awk - macOS


awk is a versatile programming language and command-line tool primarily used for pattern scanning and processing. awk is highly effective for extracting and transforming text data embedded in files or streams. Generally, it is used to manipulate structured data and generate formatted reports.


The basic syntax of the awk command is:

awk [options] 'program' input-file1 input-file2 ...
  • ‘program’: A set of commands for awk to execute.
  • input-file1, input-file2, …: The files that contain the data to process. If no input files are specified, awk reads from the standard input.


  • -F fs: Specifies an input field separator fs. The default is white space.
  • -v var=value: Assigns a user-defined variable before script execution.
  • -f file: Reads the awk program source from the specified file.
  • -m[n]: This option defines a maximum number of multiple matches.; n limits the number of CPU cores used.
  • : Denotes the end of options, after which only filenames are accepted.


  1. Print Columns: To print the first and fourth column of a file:

    awk '{print $1, $4}' filename.txt
  2. Sum a Column: Sum all the values in the second column:

    awk '{sum += $2} END {print sum}' filename.txt
  3. Filtering with Conditions: Print lines where the third column is greater than 10:

    awk '$3 > 10' filename.txt
  4. Using Multiple Commands: Print the sum and average of the values in column 2:

    awk '{sum += $2; count++} END {print "Sum:", sum, "Average:", sum/count}' filename.txt
  5. Format Output: Format the output to display the row number and data:

    awk '{printf "Row %d: %s\n", NR, $0}' filename.txt

Common Issues

  • Field Separator Confusion: Incorrect use of the -F option might lead to unexpected results. Always double-check the field delimiter in your data.
  • Syntax Errors in Script: Errors in awk syntax, often due to missing braces or quotes, can lead to failures. Ensure each block of code is correctly enclosed in {} and strings in single quotes.


awk can be combined with other Unix commands like sort, cut, and grep for more complex data processing:

cat data.txt | grep "pattern" | awk '{print $2, $3}' | sort

This pipeline filters lines containing “pattern”, extracts the 2nd and 3rd fields, and sorts the output.

  • sed: Stream editor for filtering and transforming text.
  • grep: Command-line utility for searching plain-text data for lines matching a regular expression.
  • cut: Removes sections from each line of files.

Additional resources and in-depth learning can be found in the official GNU Awk documentation.