regex - POSIX 1003.2 regular expressions


       Regular expressions (``RE''s), as defined in POSIX 1003.2,
       come in two forms: modern REs  (roughly  those  of  egrep;
       1003.2  calls  these  ``extended''  REs)  and obsolete REs
       (roughly those of ed(1); 1003.2 ``basic'' REs).   Obsolete
       REs  mostly  exist  for backward compatibility in some old
       programs; they will  be  discussed  at  the  end.   1003.2
       leaves some aspects of RE syntax and semantics open; `(*)'
       marks decisions on these aspects that  may  not  be  fully
       portable to other 1003.2 implementations.

       A  (modern)  RE  is  one(*) or more non-empty(*) branches,
       separated by `|'.  It matches anything that matches one of
       the branches.

       A  branch  is  one(*)  or  more  pieces, concatenated.  It
       matches a match for the first, followed by a match for the
       second, etc.

       A  piece  is an atom possibly followed by a single(*) `*',
       `+', `?', or bound.  An atom followed  by  `*'  matches  a
       sequence  of  0 or more matches of the atom.  An atom fol­
       lowed by `+' matches a sequence of 1 or  more  matches  of
       the atom.  An atom followed by `?' matches a sequence of 0
       or 1 matches of the atom.

       A bound is `{' followed by an  unsigned  decimal  integer,
       possibly  followed  by  `,'  possibly  followed by another
       unsigned decimal integer, always  followed  by  `}'.   The
       integers must lie between 0 and RE_DUP_MAX (255(*)) inclu­
       sive, and if there are two of  them,  the  first  may  not
       exceed the second.  An atom followed by a bound containing
       one integer i and no comma matches a sequence of exactly i
       matches of the atom.  An atom followed by a bound contain­
       ing one integer i and a comma matches a sequence of  i  or
       more  matches  of  the  atom.  An atom followed by a bound
       containing two integers i and j matches a  sequence  of  i
       through j (inclusive) matches of the atom.

       An atom is a regular expression enclosed in `()' (matching
       a match for the regular expression), an empty set of  `()'
       (matching  the  null string)(*), a bracket expression (see
       below), `.'  (matching any single character), `^'  (match­
       ing  the  null  string  at  the  beginning of a line), `$'
       (matching the null string at the end of  a  line),  a  `\'
       followed by one of the characters `^.[$()|*+?{\' (matching
       that character taken as an ordinary character), a `\' fol­
       lowed  by  any other character(*) (matching that character
       taken as an ordinary character, as if the `\' had not been
       present(*)),  or a single character with no other signifi­
       `a-c-e'.  Ranges  are  very  collating-sequence-dependent,
       and portable programs should avoid relying on them.

       To  include  a  literal `]' in the list, make it the first
       character (following a possible `^').  To include  a  lit­
       eral `-', make it the first or last character, or the sec­
       ond endpoint of a range.  To use  a  literal  `-'  as  the
       first  endpoint of a range, enclose it in `[.' and `.]' to
       make it a collating element (see below).  With the  excep­
       tion  of  these  and some combinations using `[' (see next
       paragraphs), all other special characters, including  `\',
       lose  their  special significance within a bracket expres­

       Within a bracket expression, a collating element (a  char­
       acter,  a  multi-character sequence that collates as if it
       were a single character, or a collating-sequence name  for
       either)  enclosed in `[.' and `.]' stands for the sequence
       of characters of that collating element.  The sequence  is
       a  single  element  of  the  bracket expression's list.  A
       bracket expression containing a multi-character  collating
       element  can  thus  match more than one character, e.g. if
       the collating sequence includes a `ch' collating  element,
       then the RE `[[.ch.]]*c' matches the first five characters
       of `chchcc'.

       Within a bracket expression, a collating element  enclosed
       in `[=' and `=]' is an equivalence class, standing for the
       sequences of characters of all collating elements  equiva­
       lent  to  that  one,  including  itself.  (If there are no
       other equivalent collating elements, the treatment  is  as
       if  the  enclosing  delimiters  were  `[.' and `.]'.)  For
       example, if o and ^ are  the  members  of  an  equivalence
       class,  then `[[=o=]]', `[[=^=]]', and `[o^]' are all syn­
       onymous.  An equivalence class may not(*) be  an  endpoint
       of a range.

       Within a bracket expression, the name of a character class
       enclosed in `[:' and `:]' stands for the list of all char­
       acters  belonging to that class.  Standard character class
       names are:

              alnum       digit       punct
              alpha       graph       space
              blank       lower       upper
              cntrl       print       xdigit

       These  stand  for  the  character   classes   defined   in
       wctype(3).   A  locale  may  provide  others.  A character
       class may not be used as an endpoint of a range.

       There are two special cases(*) of bracket expressions: the
       longest.   Subexpressions  also match the longest possible
       substrings, subject to the constraint that the whole match
       be  as long as possible, with subexpressions starting ear­
       lier in the RE taking priority over ones  starting  later.
       Note  that  higher-level subexpressions thus take priority
       over their lower-level component subexpressions.

       Match lengths are measured in  characters,  not  collating
       elements.   A  null  string  is  considered longer than no
       match at all.  For example, `bb*' matches the three middle
       characters    of   `abbbc',   `(wee|week)(knights|nights)'
       matches all ten characters of `weeknights', when  `(.*).*'
       is  matched  against `abc' the parenthesized subexpression
       matches all three characters, and when `(a*)*' is  matched
       against  `bc'  both  the  whole  RE  and the parenthesized
       subexpression match the null string.

       If case-independent matching is specified, the  effect  is
       much  as  if  all  case distinctions had vanished from the
       alphabet.  When an  alphabetic  that  exists  in  multiple
       cases  appears  as an ordinary character outside a bracket
       expression, it is effectively transformed into  a  bracket
       expression containing both cases, e.g. `x' becomes `[xX]'.
       When it appears inside  a  bracket  expression,  all  case
       counterparts of it are added to the bracket expression, so
       that  (e.g.)  `[x]'  becomes  `[xX]'  and  `[^x]'  becomes

       No  particular  limit  is imposed on the length of REs(*).
       Programs intended to be portable  should  not  employ  REs
       longer  than 256 bytes, as an implementation can refuse to
       accept such REs and remain POSIX-compliant.

       Obsolete (``basic'') regular expressions differ in several
       respects.   `|',  `+', and `?' are ordinary characters and
       there is  no  equivalent  for  their  functionality.   The
       delimiters  for bounds are `\{' and `\}', with `{' and `}'
       by themselves ordinary characters.   The  parentheses  for
       nested  subexpressions are `\(' and `\)', with `(' and `)'
       by themselves ordinary characters.   `^'  is  an  ordinary
       character  except  at  the  beginning  of the RE or(*) the
       beginning of a  parenthesized  subexpression,  `$'  is  an
       ordinary  character  except at the end of the RE or(*) the
       end of a parenthesized subexpression, and `*' is an  ordi­
       nary character if it appears at the beginning of the RE or
       the beginning of a parenthesized  subexpression  (after  a
       possible  leading `^').  Finally, there is one new type of
       atom, a back reference: `\' followed by a non-zero decimal
       digit d matches the same sequence of characters matched by
       the dth parenthesized subexpression (numbering  subexpres­
       sions  by the positions of their opening parentheses, left
       to right), so that (e.g.)  `\([bc]\)\1'  matches  `bb'  or

       Back references are a dreadful botch, posing  major  prob­
       lems  for  efficient implementations.  They are also some­
       what  vaguely  defined   (does   `a\(\(b\)*\2\)*d'   match
       `abbbd'?).  Avoid using them.

       1003.2's  specification  of  case-independent  matching is
       vague.  The ``one  case  implies  all  cases''  definition
       given  above is current consensus among implementors as to
       the right interpretation.

       The syntax for word boundaries is incredibly ugly.


       This page was taken from Henry Spencer's regex package.

                            7 Feb 1994                          1

The man2html engine and the man.cgi script were written in perl by Earl Hood -- -- (© 1995). The program is free software, and is distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation.

This man help utility is maintained by Larry McGoldrick for the members of the Capital PC User Group, Inc (CPCUG), Rockville, MD.

Last updated January 31, 1996.