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6.1.3.1 Using Variables in a Program

Variables let you give names to values and refer to them later. Variables have already been used in many of the examples. The name of a variable must be a sequence of letters, digits, or underscores, and it may not begin with a digit. Case is significant in variable names; a and A are distinct variables.

A variable name is a valid expression by itself; it represents the variable's current value. Variables are given new values with assignment operators, increment operators, and decrement operators. See Assignment Ops. In addition, the sub() and gsub() functions can change a variable's value, and the match(), patsplit() and split() functions can change the contents of their array parameters. See String Functions.

A few variables have special built-in meanings, such as FS (the field separator), and NF (the number of fields in the current input record). See Built-in Variables, for a list of the built-in variables. These built-in variables can be used and assigned just like all other variables, but their values are also used or changed automatically by awk. All built-in variables' names are entirely uppercase.

Variables in awk can be assigned either numeric or string values. The kind of value a variable holds can change over the life of a program. By default, variables are initialized to the empty string, which is zero if converted to a number. There is no need to explicitly “initialize” a variable in awk, which is what you would do in C and in most other traditional languages.