June 5, 2001
O'Reilly Releases Official User's Guide to the awk Programming Language
Sebastopol, CA--Using the awk language to program is a little like
using notepad rather than a full-fledged word processing program in
that, unencumbered by the features and frills you don't need, you are
able to focus quickly and efficiently on tackling the task at hand.
Sometimes a less complex tool is all you need. Yet the awk programming
language can be surprisingly powerful, too. In Effective awk
Programming, (O'Reilly, US $39.95) author Arnold Robbins explains how
to perform sophisticated text processing and report generation,
including powerful regular expression matching and text substitution
facilities, associative arrays, and user-defined functions.
"It's important to program effectively with whatever language or tools
you happen to be using," Robbins explains. "Tools should help you get a
job done, using them isn't an end in and of itself. With that in mind,
for a certain class of problems, awk's pattern-action programming
paradigm is very expressive and elegant. Often awk solutions are
adequate, without the need to turn an awk prototype into a 'production'
version in C or C++."
The awk language differs from other programming languages in that awk
is data-driven rather than procedural. Programs written with awk are
usually much smaller than they would be in other languages; for
example, the typical awk program usually amounts to 100 lines of code
or less. A programmer might quickly compose an awk program at his or
her terminal, use it once, and throw it away. As Robbins explains in
his book, awk programs are interpreted, allowing programmers to avoid
the (usually lengthy) compilation part of the typical
edit-compile-test-debug cycle of software development.
There are many variants of awk, including gawk, which is the GNU
version that currently ships with every GNU/Linux distribution. In
addition to providing in-depth coverage of the POSIX awk language,
Programming also serves as the "official documentation"
for gawk. Robbins, who was one of the lead developers of gawk,
currently maintains the gawk language and its documentation.
"The release of this book coincides with the release of GNU awk 3.1,
the first major release of gawk in about five years!" says Robbins.
"There are lots and lots of new features in this release, as well as
several bug fixes over the last minor release. The most important new
features have to do with networking, profiling awk programs, and
internationalizing awk programs. There are other, smaller, new features
In his book, Robbins clearly distinguishes standard awk features from
the gawk-specified features, points out the "dark corners" of the
language (areas to watch out for when programming), and devotes two
entire chapters to example programs. The book also covers:
- Internationalization of gawk
- Interfacing to i18n at the awk level
- Two-way pipes
- TCP/IP networking via the two-way pipe interface
- The new PROCINFO array, which provides information about running gawk
- Profiling and printing awk programs
- Dynamically adding built-in functions at run time
As the official gawk user's guide, this book will also be available
electronically, and can be freely copied and distributed under the
terms of the Free Software Foundation's Free Documentation License
(FDL). A portion of the proceeds from sales of this book will go to the
Free Software Foundation to support further development of free and
open source software.
Arnold Robbins is a professional programmer and technical author. He
has been working with Unix systems since 1980 and with gawk since 1988.
As a member of the POSIX 1003.2 balloting group, he helped shape the
POSIX standard for awk. In addition to this book, Arnold is the author
of Unix in a Nutshell,
Third Edition and the sed & awk Pocket
Reference. He is the coauthor of sed & awk, Second
Learning the vi Editor, 6th
By Arnold Robbins
ISBN 0-596-00070-7, 421 pages, $39.95 (US)
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