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1 .TH PCRE 3
3 pcre - Perl-compatible regular expressions.
5 .B #include <pcre.h>
6 .PP
7 .SM
8 .br
9 .B pcre *pcre_compile(const char *\fIpattern\fR, int \fIoptions\fR,
10 .ti +5n
11 .B const char **\fIerrptr\fR, int *\fIerroffset\fR,
12 .ti +5n
13 .B const unsigned char *\fItableptr\fR);
14 .PP
15 .br
16 .B pcre_extra *pcre_study(const pcre *\fIcode\fR, int \fIoptions\fR,
17 .ti +5n
18 .B const char **\fIerrptr\fR);
19 .PP
20 .br
21 .B int pcre_exec(const pcre *\fIcode\fR, "const pcre_extra *\fIextra\fR,"
22 .ti +5n
23 .B "const char *\fIsubject\fR," int \fIlength\fR, int \fIstartoffset\fR,
24 .ti +5n
25 .B int \fIoptions\fR, int *\fIovector\fR, int \fIovecsize\fR);
26 .PP
27 .br
28 .B int pcre_copy_substring(const char *\fIsubject\fR, int *\fIovector\fR,
29 .ti +5n
30 .B int \fIstringcount\fR, int \fIstringnumber\fR, char *\fIbuffer\fR,
31 .ti +5n
32 .B int \fIbuffersize\fR);
33 .PP
34 .br
35 .B int pcre_get_substring(const char *\fIsubject\fR, int *\fIovector\fR,
36 .ti +5n
37 .B int \fIstringcount\fR, int \fIstringnumber\fR,
38 .ti +5n
39 .B const char **\fIstringptr\fR);
40 .PP
41 .br
42 .B int pcre_get_substring_list(const char *\fIsubject\fR,
43 .ti +5n
44 .B int *\fIovector\fR, int \fIstringcount\fR, "const char ***\fIlistptr\fR);"
45 .PP
46 .br
47 .B const unsigned char *pcre_maketables(void);
48 .PP
49 .br
50 .B int pcre_fullinfo(const pcre *\fIcode\fR, "const pcre_extra *\fIextra\fR,"
51 .ti +5n
52 .B int \fIwhat\fR, void *\fIwhere\fR);
53 .PP
54 .br
55 .B int pcre_info(const pcre *\fIcode\fR, int *\fIoptptr\fR, int
56 .B *\fIfirstcharptr\fR);
57 .PP
58 .br
59 .B char *pcre_version(void);
60 .PP
61 .br
62 .B void *(*pcre_malloc)(size_t);
63 .PP
64 .br
65 .B void (*pcre_free)(void *);
70 The PCRE library is a set of functions that implement regular expression
71 pattern matching using the same syntax and semantics as Perl 5, with just a few
72 differences (see below). The current implementation corresponds to Perl 5.005,
73 with some additional features from the Perl development release.
75 PCRE has its own native API, which is described in this document. There is also
76 a set of wrapper functions that correspond to the POSIX regular expression API.
77 These are described in the \fBpcreposix\fR documentation.
79 The native API function prototypes are defined in the header file \fBpcre.h\fR,
80 and on Unix systems the library itself is called \fBlibpcre.a\fR, so can be
81 accessed by adding \fB-lpcre\fR to the command for linking an application which
82 calls it. The header file defines the macros PCRE_MAJOR and PCRE_MINOR to
83 contain the major and minor release numbers for the library. Applications can
84 use these to include support for different releases.
86 The functions \fBpcre_compile()\fR, \fBpcre_study()\fR, and \fBpcre_exec()\fR
87 are used for compiling and matching regular expressions, while
88 \fBpcre_copy_substring()\fR, \fBpcre_get_substring()\fR, and
89 \fBpcre_get_substring_list()\fR are convenience functions for extracting
90 captured substrings from a matched subject string. The function
91 \fBpcre_maketables()\fR is used (optionally) to build a set of character tables
92 in the current locale for passing to \fBpcre_compile()\fR.
94 The function \fBpcre_fullinfo()\fR is used to find out information about a
95 compiled pattern; \fBpcre_info()\fR is an obsolete version which returns only
96 some of the available information, but is retained for backwards compatibility.
97 The function \fBpcre_version()\fR returns a pointer to a string containing the
98 version of PCRE and its date of release.
100 The global variables \fBpcre_malloc\fR and \fBpcre_free\fR initially contain
101 the entry points of the standard \fBmalloc()\fR and \fBfree()\fR functions
102 respectively. PCRE calls the memory management functions via these variables,
103 so a calling program can replace them if it wishes to intercept the calls. This
104 should be done before calling any PCRE functions.
108 The PCRE functions can be used in multi-threading applications, with the
109 proviso that the memory management functions pointed to by \fBpcre_malloc\fR
110 and \fBpcre_free\fR are shared by all threads.
112 The compiled form of a regular expression is not altered during matching, so
113 the same compiled pattern can safely be used by several threads at once.
117 The function \fBpcre_compile()\fR is called to compile a pattern into an
118 internal form. The pattern is a C string terminated by a binary zero, and
119 is passed in the argument \fIpattern\fR. A pointer to a single block of memory
120 that is obtained via \fBpcre_malloc\fR is returned. This contains the
121 compiled code and related data. The \fBpcre\fR type is defined for this for
122 convenience, but in fact \fBpcre\fR is just a typedef for \fBvoid\fR, since the
123 contents of the block are not externally defined. It is up to the caller to
124 free the memory when it is no longer required.
125 .PP
126 The size of a compiled pattern is roughly proportional to the length of the
127 pattern string, except that each character class (other than those containing
128 just a single character, negated or not) requires 33 bytes, and repeat
129 quantifiers with a minimum greater than one or a bounded maximum cause the
130 relevant portions of the compiled pattern to be replicated.
131 .PP
132 The \fIoptions\fR argument contains independent bits that affect the
133 compilation. It should be zero if no options are required. Some of the options,
134 in particular, those that are compatible with Perl, can also be set and unset
135 from within the pattern (see the detailed description of regular expressions
136 below). For these options, the contents of the \fIoptions\fR argument specifies
137 their initial settings at the start of compilation and execution. The
138 PCRE_ANCHORED option can be set at the time of matching as well as at compile
139 time.
140 .PP
141 If \fIerrptr\fR is NULL, \fBpcre_compile()\fR returns NULL immediately.
142 Otherwise, if compilation of a pattern fails, \fBpcre_compile()\fR returns
143 NULL, and sets the variable pointed to by \fIerrptr\fR to point to a textual
144 error message. The offset from the start of the pattern to the character where
145 the error was discovered is placed in the variable pointed to by
146 \fIerroffset\fR, which must not be NULL. If it is, an immediate error is given.
147 .PP
148 If the final argument, \fItableptr\fR, is NULL, PCRE uses a default set of
149 character tables which are built when it is compiled, using the default C
150 locale. Otherwise, \fItableptr\fR must be the result of a call to
151 \fBpcre_maketables()\fR. See the section on locale support below.
152 .PP
153 The following option bits are defined in the header file:
157 If this bit is set, the pattern is forced to be "anchored", that is, it is
158 constrained to match only at the start of the string which is being searched
159 (the "subject string"). This effect can also be achieved by appropriate
160 constructs in the pattern itself, which is the only way to do it in Perl.
164 If this bit is set, letters in the pattern match both upper and lower case
165 letters. It is equivalent to Perl's /i option.
169 If this bit is set, a dollar metacharacter in the pattern matches only at the
170 end of the subject string. Without this option, a dollar also matches
171 immediately before the final character if it is a newline (but not before any
172 other newlines). The PCRE_DOLLAR_ENDONLY option is ignored if PCRE_MULTILINE is
173 set. There is no equivalent to this option in Perl.
177 If this bit is set, a dot metacharater in the pattern matches all characters,
178 including newlines. Without it, newlines are excluded. This option is
179 equivalent to Perl's /s option. A negative class such as [^a] always matches a
180 newline character, independent of the setting of this option.
184 If this bit is set, whitespace data characters in the pattern are totally
185 ignored except when escaped or inside a character class, and characters between
186 an unescaped # outside a character class and the next newline character,
187 inclusive, are also ignored. This is equivalent to Perl's /x option, and makes
188 it possible to include comments inside complicated patterns. Note, however,
189 that this applies only to data characters. Whitespace characters may never
190 appear within special character sequences in a pattern, for example within the
191 sequence (?( which introduces a conditional subpattern.
195 This option was invented in order to turn on additional functionality of PCRE
196 that is incompatible with Perl, but it is currently of very little use. When
197 set, any backslash in a pattern that is followed by a letter that has no
198 special meaning causes an error, thus reserving these combinations for future
199 expansion. By default, as in Perl, a backslash followed by a letter with no
200 special meaning is treated as a literal. There are at present no other features
201 controlled by this option. It can also be set by a (?X) option setting within a
202 pattern.
206 By default, PCRE treats the subject string as consisting of a single "line" of
207 characters (even if it actually contains several newlines). The "start of line"
208 metacharacter (^) matches only at the start of the string, while the "end of
209 line" metacharacter ($) matches only at the end of the string, or before a
210 terminating newline (unless PCRE_DOLLAR_ENDONLY is set). This is the same as
211 Perl.
213 When PCRE_MULTILINE it is set, the "start of line" and "end of line" constructs
214 match immediately following or immediately before any newline in the subject
215 string, respectively, as well as at the very start and end. This is equivalent
216 to Perl's /m option. If there are no "\\n" characters in a subject string, or
217 no occurrences of ^ or $ in a pattern, setting PCRE_MULTILINE has no
218 effect.
222 This option inverts the "greediness" of the quantifiers so that they are not
223 greedy by default, but become greedy if followed by "?". It is not compatible
224 with Perl. It can also be set by a (?U) option setting within the pattern.
228 When a pattern is going to be used several times, it is worth spending more
229 time analyzing it in order to speed up the time taken for matching. The
230 function \fBpcre_study()\fR takes a pointer to a compiled pattern as its first
231 argument, and returns a pointer to a \fBpcre_extra\fR block (another \fBvoid\fR
232 typedef) containing additional information about the pattern; this can be
233 passed to \fBpcre_exec()\fR. If no additional information is available, NULL
234 is returned.
236 The second argument contains option bits. At present, no options are defined
237 for \fBpcre_study()\fR, and this argument should always be zero.
239 The third argument for \fBpcre_study()\fR is a pointer to an error message. If
240 studying succeeds (even if no data is returned), the variable it points to is
241 set to NULL. Otherwise it points to a textual error message.
243 At present, studying a pattern is useful only for non-anchored patterns that do
244 not have a single fixed starting character. A bitmap of possible starting
245 characters is created.
249 PCRE handles caseless matching, and determines whether characters are letters,
250 digits, or whatever, by reference to a set of tables. The library contains a
251 default set of tables which is created in the default C locale when PCRE is
252 compiled. This is used when the final argument of \fBpcre_compile()\fR is NULL,
253 and is sufficient for many applications.
255 An alternative set of tables can, however, be supplied. Such tables are built
256 by calling the \fBpcre_maketables()\fR function, which has no arguments, in the
257 relevant locale. The result can then be passed to \fBpcre_compile()\fR as often
258 as necessary. For example, to build and use tables that are appropriate for the
259 French locale (where accented characters with codes greater than 128 are
260 treated as letters), the following code could be used:
262 setlocale(LC_CTYPE, "fr");
263 tables = pcre_maketables();
264 re = pcre_compile(..., tables);
266 The tables are built in memory that is obtained via \fBpcre_malloc\fR. The
267 pointer that is passed to \fBpcre_compile\fR is saved with the compiled
268 pattern, and the same tables are used via this pointer by \fBpcre_study()\fR
269 and \fBpcre_exec()\fR. Thus for any single pattern, compilation, studying and
270 matching all happen in the same locale, but different patterns can be compiled
271 in different locales. It is the caller's responsibility to ensure that the
272 memory containing the tables remains available for as long as it is needed.
276 The \fBpcre_fullinfo()\fR function returns information about a compiled
277 pattern. It replaces the obsolete \fBpcre_info()\fR function, which is
278 nevertheless retained for backwards compability (and is documented below).
280 The first argument for \fBpcre_fullinfo()\fR is a pointer to the compiled
281 pattern. The second argument is the result of \fBpcre_study()\fR, or NULL if
282 the pattern was not studied. The third argument specifies which piece of
283 information is required, while the fourth argument is a pointer to a variable
284 to receive the data. The yield of the function is zero for success, or one of
285 the following negative numbers:
287 PCRE_ERROR_NULL the argument \fIcode\fR was NULL
288 the argument \fIwhere\fR was NULL
289 PCRE_ERROR_BADMAGIC the "magic number" was not found
290 PCRE_ERROR_BADOPTION the value of \fIwhat\fR was invalid
292 The possible values for the third argument are defined in \fBpcre.h\fR, and are
293 as follows:
297 Return a copy of the options with which the pattern was compiled. The fourth
298 argument should point to au \fBunsigned long int\fR variable. These option bits
299 are those specified in the call to \fBpcre_compile()\fR, modified by any
300 top-level option settings within the pattern itself, and with the PCRE_ANCHORED
301 bit forcibly set if the form of the pattern implies that it can match only at
302 the start of a subject string.
306 Return the size of the compiled pattern, that is, the value that was passed as
307 the argument to \fBpcre_malloc()\fR when PCRE was getting memory in which to
308 place the compiled data. The fourth argument should point to a \fBsize_t\fR
309 variable.
313 Return the number of capturing subpatterns in the pattern. The fourth argument
314 should point to an \fbint\fR variable.
318 Return the number of the highest back reference in the pattern. The fourth
319 argument should point to an \fBint\fR variable. Zero is returned if there are
320 no back references.
324 Return information about the first character of any matched string, for a
325 non-anchored pattern. If there is a fixed first character, e.g. from a pattern
326 such as (cat|cow|coyote), then it is returned in the integer pointed to by
327 \fIwhere\fR. Otherwise, if either
329 (a) the pattern was compiled with the PCRE_MULTILINE option, and every branch
330 starts with "^", or
332 (b) every branch of the pattern starts with ".*" and PCRE_DOTALL is not set
333 (if it were set, the pattern would be anchored),
335 then -1 is returned, indicating that the pattern matches only at the
336 start of a subject string or after any "\\n" within the string. Otherwise -2 is
337 returned. For anchored patterns, -2 is returned.
341 If the pattern was studied, and this resulted in the construction of a 256-bit
342 table indicating a fixed set of characters for the first character in any
343 matching string, a pointer to the table is returned. Otherwise NULL is
344 returned. The fourth argument should point to an \fBunsigned char *\fR
345 variable.
349 For a non-anchored pattern, return the value of the rightmost literal character
350 which must exist in any matched string, other than at its start. The fourth
351 argument should point to an \fBint\fR variable. If there is no such character,
352 or if the pattern is anchored, -1 is returned. For example, for the pattern
353 /a\\d+z\\d+/ the returned value is 'z'.
355 The \fBpcre_info()\fR function is now obsolete because its interface is too
356 restrictive to return all the available data about a compiled pattern. New
357 programs should use \fBpcre_fullinfo()\fR instead. The yield of
358 \fBpcre_info()\fR is the number of capturing subpatterns, or one of the
359 following negative numbers:
361 PCRE_ERROR_NULL the argument \fIcode\fR was NULL
362 PCRE_ERROR_BADMAGIC the "magic number" was not found
364 If the \fIoptptr\fR argument is not NULL, a copy of the options with which the
365 pattern was compiled is placed in the integer it points to (see
368 If the pattern is not anchored and the \fIfirstcharptr\fR argument is not NULL,
369 it is used to pass back information about the first character of any matched
370 string (see PCRE_INFO_FIRSTCHAR above).
374 The function \fBpcre_exec()\fR is called to match a subject string against a
375 pre-compiled pattern, which is passed in the \fIcode\fR argument. If the
376 pattern has been studied, the result of the study should be passed in the
377 \fIextra\fR argument. Otherwise this must be NULL.
379 The PCRE_ANCHORED option can be passed in the \fIoptions\fR argument, whose
380 unused bits must be zero. However, if a pattern was compiled with
381 PCRE_ANCHORED, or turned out to be anchored by virtue of its contents, it
382 cannot be made unachored at matching time.
384 There are also three further options that can be set only at matching time:
388 The first character of the string is not the beginning of a line, so the
389 circumflex metacharacter should not match before it. Setting this without
390 PCRE_MULTILINE (at compile time) causes circumflex never to match.
394 The end of the string is not the end of a line, so the dollar metacharacter
395 should not match it nor (except in multiline mode) a newline immediately before
396 it. Setting this without PCRE_MULTILINE (at compile time) causes dollar never
397 to match.
401 An empty string is not considered to be a valid match if this option is set. If
402 there are alternatives in the pattern, they are tried. If all the alternatives
403 match the empty string, the entire match fails. For example, if the pattern
405 a?b?
407 is applied to a string not beginning with "a" or "b", it matches the empty
408 string at the start of the subject. With PCRE_NOTEMPTY set, this match is not
409 valid, so PCRE searches further into the string for occurrences of "a" or "b".
411 Perl has no direct equivalent of PCRE_NOTEMPTY, but it does make a special case
412 of a pattern match of the empty string within its \fBsplit()\fR function, and
413 when using the /g modifier. It is possible to emulate Perl's behaviour after
414 matching a null string by first trying the match again at the same offset with
415 PCRE_NOTEMPTY set, and then if that fails by advancing the starting offset (see
416 below) and trying an ordinary match again.
418 The subject string is passed as a pointer in \fIsubject\fR, a length in
419 \fIlength\fR, and a starting offset in \fIstartoffset\fR. Unlike the pattern
420 string, it may contain binary zero characters. When the starting offset is
421 zero, the search for a match starts at the beginning of the subject, and this
422 is by far the most common case.
424 A non-zero starting offset is useful when searching for another match in the
425 same subject by calling \fBpcre_exec()\fR again after a previous success.
426 Setting \fIstartoffset\fR differs from just passing over a shortened string and
427 setting PCRE_NOTBOL in the case of a pattern that begins with any kind of
428 lookbehind. For example, consider the pattern
430 \\Biss\\B
432 which finds occurrences of "iss" in the middle of words. (\\B matches only if
433 the current position in the subject is not a word boundary.) When applied to
434 the string "Mississipi" the first call to \fBpcre_exec()\fR finds the first
435 occurrence. If \fBpcre_exec()\fR is called again with just the remainder of the
436 subject, namely "issipi", it does not match, because \\B is always false at the
437 start of the subject, which is deemed to be a word boundary. However, if
438 \fBpcre_exec()\fR is passed the entire string again, but with \fIstartoffset\fR
439 set to 4, it finds the second occurrence of "iss" because it is able to look
440 behind the starting point to discover that it is preceded by a letter.
442 If a non-zero starting offset is passed when the pattern is anchored, one
443 attempt to match at the given offset is tried. This can only succeed if the
444 pattern does not require the match to be at the start of the subject.
446 In general, a pattern matches a certain portion of the subject, and in
447 addition, further substrings from the subject may be picked out by parts of the
448 pattern. Following the usage in Jeffrey Friedl's book, this is called
449 "capturing" in what follows, and the phrase "capturing subpattern" is used for
450 a fragment of a pattern that picks out a substring. PCRE supports several other
451 kinds of parenthesized subpattern that do not cause substrings to be captured.
453 Captured substrings are returned to the caller via a vector of integer offsets
454 whose address is passed in \fIovector\fR. The number of elements in the vector
455 is passed in \fIovecsize\fR. The first two-thirds of the vector is used to pass
456 back captured substrings, each substring using a pair of integers. The
457 remaining third of the vector is used as workspace by \fBpcre_exec()\fR while
458 matching capturing subpatterns, and is not available for passing back
459 information. The length passed in \fIovecsize\fR should always be a multiple of
460 three. If it is not, it is rounded down.
462 When a match has been successful, information about captured substrings is
463 returned in pairs of integers, starting at the beginning of \fIovector\fR, and
464 continuing up to two-thirds of its length at the most. The first element of a
465 pair is set to the offset of the first character in a substring, and the second
466 is set to the offset of the first character after the end of a substring. The
467 first pair, \fIovector[0]\fR and \fIovector[1]\fR, identify the portion of the
468 subject string matched by the entire pattern. The next pair is used for the
469 first capturing subpattern, and so on. The value returned by \fBpcre_exec()\fR
470 is the number of pairs that have been set. If there are no capturing
471 subpatterns, the return value from a successful match is 1, indicating that
472 just the first pair of offsets has been set.
474 Some convenience functions are provided for extracting the captured substrings
475 as separate strings. These are described in the following section.
477 It is possible for an capturing subpattern number \fIn+1\fR to match some
478 part of the subject when subpattern \fIn\fR has not been used at all. For
479 example, if the string "abc" is matched against the pattern (a|(z))(bc)
480 subpatterns 1 and 3 are matched, but 2 is not. When this happens, both offset
481 values corresponding to the unused subpattern are set to -1.
483 If a capturing subpattern is matched repeatedly, it is the last portion of the
484 string that it matched that gets returned.
486 If the vector is too small to hold all the captured substrings, it is used as
487 far as possible (up to two-thirds of its length), and the function returns a
488 value of zero. In particular, if the substring offsets are not of interest,
489 \fBpcre_exec()\fR may be called with \fIovector\fR passed as NULL and
490 \fIovecsize\fR as zero. However, if the pattern contains back references and
491 the \fIovector\fR isn't big enough to remember the related substrings, PCRE has
492 to get additional memory for use during matching. Thus it is usually advisable
493 to supply an \fIovector\fR.
495 Note that \fBpcre_info()\fR can be used to find out how many capturing
496 subpatterns there are in a compiled pattern. The smallest size for
497 \fIovector\fR that will allow for \fIn\fR captured substrings in addition to
498 the offsets of the substring matched by the whole pattern is (\fIn\fR+1)*3.
500 If \fBpcre_exec()\fR fails, it returns a negative number. The following are
501 defined in the header file:
505 The subject string did not match the pattern.
509 Either \fIcode\fR or \fIsubject\fR was passed as NULL, or \fIovector\fR was
510 NULL and \fIovecsize\fR was not zero.
514 An unrecognized bit was set in the \fIoptions\fR argument.
518 PCRE stores a 4-byte "magic number" at the start of the compiled code, to catch
519 the case when it is passed a junk pointer. This is the error it gives when the
520 magic number isn't present.
524 While running the pattern match, an unknown item was encountered in the
525 compiled pattern. This error could be caused by a bug in PCRE or by overwriting
526 of the compiled pattern.
530 If a pattern contains back references, but the \fIovector\fR that is passed to
531 \fBpcre_exec()\fR is not big enough to remember the referenced substrings, PCRE
532 gets a block of memory at the start of matching to use for this purpose. If the
533 call via \fBpcre_malloc()\fR fails, this error is given. The memory is freed at
534 the end of matching.
538 Captured substrings can be accessed directly by using the offsets returned by
539 \fBpcre_exec()\fR in \fIovector\fR. For convenience, the functions
540 \fBpcre_copy_substring()\fR, \fBpcre_get_substring()\fR, and
541 \fBpcre_get_substring_list()\fR are provided for extracting captured substrings
542 as new, separate, zero-terminated strings. A substring that contains a binary
543 zero is correctly extracted and has a further zero added on the end, but the
544 result does not, of course, function as a C string.
546 The first three arguments are the same for all three functions: \fIsubject\fR
547 is the subject string which has just been successfully matched, \fIovector\fR
548 is a pointer to the vector of integer offsets that was passed to
549 \fBpcre_exec()\fR, and \fIstringcount\fR is the number of substrings that
550 were captured by the match, including the substring that matched the entire
551 regular expression. This is the value returned by \fBpcre_exec\fR if it
552 is greater than zero. If \fBpcre_exec()\fR returned zero, indicating that it
553 ran out of space in \fIovector\fR, then the value passed as
554 \fIstringcount\fR should be the size of the vector divided by three.
556 The functions \fBpcre_copy_substring()\fR and \fBpcre_get_substring()\fR
557 extract a single substring, whose number is given as \fIstringnumber\fR. A
558 value of zero extracts the substring that matched the entire pattern, while
559 higher values extract the captured substrings. For \fBpcre_copy_substring()\fR,
560 the string is placed in \fIbuffer\fR, whose length is given by
561 \fIbuffersize\fR, while for \fBpcre_get_substring()\fR a new block of store is
562 obtained via \fBpcre_malloc\fR, and its address is returned via
563 \fIstringptr\fR. The yield of the function is the length of the string, not
564 including the terminating zero, or one of
568 The buffer was too small for \fBpcre_copy_substring()\fR, or the attempt to get
569 memory failed for \fBpcre_get_substring()\fR.
573 There is no substring whose number is \fIstringnumber\fR.
575 The \fBpcre_get_substring_list()\fR function extracts all available substrings
576 and builds a list of pointers to them. All this is done in a single block of
577 memory which is obtained via \fBpcre_malloc\fR. The address of the memory block
578 is returned via \fIlistptr\fR, which is also the start of the list of string
579 pointers. The end of the list is marked by a NULL pointer. The yield of the
580 function is zero if all went well, or
584 if the attempt to get the memory block failed.
586 When any of these functions encounter a substring that is unset, which can
587 happen when capturing subpattern number \fIn+1\fR matches some part of the
588 subject, but subpattern \fIn\fR has not been used at all, they return an empty
589 string. This can be distinguished from a genuine zero-length substring by
590 inspecting the appropriate offset in \fIovector\fR, which is negative for unset
591 substrings.
596 There are some size limitations in PCRE but it is hoped that they will never in
597 practice be relevant.
598 The maximum length of a compiled pattern is 65539 (sic) bytes.
599 All values in repeating quantifiers must be less than 65536.
600 The maximum number of capturing subpatterns is 99.
601 The maximum number of all parenthesized subpatterns, including capturing
602 subpatterns, assertions, and other types of subpattern, is 200.
604 The maximum length of a subject string is the largest positive number that an
605 integer variable can hold. However, PCRE uses recursion to handle subpatterns
606 and indefinite repetition. This means that the available stack space may limit
607 the size of a subject string that can be processed by certain patterns.
611 The differences described here are with respect to Perl 5.005.
613 1. By default, a whitespace character is any character that the C library
614 function \fBisspace()\fR recognizes, though it is possible to compile PCRE with
615 alternative character type tables. Normally \fBisspace()\fR matches space,
616 formfeed, newline, carriage return, horizontal tab, and vertical tab. Perl 5
617 no longer includes vertical tab in its set of whitespace characters. The \\v
618 escape that was in the Perl documentation for a long time was never in fact
619 recognized. However, the character itself was treated as whitespace at least
620 up to 5.002. In 5.004 and 5.005 it does not match \\s.
622 2. PCRE does not allow repeat quantifiers on lookahead assertions. Perl permits
623 them, but they do not mean what you might think. For example, (?!a){3} does
624 not assert that the next three characters are not "a". It just asserts that the
625 next character is not "a" three times.
627 3. Capturing subpatterns that occur inside negative lookahead assertions are
628 counted, but their entries in the offsets vector are never set. Perl sets its
629 numerical variables from any such patterns that are matched before the
630 assertion fails to match something (thereby succeeding), but only if the
631 negative lookahead assertion contains just one branch.
633 4. Though binary zero characters are supported in the subject string, they are
634 not allowed in a pattern string because it is passed as a normal C string,
635 terminated by zero. The escape sequence "\\0" can be used in the pattern to
636 represent a binary zero.
638 5. The following Perl escape sequences are not supported: \\l, \\u, \\L, \\U,
639 \\E, \\Q. In fact these are implemented by Perl's general string-handling and
640 are not part of its pattern matching engine.
642 6. The Perl \\G assertion is not supported as it is not relevant to single
643 pattern matches.
645 7. Fairly obviously, PCRE does not support the (?{code}) and (?p{code})
646 constructions. However, there is some experimental support for recursive
647 patterns using the non-Perl item (?R).
649 8. There are at the time of writing some oddities in Perl 5.005_02 concerned
650 with the settings of captured strings when part of a pattern is repeated. For
651 example, matching "aba" against the pattern /^(a(b)?)+$/ sets $2 to the value
652 "b", but matching "aabbaa" against /^(aa(bb)?)+$/ leaves $2 unset. However, if
653 the pattern is changed to /^(aa(b(b))?)+$/ then $2 (and $3) get set.
655 In Perl 5.004 $2 is set in both cases, and that is also true of PCRE. If in the
656 future Perl changes to a consistent state that is different, PCRE may change to
657 follow.
659 9. Another as yet unresolved discrepancy is that in Perl 5.005_02 the pattern
660 /^(a)?(?(1)a|b)+$/ matches the string "a", whereas in PCRE it does not.
661 However, in both Perl and PCRE /^(a)?a/ matched against "a" leaves $1 unset.
663 10. PCRE provides some extensions to the Perl regular expression facilities:
665 (a) Although lookbehind assertions must match fixed length strings, each
666 alternative branch of a lookbehind assertion can match a different length of
667 string. Perl 5.005 requires them all to have the same length.
669 (b) If PCRE_DOLLAR_ENDONLY is set and PCRE_MULTILINE is not set, the $ meta-
670 character matches only at the very end of the string.
672 (c) If PCRE_EXTRA is set, a backslash followed by a letter with no special
673 meaning is faulted.
675 (d) If PCRE_UNGREEDY is set, the greediness of the repetition quantifiers is
676 inverted, that is, by default they are not greedy, but if followed by a
677 question mark they are.
679 (e) PCRE_ANCHORED can be used to force a pattern to be tried only at the start
680 of the subject.
682 (f) The PCRE_NOTBOL, PCRE_NOTEOL, and PCRE_NOTEMPTY options for
683 \fBpcre_exec()\fR have no Perl equivalents.
685 (g) The (?R) construct allows for recursive pattern matching (Perl 5.6 can do
686 this using the (?p{code}) construct, which PCRE cannot of course support.)
690 The syntax and semantics of the regular expressions supported by PCRE are
691 described below. Regular expressions are also described in the Perl
692 documentation and in a number of other books, some of which have copious
693 examples. Jeffrey Friedl's "Mastering Regular Expressions", published by
694 O'Reilly (ISBN 1-56592-257), covers them in great detail. The description
695 here is intended as reference documentation.
697 A regular expression is a pattern that is matched against a subject string from
698 left to right. Most characters stand for themselves in a pattern, and match the
699 corresponding characters in the subject. As a trivial example, the pattern
701 The quick brown fox
703 matches a portion of a subject string that is identical to itself. The power of
704 regular expressions comes from the ability to include alternatives and
705 repetitions in the pattern. These are encoded in the pattern by the use of
706 \fImeta-characters\fR, which do not stand for themselves but instead are
707 interpreted in some special way.
709 There are two different sets of meta-characters: those that are recognized
710 anywhere in the pattern except within square brackets, and those that are
711 recognized in square brackets. Outside square brackets, the meta-characters are
712 as follows:
714 \\ general escape character with several uses
715 ^ assert start of subject (or line, in multiline mode)
716 $ assert end of subject (or line, in multiline mode)
717 . match any character except newline (by default)
718 [ start character class definition
719 | start of alternative branch
720 ( start subpattern
721 ) end subpattern
722 ? extends the meaning of (
723 also 0 or 1 quantifier
724 also quantifier minimizer
725 * 0 or more quantifier
726 + 1 or more quantifier
727 { start min/max quantifier
729 Part of a pattern that is in square brackets is called a "character class". In
730 a character class the only meta-characters are:
732 \\ general escape character
733 ^ negate the class, but only if the first character
734 - indicates character range
735 ] terminates the character class
737 The following sections describe the use of each of the meta-characters.
741 The backslash character has several uses. Firstly, if it is followed by a
742 non-alphameric character, it takes away any special meaning that character may
743 have. This use of backslash as an escape character applies both inside and
744 outside character classes.
746 For example, if you want to match a "*" character, you write "\\*" in the
747 pattern. This applies whether or not the following character would otherwise be
748 interpreted as a meta-character, so it is always safe to precede a
749 non-alphameric with "\\" to specify that it stands for itself. In particular,
750 if you want to match a backslash, you write "\\\\".
752 If a pattern is compiled with the PCRE_EXTENDED option, whitespace in the
753 pattern (other than in a character class) and characters between a "#" outside
754 a character class and the next newline character are ignored. An escaping
755 backslash can be used to include a whitespace or "#" character as part of the
756 pattern.
758 A second use of backslash provides a way of encoding non-printing characters
759 in patterns in a visible manner. There is no restriction on the appearance of
760 non-printing characters, apart from the binary zero that terminates a pattern,
761 but when a pattern is being prepared by text editing, it is usually easier to
762 use one of the following escape sequences than the binary character it
763 represents:
765 \\a alarm, that is, the BEL character (hex 07)
766 \\cx "control-x", where x is any character
767 \\e escape (hex 1B)
768 \\f formfeed (hex 0C)
769 \\n newline (hex 0A)
770 \\r carriage return (hex 0D)
771 \\t tab (hex 09)
772 \\xhh character with hex code hh
773 \\ddd character with octal code ddd, or backreference
775 The precise effect of "\\cx" is as follows: if "x" is a lower case letter, it
776 is converted to upper case. Then bit 6 of the character (hex 40) is inverted.
777 Thus "\\cz" becomes hex 1A, but "\\c{" becomes hex 3B, while "\\c;" becomes hex
778 7B.
780 After "\\x", up to two hexadecimal digits are read (letters can be in upper or
781 lower case).
783 After "\\0" up to two further octal digits are read. In both cases, if there
784 are fewer than two digits, just those that are present are used. Thus the
785 sequence "\\0\\x\\07" specifies two binary zeros followed by a BEL character.
786 Make sure you supply two digits after the initial zero if the character that
787 follows is itself an octal digit.
789 The handling of a backslash followed by a digit other than 0 is complicated.
790 Outside a character class, PCRE reads it and any following digits as a decimal
791 number. If the number is less than 10, or if there have been at least that many
792 previous capturing left parentheses in the expression, the entire sequence is
793 taken as a \fIback reference\fR. A description of how this works is given
794 later, following the discussion of parenthesized subpatterns.
796 Inside a character class, or if the decimal number is greater than 9 and there
797 have not been that many capturing subpatterns, PCRE re-reads up to three octal
798 digits following the backslash, and generates a single byte from the least
799 significant 8 bits of the value. Any subsequent digits stand for themselves.
800 For example:
802 \\040 is another way of writing a space
803 \\40 is the same, provided there are fewer than 40
804 previous capturing subpatterns
805 \\7 is always a back reference
806 \\11 might be a back reference, or another way of
807 writing a tab
808 \\011 is always a tab
809 \\0113 is a tab followed by the character "3"
810 \\113 is the character with octal code 113 (since there
811 can be no more than 99 back references)
812 \\377 is a byte consisting entirely of 1 bits
813 \\81 is either a back reference, or a binary zero
814 followed by the two characters "8" and "1"
816 Note that octal values of 100 or greater must not be introduced by a leading
817 zero, because no more than three octal digits are ever read.
819 All the sequences that define a single byte value can be used both inside and
820 outside character classes. In addition, inside a character class, the sequence
821 "\\b" is interpreted as the backspace character (hex 08). Outside a character
822 class it has a different meaning (see below).
824 The third use of backslash is for specifying generic character types:
826 \\d any decimal digit
827 \\D any character that is not a decimal digit
828 \\s any whitespace character
829 \\S any character that is not a whitespace character
830 \\w any "word" character
831 \\W any "non-word" character
833 Each pair of escape sequences partitions the complete set of characters into
834 two disjoint sets. Any given character matches one, and only one, of each pair.
836 A "word" character is any letter or digit or the underscore character, that is,
837 any character which can be part of a Perl "word". The definition of letters and
838 digits is controlled by PCRE's character tables, and may vary if locale-
839 specific matching is taking place (see "Locale support" above). For example, in
840 the "fr" (French) locale, some character codes greater than 128 are used for
841 accented letters, and these are matched by \\w.
843 These character type sequences can appear both inside and outside character
844 classes. They each match one character of the appropriate type. If the current
845 matching point is at the end of the subject string, all of them fail, since
846 there is no character to match.
848 The fourth use of backslash is for certain simple assertions. An assertion
849 specifies a condition that has to be met at a particular point in a match,
850 without consuming any characters from the subject string. The use of
851 subpatterns for more complicated assertions is described below. The backslashed
852 assertions are
854 \\b word boundary
855 \\B not a word boundary
856 \\A start of subject (independent of multiline mode)
857 \\Z end of subject or newline at end (independent of multiline mode)
858 \\z end of subject (independent of multiline mode)
860 These assertions may not appear in character classes (but note that "\\b" has a
861 different meaning, namely the backspace character, inside a character class).
863 A word boundary is a position in the subject string where the current character
864 and the previous character do not both match \\w or \\W (i.e. one matches
865 \\w and the other matches \\W), or the start or end of the string if the
866 first or last character matches \\w, respectively.
868 The \\A, \\Z, and \\z assertions differ from the traditional circumflex and
869 dollar (described below) in that they only ever match at the very start and end
870 of the subject string, whatever options are set. They are not affected by the
871 PCRE_NOTBOL or PCRE_NOTEOL options. If the \fIstartoffset\fR argument of
872 \fBpcre_exec()\fR is non-zero, \\A can never match. The difference between \\Z
873 and \\z is that \\Z matches before a newline that is the last character of the
874 string as well as at the end of the string, whereas \\z matches only at the
875 end.
879 Outside a character class, in the default matching mode, the circumflex
880 character is an assertion which is true only if the current matching point is
881 at the start of the subject string. If the \fIstartoffset\fR argument of
882 \fBpcre_exec()\fR is non-zero, circumflex can never match. Inside a character
883 class, circumflex has an entirely different meaning (see below).
885 Circumflex need not be the first character of the pattern if a number of
886 alternatives are involved, but it should be the first thing in each alternative
887 in which it appears if the pattern is ever to match that branch. If all
888 possible alternatives start with a circumflex, that is, if the pattern is
889 constrained to match only at the start of the subject, it is said to be an
890 "anchored" pattern. (There are also other constructs that can cause a pattern
891 to be anchored.)
893 A dollar character is an assertion which is true only if the current matching
894 point is at the end of the subject string, or immediately before a newline
895 character that is the last character in the string (by default). Dollar need
896 not be the last character of the pattern if a number of alternatives are
897 involved, but it should be the last item in any branch in which it appears.
898 Dollar has no special meaning in a character class.
900 The meaning of dollar can be changed so that it matches only at the very end of
901 the string, by setting the PCRE_DOLLAR_ENDONLY option at compile or matching
902 time. This does not affect the \\Z assertion.
904 The meanings of the circumflex and dollar characters are changed if the
905 PCRE_MULTILINE option is set. When this is the case, they match immediately
906 after and immediately before an internal "\\n" character, respectively, in
907 addition to matching at the start and end of the subject string. For example,
908 the pattern /^abc$/ matches the subject string "def\\nabc" in multiline mode,
909 but not otherwise. Consequently, patterns that are anchored in single line mode
910 because all branches start with "^" are not anchored in multiline mode, and a
911 match for circumflex is possible when the \fIstartoffset\fR argument of
912 \fBpcre_exec()\fR is non-zero. The PCRE_DOLLAR_ENDONLY option is ignored if
913 PCRE_MULTILINE is set.
915 Note that the sequences \\A, \\Z, and \\z can be used to match the start and
916 end of the subject in both modes, and if all branches of a pattern start with
917 \\A is it always anchored, whether PCRE_MULTILINE is set or not.
921 Outside a character class, a dot in the pattern matches any one character in
922 the subject, including a non-printing character, but not (by default) newline.
923 If the PCRE_DOTALL option is set, then dots match newlines as well. The
924 handling of dot is entirely independent of the handling of circumflex and
925 dollar, the only relationship being that they both involve newline characters.
926 Dot has no special meaning in a character class.
930 An opening square bracket introduces a character class, terminated by a closing
931 square bracket. A closing square bracket on its own is not special. If a
932 closing square bracket is required as a member of the class, it should be the
933 first data character in the class (after an initial circumflex, if present) or
934 escaped with a backslash.
936 A character class matches a single character in the subject; the character must
937 be in the set of characters defined by the class, unless the first character in
938 the class is a circumflex, in which case the subject character must not be in
939 the set defined by the class. If a circumflex is actually required as a member
940 of the class, ensure it is not the first character, or escape it with a
941 backslash.
943 For example, the character class [aeiou] matches any lower case vowel, while
944 [^aeiou] matches any character that is not a lower case vowel. Note that a
945 circumflex is just a convenient notation for specifying the characters which
946 are in the class by enumerating those that are not. It is not an assertion: it
947 still consumes a character from the subject string, and fails if the current
948 pointer is at the end of the string.
950 When caseless matching is set, any letters in a class represent both their
951 upper case and lower case versions, so for example, a caseless [aeiou] matches
952 "A" as well as "a", and a caseless [^aeiou] does not match "A", whereas a
953 caseful version would.
955 The newline character is never treated in any special way in character classes,
956 whatever the setting of the PCRE_DOTALL or PCRE_MULTILINE options is. A class
957 such as [^a] will always match a newline.
959 The minus (hyphen) character can be used to specify a range of characters in a
960 character class. For example, [d-m] matches any letter between d and m,
961 inclusive. If a minus character is required in a class, it must be escaped with
962 a backslash or appear in a position where it cannot be interpreted as
963 indicating a range, typically as the first or last character in the class.
965 It is not possible to have the literal character "]" as the end character of a
966 range. A pattern such as [W-]46] is interpreted as a class of two characters
967 ("W" and "-") followed by a literal string "46]", so it would match "W46]" or
968 "-46]". However, if the "]" is escaped with a backslash it is interpreted as
969 the end of range, so [W-\\]46] is interpreted as a single class containing a
970 range followed by two separate characters. The octal or hexadecimal
971 representation of "]" can also be used to end a range.
973 Ranges operate in ASCII collating sequence. They can also be used for
974 characters specified numerically, for example [\\000-\\037]. If a range that
975 includes letters is used when caseless matching is set, it matches the letters
976 in either case. For example, [W-c] is equivalent to [][\\^_`wxyzabc], matched
977 caselessly, and if character tables for the "fr" locale are in use,
978 [\\xc8-\\xcb] matches accented E characters in both cases.
980 The character types \\d, \\D, \\s, \\S, \\w, and \\W may also appear in a
981 character class, and add the characters that they match to the class. For
982 example, [\\dABCDEF] matches any hexadecimal digit. A circumflex can
983 conveniently be used with the upper case character types to specify a more
984 restricted set of characters than the matching lower case type. For example,
985 the class [^\\W_] matches any letter or digit, but not underscore.
987 All non-alphameric characters other than \\, -, ^ (at the start) and the
988 terminating ] are non-special in character classes, but it does no harm if they
989 are escaped.
993 Perl 5.6 (not yet released at the time of writing) is going to support the
994 POSIX notation for character classes, which uses names enclosed by [: and :]
995 within the enclosing square brackets. PCRE supports this notation. For example,
997 [01[:alpha:]%]
999 matches "0", "1", any alphabetic character, or "%". The supported class names
1000 are
1002 alnum letters and digits
1003 alpha letters
1004 ascii character codes 0 - 127
1005 cntrl control characters
1006 digit decimal digits (same as \\d)
1007 graph printing characters, excluding space
1008 lower lower case letters
1009 print printing characters, including space
1010 punct printing characters, excluding letters and digits
1011 space white space (same as \\s)
1012 upper upper case letters
1013 word "word" characters (same as \\w)
1014 xdigit hexadecimal digits
1016 The names "ascii" and "word" are Perl extensions. Another Perl extension is
1017 negation, which is indicated by a ^ character after the colon. For example,
1019 [12[:^digit:]]
1021 matches "1", "2", or any non-digit. PCRE (and Perl) also recogize the POSIX
1022 syntax [.ch.] and [=ch=] where "ch" is a "collating element", but these are not
1023 supported, and an error is given if they are encountered.
1027 Vertical bar characters are used to separate alternative patterns. For example,
1028 the pattern
1030 gilbert|sullivan
1032 matches either "gilbert" or "sullivan". Any number of alternatives may appear,
1033 and an empty alternative is permitted (matching the empty string).
1034 The matching process tries each alternative in turn, from left to right,
1035 and the first one that succeeds is used. If the alternatives are within a
1036 subpattern (defined below), "succeeds" means matching the rest of the main
1037 pattern as well as the alternative in the subpattern.
1042 can be changed from within the pattern by a sequence of Perl option letters
1043 enclosed between "(?" and ")". The option letters are
1045 i for PCRE_CASELESS
1047 s for PCRE_DOTALL
1048 x for PCRE_EXTENDED
1050 For example, (?im) sets caseless, multiline matching. It is also possible to
1051 unset these options by preceding the letter with a hyphen, and a combined
1052 setting and unsetting such as (?im-sx), which sets PCRE_CASELESS and
1053 PCRE_MULTILINE while unsetting PCRE_DOTALL and PCRE_EXTENDED, is also
1054 permitted. If a letter appears both before and after the hyphen, the option is
1055 unset.
1057 The scope of these option changes depends on where in the pattern the setting
1058 occurs. For settings that are outside any subpattern (defined below), the
1059 effect is the same as if the options were set or unset at the start of
1060 matching. The following patterns all behave in exactly the same way:
1062 (?i)abc
1063 a(?i)bc
1064 ab(?i)c
1065 abc(?i)
1067 which in turn is the same as compiling the pattern abc with PCRE_CASELESS set.
1068 In other words, such "top level" settings apply to the whole pattern (unless
1069 there are other changes inside subpatterns). If there is more than one setting
1070 of the same option at top level, the rightmost setting is used.
1072 If an option change occurs inside a subpattern, the effect is different. This
1073 is a change of behaviour in Perl 5.005. An option change inside a subpattern
1074 affects only that part of the subpattern that follows it, so
1076 (a(?i)b)c
1078 matches abc and aBc and no other strings (assuming PCRE_CASELESS is not used).
1079 By this means, options can be made to have different settings in different
1080 parts of the pattern. Any changes made in one alternative do carry on
1081 into subsequent branches within the same subpattern. For example,
1083 (a(?i)b|c)
1085 matches "ab", "aB", "c", and "C", even though when matching "C" the first
1086 branch is abandoned before the option setting. This is because the effects of
1087 option settings happen at compile time. There would be some very weird
1088 behaviour otherwise.
1090 The PCRE-specific options PCRE_UNGREEDY and PCRE_EXTRA can be changed in the
1091 same way as the Perl-compatible options by using the characters U and X
1092 respectively. The (?X) flag setting is special in that it must always occur
1093 earlier in the pattern than any of the additional features it turns on, even
1094 when it is at top level. It is best put at the start.
1098 Subpatterns are delimited by parentheses (round brackets), which can be nested.
1099 Marking part of a pattern as a subpattern does two things:
1101 1. It localizes a set of alternatives. For example, the pattern
1103 cat(aract|erpillar|)
1105 matches one of the words "cat", "cataract", or "caterpillar". Without the
1106 parentheses, it would match "cataract", "erpillar" or the empty string.
1108 2. It sets up the subpattern as a capturing subpattern (as defined above).
1109 When the whole pattern matches, that portion of the subject string that matched
1110 the subpattern is passed back to the caller via the \fIovector\fR argument of
1111 \fBpcre_exec()\fR. Opening parentheses are counted from left to right (starting
1112 from 1) to obtain the numbers of the capturing subpatterns.
1114 For example, if the string "the red king" is matched against the pattern
1116 the ((red|white) (king|queen))
1118 the captured substrings are "red king", "red", and "king", and are numbered 1,
1119 2, and 3.
1121 The fact that plain parentheses fulfil two functions is not always helpful.
1122 There are often times when a grouping subpattern is required without a
1123 capturing requirement. If an opening parenthesis is followed by "?:", the
1124 subpattern does not do any capturing, and is not counted when computing the
1125 number of any subsequent capturing subpatterns. For example, if the string "the
1126 white queen" is matched against the pattern
1128 the ((?:red|white) (king|queen))
1130 the captured substrings are "white queen" and "queen", and are numbered 1 and
1131 2. The maximum number of captured substrings is 99, and the maximum number of
1132 all subpatterns, both capturing and non-capturing, is 200.
1134 As a convenient shorthand, if any option settings are required at the start of
1135 a non-capturing subpattern, the option letters may appear between the "?" and
1136 the ":". Thus the two patterns
1138 (?i:saturday|sunday)
1139 (?:(?i)saturday|sunday)
1141 match exactly the same set of strings. Because alternative branches are tried
1142 from left to right, and options are not reset until the end of the subpattern
1143 is reached, an option setting in one branch does affect subsequent branches, so
1144 the above patterns match "SUNDAY" as well as "Saturday".
1148 Repetition is specified by quantifiers, which can follow any of the following
1149 items:
1151 a single character, possibly escaped
1152 the . metacharacter
1153 a character class
1154 a back reference (see next section)
1155 a parenthesized subpattern (unless it is an assertion - see below)
1157 The general repetition quantifier specifies a minimum and maximum number of
1158 permitted matches, by giving the two numbers in curly brackets (braces),
1159 separated by a comma. The numbers must be less than 65536, and the first must
1160 be less than or equal to the second. For example:
1162 z{2,4}
1164 matches "zz", "zzz", or "zzzz". A closing brace on its own is not a special
1165 character. If the second number is omitted, but the comma is present, there is
1166 no upper limit; if the second number and the comma are both omitted, the
1167 quantifier specifies an exact number of required matches. Thus
1169 [aeiou]{3,}
1171 matches at least 3 successive vowels, but may match many more, while
1173 \\d{8}
1175 matches exactly 8 digits. An opening curly bracket that appears in a position
1176 where a quantifier is not allowed, or one that does not match the syntax of a
1177 quantifier, is taken as a literal character. For example, {,6} is not a
1178 quantifier, but a literal string of four characters.
1180 The quantifier {0} is permitted, causing the expression to behave as if the
1181 previous item and the quantifier were not present.
1183 For convenience (and historical compatibility) the three most common
1184 quantifiers have single-character abbreviations:
1186 * is equivalent to {0,}
1187 + is equivalent to {1,}
1188 ? is equivalent to {0,1}
1190 It is possible to construct infinite loops by following a subpattern that can
1191 match no characters with a quantifier that has no upper limit, for example:
1193 (a?)*
1195 Earlier versions of Perl and PCRE used to give an error at compile time for
1196 such patterns. However, because there are cases where this can be useful, such
1197 patterns are now accepted, but if any repetition of the subpattern does in fact
1198 match no characters, the loop is forcibly broken.
1200 By default, the quantifiers are "greedy", that is, they match as much as
1201 possible (up to the maximum number of permitted times), without causing the
1202 rest of the pattern to fail. The classic example of where this gives problems
1203 is in trying to match comments in C programs. These appear between the
1204 sequences /* and */ and within the sequence, individual * and / characters may
1205 appear. An attempt to match C comments by applying the pattern
1207 /\\*.*\\*/
1209 to the string
1211 /* first command */ not comment /* second comment */
1213 fails, because it matches the entire string due to the greediness of the .*
1214 item.
1216 However, if a quantifier is followed by a question mark, then it ceases to be
1217 greedy, and instead matches the minimum number of times possible, so the
1218 pattern
1220 /\\*.*?\\*/
1222 does the right thing with the C comments. The meaning of the various
1223 quantifiers is not otherwise changed, just the preferred number of matches.
1224 Do not confuse this use of question mark with its use as a quantifier in its
1225 own right. Because it has two uses, it can sometimes appear doubled, as in
1227 \\d??\\d
1229 which matches one digit by preference, but can match two if that is the only
1230 way the rest of the pattern matches.
1232 If the PCRE_UNGREEDY option is set (an option which is not available in Perl)
1233 then the quantifiers are not greedy by default, but individual ones can be made
1234 greedy by following them with a question mark. In other words, it inverts the
1235 default behaviour.
1237 When a parenthesized subpattern is quantified with a minimum repeat count that
1238 is greater than 1 or with a limited maximum, more store is required for the
1239 compiled pattern, in proportion to the size of the minimum or maximum.
1241 If a pattern starts with .* or .{0,} and the PCRE_DOTALL option (equivalent
1242 to Perl's /s) is set, thus allowing the . to match newlines, then the pattern
1243 is implicitly anchored, because whatever follows will be tried against every
1244 character position in the subject string, so there is no point in retrying the
1245 overall match at any position after the first. PCRE treats such a pattern as
1246 though it were preceded by \\A. In cases where it is known that the subject
1247 string contains no newlines, it is worth setting PCRE_DOTALL when the pattern
1248 begins with .* in order to obtain this optimization, or alternatively using ^
1249 to indicate anchoring explicitly.
1251 When a capturing subpattern is repeated, the value captured is the substring
1252 that matched the final iteration. For example, after
1254 (tweedle[dume]{3}\\s*)+
1256 has matched "tweedledum tweedledee" the value of the captured substring is
1257 "tweedledee". However, if there are nested capturing subpatterns, the
1258 corresponding captured values may have been set in previous iterations. For
1259 example, after
1261 /(a|(b))+/
1263 matches "aba" the value of the second captured substring is "b".
1267 Outside a character class, a backslash followed by a digit greater than 0 (and
1268 possibly further digits) is a back reference to a capturing subpattern earlier
1269 (i.e. to its left) in the pattern, provided there have been that many previous
1270 capturing left parentheses.
1272 However, if the decimal number following the backslash is less than 10, it is
1273 always taken as a back reference, and causes an error only if there are not
1274 that many capturing left parentheses in the entire pattern. In other words, the
1275 parentheses that are referenced need not be to the left of the reference for
1276 numbers less than 10. See the section entitled "Backslash" above for further
1277 details of the handling of digits following a backslash.
1279 A back reference matches whatever actually matched the capturing subpattern in
1280 the current subject string, rather than anything matching the subpattern
1281 itself. So the pattern
1283 (sens|respons)e and \\1ibility
1285 matches "sense and sensibility" and "response and responsibility", but not
1286 "sense and responsibility". If caseful matching is in force at the time of the
1287 back reference, then the case of letters is relevant. For example,
1289 ((?i)rah)\\s+\\1
1291 matches "rah rah" and "RAH RAH", but not "RAH rah", even though the original
1292 capturing subpattern is matched caselessly.
1294 There may be more than one back reference to the same subpattern. If a
1295 subpattern has not actually been used in a particular match, then any back
1296 references to it always fail. For example, the pattern
1298 (a|(bc))\\2
1300 always fails if it starts to match "a" rather than "bc". Because there may be
1301 up to 99 back references, all digits following the backslash are taken
1302 as part of a potential back reference number. If the pattern continues with a
1303 digit character, then some delimiter must be used to terminate the back
1304 reference. If the PCRE_EXTENDED option is set, this can be whitespace.
1305 Otherwise an empty comment can be used.
1307 A back reference that occurs inside the parentheses to which it refers fails
1308 when the subpattern is first used, so, for example, (a\\1) never matches.
1309 However, such references can be useful inside repeated subpatterns. For
1310 example, the pattern
1312 (a|b\\1)+
1314 matches any number of "a"s and also "aba", "ababaa" etc. At each iteration of
1315 the subpattern, the back reference matches the character string corresponding
1316 to the previous iteration. In order for this to work, the pattern must be such
1317 that the first iteration does not need to match the back reference. This can be
1318 done using alternation, as in the example above, or by a quantifier with a
1319 minimum of zero.
1323 An assertion is a test on the characters following or preceding the current
1324 matching point that does not actually consume any characters. The simple
1325 assertions coded as \\b, \\B, \\A, \\Z, \\z, ^ and $ are described above. More
1326 complicated assertions are coded as subpatterns. There are two kinds: those
1327 that look ahead of the current position in the subject string, and those that
1328 look behind it.
1330 An assertion subpattern is matched in the normal way, except that it does not
1331 cause the current matching position to be changed. Lookahead assertions start
1332 with (?= for positive assertions and (?! for negative assertions. For example,
1334 \\w+(?=;)
1336 matches a word followed by a semicolon, but does not include the semicolon in
1337 the match, and
1339 foo(?!bar)
1341 matches any occurrence of "foo" that is not followed by "bar". Note that the
1342 apparently similar pattern
1344 (?!foo)bar
1346 does not find an occurrence of "bar" that is preceded by something other than
1347 "foo"; it finds any occurrence of "bar" whatsoever, because the assertion
1348 (?!foo) is always true when the next three characters are "bar". A
1349 lookbehind assertion is needed to achieve this effect.
1351 Lookbehind assertions start with (?<= for positive assertions and (?<! for
1352 negative assertions. For example,
1354 (?<!foo)bar
1356 does find an occurrence of "bar" that is not preceded by "foo". The contents of
1357 a lookbehind assertion are restricted such that all the strings it matches must
1358 have a fixed length. However, if there are several alternatives, they do not
1359 all have to have the same fixed length. Thus
1361 (?<=bullock|donkey)
1363 is permitted, but
1365 (?<!dogs?|cats?)
1367 causes an error at compile time. Branches that match different length strings
1368 are permitted only at the top level of a lookbehind assertion. This is an
1369 extension compared with Perl 5.005, which requires all branches to match the
1370 same length of string. An assertion such as
1372 (?<=ab(c|de))
1374 is not permitted, because its single top-level branch can match two different
1375 lengths, but it is acceptable if rewritten to use two top-level branches:
1377 (?<=abc|abde)
1379 The implementation of lookbehind assertions is, for each alternative, to
1380 temporarily move the current position back by the fixed width and then try to
1381 match. If there are insufficient characters before the current position, the
1382 match is deemed to fail. Lookbehinds in conjunction with once-only subpatterns
1383 can be particularly useful for matching at the ends of strings; an example is
1384 given at the end of the section on once-only subpatterns.
1386 Several assertions (of any sort) may occur in succession. For example,
1388 (?<=\\d{3})(?<!999)foo
1390 matches "foo" preceded by three digits that are not "999". Notice that each of
1391 the assertions is applied independently at the same point in the subject
1392 string. First there is a check that the previous three characters are all
1393 digits, then there is a check that the same three characters are not "999".
1394 This pattern does \fInot\fR match "foo" preceded by six characters, the first
1395 of which are digits and the last three of which are not "999". For example, it
1396 doesn't match "123abcfoo". A pattern to do that is
1398 (?<=\\d{3}...)(?<!999)foo
1400 This time the first assertion looks at the preceding six characters, checking
1401 that the first three are digits, and then the second assertion checks that the
1402 preceding three characters are not "999".
1404 Assertions can be nested in any combination. For example,
1406 (?<=(?<!foo)bar)baz
1408 matches an occurrence of "baz" that is preceded by "bar" which in turn is not
1409 preceded by "foo", while
1411 (?<=\\d{3}(?!999)...)foo
1413 is another pattern which matches "foo" preceded by three digits and any three
1414 characters that are not "999".
1416 Assertion subpatterns are not capturing subpatterns, and may not be repeated,
1417 because it makes no sense to assert the same thing several times. If any kind
1418 of assertion contains capturing subpatterns within it, these are counted for
1419 the purposes of numbering the capturing subpatterns in the whole pattern.
1420 However, substring capturing is carried out only for positive assertions,
1421 because it does not make sense for negative assertions.
1423 Assertions count towards the maximum of 200 parenthesized subpatterns.
1427 With both maximizing and minimizing repetition, failure of what follows
1428 normally causes the repeated item to be re-evaluated to see if a different
1429 number of repeats allows the rest of the pattern to match. Sometimes it is
1430 useful to prevent this, either to change the nature of the match, or to cause
1431 it fail earlier than it otherwise might, when the author of the pattern knows
1432 there is no point in carrying on.
1434 Consider, for example, the pattern \\d+foo when applied to the subject line
1436 123456bar
1438 After matching all 6 digits and then failing to match "foo", the normal
1439 action of the matcher is to try again with only 5 digits matching the \\d+
1440 item, and then with 4, and so on, before ultimately failing. Once-only
1441 subpatterns provide the means for specifying that once a portion of the pattern
1442 has matched, it is not to be re-evaluated in this way, so the matcher would
1443 give up immediately on failing to match "foo" the first time. The notation is
1444 another kind of special parenthesis, starting with (?> as in this example:
1446 (?>\\d+)bar
1448 This kind of parenthesis "locks up" the part of the pattern it contains once
1449 it has matched, and a failure further into the pattern is prevented from
1450 backtracking into it. Backtracking past it to previous items, however, works as
1451 normal.
1453 An alternative description is that a subpattern of this type matches the string
1454 of characters that an identical standalone pattern would match, if anchored at
1455 the current point in the subject string.
1457 Once-only subpatterns are not capturing subpatterns. Simple cases such as the
1458 above example can be thought of as a maximizing repeat that must swallow
1459 everything it can. So, while both \\d+ and \\d+? are prepared to adjust the
1460 number of digits they match in order to make the rest of the pattern match,
1461 (?>\\d+) can only match an entire sequence of digits.
1463 This construction can of course contain arbitrarily complicated subpatterns,
1464 and it can be nested.
1466 Once-only subpatterns can be used in conjunction with lookbehind assertions to
1467 specify efficient matching at the end of the subject string. Consider a simple
1468 pattern such as
1470 abcd$
1472 when applied to a long string which does not match. Because matching proceeds
1473 from left to right, PCRE will look for each "a" in the subject and then see if
1474 what follows matches the rest of the pattern. If the pattern is specified as
1476 ^.*abcd$
1478 then the initial .* matches the entire string at first, but when this fails
1479 (because there is no following "a"), it backtracks to match all but the last
1480 character, then all but the last two characters, and so on. Once again the
1481 search for "a" covers the entire string, from right to left, so we are no
1482 better off. However, if the pattern is written as
1484 ^(?>.*)(?<=abcd)
1486 then there can be no backtracking for the .* item; it can match only the entire
1487 string. The subsequent lookbehind assertion does a single test on the last four
1488 characters. If it fails, the match fails immediately. For long strings, this
1489 approach makes a significant difference to the processing time.
1491 When a pattern contains an unlimited repeat inside a subpattern that can itself
1492 be repeated an unlimited number of times, the use of a once-only subpattern is
1493 the only way to avoid some failing matches taking a very long time indeed.
1494 The pattern
1496 (\\D+|<\\d+>)*[!?]
1498 matches an unlimited number of substrings that either consist of non-digits, or
1499 digits enclosed in <>, followed by either ! or ?. When it matches, it runs
1500 quickly. However, if it is applied to
1502 aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
1504 it takes a long time before reporting failure. This is because the string can
1505 be divided between the two repeats in a large number of ways, and all have to
1506 be tried. (The example used [!?] rather than a single character at the end,
1507 because both PCRE and Perl have an optimization that allows for fast failure
1508 when a single character is used. They remember the last single character that
1509 is required for a match, and fail early if it is not present in the string.)
1510 If the pattern is changed to
1512 ((?>\\D+)|<\\d+>)*[!?]
1514 sequences of non-digits cannot be broken, and failure happens quickly.
1518 It is possible to cause the matching process to obey a subpattern
1519 conditionally or to choose between two alternative subpatterns, depending on
1520 the result of an assertion, or whether a previous capturing subpattern matched
1521 or not. The two possible forms of conditional subpattern are
1523 (?(condition)yes-pattern)
1524 (?(condition)yes-pattern|no-pattern)
1526 If the condition is satisfied, the yes-pattern is used; otherwise the
1527 no-pattern (if present) is used. If there are more than two alternatives in the
1528 subpattern, a compile-time error occurs.
1530 There are two kinds of condition. If the text between the parentheses consists
1531 of a sequence of digits, then the condition is satisfied if the capturing
1532 subpattern of that number has previously matched. Consider the following
1533 pattern, which contains non-significant white space to make it more readable
1534 (assume the PCRE_EXTENDED option) and to divide it into three parts for ease
1535 of discussion:
1537 ( \\( )? [^()]+ (?(1) \\) )
1539 The first part matches an optional opening parenthesis, and if that
1540 character is present, sets it as the first captured substring. The second part
1541 matches one or more characters that are not parentheses. The third part is a
1542 conditional subpattern that tests whether the first set of parentheses matched
1543 or not. If they did, that is, if subject started with an opening parenthesis,
1544 the condition is true, and so the yes-pattern is executed and a closing
1545 parenthesis is required. Otherwise, since no-pattern is not present, the
1546 subpattern matches nothing. In other words, this pattern matches a sequence of
1547 non-parentheses, optionally enclosed in parentheses.
1549 If the condition is not a sequence of digits, it must be an assertion. This may
1550 be a positive or negative lookahead or lookbehind assertion. Consider this
1551 pattern, again containing non-significant white space, and with the two
1552 alternatives on the second line:
1554 (?(?=[^a-z]*[a-z])
1555 \\d{2}-[a-z]{3}-\\d{2} | \\d{2}-\\d{2}-\\d{2} )
1557 The condition is a positive lookahead assertion that matches an optional
1558 sequence of non-letters followed by a letter. In other words, it tests for the
1559 presence of at least one letter in the subject. If a letter is found, the
1560 subject is matched against the first alternative; otherwise it is matched
1561 against the second. This pattern matches strings in one of the two forms
1562 dd-aaa-dd or dd-dd-dd, where aaa are letters and dd are digits.
1566 The sequence (?# marks the start of a comment which continues up to the next
1567 closing parenthesis. Nested parentheses are not permitted. The characters
1568 that make up a comment play no part in the pattern matching at all.
1570 If the PCRE_EXTENDED option is set, an unescaped # character outside a
1571 character class introduces a comment that continues up to the next newline
1572 character in the pattern.
1576 Consider the problem of matching a string in parentheses, allowing for
1577 unlimited nested parentheses. Without the use of recursion, the best that can
1578 be done is to use a pattern that matches up to some fixed depth of nesting. It
1579 is not possible to handle an arbitrary nesting depth. Perl 5.6 has provided an
1580 experimental facility that allows regular expressions to recurse (amongst other
1581 things). It does this by interpolating Perl code in the expression at run time,
1582 and the code can refer to the expression itself. A Perl pattern to solve the
1583 parentheses problem can be created like this:
1585 $re = qr{\\( (?: (?>[^()]+) | (?p{$re}) )* \\)}x;
1587 The (?p{...}) item interpolates Perl code at run time, and in this case refers
1588 recursively to the pattern in which it appears. Obviously, PCRE cannot support
1589 the interpolation of Perl code. Instead, the special item (?R) is provided for
1590 the specific case of recursion. This PCRE pattern solves the parentheses
1591 problem (assume the PCRE_EXTENDED option is set so that white space is
1592 ignored):
1594 \\( ( (?>[^()]+) | (?R) )* \\)
1596 First it matches an opening parenthesis. Then it matches any number of
1597 substrings which can either be a sequence of non-parentheses, or a recursive
1598 match of the pattern itself (i.e. a correctly parenthesized substring). Finally
1599 there is a closing parenthesis.
1601 This particular example pattern contains nested unlimited repeats, and so the
1602 use of a once-only subpattern for matching strings of non-parentheses is
1603 important when applying the pattern to strings that do not match. For example,
1604 when it is applied to
1606 (aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa()
1608 it yields "no match" quickly. However, if a once-only subpattern is not used,
1609 the match runs for a very long time indeed because there are so many different
1610 ways the + and * repeats can carve up the subject, and all have to be tested
1611 before failure can be reported.
1613 The values set for any capturing subpatterns are those from the outermost level
1614 of the recursion at which the subpattern value is set. If the pattern above is
1615 matched against
1617 (ab(cd)ef)
1619 the value for the capturing parentheses is "ef", which is the last value taken
1620 on at the top level. If additional parentheses are added, giving
1622 \\( ( ( (?>[^()]+) | (?R) )* ) \\)
1623 ^ ^
1624 ^ ^
1625 then the string they capture is "ab(cd)ef", the contents of the top level
1626 parentheses. If there are more than 15 capturing parentheses in a pattern, PCRE
1627 has to obtain extra memory to store data during a recursion, which it does by
1628 using \fBpcre_malloc\fR, freeing it via \fBpcre_free\fR afterwards. If no
1629 memory can be obtained, it saves data for the first 15 capturing parentheses
1630 only, as there is no way to give an out-of-memory error from within a
1631 recursion.
1635 Certain items that may appear in patterns are more efficient than others. It is
1636 more efficient to use a character class like [aeiou] than a set of alternatives
1637 such as (a|e|i|o|u). In general, the simplest construction that provides the
1638 required behaviour is usually the most efficient. Jeffrey Friedl's book
1639 contains a lot of discussion about optimizing regular expressions for efficient
1640 performance.
1642 When a pattern begins with .* and the PCRE_DOTALL option is set, the pattern is
1643 implicitly anchored by PCRE, since it can match only at the start of a subject
1644 string. However, if PCRE_DOTALL is not set, PCRE cannot make this optimization,
1645 because the . metacharacter does not then match a newline, and if the subject
1646 string contains newlines, the pattern may match from the character immediately
1647 following one of them instead of from the very start. For example, the pattern
1649 (.*) second
1651 matches the subject "first\\nand second" (where \\n stands for a newline
1652 character) with the first captured substring being "and". In order to do this,
1653 PCRE has to retry the match starting after every newline in the subject.
1655 If you are using such a pattern with subject strings that do not contain
1656 newlines, the best performance is obtained by setting PCRE_DOTALL, or starting
1657 the pattern with ^.* to indicate explicit anchoring. That saves PCRE from
1658 having to scan along the subject looking for a newline to restart at.
1660 Beware of patterns that contain nested indefinite repeats. These can take a
1661 long time to run when applied to a string that does not match. Consider the
1662 pattern fragment
1664 (a+)*
1666 This can match "aaaa" in 33 different ways, and this number increases very
1667 rapidly as the string gets longer. (The * repeat can match 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4
1668 times, and for each of those cases other than 0, the + repeats can match
1669 different numbers of times.) When the remainder of the pattern is such that the
1670 entire match is going to fail, PCRE has in principle to try every possible
1671 variation, and this can take an extremely long time.
1673 An optimization catches some of the more simple cases such as
1675 (a+)*b
1677 where a literal character follows. Before embarking on the standard matching
1678 procedure, PCRE checks that there is a "b" later in the subject string, and if
1679 there is not, it fails the match immediately. However, when there is no
1680 following literal this optimization cannot be used. You can see the difference
1681 by comparing the behaviour of
1683 (a+)*\\d
1685 with the pattern above. The former gives a failure almost instantly when
1686 applied to a whole line of "a" characters, whereas the latter takes an
1687 appreciable time with strings longer than about 20 characters.
1690 Philip Hazel <ph10@cam.ac.uk>
1691 .br
1692 University Computing Service,
1693 .br
1694 New Museums Site,
1695 .br
1696 Cambridge CB2 3QG, England.
1697 .br
1698 Phone: +44 1223 334714
1700 Last updated: 27 January 2000
1701 .br
1702 Copyright (c) 1997-2000 University of Cambridge.

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