In this case, the title might be a little misleading. And that is because awk is more than a command, it's a programming language in its own right. You can write awk scripts for complex operations or you can use awk from the command line. The name stands for Aho, Weinberger and Kernighan (yes, Brian Kernighan), the authors of the language, which was started in 1977, hence it shares the same Unix spirit as the other classic *nix utilities. If you're getting used to C programming or know it already, you will see some familiar concepts in awk, especially since the 'k' in awk stands for the same person as the 'k' in K&R, the C programming bible. You will need some command-line knowledge in Linux and possibly some scripting basics, but the last part is optional, as we will try to offer something for everybody. Many thanks to Arnold Robbins for all his work involved in awk.

What is it that awk does?

awk is a utility/language designed for data extraction. If the word "extraction" rings a bell, it should because awk was one Larry Wall's inspirations when he created Perl. awk is often used with sed to perform useful and practical text manipulation chores, and it depends on the task if you should use awk or Perl, but also on personal preference. Just as sed, awk reads one line at a time, performs some action depending on the condition you give it and outputs the result. One of the most simple and popular uses of awk is selecting a column from a text file or other command's output. One thing I used to do with awk was, if I installed Debian on my second workstation, to get a list of the installed software from my primary box then feed it to aptitude. For that, I did something like that:

  $ dpkg -l | awk ' {print $2} ' > installed

Most package managers today offer this facility, for example rpm's -qa options, but the output is more than I want. I see that the second column of dpkg -l 's output contains the name of the packages installed, so this is why I used \$2 with awk: to get me only the 2nd column.

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Basic concepts

As you have noticed, the action to be performed by awk is enclosed in braces, and the whole command is quoted. But the syntax is awk ' condition { action }'. In our example, we had no condition, but if we wanted to, say, check only for vim-related packages installed (yes, there is grep, but this is an example, plus why use two utilities when you can only use one?), we would have done this:

 $ dpkg -l | awk ' /'vim'/ {print $2} '

This command would print all packages installed that have "vim" in their names. One thing that recommend awk is that it's fast. If you replace "vim" with "lib", on my system that yields 1300 packages. There will be situations where the data you'll have to work with will be much bigger, and that's one part where awk shines. Anyway, let's start with the examples, and we will explain some concepts as we go. But before that, it would be good to know that there are several awk dialects and implementations, and the examples presented here deal with GNU awk, as an implementation and dialect. And because of various quoting issues, we assume you're using bash, ksh or sh, we don't support (t)csh.


Learning Linux awk command with examples
Linux command syntaxLinux command description
awk ' {print $1,$3} '
Print only columns one and three using stdin
awk ' {print __g5_token5dcd8cdec0627} '
Print all columns using stdin
awk ' /'pattern'/ {print $2} '
Print only elements from column 2 that match pattern using stdin
awk -f script.awk inputfile
Just like make or sed, awk uses -f to get its' instructions from a file, useful when there is a lot to be done and using the terminal would be impractical
awk ' program ' inputfile
Execute program using data from inputfile
awk "BEGIN { print \"Hello, world!!\" }"
Classic "Hello, world" in awk
awk '{ print }'
Print what's entered on the command line until EOF (^D)
#! /bin/awk -f
BEGIN { print "Hello, world!" }
awk script for the classic "Hello, world!" (make it executable with chmod and run it as-is)
# This is a program that prints \
"Hello, world!"
# and exits
Comments in awk scripts
awk -F "" 'program' files
Define the FS (field separator) as null, as opposed to white space, the default
awk -F "regex" 'program' files
FS can also be a regular expression
awk 'BEGIN { print "Here is a single \
quote <'\''>" }'
Will print <'>. Here's why we prefer Bourne shells. :)
awk '{ if (length(__g5_token5dcd8cdec0920) > max) max = \
length(__g5_token5dcd8cdec0920) }
END { print max }' inputfile
Print the length of the longest line
awk 'length(__g5_token5dcd8cdec0963) > 80' inputfile
Print all lines longer than 80 characters
awk 'NF > 0' data
Print every line that has at least one field (NF stands for Number of Fields)
awk 'BEGIN { for (i = 1; i <= 7; i++)
print int(101 * rand()) }'
Print seven random numbers from 0 to 100
ls -l . | awk '{ x += $5 } ; END \
{ print "total bytes: " x }'
total bytes: 7449362

Print the total number of bytes used by files in the current directory
ls -l . | awk '{ x += $5 } ; END \
{ print "total kilobytes: " (x + \
1023)/1024 }'
total kilobytes: 7275.85
Print the total number of kilobytes used by files in the current directory
awk -F: '{ print $1 }' /etc/passwd | sort
Print sorted list of login names
awk 'END { print NR }' inputfile
Print number of lines in a file, as NR stands for Number of Rows
awk 'NR % 2 == 0' data
Print the even-numbered lines in a file.
How would you print the odd-numbered lines?
ls -l | awk '$6 == "Nov" { sum += $5 }
END { print sum }'
Prints the total number of bytes of files that were last modified in November
awk '$1  ̃/J/' inputfile

Regular expression matching all entries in the first field that start with a capital j
awk '$1  ̃!/J/' inputfile
Regular expression matching all entries in the first field that don't start with a capital j
awk 'BEGIN { print "He said \"hi!\" \
to her." }'
Escaping double quotes in awk
echo aaaabcd | awk '{ sub(/a+/, \
"<A>"); print }'
Prints "<A>bcd"
ls -lh | awk '{ owner = $3 ; $3 = $3 \
" 0wnz"; print $3 }' | uniq
Attribution example; try it :)
awk '{ $2 = $2 - 10; print __g5_token5dcd8cdec0ce0 }' inventory
Modify inventory and print it, with the difference being that the value of the second field will be lessened by 10
awk '{ $6 = ($5 + $4 + $3 + $2); print \
$6' inventory
Even though field six doesn't exist in inventory, you can create it and assign values to it, then display it
echo a b c d | awk '{ OFS = ":"; $2 = ""
> print __g5_token5dcd8cdec0d8d; print NF }'

OFS is the Output Field Separator and the command will output "a::c:d" and "4" because although field two is nullified, it still exists so it gets counted
echo a b c d | awk ’{ OFS = ":"; \
$2 = ""; $6 = "new"
> print __g5_token5dcd8cdec0dd5; print NF }’

Another example of field creation; as you can see, the field between \$4 (existing) and \$6 (to be created) gets created as well (as \$5 with an empty value), so the output will be "a::c:d::new" "6"
echo a b c d e f | awk ’\
{ print "NF =", NF;
> NF = 3; print __g5_token5dcd8cdec0e15 }’

Throwing away three fields (last ones) by changing the number of fields
FS=[ ]
This is a regular expression setting the field separator to space and nothing else (non-greedy pattern matching)
echo ' a b c d ' |  awk 'BEGIN { FS = \
"[ \t\n]+" }
> { print $2 }'

This will print only "a"
awk -n '/RE/{p;q;}' file.txt
Print only the first match of RE (regular expression)
awk -F\\ ’...’ inputfiles ...
Sets FS to \\
BEGIN { RS = "" ; FS = "\n" }
print "Name is:", $1
print "Address is:", $2
print "City and State are:", $3
print ""
If we have a record like
"John Doe
1234 Unknown Ave.
Doeville, MA", this script sets the field separator to
newline so it can easily operate on rows
awk ’BEGIN { OFS = ";"; ORS = "\n\n" }
> { print $1, $2 }’ inputfile
With a two-field file, the records will be printed like this:


Because ORS, the Output Record Separator, is set to two newlines and OFS is ";"
awk ’BEGIN {
> OFMT = "%.0f" # print numbers as \
integers (rounds)
> print 17.23, 17.54 }’

This will print 17 and 18, because the Output ForMaT is set to round floating point values to the closest integer value
awk ’BEGIN {
> msg = "Dont Panic!"
> printf "%s\n", msg
>} '
You can use printf mainly how you use it in C
awk ’{ printf "%-10s %s\n", $1, \
$2 }’ inputfile
Prints the first field as a 10-character string, left-justified, and \$2 normally, next to it
awk ’BEGIN { print "Name  Number"
print "---- ------" }
{ printf "%-10s %s\n", $1, \
$2 }’ inputfile
Making things prettier
awk ’{ print $2 > "phone-list" }' \
Simple data extraction example, where the second field is written to a file named "phone-list"
awk ’{ print $1 > "names.unsorted"
command = "sort -r > names.sorted"
print $1 | command }’ inputfile
Write the names contained in \$1 to a file, then sort and output the result to another file (you can also append with >>, like you would in a shell)
awk ’BEGIN { printf "%d, %d, %d\n", 011, 11, \
0x11 }’
Will print 9, 11, 17
if (/foo/ || /bar/)
print "Found!"
Simple search for foo or bar
awk ’{ sum = $2 + $3 + $4 ; avg = sum / 3
> print $1, avg }’ grades

Simple arithmetic operations (most operators resemble C a lot)

awk '{ print "The square root of", \
$1, "is", sqrt($1) }'
The square root of 2 is 1.41421
The square root of 7 is 2.64575

Simple, extensible calculator

awk ’$1 == "start", $1 == "stop"’ inputfile

Prints every record between start and stop

awk ’
> BEGIN { print "Analysis of \"foo\"" }
> /foo/ { ++n }
> END { print "\"foo\" appears", n,\
 "times." }’ inputfile

BEGIN and END rules are executed exactly once, before and after any record processing

echo -n "Enter search pattern: "
read pattern
awk "/$pattern/ "’{ nmatches++ }
END { print nmatches, "found" }’ inputfile

Search using shell

if (x % 2 == 0)
print "x is even"
print "x is odd"

Simple conditional. awk, like C, also supports the ?: operators

awk ’{ i = 1
while (i <= 3) {
print $i
}’ inputfile

Prints the first three fields of each record, one per line.

awk ’{ for (i = 1; i <= 3; i++)
print $i
Prints the first three fields of each record, one per line.
if (("date" | getline date_now) <= 0) {
print "Can’t get system date" > \
exit 1
print "current date is", date_now
Exiting with an error code different from 0 means something's not quite right. Here's and example
awk ’BEGIN {
> for (i = 0; i < ARGC; i++)
> print ARGV[i]
> }’ file1 file2
Prints awk file1 file2
for (i in frequencies)
delete frequencies[i]
Delete elements in an array
foo[4] = ""
if (4 in foo)
print "This is printed, even though foo[4] \
is empty"
Check for array elements
function ctime(ts, format)
format = "%a %b %d %H:%M:%S %Z %Y"
if (ts == 0)
ts = systime()
# use current time as default
return strftime(format, ts)
An awk variant of ctime() in C. This is how you define your own functions in awk
BEGIN { _cliff_seed = 0.1 }
function cliff_rand()
_cliff_seed = (100 * log(_cliff_seed)) % 1
if (_cliff_seed < 0)
_cliff_seed = - _cliff_seed
return _cliff_seed
A Cliff random number generator
cat apache-anon-noadmin.log | \
awk 'function ri(n) \
{ return int(n*rand()); } \
BEGIN { srand(); } { if (! \
($1 in randip)) { \
randip[$1] = sprintf("%d.%d.%d.%d", \
ri(255), ri(255)\
, ri(255), ri(255)); } \
$1 = randip[$1]; print __g5_token5dcd8cdec1568 }'
Anonymize an Apache log (IPs are randomized)


As you can see, with awk you can do lots of text processing and other nifty stuff. We didn't get into more advanced topics, like awk's predefined functions, but we showed you enough (we hope) to start remembering it as a powerful tool.

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