This 45 year-old Unix tool is finally getting an upgrade

(Image credit: Pixabay)

AWK, a software platform first introduced in 1977, has finally received a long-awaited update almost half a century after its inception.

What makes the launch more impressive is that it is the work of 80-year-old Canadian computer scientist Brian Kernighan, part of the team behind the software's acronym itself (AWK - Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan).

POSIX compliance in operating system terms requires that it includes AWK, a programming language that’s destined to analyze text files. It first appeared in Version 7 UNIX in 1979, which is credited with being the last version of UNIX created by Bell Labs before it was commercialized by AT&T. Other POSIX-certified OSs include macOS, VxWorks, and z/OS.

AWK update

In a GitHub entry, Kernighan writes about the update entitles “Add BWK's email”. He says:

“Finally, with a bit of spare time after the academic treadmill slows, I have gotten back to futzing around with Unicode in awk.”

He writes that he now has it “mostly” working, “through a combination of using utf-8 internally for functions like length(), and conversion to utf-32 in regular expressions.”

Found in the update is one realloc bug, which leads Kernighan to suspect that they may be more. A “fair amount” of testing has already been undertaken, but he writes that “clearly more tests are needed.”

Comments in the thread highlight the significance of the update, and include one-liners like “wow” and “respect”. 

The Register reports that the code was actually changed earlier in 2022, but was only picked up by wider audiences thanks to a recently released interview with Kernighan.

Craig Hale

With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!