Best Free Books to Learn about Awk

Awk is a versatile programming language designed for pattern scanning and processing language and often used as a data extraction and reporting tool. It’s an excellent filter and report writer. It’s a standard feature of most Unix-like operating systems.

Awk is small, fast, simple, and has a clean comprehensible C-like input language. It has robust programming constructs including if/else, while, do/while and for C-style and array iteration.

The name awk comes from the initials of its designers: Alfred V. Aho, Peter J. Weinberger, and Brian W. Kernighan. The original version of awk was written in 1977 at AT&T Bell Laboratories.

The language is suited for:

  • Tallying information from text files and creating reports from the results.
  • Adding additional functions to text editors like “vi”.
  • Translating files from one format to another.
  • Creating small databases.
  • Performing mathematical operations on files of numeric data.

There’s a limited range of good free books to learn about programming in Awk. Here’s my recommended texts.

1. GAWK: Effective AWK Programming Edition 5.0 by Arnold D. Robbins

Effective awk ProgrammingThis practical guide serves as both a reference and tutorial for POSIX-standard awk and for the GNU implementation, called gawk. This book is useful for novices and awk experts alike.

GAWK: Effective AWK Programming explains both how to write programs in the awk language and how to run the awk utility. The term “awk program” refers to software written in the awk programming language.

The book serves as both a tutorial and reference guide. The first part of the book describes the awk language and the gawk program in detail. The second part of the book shows you how to use awk and gawk to solve problems. The third part concentrates on features specific to gawk. The final part of the book provides appendices, and a useful Glossary. There’s a wealth of information in the book.

Read the 5th edition in PDF format at

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify GAWK: Effective AWK Programming Edition under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3.

The book’s cover relates to the 4th edition published by O’Reilly.

2. Awk Tutorial by Bruce Barnett

Awk TutorialAwk Tutorial discusses Awk, a cornerstone of UNIX shell programming.

Chapters cover:

  • Executing an Awk script.
  • Which shell to use with Awk?
  • Dynamic Variables.
  • Arithmetic Expressions.
  • Summary of Awk Commands.
  • Awk Built-in Variables: FS, OFS, NF, NR, RS, ORS, and FILENAME.
  • Associative Arrays.
  • Picture Perfect PRINTF Output.
  • Flow Control with next and exit.
  • Awk Numerical Functions.
  • String Functions.
  • User Defined Functions.
  • Awk patterns.
  • Formatting Awk programs.

Read the tutorial at

3. An Awk Primer by Wikibooks

Awk PrimerAn Awk Primer is a useful guide which explains Awk’s syntax in some depth covering search patterns, numbers and strings, variables, arrays, operations, standard functions, user-defined functions, control structures, and more.

There’s also some example Awk program files, and a quick reference guide.

Read the book online at There’s a printable version available here.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute, and/or modify An Awk Primer under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

All books in this series:

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ScalaModern, object-functional, multi-paradigm, Java-based language
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RustIdeal for systems, embedded, and other performance critical code
LispUnique features - excellent to study programming constructs
AdaALGOL-like programming language, extended from Pascal and other languages
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SchemeA general-purpose, functional language descended from Lisp and Algol
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ClojureDialect of the Lisp programming language
JuliaHigh-level, high-performance language for technical computing
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BASICBeginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code
ErlangGeneral-purpose, concurrent, declarative, functional language
VimLPowerful scripting language of the Vim editor
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FactorDynamic stack-based programming language
EiffelObject-oriented language designed by Bertrand Meyer
AgdaDependently typed functional language based on intuitionistic Type Theory
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XMLRules for defining semantic tags describing structure ad meaning
ValaObject-oriented language, syntactically similar to C#
Standard MLGeneral-purpose functional language characterized as "Lisp with types"
DGeneral-purpose systems programming language with a C-like syntax
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