4.11 Reading Input with a Timeout

This section describes a feature that is specific to gawk.

You may specify a timeout in milliseconds for reading input from the keyboard, a pipe, or two-way communication, including TCP/IP sockets. This can be done on a per-input, per-command, or per-connection basis, by setting a special element in the PROCINFO array (see Built-in Variables That Convey Information):

PROCINFO["input_name", "READ_TIMEOUT"] = timeout in milliseconds

When set, this causes gawk to time out and return failure if no data is available to read within the specified timeout period. For example, a TCP client can decide to give up on receiving any response from the server after a certain amount of time:

Service = "/inet/tcp/0/localhost/daytime"
if ((Service |& getline) > 0)
    print $0
else if (ERRNO != "")
    print ERRNO

Here is how to read interactively from the user28 without waiting for more than five seconds:

PROCINFO["/dev/stdin", "READ_TIMEOUT"] = 5000
while ((getline < "/dev/stdin") > 0)
    print $0

gawk terminates the read operation if input does not arrive after waiting for the timeout period, returns failure, and sets ERRNO to an appropriate string value. A negative or zero value for the timeout is the same as specifying no timeout at all.

A timeout can also be set for reading from the keyboard in the implicit loop that reads input records and matches them against patterns, like so:

$ gawk 'BEGIN { PROCINFO["-", "READ_TIMEOUT"] = 5000 }
> { print "You entered: " $0 }'
-| You entered: gawk

In this case, failure to respond within five seconds results in the following error message:

error→ gawk: cmd. line:2: (FILENAME=- FNR=1) fatal: error reading input file `-': Connection timed out

The timeout can be set or changed at any time, and will take effect on the next attempt to read from the input device. In the following example, we start with a timeout value of one second, and progressively reduce it by one-tenth of a second until we wait indefinitely for the input to arrive:

PROCINFO[Service, "READ_TIMEOUT"] = 1000
while ((Service |& getline) > 0) {
    print $0
    PROCINFO[Service, "READ_TIMEOUT"] -= 100

NOTE: You should not assume that the read operation will block exactly after the tenth record has been printed. It is possible that gawk will read and buffer more than one record’s worth of data the first time. Because of this, changing the value of timeout like in the preceding example is not very useful.

If the PROCINFO element is not present and the GAWK_READ_TIMEOUT environment variable exists, gawk uses its value to initialize the timeout value. The exclusive use of the environment variable to specify timeout has the disadvantage of not being able to control it on a per-command or per-connection basis.

gawk considers a timeout event to be an error even though the attempt to read from the underlying device may succeed in a later attempt. This is a limitation, and it also means that you cannot use this to multiplex input from two or more sources. See Retrying Reads After Certain Input Errors for a way to enable later I/O attempts to succeed.

Assigning a timeout value prevents read operations from being blocked indefinitely. But bear in mind that there are other ways gawk can stall waiting for an input device to be ready. A network client can sometimes take a long time to establish a connection before it can start reading any data, or the attempt to open a FIFO special file for reading can be blocked indefinitely until some other process opens it for writing.



This assumes that standard input is the keyboard.