Introduction to Gawk

For many simple programming problems, awk is an excellent solution. Let Ian Gordon show you how to make your life easier.
Run-time Performance

It seems impossible to have such ease of use together with speed; there must be a trade-off. This is one area in which gawk suffers—run-time performance. However, this is not to say that gawk is a terribly slow language. Since gawk is interpreted rather than compiled, it cannot compete with compiled languages for speed of execution. (It also is somewhat slower than a comparable program written in Perl.) However, if your main concern is getting a working program written as quickly as possible, you probably do not want to wrestle with C or C++ for a week to perfect the most efficient algorithm. By trading off the speed advantages and control features of C (or another compiled language) for ease of use, gawk lets you get the job done quickly and relatively painlessly.

If, however, execution speed is a critical point, gawk makes an excellent tool for implementing and testing a prototype before you start to code in C. And when the prototype is complete you may find that the gawk version is fast enough to meet your needs.


gawk offers the programmer a simple, somewhat C-like syntax, automatic file handling, associative arrays, and powerful pattern matching—features which can help you to create a program much more quickly than with a more traditional language. gawk also has many other useful and powerful features such as user-defined functions, recursion, many built-in functions, regular expressions, multidimensional arrays, formatted output using printf and sprintf, even the ability to set variables on the command line. These features are beyond the scope of this article. Without doubt, gawk's interpreter will produce a slower running final product than a C compiler, or even a Perl interpreter. But this slower execution speed (it certainly is not slow!) is more than compensated for by the speed and ease of program development and testing. When you need a program to perform a task and you need it right now, whether it is a quick-and-dirty, use-once program or a program that will be getting plenty of use, gawk may prove to be the right language for the task.

Ian Gordon ( is a support programmer at Hyprotech Ltd. in Calgary, Alberta. He discovered the joys of Linux 15 months ago, a discovery which has taken up much of his free time.



Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

How Slow??

Daniel's picture


You say gawk is slower than Perl. Do you know how much slower? Are there any benchmarks? I've heared that there is an AWK compiler. Do you know anything about it?

White Paper
Linux Management with Red Hat Satellite: Measuring Business Impact and ROI

Linux has become a key foundation for supporting today's rapidly growing IT environments. Linux is being used to deploy business applications and databases, trading on its reputation as a low-cost operating environment. For many IT organizations, Linux is a mainstay for deploying Web servers and has evolved from handling basic file, print, and utility workloads to running mission-critical applications and databases, physically, virtually, and in the cloud. As Linux grows in importance in terms of value to the business, managing Linux environments to high standards of service quality — availability, security, and performance — becomes an essential requirement for business success.

Learn More

Sponsored by Red Hat

White Paper
Private PaaS for the Agile Enterprise

If you already use virtualized infrastructure, you are well on your way to leveraging the power of the cloud. Virtualization offers the promise of limitless resources, but how do you manage that scalability when your DevOps team doesn’t scale? In today’s hypercompetitive markets, fast results can make a difference between leading the pack vs. obsolescence. Organizations need more benefits from cloud computing than just raw resources. They need agility, flexibility, convenience, ROI, and control.

Stackato private Platform-as-a-Service technology from ActiveState extends your private cloud infrastructure by creating a private PaaS to provide on-demand availability, flexibility, control, and ultimately, faster time-to-market for your enterprise.

Learn More

Sponsored by ActiveState