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11.3.8 A Simple Stream Editor

The sed utility is a stream editor, a program that reads a stream of data, makes changes to it, and passes it on. It is often used to make global changes to a large file or to a stream of data generated by a pipeline of commands. While sed is a complicated program in its own right, its most common use is to perform global substitutions in the middle of a pipeline:

     command1 < orig.data | sed 's/old/new/g' | command2 > result

Here, ‘s/old/new/g’ tells sed to look for the regexp ‘old’ on each input line and globally replace it with the text ‘new’, i.e., all the occurrences on a line. This is similar to awk's gsub() function (see String Functions).

The following program, awksed.awk, accepts at least two command-line arguments: the pattern to look for and the text to replace it with. Any additional arguments are treated as data file names to process. If none are provided, the standard input is used:

     
     # awksed.awk --- do s/foo/bar/g using just print
     #    Thanks to Michael Brennan for the idea
     
     
     
     function usage()
     {
         print "usage: awksed pat repl [files...]" > "/dev/stderr"
         exit 1
     }
     
     BEGIN {
         # validate arguments
         if (ARGC < 3)
             usage()
     
         RS = ARGV[1]
         ORS = ARGV[2]
     
         # don't use arguments as files
         ARGV[1] = ARGV[2] = ""
     }
     
     # look ma, no hands!
     {
         if (RT == "")
             printf "%s", $0
         else
             print
     }
     

The program relies on gawk's ability to have RS be a regexp, as well as on the setting of RT to the actual text that terminates the record (see Records).

The idea is to have RS be the pattern to look for. gawk automatically sets $0 to the text between matches of the pattern. This is text that we want to keep, unmodified. Then, by setting ORS to the replacement text, a simple print statement outputs the text we want to keep, followed by the replacement text.

There is one wrinkle to this scheme, which is what to do if the last record doesn't end with text that matches RS. Using a print statement unconditionally prints the replacement text, which is not correct. However, if the file did not end in text that matches RS, RT is set to the null string. In this case, we can print $0 using printf (see Printf).

The BEGIN rule handles the setup, checking for the right number of arguments and calling usage() if there is a problem. Then it sets RS and ORS from the command-line arguments and sets ARGV[1] and ARGV[2] to the null string, so that they are not treated as file names (see ARGC and ARGV).

The usage() function prints an error message and exits. Finally, the single rule handles the printing scheme outlined above, using print or printf as appropriate, depending upon the value of RT.