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Manual Reference Pages  -  RUNAWK (1)

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runawk - wrapper for AWK interpreter



runawk [options] program_file

runawk -e program


After years of using AWK for programming I’ve found that despite of its simplicity and limitations AWK is good enough for scripting a wide range of different tasks. AWK is not as poweful as their bigger counterparts like Perl, Ruby, TCL and others but it has their own advantages like compactness, simplicity and availability on almost all UNIX-like systems. I personally also like its data-driven nature and token orientation, very useful techniques for text processing utilities.

Unfortunately awk interpreters lacks some important features and sometimes do not work as good as they could do.

Problems I see (some of them, of course)
1. AWK lacks support for modules. Even if I create small programs, I often want to use functions created earlier and already used in other scripts. That is, it whould great to organise functions into so called libraries (modules).
2. In order to pass arguments to #!/usr/bin/awk -f script (not to awk interpreter), it is necessary to prepend a list of arguments with — (two minus signes). In my view, this looks badly. Also such behaviour violates POSIX/SUS Utility Syntax Guidelines.



    #!/usr/bin/awk -f

    BEGIN {
       for (i=1; i < ARGC; ++i){
          printf "ARGV [%d]=%s\n", i, ARGV [i]

Shell session:

    % awk_program --opt1 --opt2
    /usr/bin/awk: unknown option --opt1 ignored

    /usr/bin/awk: unknown option --opt2 ignored

    % awk_program -- --opt1 --opt2
    ARGV [1]=--opt1
    ARGV [2]=--opt2

In my opinion awk_program script should work like this

    % awk_program --opt1 --opt2
    ARGV [1]=--opt1
    ARGV [2]=--opt2

3. When #!/usr/bin/awk -f script handles arguments (options) and wants to read from stdin, it is necessary to add /dev/stdin (or ‘-’) as a last argument explicitly.



    #!/usr/bin/awk -f

    BEGIN {
       if (ARGV [1] == "--flag"){
          flag = 1
          ARGV [1] = "" # to not read file named "--flag"

       print "flag=" flag " $0=" $0

Shell session:

    % echo test | awk_program -- --flag
    % echo test | awk_program -- --flag /dev/stdin
    flag=1 $0=test

Ideally awk_program should work like this

    % echo test | awk_program --flag
    flag=1 $0=test

4. igawk(1) which is shipped with GNU awk can not be used in shebang. On most (all?) UNIXes scripts beginning with

    #!/usr/local/bin/igawk -f

will not work.

runawk was created to solve all these problems


-d Turn on a debugging mode.
-e program Specify program. If -e is not specified, the AWK code is read from program_file.
-f awk_module Activate awk_module. This works the same way as

    #use "awk_module.awk"

directive in the code. Multiple -f options are allowed.

-F fs Set the input field separator FS to the regular expression fs.
-h Display help information.
-t If this option is applied, a temporary directory is created by runawk and path to it is passed to awk child process. Temporary directory is created under ${RUNAWK_TMPDIR} (if it is set), or ${TMPDIR} (if it is set) or /tmp directory otherwise. If #use tmpfile.awk is detected in a program this option is activated automatically.
-T Set FS to TAB character. This is equivalent to -F’\t’
-V Display version information.
-v var=val Assign the value val to the variable var before execution of the program begins.


    Standalone script

Under UNIX-like OS-es you can use runawk by beginning your script with


line or something like this instead of

   #!/usr/bin/awk -f

or similar.

    AWK modules

In order to activate modules you should add them into awk script like this

  #use "module1.awk"
  #use "module2.awk"

that is the line that specifies module name is treated as a comment line by normal AWK interpreter but is processed by runawk especially.

Unless you run runawk with option -e, #use must begin with column 0, that is no spaces or tabs symbols are allowed before it and no symbols are allowed between # and use.

Also note that AWK modules can also use another modules and so forth. All them are collected in a depth-first order and each one is added to the list of awk interpreter arguments prepanded with -f option. That is #use directive is *NOT* similar to #include in C programming language, runawk’s module code is not inserted into the place of #use. Runawk’s modules are closer to Perl’s use command. In case some module is mentioned more than once, only one -f will be added for it, i.e duplications are removed automatically.

Position of #use directive in a source file does matter, i.e. the earlier module is mentioned, the earlier -f will be generated for it.


  file prog:

     #use "A.awk"
     #use "B.awk"
     #use "E.awk"

     PROG code

  file B.awk:
     #use "A.awk"
     #use "C.awk"
     B code

  file C.awk:
     #use "A.awk"
     #use "D.awk"

     C code

  A.awk and D.awk dont contain #use directive

If you run

  runawk prog file1 file2


  /path/to/prog file1 file2

the following command

  awk -f A.awk -f D.awk -f C.awk -f B.awk -f E.awk -f prog -- file1 file2

will actually run.

You can check this by running

  runawk -d prog file1 file2

    Module search strategy

Modules are first searched in a directory where main program (or module in which #use directive is specified) is placed. If it is not found there, then AWKPATH environment variable is checked. AWKPATH keeps a colon separated list of search directories. Finally, module is searched in system runawk modules directory, by default PREFIX/share/runawk but this can be changed at compile time.

An absolute path to the module can also be specified.

    Program as an argument

Like some other interpreters runawk can obtain the script from a command line like this

 /path/to/runawk -e 
 #use "alt_assert.awk"

   assert($1 >= 0 && $1 <= 10, "Bad value: " $1)

   # your code below

runawk can also be used for writing oneliners

 runawk -f abs.awk -e BEGIN {print abs(-1)}

    Selecting a preferred AWK interpreter

For some reason you may prefer one AWK interpreter or another. The reason may be efficiency for a particular task, useful but not standard extensions or enything else. To tell runawk what AWK interpreter to use, one can use #interp directive

  file prog:

     #use "A.awk"
     #use "B.awk"

     #interp "/usr/pkg/bin/nbawk"

     # your code here

Note that #interp directive should also begin with column 0, no spaces are allowed before it and between # and interp.

Sometimes it also makes sense to give users ability to select their preferred AWK interpreter without changing the source code. In runawk it is possible using special directive #interp-var which sets an environment variable name assignable by user that specifies an AWK interpreter. For example, the following script

  file foobar:
     #!/usr/bin/env runawk

     #interp-var "FOOBAR_AWK"

     BEGIN {
        print "This is a FooBar application"

can be run as

     env FOOBAR_AWK=mawk foobar

or just


In the former case mawk will be used as AWK interpreter, in the latter — the default AWK interpreter.

    Using existing modules only

In UNIX world it is common practise to write configuration files in a programming language of the application. That is, if application is written in Bourne shell, configuration files for such application are often written in Bourne as well. Using RunAWK one can do the same for applications written in AWK. For example, the following code will use ~/.foobarrc file if it exists otherwise /etc/foobar.conf will be used if it exists.

  file foobar:
    #!/usr/bin/env runawk

    #safe-use "~/.foobarrc" "/etc/foobar.conf"

    BEGIN {
      print foo, bar, baz

  file ~/.foobarrc:
    BEGIN {
      foo = "foo10"
      bar = "bar20"
      baz = 123

Of course, #safe-use directive may be used for other purposes as well. #safe-use directive accepts as much modules as you want, but at most one can be included using awk option -f, others are silently ignored, also note that modules are analysed from left to right. Leading tilde in the module name is replaced with user’s home directory. Another example:

  file foobar:
    #!/usr/bin/env runawk

    #use "/usr/share/foobar/default.conf"
    #safe-use "~/.foobarrc" "/etc/foobar.conf"

    your code is here

Here the default settings are set in /usr/share/foobar/default.conf, and configuration files (if any) are used for overriding them.

    Setting environment

In some cases you may want to run AWK interpreter with a specific environment. For example, your script may be oriented to process ASCII text only. In this case you can run AWK with LC_CTYPE=C environment and use regexp ranges.

runawk provides #env directive for this. String inside double quotes is passed to putenv(3) libc function.


  file prog:

     #env "LC_ALL=C"

     $1 ~ /^[A-Z]+$/ { # A-Z is valid if LC_CTYPE=C
         print $1


If AWK interpreter exits normally, runawk exits with its exit status. If AWK interpreter was killed by signal, runawk exits with exit status 128+signal.


AWKPATH Colon separated list of directories where awk modules are searched.
RUNAWK_AWKPROG Sets the path to the AWK interpreter, used by default, i.e. this variable overrides the compile-time default. Note that #interp directive overrides this.
RUNAWK_KEEPTMP If set, temporary files are not deleted.


Copyright (c) 2007-2014 Aleksey Cheusov <>


Please send any comments, questions, bug reports etc. to me by e-mail or register them at sourceforge project home. Feature requests are also welcomed.



SEE ALSO awk(1)

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RUNAWK (1) 2014-12-26

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