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March 2, 2009


Making the most of unix commands when programming (Part 2) – the awk command

by Joe Kuan

unixAwk command is one of the most useful unix tools and yet the most (in my view) underrated. It can save you a lot of efforts writing any code.  Everyone uses a lot of grep in conjunction with programming but awk can do more than grep in some cases.

Here are some very simple examples of grep with awk running on Linux:

Get the value from the name=value pair:

grep ‘<name>=’ | awk -F= ‘print {$2}’

Get the IP address of an ethernet port:

ifconfig eth1 | grep ‘inet addr’ | awk ‘{print substr($2, 6)}’

These awk examples extract the target string directly. When combines with languages like C or Php, simply calls fgets function to read the desired string. No extra code is needed for parsing the line format.

Awk with pattern

Here is a slightly more complicated example showing how awk can be further utilised without the help of grep.

For instance, we want to get a list of mount points from devices with write permission. Following is the mount command output. (I have trimmed the output, so it nicely fits in this blog).

proc on /proc type proc (rw)
sysfs on /sys type sysfs (rw)
tmpfs on /dev/shm type tmpfs (rw)
devpts on /dev/pts type devpts (rw,mode=0620,gid=5)
/dev/hda on /media/dvd type subfs (ro,nosuid,nodev,fs=cdfss,procuid,…)
usbfs on /proc/bus/usb type usbfs (rw)
/dev/sdb1 on /media/usb-01 type subfs (rw,noexec,nosuid,nodev,….)
/dev/sdc1 on /media/usb-02 type subfs (rw,noexec,nosuid,nodev,…..)

From the list above, I need to extract lines with /dev/ and also ‘rw’ in the mount options list. You can try grep ‘<rw>’ | grep ‘^/dev/’ to get the lines that you desire. However, this doesn’t guarantee the location of ‘rw‘ in the line, it can be coincidently a mount directory called ‘rw’. Nonetheless, you still have to write extra code to parse the lines format.  

With awk, you can simply do that 

mount | grep ‘^/dev/’ | awk ‘{ if (match($6, /<rw>/)) print $3; }’

It parses the results and outputs this. It’s all done for you.


However, awk is even better. It can (should always) be also used as: 

awk ‘/pattern/ { actions }’

whereas the pattern part can save us using the grep command. Here is another example using the pattern instead of grep:

mount | awk ‘/^/dev// { if (match($6, /<rw>/)) print $3; }’

If you want to target specific devices such as /dev/sd* and /dev/hd*, you can do:

mount | awk ‘/^/dev/[s|h]d/ { if (match($6, /<rw>/)) print $3; }’

There are lots more you can achieve with awk. It depends on how your imagination and will to solve a problem.

sed and awk Pocket Reference

sed and awk Pocket Reference

You may argue that it takes too long to write a simple awk script compared to your programming language. It is only because you may not familiar with awk. Use it more often, explore a bit more every time when you use it. Then awk will reward you by saving you writing less code when you need it next time.

 Less code, less bugs.


I work for iTrinegy and here are my other technical blogs

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Mar 6 2009

    I love awk. It is pretty easy to learn and it is quite powerful.


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