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The GNU Project and This Book

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the production and distribution of freely distributable software. It was founded by Richard M. Stallman, the author of the original Emacs editor. GNU Emacs is the most widely used version of Emacs today.

The GNU1 Project is an ongoing effort on the part of the Free Software Foundation to create a complete, freely distributable, POSIX-compliant computing environment. The FSF uses the "GNU General Public License" (GPL) to ensure that their software's source code is always available to the end user. A copy of the GPL is included in this Web page for your reference (see GNU General Public License). The GPL applies to the C language source code for gawk. To find out more about the FSF and the GNU Project online, see the GNU Project's home page. This Web page may also be read from their web site.

A shell, an editor (Emacs), highly portable optimizing C, C++, and Objective-C compilers, a symbolic debugger and dozens of large and small utilities (such as gawk), have all been completed and are freely available. The GNU operating system kernel (the HURD), has been released but is still in an early stage of development.

Until the GNU operating system is more fully developed, you should consider using GNU/Linux, a freely distributable, Unix-like operating system for Intel 80386, DEC Alpha, Sun SPARC, IBM S/390, and other systems.2 There are many books on GNU/Linux. One that is freely available is Linux Installation and Getting Started, by Matt Welsh. Many GNU/Linux distributions are often available in computer stores or bundled on CD-ROMs with books about Linux. (There are three other freely available, Unix-like operating systems for 80386 and other systems: NetBSD, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD. All are based on the 4.4-Lite Berkeley Software Distribution, and they use recent versions of gawk for their versions of awk.)

The Web page you are reading is actually free--at least, the information in it is free to anyone. The machine-readable source code for the Web page comes with gawk; anyone may take this Web page to a copying machine and make as many copies as they like. (Take a moment to check the Free Documentation License in GNU Free Documentation License.)

Although you could just print it out yourself, bound books are much easier to read and use. Furthermore, the proceeds from sales of this book go back to the FSF to help fund development of more free software.

The Web page itself has gone through a number of previous editions. Paul Rubin wrote the very first draft of The GAWK Manual; it was around 40 pages in size. Diane Close and Richard Stallman improved it, yielding a version that was around 90 pages long and barely described the original, "old" version of awk.

I started working with that version in the fall of 1988. As work on it progressed, the FSF published several preliminary versions (numbered 0.x). In 1996, Edition 1.0 was released with gawk 3.0.0. The FSF published the first two editions under the title The GNU Awk User's Guide.

This edition maintains the basic structure of Edition 1.0, but with significant additional material, reflecting the host of new features in gawk version 3.1. Of particular note is Sorting Array Values and Indices with gawk, as well as Using gawk's Bit Manipulation Functions, Internationalization with gawk, and also Advanced Features of gawk, and Adding New Built-in Functions to gawk.

GAWK: Effective AWK Programming will undoubtedly continue to evolve. An electronic version comes with the gawk distribution from the FSF. If you find an error in this Web page, please report it! See Reporting Problems and Bugs, for information on submitting problem reports electronically, or write to me in care of the publisher.


  1. GNU stands for ``GNU's not Unix.''

  2. The terminology ``GNU/Linux'' is explained in the Glossary.