8.2 Using Numbers to Subscript Arrays

An important aspect to remember about arrays is that array subscripts are always strings. When a numeric value is used as a subscript, it is converted to a string value before being used for subscripting (see Conversion of Strings and Numbers). This means that the value of the predefined variable CONVFMT can affect how your program accesses elements of an array. For example:

xyz = 12.153
data[xyz] = 1
CONVFMT = "%2.2f"
if (xyz in data)
    printf "%s is in data\n", xyz
    printf "%s is not in data\n", xyz

This prints ‘12.15 is not in data’. The first statement gives xyz a numeric value. Assigning to data[xyz] subscripts data with the string value "12.153" (using the default conversion value of CONVFMT, "%.6g"). Thus, the array element data["12.153"] is assigned the value one. The program then changes the value of CONVFMT. The test ‘(xyz in data)’ generates a new string value from xyz—this time "12.15"—because the value of CONVFMT only allows two significant digits. This test fails, because "12.15" is different from "12.153".

According to the rules for conversions (see Conversion of Strings and Numbers), integer values always convert to strings as integers, no matter what the value of CONVFMT may happen to be. So the usual case of the following works:

for (i = 1; i <= maxsub; i++)
    do something with array[i]

The “integer values always convert to strings as integers” rule has an additional consequence for array indexing. Octal and hexadecimal constants (see Octal and Hexadecimal Numbers) are converted internally into numbers, and their original form is forgotten. This means, for example, that array[17], array[021], and array[0x11] all refer to the same element!

As with many things in awk, the majority of the time things work as you would expect them to. But it is useful to have a precise knowledge of the actual rules, as they can sometimes have a subtle effect on your programs.