Startup and Cleanup Actions

A BEGIN rule is executed once only, before the first input record is read. Likewise, an END rule is executed once only, after all the input is read. For example:

$ awk '
> BEGIN { print "Analysis of \"li\"" }
> /li/  { ++n }
> END   { print "\"li\" appears in", n, "records." }' mail-list
-| Analysis of "li"
-| "li" appears in 4 records.

This program finds the number of records in the input file mail-list that contain the string ‘li’. The BEGIN rule prints a title for the report. There is no need to use the BEGIN rule to initialize the counter n to zero, as awk does this automatically (see Variables). The second rule increments the variable n every time a record containing the pattern ‘li’ is read. The END rule prints the value of n at the end of the run.

The special patterns BEGIN and END cannot be used in ranges or with Boolean operators (indeed, they cannot be used with any operators). An awk program may have multiple BEGIN and/or END rules. They are executed in the order in which they appear: all the BEGIN rules at startup and all the END rules at termination.

BEGIN and END rules may be intermixed with other rules. This feature was added in the 1987 version of awk and is included in the POSIX standard. The original (1978) version of awk required the BEGIN rule to be placed at the beginning of the program, the END rule to be placed at the end, and only allowed one of each. This is no longer required, but it is a good idea to follow this template in terms of program organization and readability.

Multiple BEGIN and END rules are useful for writing library functions, because each library file can have its own BEGIN and/or END rule to do its own initialization and/or cleanup. The order in which library functions are named on the command line controls the order in which their BEGIN and END rules are executed. Therefore, you have to be careful when writing such rules in library files so that the order in which they are executed doesn’t matter. See Command-Line Options for more information on using library functions. See A Library of awk Functions, for a number of useful library functions.

If an awk program has only BEGIN rules and no other rules, then the program exits after the BEGIN rules are run.41 However, if an END rule exists, then the input is read, even if there are no other rules in the program. This is necessary in case the END rule checks the FNR and NR variables, or the fields.



The original version of awk kept reading and ignoring input until the end of the file was seen.