Linux awk command Explained with Examples

Last updated: November 14, 2023 | Subhash Chandra

AWK is a versatile scripting language and command-line tool used in UNIX and Linux for processing and analyzing text files. It supports several variables, functions, and logical operators to get the desired output.

Key Features:

  • Pattern Scanning and Processing:
    • AWK excels in searching files for patterns and then performing specified actions on those patterns.
    • It's often used for tasks like parsing logs, extracting columns from a CSV, or even for complex text manipulations.
  • Support for Variables, Functions, and Operators:
    • AWK has built-in variables (like NR, NF, FS) and supports user-defined variables.
    • It includes a range of functions for string manipulation, arithmetic, and more.
    • Logical operators in AWK (&&, ||, !) enable complex pattern matching and decision-making.


The basic syntax of the awk command:

awk [options] 'pattern {action}' file(s)
  • [options]: These are optional flags that alter how AWK operates.
  • pattern: This is the search pattern, telling AWK what to look for in the file. The pattern can be a string, a regular expression, or a range of lines. If omitted, AWK processes all lines.
  • {action}: The action block contains the commands that AWK will execute when it finds a line matching the pattern. Actions are enclosed in curly braces {}. If no action is specified, the default action is to print the line.
  • file(s): This specifies the file or files on which AWK will operate.

Sample File

We are using a sample file named emp_records.txt with the following content:

cat emp_records.txt
Firstname  Lastname   Age       City        EmpID
Bob        Thomas     32        New York    80649
Steve      Brown      29        Los Angeles 80521
David      Miller     36        New York    80489
Travis     Wilson     47        Chicago     65179
John       Taylor     27        Boston      81440
Andrew     White      41        Austin      75486

Understanding Records and Fields in AWK:

  • Records:
    • In AWK, each line of the text file is considered a record.
    • By default, records are separated by a newline character.
    • You can modify the record separator using the RS variable.
  • Fields:
    • Fields are analogous to table columns and are separated by field separators (whitespaces, tabs, or other characters).
    • Each field in a record is denoted by a dollar sign followed by a number ($1, $2, $3, etc.), with $1 being the first field, $2 the second, and so on.
    • $NF refers to the last field in a record.
    • $0 represents the entire record.
awk records and fields
Records and fields in awk

AWK Command Examples

Let's first look into basic examples of awk command.

Default Behavior

The default behavior of the awk command is to print each line of data, until the end of the file, from the input file.

awk '{print}' emp_records.txt
awk default prints the entire content of the file

Basically prints the entire content of the file.

Print Specific Columns

You can specify specific column names to display or include in the awk output using the field numbers. For example, to print all records in the first column, type:

awk '{print $1}' emp_records.txt
awk print only specified column
print specified columns or fields using awk

Instead, to print the entire records:

awk '{print $0}' emp_records.txt

This command prints each record (line) in the file.

Print Selected Fields

To print selected fields from a file, you specify the field numbers you want to extract. Each field in a line of text is typically separated by a delimiter (like a space or a comma), and awk allows you to access these fields using $1, $2, $3, etc., where $1 is the first field, $2 is the second, and so on.

Here's an example command to print the second and fifth fields from file named emp_records.txt:

awk '{print $2,$5}' emp_records.txt
awk print selected fields

This command will print the second field (which could be 'Lastname' in a typical employee record) and the fifth field (possibly 'EmpID') of each line from the file.

Display Lines Matching a Pattern

To display lines in a file that match a specific pattern, you use a regular expression within the command.


awk '/^S/' emp_records.txt
display records that meet specified pattern

This command will scan file for each line that starts with 'S', that entire line will be printed to the output.

Where the ^ is a regular expression anchor that matches the start of a line, and S is the character we're looking for at the beginning of the line.

Display Specific Lines of a Column

To display specific lines of a particular column from a file, you can extract the desired column and then pipe the output to other commands (like head, tail, grep) to filter specific lines.


awk 'print $3' emp_records.txt | head -1
print specific lines from a column

This command displays the header (first line) of the third column in emp_records.txt.

Awk Built-in Variables

In addition to the variables we discussed before there are some more key built-in variables in Awk. Those are:

NR: Stands for "Number of Records". It keeps a count of the total number of input records processed so far.

awk '{print NR, $0}' emp_records.txt

This prints each line in emp_records.txt prefixed with its line number.

NF: Represents "Number of Fields" in the current record. It gives the number of fields in a line, which is helpful in processing column-based data.

awk '{print $1, $NF}' emp_records.txt

This prints the first field and the last field of each line.

FS: The "Field Separator" variable. It specifies the character used to separate fields in a record. The default is whitespace (spaces or tabs), but it can be set to any other character.

awk 'BEGIN {FS=":"} {print $1}' filename.txt

If filename.txt has fields separated by colons, this will print the first field of each line.

RS: Stands for "Record Separator". This variable defines the character that separates records. By default, it is the newline character, but it can be changed as needed.

$ cat sample.txt
USA, New York; Canada, Toronto; UK, London; Australia, Sydney; Germany, Berlin; Japan, Tokyo

$ awk 'BEGIN {RS=";"; FS=", "} {print "Country: " $1 ", City: " $2}' sample.txt
Country: USA, City: New York
Country:  Canada, City: Toronto
Country:  UK, City: London
Country:  Australia, City: Sydney
Country:  Germany, City: Berlin
Country:  Japan, City: Tokyo

Here awk treats each semicolon-separated segment as an individual record and each comma-separated segment as individual fields within those records.

OFS: "Output Field Separator" is similar to FS but is used when printing the output. By default, it is a space.

awk 'BEGIN {OFS=" -- "} {print $1, $2}' emp_records.txt
Firstname -- Lastname
Bob -- Thomas
Steve -- Brown
David -- Miller
Travis -- Wilson
John -- Taylor
Andrew -- White

This prints the first two fields of each record, separated by " -- ".

ORS: "Output Record Separator" defines the separator character used between records in the output. Its default value is a newline.

$ cat data.txt
Item1, Value1
Item2, Value2
Item3, Value3
$ awk 'BEGIN {ORS=" | "; FS=", "} {print $1, $2}' data.txt
Item1 Value1 | Item2 Value2 | Item3 Value3 |

Each pair of item and value is printed, followed by the custom record separator.

Advanced Examples

Regular Expressions in awk

Regular expressions (regex) in AWK allow you to specify complex criteria for matching strings in records.

Basic Syntax:

awk ‘/regex/ {action}’ input_file

The regex pattern for awk is surrounded by two slashes (/ /).

To display the first field of every record that starts with S, you run the following command:

awk ‘/S/ {print $1}’ emp_records.txt
awk output sorted by regular expression

Relational Expressions

Usage: To match content of a specific field using a pattern.

The default behavior of the awk command is to check regex against all the records. However, relations expressions can be used to check against a field using the contain (~) comparison logical operator.

Print the last name of employees whose age is 47:

awk '$3 ~ /47/ {print $2}' emp_records.txt
awk relational expression example

Range Pattern in awk

Usage: To select a range of records starting from a match to another match.

Print employee IDs from records starting with "Chicago" and ending at "Austin":

awk '/Chicago/, /Austin/ {print $5}' emp_records.txt
awk range pattern example

Conditional Searches in AWK

Usage: To perform actions based on if-else conditions.

Example: If employee ID is greater than 80000, print first name, else print 0:

awk '{if ($5 > 80000) {print $1} else {print "0"}}' emp_records.txt
awk conditional search example

Processing Output from Other Commands

Usage: AWK can process the output of other shell commands.

Retrieve IP addresses from ip addr output:

ip addr | awk '/inet / {print $2}'
awk process other commands example

Combining Patterns with Logical Operators

Usage: To use AND (&&) and OR (||) for complex pattern matching.

Print employee IDs of all employees whose age is between 35 and 50:

awk '$3 > 35 || $3 < 50 {print $5}' emp_records.txt
awk combine patterns with logical operators example

BEGIN and awk END Blocks in AWK

The awk command supports two special patterns- BEGIN and END patterns.

The BEGIN block instructs awk to take certain actions before all other records are processed and the END block requires awk to take certain actions after all other records are processed.

awk 'BEGIN { FS=","; print "Start of Processing" } {print $1}' filename

This script sets the field separator to a comma and prints a message before processing any data in filename.

awk '{sum += $1} END { print "Total:", sum }' filename

This script calculates the sum of the values in the first field of each record and then prints the total sum after processing all records.

Combined BEGIN and END Blocks

The following example add a custom message before and after processing the first field of all the records:

awk 'BEGIN {print "First Record."}; {print $1}; END {print "Last Record."}' emp_records.txt
awk BEGIN and END block example


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