Add a new line whenever the first column changes 1


Recently we were processing some results from an SQL query on the command line, we were grouping the results based on the first column of the query results and we wanted to add an empty line between each group of data.

Instead of messing with SQL specifics, we decided to use awk to finish the task which resulted in the following code:

awk -F '|' -v column=1 'NR>1 && $column != previous { print "" } { previous = $column } { print $0 }'

Explanation:

  • -F fs or --field-separator fs: This option allowed us to choose the input field separator, in other words the character that should be used to split our text into columns. We used the value | because that character is the default column delimiter for sqlite.
  • -v var=val or --assign var=val: We used the -v option to define a variable to be used later on in the script. The value 1 was assigned to the variable column before execution of the program began and it was available event to the BEGIN rule of the AWK program. We did this to make the code a bit more modular, we could have just hardcoded the number in.
  • NR>1 && $column != previous { print "" } : Here we defined an if statement that checks two options: First we make sure that we are not on the first line of the input by using the NR>1 (and thus avoid creating an empty line which will be the first line of the output).
    Second, we check that the last value we had for the column of interest did change since last time. (We still did not define the value of previous, it is on the next step). When both statements are true (we are not on the first row and the value of the column in the current row is different than the value of the column in the previous row) it will print out an empty line.
  • { previous = $column }: This part is executed on ALL lines (even the first one) no matter what the values are. What this line does is to translate the value of the column variable from being a number (the index of the column that we are interested in) into the actual value that the column has at that specific line. That value is then copied to the previous variable to allow us to perform the check in the previous point once we move to the next line.
  • { print $0 }: Finally, this part is also executed on all lines and it instructs awk to print the input row whole and as is. This whole part could be replaced by a true value like the value 1. In awk as you see in this example, you define a series of operations. Each operation is constructed by a pattern to be matched and an action. Each pattern is evaluated for each input line, and in the cases where the pattern matches, the action is executed. The user can choose to omit either the pattern or the action for any operation. When a pattern is omitted, the action is executed on every line. When the action is omitted, then awk will execute { print $0 }. So, by adding a true value on its own it will be translated as on each line execute { print $0 } which prints the whole row as is.

Example

1|1|0.0564904019731175
1|2|0.103176086258974
1|3|0.12910406904073
1|4|0.188592489201024
1|5|0.169676224898487
1|6|0.164690820027741
1|7|0.128458728519047
1|8|0.18549773544014
1|9|0.155677575617836
1|10|0.153941343314285
2|1|0.217221158956016
2|2|0.23390973064067
2|3|0.180231657220626
2|4|0.257673927303071
2|5|0.261393785194329
2|6|0.273441488895552
2|7|0.242815632929545
2|8|0.262269697286057
2|9|0.256054399760891
2|10|0.262613705138411
3|1|0.378589461360716
3|2|0.33008177312116
3|3|0.380973166776554
3|4|0.340431190160728
3|5|0.38189416214207
3|6|0.364842933594872
3|7|0.372958396398964
3|8|0.350010176652464
3|9|0.355815612501188
3|10|0.380553180349294

Will become

1|1|0.0564904019731175
1|2|0.103176086258974
1|3|0.12910406904073
1|4|0.188592489201024
1|5|0.169676224898487
1|6|0.164690820027741
1|7|0.128458728519047
1|8|0.18549773544014
1|9|0.155677575617836
1|10|0.153941343314285

2|1|0.217221158956016
2|2|0.23390973064067
2|3|0.180231657220626
2|4|0.257673927303071
2|5|0.261393785194329
2|6|0.273441488895552
2|7|0.242815632929545
2|8|0.262269697286057
2|9|0.256054399760891
2|10|0.262613705138411

3|1|0.378589461360716
3|2|0.33008177312116
3|3|0.380973166776554
3|4|0.340431190160728
3|5|0.38189416214207
3|6|0.364842933594872
3|7|0.372958396398964
3|8|0.350010176652464
3|9|0.355815612501188
3|10|0.380553180349294
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