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Copyright (C) 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

This is Edition 0.15 of The GAWK Manual,
for the 2.15 version of the GNU implementation
of AWK.

Published by the Free Software Foundation
675 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139 USA
Printed copies are available for $20 each.

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this manual provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Permission is granted to copy and distribute modified versions of this manual under the conditions for verbatim copying, provided that the entire resulting derived work is distributed under the terms of a permission notice identical to this one.

Permission is granted to copy and distribute translations of this manual into another language, under the above conditions for modified versions, except that this permission notice may be stated in a translation approved by the Foundation.


If you are like many computer users, you would frequently like to make changes in various text files wherever certain patterns appear, or extract data from parts of certain lines while discarding the rest. To write a program to do this in a language such as C or Pascal is a time-consuming inconvenience that may take many lines of code. The job may be easier with awk.

The awk utility interprets a special-purpose programming language that makes it possible to handle simple data-reformatting jobs easily with just a few lines of code.

The GNU implementation of awk is called gawk; it is fully upward compatible with the System V Release 4 version of awk. gawk is also upward compatible with the POSIX (draft) specification of the awk language. This means that all properly written awk programs should work with gawk. Thus, we usually don't distinguish between gawk and other awk implementations in this manual.

This manual teaches you what awk does and how you can use awk effectively. You should already be familiar with basic system commands such as ls. Using awk you can:

This manual has the difficult task of being both tutorial and reference. If you are a novice, feel free to skip over details that seem too complex. You should also ignore the many cross references; they are for the expert user, and for the on-line Info version of the manual.

History of awk and gawk

The name awk comes from the initials of its designers: Alfred V. Aho, Peter J. Weinberger, and Brian W. Kernighan. The original version of awk was written in 1977. In 1985 a new version made the programming language more powerful, introducing user-defined functions, multiple input streams, and computed regular expressions. This new version became generally available with System V Release 3.1. The version in System V Release 4 added some new features and also cleaned up the behavior in some of the "dark corners" of the language. The specification for awk in the POSIX Command Language and Utilities standard further clarified the language based on feedback from both the gawk designers, and the original awk designers.

The GNU implementation, gawk, was written in 1986 by Paul Rubin and Jay Fenlason, with advice from Richard Stallman. John Woods contributed parts of the code as well. In 1988 and 1989, David Trueman, with help from Arnold Robbins, thoroughly reworked gawk for compatibility with the newer awk. Current development (1992) focuses on bug fixes, performance improvements, and standards compliance.

We need to thank many people for their assistance in producing this manual. Jay Fenlason contributed many ideas and sample programs. Richard Mlynarik and Robert J. Chassell gave helpful comments on early drafts of this manual. The paper A Supplemental Document for awk by John W. Pierce of the Chemistry Department at UC San Diego, pinpointed several issues relevant both to awk implementation and to this manual, that would otherwise have escaped us. David Trueman, Pat Rankin, and Michal Jaegermann also contributed sections of the manual.

The following people provided many helpful comments on this edition of the manual: Rick Adams, Michael Brennan, Rich Burridge, Diane Close, Christopher ("Topher") Eliot, Michael Lijewski, Pat Rankin, Miriam Robbins, and Michal Jaegermann. Robert J. Chassell provided much valuable advice on the use of Texinfo.

Finally, we would like to thank Brian Kernighan of Bell Labs for invaluable assistance during the testing and debugging of gawk, and for help in clarifying numerous points about the language.

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