The A-Z of Programming Languages: AWK

AWK is one of the most common UNIX tools to process text-based data in either files or datastreams. Written by Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan, AWK “extensively uses the string datatype, associative arrays (that is, arrays indexed by key strings), and regular expressions.” ComputerWorld interviewed Alfred Aho.As is usually the case, the programming language grew out of a need. “As a researcher at Bell Labs in the early 1970s, I found myself keeping track of budgets, and keeping track of editorial correspondence,” Aho explains, “I was also teaching at a nearby university at the time, so I had to keep track of student grades as well.” He wanted a simple programming language that could deal with these tasks.

Out of this grew AWK, a language based on the principle of pattern-action processing. It was built to do simple data processing: the ordinary data processing that we routinely did on a day-to-day basis.. We just wanted to have a very simple scripting language that would allow us, and people who weren’t very computer savvy, to be able to write throw-away programs for routine data processing.

The fact that even I could write basic AWK programs is testimony to its ease of use, and despite its age, it still proves its usefulness today. The interview is an interesting read.


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