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1.1.6 Shell-Quoting Issues

For short to medium length awk programs, it is most convenient to enter the program on the awk command line. This is best done by enclosing the entire program in single quotes. This is true whether you are entering the program interactively at the shell prompt, or writing it as part of a larger shell script:

     awk 'program text' input-file1 input-file2 ...

Once you are working with the shell, it is helpful to have a basic knowledge of shell quoting rules. The following rules apply only to POSIX-compliant, Bourne-style shells (such as Bash, the GNU Bourne-Again Shell). If you use the C shell, you're on your own.

Mixing single and double quotes is difficult. You have to resort to shell quoting tricks, like this:

     $ awk 'BEGIN { print "Here is a single quote <'"'"'>" }'
     -| Here is a single quote <'>

This program consists of three concatenated quoted strings. The first and the third are single-quoted, the second is double-quoted.

This can be “simplified” to:

     $ awk 'BEGIN { print "Here is a single quote <'\''>" }'
     -| Here is a single quote <'>

Judge for yourself which of these two is the more readable.

Another option is to use double quotes, escaping the embedded, awk-level double quotes:

     $ awk "BEGIN { print \"Here is a single quote <'>\" }"
     -| Here is a single quote <'>

This option is also painful, because double quotes, backslashes, and dollar signs are very common in more advanced awk programs.

A third option is to use the octal escape sequence equivalents (see Escape Sequences) for the single- and double-quote characters, like so:

     $ awk 'BEGIN { print "Here is a single quote <\47>" }'
     -| Here is a single quote <'>
     $ awk 'BEGIN { print "Here is a double quote <\42>" }'
     -| Here is a double quote <">

This works nicely, except that you should comment clearly what the escapes mean.

A fourth option is to use command-line variable assignment, like this:

     $ awk -v sq="'" 'BEGIN { print "Here is a single quote <" sq ">" }'
     -| Here is a single quote <'>

If you really need both single and double quotes in your awk program, it is probably best to move it into a separate file, where the shell won't be part of the picture, and you can say what you mean.