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Masterminds of Programming by Shane Warden, Federico Biancuzzi

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Chapter 6. AWK

The Life of Algorithms

How do you define AWK?

Al Aho: I would say AWK is an easy-to-learn and easy-to-use scripting language that excels at routine data-processing applications.

What was your role in the development of AWK?

Al: I was doing research into efficient parsing and string pattern matching algorithms in the 1970s. Brian Kernighan and I had been talking about generalizations of grep to be able to do more general pattern matching and text processing for many data-processing applications we had in mind. Peter Weinberger came along and expressed great interest in this project, so we quickly implemented the first version of AWK in 1977.

The language then evolved considerably for a few years as a number of our colleagues started to use it for a large variety of data-processing tasks, many of which we had not anticipated.

In what context is AWK most appropriate?

Al: I think AWK is still ...

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