I have this:

if [[ $1 = "-c" ]] && [[ $2 =~ ^[a-z A-Z]+$ ]]
awk -v var="$2" '{print $2}' something.txt

What I want is with a comand like -c abc to show the lines in something.txt that include abc.

  • Why not just use grep? That's the tool for the job. Simple is usually better. – Wildcard Jan 9 '16 at 20:59

Use grep:

grep abc something.txt

Also note that using $2 in the shell refers to the second argument (as you seem to know), but in awk it is different. Your question seems to show a misunderstanding of this so I'll clarify it.

The shell requires the $ to refer to the value of a variable. So you refer to a variable named myvar by writing $myvar.

In awk to refer to a variable named myvar you just use its name—myvar. To refer to a literal string containing the letters m-y-v-a-r, you type "myvar".

The $ in awk is to refer to the field with a specific number. So $2 refers to the second field of the current line of the file. Or if you set myvar = "4", then $myvar refers to the fourth field of the file.

For just printing all lines of a file that match a given pattern, use grep—that's what it's designed for.


just as a disclaimer, awk isn't the right tool for this job — i'm assuming your actual use case is more complex and justified, so thanks for distilling it!

This specific issuse looks like it comes down to two things, variable "expansion" and passing args from bash to awk.

awk variables and $

once you prefix a awk variable with $, it will immediately make that a reference to a field: which is weird if you're used to the shell, php, or perl.

so an input like this

thing alive
cat yes
lamp no

piped through awk 'BEGIN{alive=2}{print $alive}' will yield


while awk 'BEGIN{alive=2}{print alive}' would yield


When mixing awk with bash, things get a little strange; hopefully that helps with the first part.

passing args from bash to awk

if you're set on using awk, and setting awk vars in the bash command, you're probably looking for this:

if [[ $1 = "-c" ]] && [[ $2 =~ ^[a-z A-Z]+$ ]]
    awk -v var="$2" 'index($0, var)' something.txt

note: the index($0, var) is short for if (index($0, var)) { print $0 }

admittedly, it's not a "pretty" solution, but that gets back to awk being the wrong tool for the job. For a full awk solution check out ARGV and ARGC

  • yes maybe awk its not the 'cool' solution! anyway that was helpfull thanks ! – ted Jan 9 '16 at 21:31
  • I don't think they want the index, but the whole line. But I agree that grep is much simpler. – Sparhawk Jan 9 '16 at 21:47
  • 1
    that's correct @Sparhawk. That won't print the index, it will print the whole line; playing to some of awk's shortcut friendliness — It's about as close as you'll get to a substring matcher in awk – user3276552 Jan 9 '16 at 21:49
  • Oh yes, sorry, I misread the code. +1 – Sparhawk Jan 9 '16 at 21:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.