[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13. A Library of awk Functions

User-Defined Functions, describes how to write your own awk functions. Writing functions is important, because it allows you to encapsulate algorithms and program tasks in a single place. It simplifies programming, making program development more manageable, and making programs more readable.

One valuable way to learn a new programming language is to read programs in that language. To that end, this chapter and Practical awk Programs, provide a good-sized body of code for you to read, and hopefully, to learn from.

This chapter presents a library of useful awk functions. Many of the sample programs presented later in this Web page use these functions. The functions are presented here in a progression from simple to complex.

Extracting Programs from Texinfo Source Files, presents a program that you can use to extract the source code for these example library functions and programs from the Texinfo source for this Web page. (This has already been done as part of the gawk distribution.)

If you have written one or more useful, general purpose awk functions and would like to contribute them to the author's collection of awk programs, see How to Contribute, for more information.

The programs in this chapter and in Practical awk Programs, freely use features that are gawk-specific. It is straightforward to rewrite these programs for different implementations of awk.

Diagnostic error messages are sent to `/dev/stderr'. Use `| "cat 1>&2"' instead of `> "/dev/stderr"', if your system does not have a `/dev/stderr' or if you cannot use gawk.

A number of programs use nextfile (see section Using gawk's nextfile Statement) to skip any remaining input in the input file. Implementing nextfile as a Function, shows you how to write a function that does the same thing.

Finally, some of the programs choose to ignore upper- and lowercase distinctions in their input. They do so by assigning one to IGNORECASE. You can achieve almost the same effect(50) by adding the following rule to the beginning of the program:

# ignore case
{ $0 = tolower($0) }

Also, verify that all regexp and string constants used in comparisons only use lowercase letters.

13.1 Naming Library Function Global Variables  How to best name private global variables in library functions.
13.2 General Programming  Functions that are of general use.
13.3 Data File Management  Functions for managing command-line data files.
13.4 Processing Command-Line Options  A function for processing command-line arguments.
13.5 Reading the User Database  Functions for getting user information.
13.6 Reading the Group Database  Functions for getting group information.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.1 Naming Library Function Global Variables

Due to the way the awk language evolved, variables are either global (usable by the entire program) or local (usable just by a specific function). There is no intermediate state analogous to static variables in C.

Library functions often need to have global variables that they can use to preserve state information between calls to the function--for example, getopt's variable _opti (see section Processing Command-Line Options). Such variables are called private, since the only functions that need to use them are the ones in the library.

When writing a library function, you should try to choose names for your private variables that will not conflict with any variables used by either another library function or a user's main program. For example, a name like `i' or `j' is not a good choice, because user programs often use variable names like these for their own purposes.

The example programs shown in this chapter all start the names of their private variables with an underscore (`_'). Users generally don't use leading underscores in their variable names, so this convention immediately decreases the chances that the variable name will be accidentally shared with the user's program.

In addition, several of the library functions use a prefix that helps indicate what function or set of functions use the variables--for example, _pw_byname in the user database routines (see section Reading the User Database). This convention is recommended, since it even further decreases the chance of inadvertent conflict among variable names. Note that this convention is used equally well for variable names and for private function names as well.(51)

As a final note on variable naming, if a function makes global variables available for use by a main program, it is a good convention to start that variable's name with a capital letter--for example, getopt's Opterr and Optind variables (see section Processing Command-Line Options). The leading capital letter indicates that it is global, while the fact that the variable name is not all capital letters indicates that the variable is not one of awk's built-in variables, such as FS.

It is also important that all variables in library functions that do not need to save state are, in fact, declared local.(52) If this is not done, the variable could accidentally be used in the user's program, leading to bugs that are very difficult to track down:

function lib_func(x, y,    l1, l2)
    use variable some_var   # some_var should be local
    ...                   # but is not by oversight

A different convention, common in the Tcl community, is to use a single associative array to hold the values needed by the library function(s), or "package." This significantly decreases the number of actual global names in use. For example, the functions described in Reading the User Database, might have used array elements PW_data["inited"], PW_data["total"], PW_data["count"], and PW_data["awklib"], instead of _pw_inited, _pw_awklib, _pw_total, and _pw_count.

The conventions presented in this section are exactly that: conventions. You are not required to write your programs this way--we merely recommend that you do so.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.2 General Programming

This section presents a number of functions that are of general programming use.

13.2.1 Implementing nextfile as a Function  Two implementations of a nextfile function.
13.2.2 Assertions  A function for assertions in awk programs.
13.2.3 Rounding Numbers  A function for rounding if sprintf does not do it correctly.
13.2.4 The Cliff Random Number Generator  
13.2.5 Translating Between Characters and Numbers  Functions for using characters as numbers and vice versa.
13.2.6 Merging an Array into a String  A function to join an array into a string.
13.2.7 Managing the Time of Day  A function to get formatted times.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.2.1 Implementing nextfile as a Function

The nextfile statement presented in Using gawk's nextfile Statement, is a gawk-specific extension--it is not available in most other implementations of awk. This section shows two versions of a nextfile function that you can use to simulate gawk's nextfile statement if you cannot use gawk.

A first attempt at writing a nextfile function is as follows:

# nextfile --- skip remaining records in current file
# this should be read in before the "main" awk program

function nextfile()    { _abandon_ = FILENAME; next }
_abandon_ == FILENAME  { next }

Because it supplies a rule that must be executed first, this file should be included before the main program. This rule compares the current data file's name (which is always in the FILENAME variable) to a private variable named _abandon_. If the file name matches, then the action part of the rule executes a next statement to go on to the next record. (The use of `_' in the variable name is a convention. It is discussed more fully in Naming Library Function Global Variables.)

The use of the next statement effectively creates a loop that reads all the records from the current data file. The end of the file is eventually reached and a new data file is opened, changing the value of FILENAME. Once this happens, the comparison of _abandon_ to FILENAME fails and execution continues with the first rule of the "real" program.

The nextfile function itself simply sets the value of _abandon_ and then executes a next statement to start the loop.

This initial version has a subtle problem. If the same data file is listed twice on the commandline, one right after the other or even with just a variable assignment between them, this code skips right through the file, a second time, even though it should stop when it gets to the end of the first occurrence. A second version of nextfile that remedies this problem is shown here:

# nextfile --- skip remaining records in current file
# correctly handle successive occurrences of the same file
# this should be read in before the "main" awk program

function nextfile()   { _abandon_ = FILENAME; next }

_abandon_ == FILENAME {
      if (FNR == 1)
          _abandon_ = ""

The nextfile function has not changed. It makes _abandon_ equal to the current file name and then executes a next statement. The next statement reads the next record and increments FNR so that FNR is guaranteed to have a value of at least two. However, if nextfile is called for the last record in the file, then awk closes the current data file and moves on to the next one. Upon doing so, FILENAME is set to the name of the new file and FNR is reset to one. If this next file is the same as the previous one, _abandon_ is still equal to FILENAME. However, FNR is equal to one, telling us that this is a new occurrence of the file and not the one we were reading when the nextfile function was executed. In that case, _abandon_ is reset to the empty string, so that further executions of this rule fail (until the next time that nextfile is called).

If FNR is not one, then we are still in the original data file and the program executes a next statement to skip through it.

An important question to ask at this point is: given that the functionality of nextfile can be provided with a library file, why is it built into gawk? Adding features for little reason leads to larger, slower programs that are harder to maintain. The answer is that building nextfile into gawk provides significant gains in efficiency. If the nextfile function is executed at the beginning of a large data file, awk still has to scan the entire file, splitting it up into records, just to skip over it. The built-in nextfile can simply close the file immediately and proceed to the next one, which saves a lot of time. This is particularly important in awk, because awk programs are generally I/O-bound (i.e., they spend most of their time doing input and output, instead of performing computations).

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.2.2 Assertions

When writing large programs, it is often useful to know that a condition or set of conditions is true. Before proceeding with a particular computation, you make a statement about what you believe to be the case. Such a statement is known as an assertion. The C language provides an <assert.h> header file and corresponding assert macro that the programmer can use to make assertions. If an assertion fails, the assert macro arranges to print a diagnostic message describing the condition that should have been true but was not, and then it kills the program. In C, using assert looks this:

#include <assert.h>

int myfunc(int a, double b)
     assert(a <= 5 && b >= 17.1);

If the assertion fails, the program prints a message similar to this:

prog.c:5: assertion failed: a <= 5 && b >= 17.1

The C language makes it possible to turn the condition into a string for use in printing the diagnostic message. This is not possible in awk, so this assert function also requires a string version of the condition that is being tested. Following is the function:

# assert --- assert that a condition is true. Otherwise exit.
function assert(condition, string)
    if (! condition) {
        printf("%s:%d: assertion failed: %s\n",
            FILENAME, FNR, string) > "/dev/stderr"
        _assert_exit = 1
        exit 1

    if (_assert_exit)
        exit 1

The assert function tests the condition parameter. If it is false, it prints a message to standard error, using the string parameter to describe the failed condition. It then sets the variable _assert_exit to one and executes the exit statement. The exit statement jumps to the END rule. If the END rules finds _assert_exit to be true, it then exits immediately.

The purpose of the test in the END rule is to keep any other END rules from running. When an assertion fails, the program should exit immediately. If no assertions fail, then _assert_exit is still false when the END rule is run normally, and the rest of the program's END rules execute. For all of this to work correctly, `assert.awk' must be the first source file read by awk. The function can be used in a program in the following way:

function myfunc(a, b)
     assert(a <= 5 && b >= 17.1, "a <= 5 && b >= 17.1")

If the assertion fails, you see a message similar to the following:

mydata:1357: assertion failed: a <= 5 && b >= 17.1

There is a small problem with this version of assert. An END rule is automatically added to the program calling assert. Normally, if a program consists of just a BEGIN rule, the input files and/or standard input are not read. However, now that the program has an END rule, awk attempts to read the input data files or standard input (see section Startup and Cleanup Actions), most likely causing the program to hang as it waits for input.

There is a simple workaround to this: make sure the BEGIN rule always ends with an exit statement.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.2.3 Rounding Numbers

The way printf and sprintf (see section Using printf Statements for Fancier Printing) perform rounding often depends upon the system's C sprintf subroutine. On many machines, sprintf rounding is "unbiased," which means it doesn't always round a trailing `.5' up, contrary to naive expectations. In unbiased rounding, `.5' rounds to even, rather than always up, so 1.5 rounds to 2 but 4.5 rounds to 4. This means that if you are using a format that does rounding (e.g., "%.0f"), you should check what your system does. The following function does traditional rounding; it might be useful if your awk's printf does unbiased rounding:

# round --- do normal rounding
function round(x,   ival, aval, fraction)
   ival = int(x)    # integer part, int() truncates

   # see if fractional part
   if (ival == x)   # no fraction
      return x

   if (x < 0) {
      aval = -x     # absolute value
      ival = int(aval)
      fraction = aval - ival
      if (fraction >= .5)
         return int(x) - 1   # -2.5 --> -3
         return int(x)       # -2.3 --> -2
   } else {
      fraction = x - ival
      if (fraction >= .5)
         return ival + 1
         return ival

# test harness
{ print $0, round($0) }

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.2.4 The Cliff Random Number Generator

The Cliff random number generator(53) is a very simple random number generator that "passes the noise sphere test for randomness by showing no structure." It is easily programmed, in less than 10 lines of awk code:

# cliff_rand.awk --- generate Cliff random numbers
BEGIN { _cliff_seed = 0.1 }

function cliff_rand()
    _cliff_seed = (100 * log(_cliff_seed)) % 1
    if (_cliff_seed < 0)
        _cliff_seed = - _cliff_seed
    return _cliff_seed

This algorithm requires an initial "seed" of 0.1. Each new value uses the current seed as input for the calculation. If the built-in rand function (see section 9.1.2 Numeric Functions) isn't random enough, you might try using this function instead.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.2.5 Translating Between Characters and Numbers

One commercial implementation of awk supplies a built-in function, ord, which takes a character and returns the numeric value for that character in the machine's character set. If the string passed to ord has more than one character, only the first one is used.

The inverse of this function is chr (from the function of the same name in Pascal), which takes a number and returns the corresponding character. Both functions are written very nicely in awk; there is no real reason to build them into the awk interpreter:

# ord.awk --- do ord and chr

# Global identifiers:
#    _ord_:        numerical values indexed by characters
#    _ord_init:    function to initialize _ord_
BEGIN    { _ord_init() }

function _ord_init(    low, high, i, t)
    low = sprintf("%c", 7) # BEL is ascii 7
    if (low == "\a") {    # regular ascii
        low = 0
        high = 127
    } else if (sprintf("%c", 128 + 7) == "\a") {
        # ascii, mark parity
        low = 128
        high = 255
    } else {        # ebcdic(!)
        low = 0
        high = 255

    for (i = low; i <= high; i++) {
        t = sprintf("%c", i)
        _ord_[t] = i

Some explanation of the numbers used by chr is worthwhile. The most prominent character set in use today is ASCII. Although an eight-bit byte can hold 256 distinct values (from 0 to 255), ASCII only defines characters that use the values from 0 to 127.(54) In the now distant past, at least one minicomputer manufacturer used ASCII, but with mark parity, meaning that the leftmost bit in the byte is always 1. This means that on those systems, characters have numeric values from 128 to 255. Finally, large mainframe systems use the EBCDIC character set, which uses all 256 values. While there are other character sets in use on some older systems, they are not really worth worrying about:

function ord(str,    c)
    # only first character is of interest
    c = substr(str, 1, 1)
    return _ord_[c]

function chr(c)
    # force c to be numeric by adding 0
    return sprintf("%c", c + 0)

#### test code ####
# BEGIN    \
# {
#    for (;;) {
#        printf("enter a character: ")
#        if (getline var <= 0)
#            break
#        printf("ord(%s) = %d\n", var, ord(var))
#    }
# }

An obvious improvement to these functions is to move the code for the _ord_init function into the body of the BEGIN rule. It was written this way initially for ease of development. There is a "test program" in a BEGIN rule, to test the function. It is commented out for production use.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.2.6 Merging an Array into a String

When doing string processing, it is often useful to be able to join all the strings in an array into one long string. The following function, join, accomplishes this task. It is used later in several of the application programs (see section Practical awk Programs).

Good function design is important; this function needs to be general but it should also have a reasonable default behavior. It is called with an array as well as the beginning and ending indices of the elements in the array to be merged. This assumes that the array indices are numeric--a reasonable assumption since the array was likely created with split (see section String Manipulation Functions):

# join.awk --- join an array into a string
function join(array, start, end, sep,    result, i)
    if (sep == "")
       sep = " "
    else if (sep == SUBSEP) # magic value
       sep = ""
    result = array[start]
    for (i = start + 1; i <= end; i++)
        result = result sep array[i]
    return result

An optional additional argument is the separator to use when joining the strings back together. If the caller supplies a non-empty value, join uses it; if it is not supplied, it has a null value. In this case, join uses a single blank as a default separator for the strings. If the value is equal to SUBSEP, then join joins the strings with no separator between them. SUBSEP serves as a "magic" value to indicate that there should be no separation between the component strings.(55)

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.2.7 Managing the Time of Day

The systime and strftime functions described in Using gawk's Timestamp Functions, provide the minimum functionality necessary for dealing with the time of day in human readable form. While strftime is extensive, the control formats are not necessarily easy to remember or intuitively obvious when reading a program.

The following function, gettimeofday, populates a user-supplied array with preformatted time information. It returns a string with the current time formatted in the same way as the date utility:

# gettimeofday.awk --- get the time of day in a usable format

# Returns a string in the format of output of date(1)
# Populates the array argument time with individual values:
#    time["second"]       -- seconds (0 - 59)
#    time["minute"]       -- minutes (0 - 59)
#    time["hour"]         -- hours (0 - 23)
#    time["althour"]      -- hours (0 - 12)
#    time["monthday"]     -- day of month (1 - 31)
#    time["month"]        -- month of year (1 - 12)
#    time["monthname"]    -- name of the month
#    time["shortmonth"]   -- short name of the month
#    time["year"]         -- year modulo 100 (0 - 99)
#    time["fullyear"]     -- full year
#    time["weekday"]      -- day of week (Sunday = 0)
#    time["altweekday"]   -- day of week (Monday = 0)
#    time["dayname"]      -- name of weekday
#    time["shortdayname"] -- short name of weekday
#    time["yearday"]      -- day of year (0 - 365)
#    time["timezone"]     -- abbreviation of timezone name
#    time["ampm"]         -- AM or PM designation
#    time["weeknum"]      -- week number, Sunday first day
#    time["altweeknum"]   -- week number, Monday first day

function gettimeofday(time,    ret, now, i)
    # get time once, avoids unnecessary system calls
    now = systime()

    # return date(1)-style output
    ret = strftime("%a %b %d %H:%M:%S %Z %Y", now)

    # clear out target array
    delete time

    # fill in values, force numeric values to be
    # numeric by adding 0
    time["second"]       = strftime("%S", now) + 0
    time["minute"]       = strftime("%M", now) + 0
    time["hour"]         = strftime("%H", now) + 0
    time["althour"]      = strftime("%I", now) + 0
    time["monthday"]     = strftime("%d", now) + 0
    time["month"]        = strftime("%m", now) + 0
    time["monthname"]    = strftime("%B", now)
    time["shortmonth"]   = strftime("%b", now)
    time["year"]         = strftime("%y", now) + 0
    time["fullyear"]     = strftime("%Y", now) + 0
    time["weekday"]      = strftime("%w", now) + 0
    time["altweekday"]   = strftime("%u", now) + 0
    time["dayname"]      = strftime("%A", now)
    time["shortdayname"] = strftime("%a", now)
    time["yearday"]      = strftime("%j", now) + 0
    time["timezone"]     = strftime("%Z", now)
    time["ampm"]         = strftime("%p", now)
    time["weeknum"]      = strftime("%U", now) + 0
    time["altweeknum"]   = strftime("%W", now) + 0

    return ret

The string indices are easier to use and read than the various formats required by strftime. The alarm program presented in An Alarm Clock Program, uses this function. A more general design for the gettimeofday function would have allowed the user to supply an optional timestamp value to use instead of the current time.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.3 Data File Management

This section presents functions that are useful for managing command-line datafiles.

13.3.1 Noting Data File Boundaries  A function for handling data file transitions.
13.3.2 Rereading the Current File  A function for rereading the current file.
13.3.3 Checking for Readable Data Files  Checking that data files are readable.
13.3.4 Treating Assignments as File Names  Treating assignments as file names.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.3.1 Noting Data File Boundaries

The BEGIN and END rules are each executed exactly once, at the beginning and end of your awk program, respectively (see section The BEGIN and END Special Patterns). We (the gawk authors) once had a user who mistakenly thought that the BEGIN rule is executed at the beginning of each data file and the END rule is executed at the end of each data file. When informed that this was not the case, the user requested that we add new special patterns to gawk, named BEGIN_FILE and END_FILE, that would have the desired behavior. He even supplied us the code to do so.

Adding these special patterns to gawk wasn't necessary; the job can be done cleanly in awk itself, as illustrated by the following library program. It arranges to call two user-supplied functions, beginfile and endfile, at the beginning and end of each data file. Besides solving the problem in only nine(!) lines of code, it does so portably; this works with any implementation of awk:

# transfile.awk
# Give the user a hook for filename transitions
# The user must supply functions beginfile() and endfile()
# that each take the name of the file being started or
# finished, respectively.

FILENAME != _oldfilename \
    if (_oldfilename != "")
    _oldfilename = FILENAME

END   { endfile(FILENAME) }

This file must be loaded before the user's "main" program, so that the rule it supplies is executed first.

This rule relies on awk's FILENAME variable that automatically changes for each new data file. The current file name is saved in a private variable, _oldfilename. If FILENAME does not equal _oldfilename, then a new data file is being processed and it is necessary to call endfile for the old file. Because endfile should only be called if a file has been processed, the program first checks to make sure that _oldfilename is not the null string. The program then assigns the current file name to _oldfilename and calls beginfile for the file. Because, like all awk variables, _oldfilename is initialized to the null string, this rule executes correctly even for the first data file.

The program also supplies an END rule to do the final processing for the last file. Because this END rule comes before any END rules supplied in the "main" program, endfile is called first. Once again the value of multiple BEGIN and END rules should be clear.

This version has same problem as the first version of nextfile (see section Implementing nextfile as a Function). If the same data file occurs twice in a row on the command line, then endfile and beginfile are not executed at the end of the first pass and at the beginning of the second pass. The following version solves the problem:

# ftrans.awk --- handle data file transitions
# user supplies beginfile() and endfile() functions
FNR == 1 {
    if (_filename_ != "")
    _filename_ = FILENAME

END  { endfile(_filename_) }

Counting Things, shows how this library function can be used and how it simplifies writing the main program.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.3.2 Rereading the Current File

Another request for a new built-in function was for a rewind function that would make it possible to reread the current file. The requesting user didn't want to have to use getline (see section Explicit Input with getline) inside a loop.

However, as long as you are not in the END rule, it is quite easy to arrange to immediately close the current input file and then start over with it from the top. For lack of a better name, we'll call it rewind:

# rewind.awk --- rewind the current file and start over
function rewind(    i)
    # shift remaining arguments up
    for (i = ARGC; i > ARGIND; i--)
        ARGV[i] = ARGV[i-1]

    # make sure gawk knows to keep going

    # make current file next to get done

    # do it

This code relies on the ARGIND variable (see section Built-in Variables That Convey Information), which is specific to gawk. If you are not using gawk, you can use ideas presented in Noting Data File Boundaries, to either update ARGIND on your own or modify this code as appropriate.

The rewind function also relies on the nextfile keyword (see section Using gawk's nextfile Statement). See section Implementing nextfile as a Function, for a function version of nextfile.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.3.3 Checking for Readable Data Files

Normally, if you give awk a data file that isn't readable, it stops with a fatal error. There are times when you might want to just ignore such files and keep going. You can do this by prepending the following program to your awk program:

# readable.awk --- library file to skip over unreadable files
    for (i = 1; i < ARGC; i++) {
        if (ARGV[i] ~ /^[A-Za-z_][A-Za-z0-9_]*=.*/ \
            || ARGV[i] == "-")
            continue    # assignment or standard input
        else if ((getline junk < ARGV[i]) < 0) # unreadable
            delete ARGV[i]

In gawk, the getline won't be fatal (unless `--posix' is in force). Removing the element from ARGV with delete skips the file (since it's no longer in the list).

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.3.4 Treating Assignments as File Names

Occasionally, you might not want awk to process command-line variable assignments (see section Assigning Variables on the Command Line). In particular, if you have file names that contain an `=' character, awk treats the file name as an assignment, and does not process it.

Some users have suggested an additional command-line option for gawk to disable command-line assignments. However, some simple programming with a library file does the trick:

# noassign.awk --- library file to avoid the need for a
# special option that disables command-line assignments
function disable_assigns(argc, argv,    i)
    for (i = 1; i < argc; i++)
        if (argv[i] ~ /^[A-Za-z_][A-Za-z_0-9]*=.*/)
            argv[i] = ("./" argv[i])

    if (No_command_assign)
        disable_assigns(ARGC, ARGV)

You then run your program this way:

awk -v No_command_assign=1 -f noassign.awk -f yourprog.awk *

The function works by looping through the arguments. It prepends `./' to any argument that matches the form of a variable assignment, turning that argument into a file name.

The use of No_command_assign allows you to disable command-line assignments at invocation time, by giving the variable a true value. When not set, it is initially zero (i.e., false), so the command-line arguments are left alone.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.4 Processing Command-Line Options

Most utilities on POSIX compatible systems take options, or "switches," on the command line that can be used to change the way a program behaves. awk is an example of such a program (see section Command-Line Options). Often, options take arguments; i.e., data that the program needs to correctly obey the command-line option. For example, awk's `-F' option requires a string to use as the field separator. The first occurrence on the command line of either `--' or a string that does not begin with `-' ends the options.

Modern Unix systems provide a C function named getopt for processing command-line arguments. The programmer provides a string describing the one-letter options. If an option requires an argument, it is followed in the string with a colon. getopt is also passed the count and values of the command-line arguments and is called in a loop. getopt processes the command-line arguments for option letters. Each time around the loop, it returns a single character representing the next option letter that it finds, or `?' if it finds an invalid option. When it returns -1, there are no options left on the command line.

When using getopt, options that do not take arguments can be grouped together. Furthermore, options that take arguments require that the argument is present. The argument can immediately follow the option letter or it can be a separate command-line argument.

Given a hypothetical program that takes three command-line options, `-a', `-b', and `-c', where `-b' requires an argument, all of the following are valid ways of invoking the program:

prog -a -b foo -c data1 data2 data3
prog -ac -bfoo -- data1 data2 data3
prog -acbfoo data1 data2 data3

Notice that when the argument is grouped with its option, the rest of the argument is considered to be the option's argument. In this example, `-acbfoo' indicates that all of the `-a', `-b', and `-c' options were supplied, and that `foo' is the argument to the `-b' option.

getopt provides four external variables that the programmer can use:

The index in the argument value array (argv) where the first non-option command-line argument can be found.

The string value of the argument to an option.

Usually getopt prints an error message when it finds an invalid option. Setting opterr to zero disables this feature. (An application might want to print its own error message.)

The letter representing the command-line option.

The following C fragment shows how getopt might process command-line arguments for awk:

main(int argc, char *argv[])
    /* print our own message */
    opterr = 0;
    while ((c = getopt(argc, argv, "v:f:F:W:")) != -1) {
        switch (c) {
        case 'f':    /* file */
        case 'F':    /* field separator */
        case 'v':    /* variable assignment */
        case 'W':    /* extension */
        case '?':

As a side point, gawk actually uses the GNU getopt_long function to process both normal and GNU-style long options (see section Command-Line Options).

The abstraction provided by getopt is very useful and is quite handy in awk programs as well. Following is an awk version of getopt. This function highlights one of the greatest weaknesses in awk, which is that it is very poor at manipulating single characters. Repeated calls to substr are necessary for accessing individual characters (see section String Manipulation Functions).(56)

The discussion that follows walks through the code a bit at a time:

# getopt.awk --- do C library getopt(3) function in awk
# External variables:
#    Optind -- index in ARGV of first non-option argument
#    Optarg -- string value of argument to current option
#    Opterr -- if nonzero, print our own diagnostic
#    Optopt -- current option letter

# Returns:
#    -1     at end of options
#    ?      for unrecognized option
#    <c>    a character representing the current option

# Private Data:
#    _opti  -- index in multi-flag option, e.g., -abc

The function starts out with a list of the global variables it uses, what the return values are, what they mean, and any global variables that are "private" to this library function. Such documentation is essential for any program, and particularly for library functions.

The getopt function first checks that it was indeed called with a string of options (the options parameter). If options has a zero length, getopt immediately returns -1:

function getopt(argc, argv, options,    thisopt, i)
    if (length(options) == 0)    # no options given
        return -1

    if (argv[Optind] == "--") {  # all done
        _opti = 0
        return -1
    } else if (argv[Optind] !~ /^-[^: \t\n\f\r\v\b]/) {
        _opti = 0
        return -1

The next thing to check for is the end of the options. A `--' ends the command-line options, as does any command-line argument that does not begin with a `-'. Optind is used to step through the array of command-line arguments; it retains its value across calls to getopt, because it is a global variable.

The regular expression that is used, /^-[^: \t\n\f\r\v\b]/, is perhaps a bit of overkill; it checks for a `-' followed by anything that is not whitespace and not a colon. If the current command-line argument does not match this pattern, it is not an option, and it ends option processing.

    if (_opti == 0)
        _opti = 2
    thisopt = substr(argv[Optind], _opti, 1)
    Optopt = thisopt
    i = index(options, thisopt)
    if (i == 0) {
        if (Opterr)
            printf("%c -- invalid option\n",
                                  thisopt) > "/dev/stderr"
        if (_opti >= length(argv[Optind])) {
            _opti = 0
        } else
        return "?"

The _opti variable tracks the position in the current command-line argument (argv[Optind]). If multiple options are grouped together with one `-' (e.g., `-abx'), it is necessary to return them to the user one at a time.

If _opti is equal to zero, it is set to two, which is the index in the string of the next character to look at (we skip the `-', which is at position one). The variable thisopt holds the character, obtained with substr. It is saved in Optopt for the main program to use.

If thisopt is not in the options string, then it is an invalid option. If Opterr is nonzero, getopt prints an error message on the standard error that is similar to the message from the C version of getopt.

Because the option is invalid, it is necessary to skip it and move on to the next option character. If _opti is greater than or equal to the length of the current command-line argument, it is necessary to move on to the next argument, so Optind is incremented and _opti is reset to zero. Otherwise, Optind is left alone and _opti is merely incremented.

In any case, because the option is invalid, getopt returns `?'. The main program can examine Optopt if it needs to know what the invalid option letter actually is. Continuing on:

    if (substr(options, i + 1, 1) == ":") {
        # get option argument
        if (length(substr(argv[Optind], _opti + 1)) > 0)
            Optarg = substr(argv[Optind], _opti + 1)
            Optarg = argv[++Optind]
        _opti = 0
    } else
        Optarg = ""

If the option requires an argument, the option letter is followed by a colon in the options string. If there are remaining characters in the current command-line argument (argv[Optind]), then the rest of that string is assigned to Optarg. Otherwise, the next command-line argument is used (`-xFOO' vs. `-x FOO'). In either case, _opti is reset to zero, because there are no more characters left to examine in the current command-line argument. Continuing:

    if (_opti == 0 || _opti >= length(argv[Optind])) {
        _opti = 0
    } else
    return thisopt

Finally, if _opti is either zero or greater than the length of the current command-line argument, it means this element in argv is through being processed, so Optind is incremented to point to the next element in argv. If neither condition is true, then only _opti is incremented, so that the next option letter can be processed on the next call to getopt.

The BEGIN rule initializes both Opterr and Optind to one. Opterr is set to one, since the default behavior is for getopt to print a diagnostic message upon seeing an invalid option. Optind is set to one, since there's no reason to look at the program name, which is in ARGV[0]:

    Opterr = 1    # default is to diagnose
    Optind = 1    # skip ARGV[0]

    # test program
    if (_getopt_test) {
        while ((_go_c = getopt(ARGC, ARGV, "ab:cd")) != -1)
            printf("c = <%c>, optarg = <%s>\n",
                                       _go_c, Optarg)
        printf("non-option arguments:\n")
        for (; Optind < ARGC; Optind++)
            printf("\tARGV[%d] = <%s>\n",
                                    Optind, ARGV[Optind])

The rest of the BEGIN rule is a simple test program. Here is the result of two sample runs of the test program:

$ awk -f getopt.awk -v _getopt_test=1 -- -a -cbARG bax -x
-| c = <a>, optarg = <>
-| c = <c>, optarg = <>
-| c = <b>, optarg = <ARG>
-| non-option arguments:
-|         ARGV[3] = <bax>
-|         ARGV[4] = <-x>

$ awk -f getopt.awk -v _getopt_test=1 -- -a -x -- xyz abc
-| c = <a>, optarg = <>
error--> x -- invalid option
-| c = <?>, optarg = <>
-| non-option arguments:
-|         ARGV[4] = <xyz>
-|         ARGV[5] = <abc>

In both runs, the first `--' terminates the arguments to awk, so that it does not try to interpret the `-a', etc., as its own options. Several of the sample programs presented in Practical awk Programs, use getopt to process their arguments.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.5 Reading the User Database

The PROCINFO array (see section 7.5 Built-in Variables) provides access to the current user's real and effective user and group id numbers, and if available, the user's supplementary group set. However, because these are numbers, they do not provide very useful information to the average user. There needs to be some way to find the user information associated with the user and group numbers. This section presents a suite of functions for retrieving information from the user database. See section Reading the Group Database, for a similar suite that retrieves information from the group database.

The POSIX standard does not define the file where user information is kept. Instead, it provides the <pwd.h> header file and several C language subroutines for obtaining user information. The primary function is getpwent, for "get password entry." The "password" comes from the original user database file, `/etc/passwd', which stores user information, along with the encrypted passwords (hence the name).

While an awk program could simply read `/etc/passwd' directly, this file may not contain complete information about the system's set of users.(57) To be sure you are able to produce a readable and complete version of the user database, it is necessary to write a small C program that calls getpwent. getpwent is defined as returning a pointer to a struct passwd. Each time it is called, it returns the next entry in the database. When there are no more entries, it returns NULL, the null pointer. When this happens, the C program should call endpwent to close the database. Following is pwcat, a C program that "cats" the password database.

 * pwcat.c
 * Generate a printable version of the password database
#include <stdio.h>
#include <pwd.h>

main(argc, argv)
int argc;
char **argv;
    struct passwd *p;

    while ((p = getpwent()) != NULL)
            p->pw_name, p->pw_passwd, p->pw_uid,
            p->pw_gid, p->pw_gecos, p->pw_dir, p->pw_shell);


If you don't understand C, don't worry about it. The output from pwcat is the user database, in the traditional `/etc/passwd' format of colon-separated fields. The fields are:

user. $HOME). shell, such as bash.
Login name The user's login name.
Encrypted password The user's encrypted password. This may not be available on some systems.
User-ID The user's numeric user-id number.
Group-ID The user's numeric group-id number.
Full name The user's full name, and perhaps other information associated with the
Home directory The user's login (or "home") directory (familiar to shell programmers as
Login shell The program that is run when the user logs in. This is usually a

A few lines representative of pwcat's output are as follows:

$ pwcat
-| root:3Ov02d5VaUPB6:0:1:Operator:/:/bin/sh
-| nobody:*:65534:65534::/:
-| daemon:*:1:1::/:
-| sys:*:2:2::/:/bin/csh
-| bin:*:3:3::/bin:
-| arnold:xyzzy:2076:10:Arnold Robbins:/home/arnold:/bin/sh
-| miriam:yxaay:112:10:Miriam Robbins:/home/miriam:/bin/sh
-| andy:abcca2:113:10:Andy Jacobs:/home/andy:/bin/sh

With that introduction, following is a group of functions for getting user information. There are several functions here, corresponding to the C functions of the same names:

# passwd.awk --- access password file information
    # tailor this to suit your system
    _pw_awklib = "/usr/local/libexec/awk/"

function _pw_init(    oldfs, oldrs, olddol0, pwcat, using_fw)
    if (_pw_inited)

    oldfs = FS
    oldrs = RS
    olddol0 = $0
    using_fw = (PROCINFO["FS"] == "FIELDWIDTHS")
    FS = ":"
    RS = "\n"

    pwcat = _pw_awklib "pwcat"
    while ((pwcat | getline) > 0) {
        _pw_byname[$1] = $0
        _pw_byuid[$3] = $0
        _pw_bycount[++_pw_total] = $0
    _pw_count = 0
    _pw_inited = 1
    FS = oldfs
    if (using_fw)
    RS = oldrs
    $0 = olddol0

The BEGIN rule sets a private variable to the directory where pwcat is stored. Because it is used to help out an awk library routine, we have chosen to put it in `/usr/local/libexec/awk'; however, you might want it to be in a different directory on your system.

The function _pw_init keeps three copies of the user information in three associative arrays. The arrays are indexed by username (_pw_byname), by user-id number (_pw_byuid), and by order of occurrence (_pw_bycount). The variable _pw_inited is used for efficiency; _pw_init needs only to be called once.

Because this function uses getline to read information from pwcat, it first saves the values of FS, RS, and $0. It notes in the variable using_fw whether field splitting with FIELDWIDTHS is in effect or not. Doing so is necessary, since these functions could be called from anywhere within a user's program, and the user may have his or her own way of splitting records and fields.

The using_fw variable checks PROCINFO["FS"], which is "FIELDWIDTHS" if field splitting is being done with FIELDWIDTHS. This makes it possible to restore the correct field-splitting mechanism later. The test can only be true for gawk. It is false if using FS or on some other awk implementation.

The main part of the function uses a loop to read database lines, split the line into fields, and then store the line into each array as necessary. When the loop is done, _pw_init cleans up by closing the pipeline, setting _pw_inited to one, and restoring FS (and FIELDWIDTHS if necessary), RS, and $0. The use of _pw_count is explained shortly.

The getpwnam function takes a username as a string argument. If that user is in the database, it returns the appropriate line. Otherwise it returns the null string:

function getpwnam(name)
    if (name in _pw_byname)
        return _pw_byname[name]
    return ""

Similarly, the getpwuid function takes a user-id number argument. If that user number is in the database, it returns the appropriate line. Otherwise it returns the null string:

function getpwuid(uid)
    if (uid in _pw_byuid)
        return _pw_byuid[uid]
    return ""

The getpwent function simply steps through the database, one entry at a time. It uses _pw_count to track its current position in the _pw_bycount array:

function getpwent()
    if (_pw_count < _pw_total)
        return _pw_bycount[++_pw_count]
    return ""

The endpwent function resets _pw_count to zero, so that subsequent calls to getpwent start over again:

function endpwent()
    _pw_count = 0

A conscious design decision in this suite is that each subroutine calls _pw_init to initialize the database arrays. The overhead of running a separate process to generate the user database, and the I/O to scan it, are only incurred if the user's main program actually calls one of these functions. If this library file is loaded along with a user's program, but none of the routines are ever called, then there is no extra runtime overhead. (The alternative is move the body of _pw_init into a BEGIN rule, which always runs pwcat. This simplifies the code but runs an extra process that may never be needed.)

In turn, calling _pw_init is not too expensive, because the _pw_inited variable keeps the program from reading the data more than once. If you are worried about squeezing every last cycle out of your awk program, the check of _pw_inited could be moved out of _pw_init and duplicated in all the other functions. In practice, this is not necessary, since most awk programs are I/O-bound, and it clutters up the code.

The id program in Printing out User Information, uses these functions.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

13.6 Reading the Group Database

Much of the discussion presented in Reading the User Database, applies to the group database as well. Although there has traditionally been a well-known file (`/etc/group') in a well-known format, the POSIX standard only provides a set of C library routines (<grp.h> and getgrent) for accessing the information. Even though this file may exist, it likely does not have complete information. Therefore, as with the user database, it is necessary to have a small C program that generates the group database as its output.

grcat, a C program that "cats" the group database, is as follows:

 * grcat.c
 * Generate a printable version of the group database
#include <stdio.h>
#include <grp.h>

main(argc, argv)
int argc;
char **argv;
    struct group *g;
    int i;

    while ((g = getgrent()) != NULL) {
        printf("%s:%s:%d:", g->gr_name, g->gr_passwd,
        for (i = 0; g->gr_mem[i] != NULL; i++) {
            printf("%s", g->gr_mem[i]);
            if (g->gr_mem[i+1] != NULL)

Each line in the group database represents one group. The fields are separated with colons and represent the following information:

it is usually empty or set to `*'. The group's numeric group-id number; this number should be unique within the file. A comma-separated list of usernames. These users are members of the group. Modern Unix systems allow users to be members of several groups simultaneously. If your system does, then there are elements "group1" through "groupN" in PROCINFO for those group-id numbers. (Note that PROCINFO is a gawk extension; see section 7.5 Built-in Variables.)
Group name The group's name.
Group password The group's encrypted password. In practice, this field is never used;
Group member list

Here is what running grcat might produce:

$ grcat
-| wheel:*:0:arnold
-| nogroup:*:65534:
-| daemon:*:1:
-| kmem:*:2:
-| staff:*:10:arnold,miriam,andy
-| other:*:20:

Here are the functions for obtaining information from the group database. There are several, modeled after the C library functions of the same names:

# group.awk --- functions for dealing with the group file
BEGIN    \
    # Change to suit your system
    _gr_awklib = "/usr/local/libexec/awk/"

function _gr_init(    oldfs, oldrs, olddol0, grcat,
                             using_fw, n, a, i)
    if (_gr_inited)

    oldfs = FS
    oldrs = RS
    olddol0 = $0
    using_fw = (PROCINFO["FS"] == "FIELDWIDTHS")
    FS = ":"
    RS = "\n"

    grcat = _gr_awklib "grcat"
    while ((grcat | getline) > 0) {
        if ($1 in _gr_byname)
            _gr_byname[$1] = _gr_byname[$1] "," $4
            _gr_byname[$1] = $0
        if ($3 in _gr_bygid)
            _gr_bygid[$3] = _gr_bygid[$3] "," $4
            _gr_bygid[$3] = $0

        n = split($4, a, "[ \t]*,[ \t]*")
        for (i = 1; i <= n; i++)
            if (a[i] in _gr_groupsbyuser)
                _gr_groupsbyuser[a[i]] = \
                    _gr_groupsbyuser[a[i]] " " $1
                _gr_groupsbyuser[a[i]] = $1

        _gr_bycount[++_gr_count] = $0
    _gr_count = 0
    FS = oldfs
    if (using_fw)
    RS = oldrs
    $0 = olddol0

The BEGIN rule sets a private variable to the directory where grcat is stored. Because it is used to help out an awk library routine, we have chosen to put it in `/usr/local/libexec/awk'. You might want it to be in a different directory on your system.

These routines follow the same general outline as the user database routines (see section Reading the User Database). The _gr_inited variable is used to ensure that the database is scanned no more than once. The _gr_init function first saves FS, FIELDWIDTHS, RS, and $0, and then sets FS and RS to the correct values for scanning the group information.

The group information is stored is several associative arrays. The arrays are indexed by group name (_gr_byname), by group-id number (_gr_bygid), and by position in the database (_gr_bycount). There is an additional array indexed by username (_gr_groupsbyuser), which is a space-separated list of groups that each user belongs to.

Unlike the user database, it is possible to have multiple records in the database for the same group. This is common when a group has a large number of members. A pair of such entries might look like the following:


For this reason, _gr_init looks to see if a group name or group-id number is already seen. If it is, then the usernames are simply concatenated onto the previous list of users. (There is actually a subtle problem with the code just presented. Suppose that the first time there were no names. This code adds the names with a leading comma. It also doesn't check that there is a $4.)

Finally, _gr_init closes the pipeline to grcat, restores FS (and FIELDWIDTHS if necessary), RS, and $0, initializes _gr_count to zero (it is used later), and makes _gr_inited nonzero.

The getgrnam function takes a group name as its argument, and if that group exists, it is returned. Otherwise, getgrnam returns the null string:

function getgrnam(group)
    if (group in _gr_byname)
        return _gr_byname[group]
    return ""

The getgrgid function is similar, it takes a numeric group-id and looks up the information associated with that group-id:

function getgrgid(gid)
    if (gid in _gr_bygid)
        return _gr_bygid[gid]
    return ""

The getgruser function does not have a C counterpart. It takes a username and returns the list of groups that have the user as a member:

function getgruser(user)
    if (user in _gr_groupsbyuser)
        return _gr_groupsbyuser[user]
    return ""

The getgrent function steps through the database one entry at a time. It uses _gr_count to track its position in the list:

function getgrent()
    if (++_gr_count in _gr_bycount)
        return _gr_bycount[_gr_count]
    return ""

The endgrent function resets _gr_count to zero so that getgrent can start over again:

function endgrent()
    _gr_count = 0

As with the user database routines, each function calls _gr_init to initialize the arrays. Doing so only incurs the extra overhead of running grcat if these functions are used (as opposed to moving the body of _gr_init into a BEGIN rule).

Most of the work is in scanning the database and building the various associative arrays. The functions that the user calls are themselves very simple, relying on awk's associative arrays to do work.

The id program in Printing out User Information, uses these functions.

[ << ] [ >> ]           [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

This document was generated on May 2, 2002 using texi2html