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Mar 01: Michael Sanders demos an X-windows GUI for AWK.

Mar 01: Awk100#24: A. Lahm and E. de Rinaldis' patent search, in AWK

Feb 28: Tim Menzies asks this community to write an AWK cookbook.

Feb 28: Arnold Robbins announces a new debugger for GAWK.

Feb 28: Awk100#23: Premysl Janouch offers a IRC bot, In AWK

Feb 28: Updated: the AWK FAQ

Feb 28: Tim Menzies offers a tiny content management system, in Awk.

Jan 31: Comment system added to For example, see discussion bottom of ?keys2awk

Jan 31: Martin Cohen shows that Gawk can handle massively long strings (300 million characters).

Jan 31: The AWK FAQ is being updated. For comments/ corrections/ extensions, please mail

Jan 31: Martin Cohen finds Awk on the Android platform.

Jan 31: Aleksey Cheusov released a new version of runawk.

Jan 31: Hirofumi Saito contributes a candidate Awk mascot.

Jan 31: Michael Sanders shows how to quickly build an AWK GUI for windows.

Jan 31: Hyung-Hwan Chung offers QSE, an embeddable Awk Interpreter.

[More ...]

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categories: Misc,WhyAwk,Jan,2009,Timm

Why Gawk?

by T. Menzies

"The Enlightened Ones say that....

  • You should never use C if you can do it with a script;
  • You should never use a script if you can do it with awk;
  • Never use awk if you can do it with sed;
  • Never use sed if you can do it with grep."

Awk is a good old-fashioned UNIX filtering tool invented in the 1970s. The language is simple and Awk programs are generally very short. Awk is useful when the overheads of more sophisticated approaches is not worth the bother. Also, the cost of learning Awk is very low.

But aren't there better scripting languages? Faster? Well, maybe yes and maybe no.

And Awk is old (mid-70s). Aren't modern languages more productive? Well again, maybe yes and maybe no. One measure of the productivity of a language is how lines of code are required to code up one business level `function point'. Compared to many popular languages, GAWK scores very highly:

loc/fp   language
------   --------

    6,   excel 5
   13,   sql
   21,   awk       <================
   21,   perl
   21,   eiffel
   21,   clos
   21,   smalltalk
   29,   delphi
   29,   visual basic 5
   49,   ada 95
   49,   ai shells
   53,   c++
   53,   java
   64,   lisp
   71,   ada 83
   71,   fortran 95
   80,   3rd generation default
   91,   ansi cobol 85
   91,   pascal
  107,   2nd generation default
  107,   algol 68
  107,   cobol
  107,   fortran
  128,   c
  320,   1st generation default
  640,   machine language
 3200,   natural language

Anyway, there are other considerations. Awk is real succinct, simple enough to teach, and easy enough to recode in C (if you want raw speed). For example, here's the complete listing of someone's Awk spell-checking program.

BEGIN     {while (getline<"Usr.Dict.Words") dict[$0]=1}
!dict[$1] {print $1}

Sure, there's about a gazillion enhancements you'd like to make on this one but you gotta say, this is real succinct.

Awk is the cure for late execution of software syndrome (a.k.a. LESS). The symptoms of LESS are a huge time delay before a new idea is executable. Awk programmers can hack up usable systems in the time it takes other programmers to boot their IDE. And, as a result of that easy exploration, it is possible to find loopholes missed by other analyst that lead to the innovative better solution to the problems (e.g. see Ronald Loui's O(nlogn) clustering tool).

Certainly, we can drool over the language features offered by more advanced languages like pointers, generic iterators, continuations, etc etc. And Awk's lack of data structures (except num, string, and array) requires some discipline to handle properly.

But experienced Awk programmers know that the cleverer the program, the smaller the audience gets. If it is possible for to explain something succinctly in a simple language like Awk, then it is also possible that more folks will read that code.

Finally, at this may be the most important point, it might be misguided to argue about Awk vs LanguageX in terms of the specifics of those languages. Awk programmers can't over-elaborate their solutions- they are forced to code the solution in the simplest manner possible. This push to simplicity, to the essence of the problem, can be an insightful process. Coding in Awk is like preserving fruit- you boil off everything that is superfluous, that needlessly bloats the material what you are working with. It is amazing how little code is required to code the core of an idea (e.g. see Darius Bacon's LISP interpreter, written in Awk).

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