awk - Linux


The awk command in Linux is a powerful text processing tool that enables users to manipulate data and generate reports. It uses a programming language that supports variables, numeric functions, string functions, and logical operators. Awk is particularly effective for processing tabular data and creating structured reports from unstructured data inputs.


The basic usage of the awk command is as follows:

awk [options] 'program' input-file1 input-file2 ...
  • program: A set of instructions enclosed in single quotes for awk to execute.
  • input-file1, input-file2, …: The file(s) on which awk performs the operations defined in the program.


awk [options] -f program-file input-file1 input-file2 ...
  • -f program-file: Use this option to specify a file that contains the awk script.


  • -F fs: Sets the input field separator to fs.
  • -v var=value: Assigns a variable before execution of the program.
  • -f file: Specifies a script file to read the awk program from.
  • -m [val]: Limit memory usage to val for certain awk implementations.

Each option modifies how awk handles input files or how it processes data, enhancing its flexibility to deal with various textual formats and requirements.


  1. Print the first column of a file

    awk '{print $1}' filename
  2. Summing up the values in a column

    awk '{sum += $2} END {print sum}' filename
  3. Filter and process

    Print lines where second column matches ‘foo’:

    awk '$2 == "foo" {print $1, $3}' filename
  4. Using multiple commands

    awk -F: '{print $1 | "sort"}' /etc/passwd

Common Issues

  • Field separator confusion: Default field separator is space. If your data uses different separators, specify it with the -F option.
  • Syntax errors in program: Ensure commands inside {} are correctly formatted.
  • Memory limits: Large files can sometimes cause script failures. Use -m option if available.


awk can be seamlessly integrated with other Unix utilities like sort, grep, and sed:

cat filename | awk '$1 == "start" {print $2}' | sort | uniq

This command chain processes lines that start with “start”, retrieves the second column, sorts it, and filters out duplicates.

  • sed: Stream editor for filtering and transforming text.
  • grep: Command-line utility for regex-based pattern searching.
  • cut: Removes sections from each line of files.
  • perl: Another powerful text processing tool capable of handling awk‘s tasks and more.

For in-depth learning, consulting the GNU Awk user’s guide or the mawk manual can provide additional insights and complex usage scenarios.