I had seen someone use a bash alias or function based on awk, which I liked for its simplicity, but can't remember how to implement it (in bash).

Lets say you have a large formatted file, from which you need to pick say 3, 4, 7th column.

For this you can do:

cat bigfile.txt | awk '{print $3, $4, $7}' |less

I need an alias (or function) pawk, which I can use it as:

cat bigfile.txt | pawk 3,4,7 | less

to get the same effect. Number of columns can be arbitrary and may include NF. I tried couple of things to implement this but can't figure out how to pass arbitrary number of variables to awk.

  • Are you sure it was an alias and not a function? I don't think you can pass multiple argument to aliases. – nobe4 May 11 '16 at 14:19
  • I am not sure, but if it was a function it was quite small as well – Tarundeep Singh May 11 '16 at 14:24

You can use a function like so:

function pawk(){
  awkString="{print "

  for var in "$@"
    awkString+=" \$$var"

  awkString+=" }"

  awk "$awkString"


cat bigfile.txt | pawk 3 4 7 | less
  • 1
    If the output fields indeed need no separator between them, this can be reduced to function pawk() { awk "{print ${*/#/\$}}"; }, to make it quite small, as the question owner wishes. (Note, this is Bash-only solution. But anyway @Nobe4's function syntax is already a bashism.) – manatwork May 12 '16 at 12:09

Yes, that would probably have been a function, not an alias. With that in mind, try this:

    fields="$(sed -E 's/(^|,)/ \1\$/g'<<<"$1")"
    awk "{print $fields}" "$@"

Then you can run it as:

pawk 3,4,7 bigfile.txt | less


cat bigfile | pawk 3,4,7 | less

Or even

pawk 3,4,7 * | less

The trick is adding a $ before each comma and at the beginning of the first argument given to the function (so 1,2,3 becomes $1,$2,$3) and and saving the resulting string in a shell variable. You then run awk in double quotes so that the $fields variable is expanded and awk treats it as the firlds it should print.

The sed -E should be pretty portable but, the herestring (<<<"$1") less so. For a fully portable version, use this:

    fields="$(printf '$%s' $(echo 1,2,3 | sed 's/,/,\$/g'))"
    awk "{print $fields}" "$@"
  • +1. and if you have shift after processing "$1" then you can use "$@" instead of just "$2". – cas May 12 '16 at 1:53

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