Assignment Arguments

Assignment arguments appear at the end of an awk invocation, in the same area as file variables, both -v assignments and argument assignments must match the following regular expression. (assuming a POSIX locale)


The following example assumes a file file containing the following: 1 2 3 (white space separated)

$ awk '{$1=$1}1' file OFS=, file OFS=- file
1 2 3

Command-line variable assignment

To assign variables from the command-line, -v can be used:

$ awk -v myvar="hello" 'BEGIN {print myvar}'

Note that there are no spaces around the equal sign.

This allows to use shell variables:

$ shell_var="hello"
$ awk -v myvar="$shell_var" 'BEGIN {print myvar}'

Also, this allows to set built-in variables that control awk:

See an example with FS (field separator):

$ cat file
$ awk -v FS="," '{print $2}' file
$ awk -v FS=";" '{print $2}' file

Or with OFS (output field separator):

$ echo "2 3" | awk -v OFS="--" '{print $1, $2}'
$ echo "2 3" | awk -v OFS="+" '{print $1, $2}'

Local variables

The awk language does not directly support variables local to functions. It is however easy emulate them by adding extra arguments to functions. It is traditional to prefix these variables by a _ to indicate that they are not actual parameters.

We illustrate this technique with the definition of a single_quote function that adds single quotes around a string:

# single_quote(TEXT)
#  Return a string made of TEXT surrounded by single quotes

function single_quote(text, _quote) {
  _quote = sprintf("%c", 39)
  return sprintf("%s%s%s", _quote, text, _quote);

The simpler approach of using sprintf("'%s'", text) leads to practical problems because awk scripts are usually passed as single quoted arguments to the awk program.

Passing parameters to a program using the -v option

The option -v followed by an assignment of the form variable=value can be used to pass parameters to an awk program. This is illustrated by the punishment program below, whose job is to write count times the sentence “I shall not talk in class.” on standard output. The following example uses the value 100, which is very popular among teachers:

awk -v count=100 'BEGIN {
  for(i = 1; i <= count; ++i) {
    print("I shall not talk in class.")

It is possible to pass multiple parameters with repeated usage of the -v flag:

awk -v count=100 -v "sentence=I shall not talk in class." 'BEGIN {
  for(i = 1; i <= count; ++i) {

There is no built-in support for array or list parameters, these have to be handled manually. A classical approach to pass a list parameter is to concatenate the list using a delimiter, popular choices are :, | or ,. The split function then allows to recover the list as an awk array:

awk -v 'serialised_list=a:b:c:d:e:f' 'BEGIN {
  list_sz = split(serialised_list, list, ":")
  for(i = 1; i <= list_sz; ++i) {
    printf("list: %d: %s\n", i, list[i])

The output of this awk program is

list: 1: a
list: 2: b
list: 3: c
list: 4: d
list: 5: e
list: 6: f

Sometimes it is more convenient to recover list items as keys of an awk array, as this allows easy membership verification. For instance, the following program print each line whose first word does not belong to a fixed list of exceptions:

awk -v 'serialised_exception_list=apple:pear:cherry' 'BEGIN {
  _list_sz = split(serialised_exception_list, _list, ":")
  for(i = 1; i <= _list_sz; ++i) {

! ($1 in exception) { print }' <<EOF
apple Apples are yummy, I like them.
pineapple Do you like pineapple?

The output of this program is

pineapple Do you like pineapple?

As a final example, we show how to wrap the punishment program into a shell script, as this illustrates how a shell script conveys parameters to an auxiliary awk script:


   cat <<EOF
Usage: punishment [-c COUNT][-s SENTENCE]
 Prepare your punishments for you

punishment_sentence='I shall not talk in class.'
while getopts "c:hs:" OPTION; do
  case "${OPTION}" in
    c) punishment_count="${OPTARG}";;
    s) punishment_sentence="${OPTARG}";;
    h) usage; exit 0;;
    *) usage; exit 64;;

awk -v "count=${punishment_count}" -v "sentence=${punishment_sentence}" 'BEGIN {
  for(i = 1; i <= count; ++i) {

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