7.3 Actions

An awk program or script consists of a series of rules and function definitions interspersed. (Functions are described later. See User-Defined Functions.) A rule contains a pattern and an action, either of which (but not both) may be omitted. The purpose of the action is to tell awk what to do once a match for the pattern is found. Thus, in outline, an awk program generally looks like this:

[pattern]  { action }
 pattern  [{ action }]
function name(args) { ... }

An action consists of one or more awk statements, enclosed in braces (‘{}’). Each statement specifies one thing to do. The statements are separated by newlines or semicolons. The braces around an action must be used even if the action contains only one statement, or if it contains no statements at all. However, if you omit the action entirely, omit the braces as well. An omitted action is equivalent to ‘{ print $0 }’:

/foo/  { }     match foo, do nothing --- empty action
/foo/          match foo, print the record --- omitted action

The following types of statements are supported in awk:


Call functions or assign values to variables (see Expressions). Executing this kind of statement simply computes the value of the expression. This is useful when the expression has side effects (see Assignment Expressions).

Control statements

Specify the control flow of awk programs. The awk language gives you C-like constructs (if, for, while, and do) as well as a few special ones (see Control Statements in Actions).

Compound statements

Enclose one or more statements in braces. A compound statement is used in order to put several statements together in the body of an if, while, do, or for statement.

Input statements

Use the getline command (see Explicit Input with getline). Also supplied in awk are the next statement (see The next Statement) and the nextfile statement (see The nextfile Statement).

Output statements

Such as print and printf. See Printing Output.

Deletion statements

For deleting array elements. See The delete Statement.