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The GNU Awk User's Guide

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12.3 Other Command-Line Arguments

Any additional arguments on the command line are normally treated as input files to be processed in the order specified. However, an argument that has the form var=value, assigns the value value to the variable var---it does not specify a file at all. (This was discussed earlier in Assigning Variables on the Command Line.)

All these arguments are made available to your awk program in the ARGV array (see section 7.5 Built-in Variables). Command-line options and the program text (if present) are omitted from ARGV. All other arguments, including variable assignments, are included. As each element of ARGV is processed, gawk sets the variable ARGIND to the index in ARGV of the current element.

The distinction between file name arguments and variable-assignment arguments is made when awk is about to open the next input file. At that point in execution, it checks the file name to see whether it is really a variable assignment; if so, awk sets the variable instead of reading a file.

Therefore, the variables actually receive the given values after all previously specified files have been read. In particular, the values of variables assigned in this fashion are not available inside a BEGIN rule (see section The BEGIN and END Special Patterns), because such rules are run before awk begins scanning the argument list.

The variable values given on the command line are processed for escape sequences (see section 3.2 Escape Sequences). (d.c.)

In some earlier implementations of awk, when a variable assignment occurred before any file names, the assignment would happen before the BEGIN rule was executed. awk's behavior was thus inconsistent; some command-line assignments were available inside the BEGIN rule, while others were not. Unfortunately, some applications came to depend upon this "feature." When awk was changed to be more consistent, the `-v' option was added to accommodate applications that depended upon the old behavior.

The variable assignment feature is most useful for assigning to variables such as RS, OFS, and ORS, which control input and output formats before scanning the data files. It is also useful for controlling state if multiple passes are needed over a data file. For example:

awk 'pass == 1  { pass 1 stuff }
     pass == 2  { pass 2 stuff }' pass=1 mydata pass=2 mydata

Given the variable assignment feature, the `-F' option for setting the value of FS is not strictly necessary. It remains for historical compatibility.

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