7.5.3 Using ARGC and ARGV

Built-in Variables That Convey Information presented the following program describing the information contained in ARGC and ARGV:

$ awk 'BEGIN {
>        for (i = 0; i < ARGC; i++)
>            print ARGV[i]
>      }' inventory-shipped mail-list
-| awk
-| inventory-shipped
-| mail-list

In this example, ARGV[0] contains ‘awk’, ARGV[1] contains ‘inventory-shipped’, and ARGV[2] contains ‘mail-list’. Notice that the awk program is not entered in ARGV. The other command-line options, with their arguments, are also not entered. This includes variable assignments done with the -v option (see Command-Line Options). Normal variable assignments on the command line are treated as arguments and do show up in the ARGV array. Given the following program in a file named showargs.awk:

    printf "A=%d, B=%d\n", A, B
    for (i = 0; i < ARGC; i++)
        printf "\tARGV[%d] = %s\n", i, ARGV[i]
END   { printf "A=%d, B=%d\n", A, B }

Running it produces the following:

$ awk -v A=1 -f showargs.awk B=2 /dev/null
-| A=1, B=0
-|        ARGV[0] = awk
-|        ARGV[1] = B=2
-|        ARGV[2] = /dev/null
-| A=1, B=2

A program can alter ARGC and the elements of ARGV. Each time awk reaches the end of an input file, it uses the next element of ARGV as the name of the next input file. By storing a different string there, a program can change which files are read. Use "-" to represent the standard input. Storing additional elements and incrementing ARGC causes additional files to be read.

If the value of ARGC is decreased, that eliminates input files from the end of the list. By recording the old value of ARGC elsewhere, a program can treat the eliminated arguments as something other than file names.

To eliminate a file from the middle of the list, store the null string ("") into ARGV in place of the file’s name. As a special feature, awk ignores file names that have been replaced with the null string. Another option is to use the delete statement to remove elements from ARGV (see The delete Statement).

All of these actions are typically done in the BEGIN rule, before actual processing of the input begins. See Splitting a Large File into Pieces and see Duplicating Output into Multiple Files for examples of each way of removing elements from ARGV.

To actually get options into an awk program, end the awk options with -- and then supply the awk program’s options, in the following manner:

awk -f myprog.awk -- -v -q file1 file2 ...

The following fragment processes ARGV in order to examine, and then remove, the previously mentioned command-line options:

    for (i = 1; i < ARGC; i++) {
        if (ARGV[i] == "-v")
            verbose = 1
        else if (ARGV[i] == "-q")
            debug = 1
        else if (ARGV[i] ~ /^-./) {
            e = sprintf("%s: unrecognized option -- %c",
                    ARGV[0], substr(ARGV[i], 2, 1))
            print e > "/dev/stderr"
        } else
        delete ARGV[i]

Ending the awk options with -- isn’t necessary in gawk. Unless --posix has been specified, gawk silently puts any unrecognized options into ARGV for the awk program to deal with. As soon as it sees an unknown option, gawk stops looking for other options that it might otherwise recognize. The previous command line with gawk would be:

gawk -f myprog.awk -q -v file1 file2 ...

Because -q is not a valid gawk option, it and the following -v are passed on to the awk program. (See Processing Command-Line Options for an awk library function that parses command-line options.)

When designing your program, you should choose options that don’t conflict with gawk’s, because it will process any options that it accepts before passing the rest of the command line on to your program. Using ‘#!’ with the -E option may help (see Executable awk Programs and see Command-Line Options).