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I have some output from which I want the second-last column displayed. I know I can display the n-th column with awk like this:

... | awk '{print $13}'

However, the number of fields counted from the beginning of the line may vary, only the position counted from the end of the line is stable.

I'm aware that the last field in awk can be referenced via $NF

... | awk '{print $NF}'

but how do I get to the second-last field from there?

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The actual variable is NF. $NF just gives you the value of the field at position NF. You can calculate the desired field like this:

... | awk '{i = NF-1; print $i}'

or, even shorter, by using an expression in parentheses:

... | awk '{print $(NF-1)}'
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