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Powerful tools for text manipulation
am 15. April 2000
Unix has earned itself quite a reputation for its potent tools, used for batch editing of text files (like program output). Sed and Awk are two of these tools. Sed is a direct descendent of Ed, the original Unix line editor, which employs regular expressions, a powerful method for description of patterns in text, for operations like substitute, append or delete. Awk is a complete scripting language with programming structures like conditionals, loops, functions etc., developed in 1970's by Alfred Aho, Brian Kernighan and Peter Weinberger (hence A-W-K). The trio has also written a book on Awk.
Dale Dougherty (in the 2nd edition with Arnold Robbins, maintainer of GNU Awk and author of several more books on Awk programming language) have made a good job in making a thoroughly readable tutorial on Sed and Awk. However, it remains a mystery to me how they succeeded to fill no less than 407 pages with it. Mind you, Sed and Awk are not really some big monsters. There exist something like two dozens of operators in Sed (most of them you will probably never use), and the syntax of Awk mimics those of C programming language, so it is likely that you know it already. Once you grok the idea of regular expressions, you should become a proficient user of Awk in about 30 minutes.
In conclusion, go buy the book if your need to manipulate text files on Unix and you think you need a lengthy tutorial with a gentle learning curve. Otherwise, short references on Awk and Sed, like the ones in "Unix Power Tools" and a bunch of examples showing some tricks you might not think of, will probably be more useful. In addition, it is good to know that during the nineties, much of the focus has drifted from Awk to Perl, so you might consider a book on Perl as well.