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I am trying to use awk inside a bash script and do a rather common task: iterate well structured file lines and split them by a delimiter into an array. Here is a sample from the file:


There are numerous examples how this can be done on a single line in the interactive mode, however, I am doing it in a script in which I would like to use that array manipulated by awk outside the awk subshell in bash itself:

cat ${smryfile} | while read smryline; do

    echo ${smryline}

    #now i want to split the line into array 'linearray' in awk but have it usable when i get back to bash
    echo ${smryline} | awk '{split($0,$linearray,":")}'

    echo $varX
    #do something with $varX


I get an error:

awk: syntax error at source line 1
 context is
     >>> {split($0,$linearray <<< ,":")}
awk: illegal statement at source line 1

Is it possible to do what I am trying to do (use arrays that are defined in awk outside of its scope) and how should I do it?

share|improve this question
Please note that ${var} is not the same as "$var". Verify with this: var=" a b c "; echo "$var"; echo ${var} -- you'll see the whitespace removed in the 2nd echo. – glenn jackman Feb 5 '14 at 21:35
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think that you can do what you want without awk:

cat "${smryfile}" | while IFS=: read first last varx
    echo "first='$first' last='$last' varx='$varx'"
    # do something

This produces:

first='Joe' last='Johnson' varx='25'
first='Sue' last='Miller' varx='27'

Note that this approach will work even if some names in the file include spaces.

Note also that the use of cat above is not necessary:

while IFS=: read first last varx
    echo "first='$first' last='$last' varx='$varx'"
    # do something
done <"${smryfile}"

A side benefit of removing cat, as per the above, is that any variables that you create in the loop will survive after the loop finishes.

share|improve this answer
i found the same solution simultaneously and it works. thanks – amphibient Feb 5 '14 at 21:36
+1, neat solution for this use-case, although no arrays were assigned as was the original question. – grebneke Feb 5 '14 at 21:45

This should work:

linearray=($(awk -F: '{$1=$1} 1' <<<"${smryline}"))
echo ${linearray[2]}
# output: 27

Explanation: awk -F: splits input on :. awk by default separates modified output with a space, so you can construct an bash array directly with the output from awk. Note modified output, hence the no-op call to $1=$1, else the data would just come out in the original form.

But given your example, why not extract the third column with awk -F: and loop the output:

awk -F: '{print $3}' "$smryfile" | while read varX; do
    echo $varX
share|improve this answer
doesn't really work. the array doesn't get the expected data – amphibient Feb 5 '14 at 21:26
@amphibient - right, I missed a no-op "hack" when testing and copy-pasting. Updated. – grebneke Feb 5 '14 at 21:34
I understand that {$1=$1} is a no-op action, but I am not understanding the role of the lone '1' that follows without an intervening ;. – Codex24 Feb 5 '14 at 23:39
@Codex24 it's just awk shorthand for print. The same thing could be written like this: {{$1=$1;} print;}. – terdon Feb 6 '14 at 1:30
@Codex24 - The general pattern in awk is condition {action} condition2 {action2} .... The default action is print $0, and 1 evaluates to true, so awk '1' file is the equivalent of cat file. The point of {$1=$1} is to make awk believe a field was changed, else it would print the input unchanged including the : which we want to get rid of to create the bash array. – grebneke Feb 6 '14 at 7:24

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