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Sobell on the Bourne Again Shell and the Linux Command Line - page 3

The Fate of the Command Line

  • November 21, 2005
  • By Ibrahim Haddad

LP: Why would you use awk?

Good question, especially with many people going straight to Perl. This utility is simple and powerful. Before Perl was around it was one of the workhorses of file manipulation. Today it is still very useful. GNU's version of awk, called gawk, has some new features that make it a very capable tool. Here is the section of my book that talks about how to get gawk to communicate with a coprocess:

"Coprocess: Two-Way I/O

"A coprocess is a process that runs in parallel with another process. Starting with version 3.1, gawk can invoke a coprocess to exchange information directly with a background process. A coprocess can be useful when you are working in a client/server environment, setting up an SQL front end/back end, or exchanging data with a remote system over a network. The gawk syntax identifies a coprocess by preceding the name of the program that starts the background process with a |& operator.

"The coprocess command must be a filter (i.e., it reads from standard input and writes to standard output) and must flush its output whenever it has a complete line rather than accumulating lines for subsequent output. When a command is invoked as a coprocess, it is connected via a two-way pipe to a gawk program so that you can read from and write to the coprocess.

"When used alone the tr utility does not flush its output after each line. The to_upper shell script is a wrapper for tr that does flush its output; this filter can be run as a coprocess. For each line read, to_upper writes the line, translated to uppercase, to standard output. Remove the # before set -x if you want to_upper to display debugging output.

$ cat to_upper
#!/bin/bash
#set -x
while read arg
do
    echo "$arg" | tr '[a-z]' '[A-Z]'
done

$ echo abcdef | to_upper
ABCDEF

"The g6 program invokes to_upper as a coprocess. This gawk program reads standard input or a file specified on the command line, translates the input to uppercase, and writes the translated data to standard output.

$ cat g6
    {
    print $0 |& "to_upper"
    "to_upper" |& getline hold
    print hold
    }

$ gawk -f g6 < alpha
AAAAAAAAA
BBBBBBBBB
CCCCCCCCC
DDDDDDDDD

"The g6 program has one compound statement, enclosed within braces, comprising three statements. Because there is no pattern, gawk executes the compound statement once for each line of input.

"In the first statement, print $0 sends the current record to standard output. The |& operator redirects standard output to the program named to_upper, which is running as a coprocess. The quotation marks around the name of the program are required. The second statement redirects standard output from to_upper to a getline statement, which copies its standard input to the variable named hold. The third statement, print hold, sends the contents of the hold variable to standard output."

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