the values are the actual arguments. For example, here is a call to foo with three arguments (the first being a string concatenation):

foo(x y, "lose", 4 * z)

Caution: Whitespace characters (spaces and tabs) are not allowed between the function name and the open-parenthesis of the argument list. If you write whitespace by mistake, awk might think that you mean to concatenate a variable with an expression in parentheses. However, it notices that you used a function name and not a variable name, and reports an error.

When a function is called, it is given a copy of the values of its arguments. This is known as call by value. The caller may use a variable as the expression for the argument, but the called function does not know this--it only knows what value the argument had. For example, if you write the following code:

foo = "bar"
z = myfunc(foo)

then you should not think of the argument to myfunc as being "the variable foo." Instead, think of the argument as the string value "bar". If the function myfunc alters the values of its local variables, this has no effect on any other variables. Thus, if myfunc does this:

function myfunc(str)
  print str
  str = "zzz"
  print str

to change its first argument variable str, it does not change the value of foo in the caller. The role of foo in calling myfunc ended when its value ("bar") was computed. If str also exists outside of myfunc, the function body cannot alter this outer value, because it is shadowed during the execution of myfunc and cannot be seen or changed from there.

However, when arrays are the parameters to functions, they are not copied. Instead, the array itself is made available for direct manipulation by the function. This is usually called call by reference. Changes made to an array parameter inside the body of a function are visible outside that function.

Note: Changing an array parameter inside a function can be very dangerous if you do not watch what you are doing. For example:

function changeit(array, ind, nvalue)
     array[ind] = nvalue

    a[1] = 1; a[2] = 2; a[3] = 3
    changeit(a, 2, "two")
    printf "a[1] = %s, a[2] = %s, a[3] = %s\n",
            a[1], a[2], a[3]

prints `a[1] = 1, a[2] = two, a[3] = 3', because changeit stores "two" in the second element of a.

Some awk implementations allow you to call a function that has not been defined. They only report a problem at runtime when the program actually tries to call the function. For example:

    if (0)
function bar() { ... }
# note that `foo' is not defined

Because the `if' statement will never be true, it is not really a problem that foo has not been defined. Usually, though, it is a problem if a program calls an undefined function.

If `--lint' is specified (see section Command-Line Options), gawk reports calls to undefined functions.

Some awk implementations generate a runtime error if you use the next statement (see section The next Statement) inside a user-defined function. gawk does not have this limitation.

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