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I wanted to write a function to retrieve a field from the list of background jobs in bash. For example to get a specific argument.

Let's say I send vim to the background, so "jobs" displays this list:

[1]+  Stopped                 vim ~/.bashrc

My function looks like this:

function jf {
    echo `jobs | awk 'NR==$1{print $$2}'`;

I then call it like this:

jf 1 4

I would want it to return the 4th column of the 1st line, which would be "~/.bashrc", but it doesn't. What Am I doing wrong?

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Too many $s: awk 'NR==1{print $4}'. – manatwork Apr 10 '13 at 14:20
I need the $ to refer to the respective arguments. The function is supposed to receive the line number as first, and the column number as the second argument. – bug Apr 10 '13 at 14:27
$1, $2 and alike are not command line arguments in awk, but fields of the current record. – manatwork Apr 10 '13 at 14:37
I know, but shouldn't bash substitute the arguments with their values before it executes awk? So that $1 becomes 1 and $2 becomes 4 in my example. I mean, that's the point of using the dollar sign in a bash function, isn't it? – bug Apr 10 '13 at 15:26
Not inside single quoted strings. awk "NR==$1{print \$$2}" – manatwork Apr 10 '13 at 15:44

You need to tell awk that you want to pass in values from shell variables. Something like this in your function definition should do the trick:

function jf {
    echo `jobs | awk -v LINENO=$1 -v COLUMNNO=$2 'NR==LINENO {print $COLUMNNO}'`
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Thanks, this seems to work great! The solution hinted at by manatwork is more general though. – bug Apr 10 '13 at 17:12

The single quotes made bash not substitute arguments. As manatwork mentioned, double quotes are interpreted less strictly.

manatwork wrote:

awk "NR==$1{print \$$2}"

Still, the "echo `...`" part in my function posed a problem, but it seems I overcomplicated things and it isn't needed at all. This new function works for me:

function jf {
    jobs | awk "NR==$1{print \$$2}";
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