Locales Can Influence Conversion

Where you are can matter when it comes to converting between numbers and strings. The local character set and language—the locale—can affect numeric formats. In particular, for awk programs, it affects the decimal point character and the thousands-separator character. The "C" locale, and most English-language locales, use the period character (‘.’) as the decimal point and don’t have a thousands separator. However, many (if not most) European and non-English locales use the comma (‘,’) as the decimal point character. European locales often use either a space or a period as the thousands separator, if they have one.

The POSIX standard says that awk always uses the period as the decimal point when reading the awk program source code, and for command-line variable assignments (see Other Command-Line Arguments). However, when interpreting input data, for print and printf output, and for number-to-string conversion, the local decimal point character is used. (d.c.) In all cases, numbers in source code and in input data cannot have a thousands separator. Here are some examples indicating the difference in behavior, on a GNU/Linux system:

$ export POSIXLY_CORRECT=1                        Force POSIX behavior
$ gawk 'BEGIN { printf "%g\n", 3.1415927 }'
-| 3.14159
$ LC_ALL=en_DK.utf-8 gawk 'BEGIN { printf "%g\n", 3.1415927 }'
-| 3,14159
$ echo 4,321 | gawk '{ print $1 + 1 }'
-| 5
$ echo 4,321 | LC_ALL=en_DK.utf-8 gawk '{ print $1 + 1 }'
-| 5,321

The en_DK.utf-8 locale is for English in Denmark, where the comma acts as the decimal point separator. In the normal "C" locale, gawk treats ‘4,321’ as 4, while in the Danish locale, it’s treated as the full number including the fractional part, 4.321.

Some earlier versions of gawk fully complied with this aspect of the standard. However, many users in non-English locales complained about this behavior, because their data used a period as the decimal point, so the default behavior was restored to use a period as the decimal point character. You can use the --use-lc-numeric option (see Command-Line Options) to force gawk to use the locale’s decimal point character. (gawk also uses the locale’s decimal point character when in POSIX mode, either via --posix or the POSIXLY_CORRECT environment variable, as shown previously.)

Table 6.1 describes the cases in which the locale’s decimal point character is used and when a period is used. Some of these features have not been described yet.

FeatureDefault--posix or --use-lc-numeric
%'gUse localeUse locale
%gUse periodUse locale
InputUse periodUse locale
strtonum()Use periodUse locale

Table 6.1: Locale decimal point versus a period

Finally, modern-day formal standards and the IEEE standard floating-point representation can have an unusual but important effect on the way gawk converts some special string values to numbers. The details are presented in Standards Versus Existing Practice.