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PERLRE(1)              Perl Programmers Reference Guide              PERLRE(1)

       perlre - Perl regular expressions

       This page describes the syntax of regular expressions in Perl.

       If you haven't used regular expressions before, a quick-start introduction is available in perlrequick, and a
       longer tutorial introduction is available in perlretut.

       For reference on how regular expressions are used in matching operations, plus various examples of the same,
       see discussions of "m//", "s///", "qr//" and "??" in "Regexp Quote-Like Operators" in perlop.

       Matching operations can have various modifiers.  Modifiers that relate to the interpretation of the regular
       expression inside are listed below.  Modifiers that alter the way a regular expression is used by Perl are
       detailed in "Regexp Quote-Like Operators" in perlop and "Gory details of parsing quoted constructs" in perlop.

       i   Do case-insensitive pattern matching.

           If "use locale" is in effect, the case map is taken from the current locale.  See perllocale.

       m   Treat string as multiple lines.  That is, change "^" and "$" from matching the start or end of the string
           to matching the start or end of any line anywhere within the string.

       s   Treat string as single line.  That is, change "." to match any character whatsoever, even a newline, which
           normally it would not match.

           The "/s" and "/m" modifiers both override the $* setting.  That is, no matter what $* contains, "/s" with-
           out "/m" will force "^" to match only at the beginning of the string and "$" to match only at the end (or
           just before a newline at the end) of the string.  Together, as /ms, they let the "." match any character
           whatsoever, while still allowing "^" and "$" to match, respectively, just after and just before newlines
           within the string.

       x   Extend your pattern's legibility by permitting whitespace and comments.

       These are usually written as "the "/x" modifier", even though the delimiter in question might not really be a
       slash.  Any of these modifiers may also be embedded within the regular expression itself using the "(?...)"
       construct.  See below.

       The "/x" modifier itself needs a little more explanation.  It tells the regular expression parser to ignore
       whitespace that is neither backslashed nor within a character class.  You can use this to break up your regular
       expression into (slightly) more readable parts.  The "#" character is also treated as a metacharacter introduc-
       ing a comment, just as in ordinary Perl code.  This also means that if you want real whitespace or "#" charac-
       ters in the pattern (outside a character class, where they are unaffected by "/x"), that you'll either have to
       escape them or encode them using octal or hex escapes.  Taken together, these features go a long way towards
       making Perl's regular expressions more readable.  Note that you have to be careful not to include the pattern
       delimiter in the comment--perl has no way of knowing you did not intend to close the pattern early.  See the
       C-comment deletion code in perlop.

       Regular Expressions

       The patterns used in Perl pattern matching derive from supplied in the Version 8 regex routines.  (The routines
       are derived (distantly) from Henry Spencer's freely redistributable reimplementation of the V8 routines.)  See
       "Version 8 Regular Expressions" for details.

       In particular the following metacharacters have their standard egrep-ish meanings:

           \   Quote the next metacharacter
           ^   Match the beginning of the line
           .   Match any character (except newline)
           $   Match the end of the line (or before newline at the end)
           |   Alternation
           ()  Grouping
           []  Character class

       By default, the "^" character is guaranteed to match only the beginning of the string, the "$" character only
       the end (or before the newline at the end), and Perl does certain optimizations with the assumption that the
       string contains only one line.  Embedded newlines will not be matched by "^" or "$".  You may, however, wish to
       treat a string as a multi-line buffer, such that the "^" will match after any newline within the string, and
       "$" will match before any newline.  At the cost of a little more overhead, you can do this by using the /m mod-
       ifier on the pattern match operator.  (Older programs did this by setting $*, but this practice is now depre-

       To simplify multi-line substitutions, the "." character never matches a newline unless you use the "/s" modi-
       fier, which in effect tells Perl to pretend the string is a single line--even if it isn't.  The "/s" modifier
       also overrides the setting of $*, in case you have some (badly behaved) older code that sets it in another mod-

       The following standard quantifiers are recognized:

           *      Match 0 or more times
           +      Match 1 or more times
           ?      Match 1 or 0 times
           {n}    Match exactly n times
           {n,}   Match at least n times
           {n,m}  Match at least n but not more than m times

       (If a curly bracket occurs in any other context, it is treated as a regular character.  In particular, the
       lower bound is not optional.)  The "*" modifier is equivalent to "{0,}", the "+" modifier to "{1,}", and the
       "?" modifier to "{0,1}".  n and m are limited to integral values less than a preset limit defined when perl is
       built.  This is usually 32766 on the most common platforms.  The actual limit can be seen in the error message
       generated by code such as this:

           $_ **= $_ , / {$_} / for 2 .. 42;

       By default, a quantified subpattern is "greedy", that is, it will match as many times as possible (given a par-
       ticular starting location) while still allowing the rest of the pattern to match.  If you want it to match the
       minimum number of times possible, follow the quantifier with a "?".  Note that the meanings don't change, just
       the "greediness":

           *?     Match 0 or more times
           +?     Match 1 or more times
           ??     Match 0 or 1 time
           {n}?   Match exactly n times
           {n,}?  Match at least n times
           {n,m}? Match at least n but not more than m times

       Because patterns are processed as double quoted strings, the following also work:

           \t          tab                   (HT, TAB)
           \n          newline               (LF, NL)
           \r          return                (CR)
           \f          form feed             (FF)
           \a          alarm (bell)          (BEL)
           \e          escape (think troff)  (ESC)
           \033        octal char (think of a PDP-11)
           \x1B        hex char
           \x{263a}    wide hex char         (Unicode SMILEY)
           \c[         control char
           \N{name}    named char
           \l          lowercase next char (think vi)
           \u          uppercase next char (think vi)
           \L          lowercase till \E (think vi)
           \U          uppercase till \E (think vi)
           \E          end case modification (think vi)
           \Q          quote (disable) pattern metacharacters till \E

       If "use locale" is in effect, the case map used by "\l", "\L", "\u" and "\U" is taken from the current locale.
       See perllocale.  For documentation of "\N{name}", see charnames.

       You cannot include a literal "$" or "@" within a "\Q" sequence.  An unescaped "$" or "@" interpolates the cor-
       responding variable, while escaping will cause the literal string "\$" to be matched.  You'll need to write
       something like "m/\Quser\E\@\Qhost/".

       In addition, Perl defines the following:

           \w  Match a "word" character (alphanumeric plus "_")
           \W  Match a non-"word" character
           \s  Match a whitespace character
           \S  Match a non-whitespace character
           \d  Match a digit character
           \D  Match a non-digit character
           \pP Match P, named property.  Use \p{Prop} for longer names.
           \PP Match non-P
           \X  Match eXtended Unicode "combining character sequence",
               equivalent to (?:\PM\pM*)
           \C  Match a single C char (octet) even under Unicode.
               NOTE: breaks up characters into their UTF-8 bytes,
               so you may end up with malformed pieces of UTF-8.
               Unsupported in lookbehind.

       A "\w" matches a single alphanumeric character (an alphabetic character, or a decimal digit) or "_", not a
       whole word.  Use "\w+" to match a string of Perl-identifier characters (which isn't the same as matching an
       English word).  If "use locale" is in effect, the list of alphabetic characters generated by "\w" is taken from
       the current locale.  See perllocale.  You may use "\w", "\W", "\s", "\S", "\d", and "\D" within character
       classes, but if you try to use them as endpoints of a range, that's not a range, the "-" is understood liter-
       ally.  If Unicode is in effect, "\s" matches also "\x{85}", "\x{2028}, and "\x{2029}", see perlunicode for more
       details about "\pP", "\PP", and "\X", and perluniintro about Unicode in general.  You can define your own "\p"
       and "\P" properties, see perlunicode.

       The POSIX character class syntax


       is also available.  The available classes and their backslash equivalents (if available) are as follows:

           blank               [1]
           digit       \d
           space       \s      [2]
           word        \w      [3]

       [1] A GNU extension equivalent to "[ \t]", "all horizontal whitespace".

       [2] Not exactly equivalent to "\s" since the "[[:space:]]" includes also the (very rare) "vertical tabulator",
           "\ck", chr(11).

       [3] A Perl extension, see above.

       For example use "[:upper:]" to match all the uppercase characters.  Note that the "[]" are part of the "[::]"
       construct, not part of the whole character class.  For example:


       matches zero, one, any alphabetic character, and the percentage sign.

       The following equivalences to Unicode \p{} constructs and equivalent backslash character classes (if avail-
       able), will hold:

           [:...:]     \p{...}         backslash

           alpha       IsAlpha
           alnum       IsAlnum
           ascii       IsASCII
           blank       IsSpace
           cntrl       IsCntrl
           digit       IsDigit        \d
           graph       IsGraph
           lower       IsLower
           print       IsPrint
           punct       IsPunct
           space       IsSpace
                       IsSpacePerl    \s
           upper       IsUpper
           word        IsWord
           xdigit      IsXDigit

       For example "[:lower:]" and "\p{IsLower}" are equivalent.

       If the "utf8" pragma is not used but the "locale" pragma is, the classes correlate with the usual isalpha(3)
       interface (except for "word" and "blank").

       The assumedly non-obviously named classes are:

           Any control character.  Usually characters that don't produce output as such but instead control the termi-
           nal somehow: for example newline and backspace are control characters.  All characters with ord() less than
           32 are most often classified as control characters (assuming ASCII, the ISO Latin character sets, and Uni-
           code), as is the character with the ord() value of 127 ("DEL").

           Any alphanumeric or punctuation (special) character.

           Any alphanumeric or punctuation (special) character or the space character.

           Any punctuation (special) character.

           Any hexadecimal digit.  Though this may feel silly ([0-9A-Fa-f] would work just fine) it is included for

       You can negate the [::] character classes by prefixing the class name with a '^'. This is a Perl extension.
       For example:

           POSIX       traditional Unicode

           [:^digit:]      \D      \P{IsDigit}
           [:^space:]      \S      \P{IsSpace}
           [:^word:]       \W      \P{IsWord}

       Perl respects the POSIX standard in that POSIX character classes are only supported within a character class.
       The POSIX character classes [.cc.] and [=cc=] are recognized but not supported and trying to use them will
       cause an error.

       Perl defines the following zero-width assertions:

           \b  Match a word boundary
           \B  Match a non-(word boundary)
           \A  Match only at beginning of string
           \Z  Match only at end of string, or before newline at the end
           \z  Match only at end of string
           \G  Match only at pos() (e.g. at the end-of-match position
               of prior m//g)

       A word boundary ("\b") is a spot between two characters that has a "\w" on one side of it and a "\W" on the
       other side of it (in either order), counting the imaginary characters off the beginning and end of the string
       as matching a "\W".  (Within character classes "\b" represents backspace rather than a word boundary, just as
       it normally does in any double-quoted string.)  The "\A" and "\Z" are just like "^" and "$", except that they
       won't match multiple times when the "/m" modifier is used, while "^" and "$" will match at every internal line
       boundary.  To match the actual end of the string and not ignore an optional trailing newline, use "\z".

       The "\G" assertion can be used to chain global matches (using "m//g"), as described in "Regexp Quote-Like Oper-
       ators" in perlop.  It is also useful when writing "lex"-like scanners, when you have several patterns that you
       want to match against consequent substrings of your string, see the previous reference.  The actual location
       where "\G" will match can also be influenced by using "pos()" as an lvalue: see "pos" in perlfunc. Currently
       "\G" is only fully supported when anchored to the start of the pattern; while it is permitted to use it else-
       where, as in "/(?<=\G..)./g", some such uses ("/.\G/g", for example) currently cause problems, and it is recom-
       mended that you avoid such usage for now.

       The bracketing construct "( ... )" creates capture buffers.  To refer to the digit'th buffer use \<digit>
       within the match.  Outside the match use "$" instead of "\".  (The \<digit> notation works in certain circum-
       stances outside the match.  See the warning below about \1 vs $1 for details.)  Referring back to another part
       of the match is called a backreference.

       There is no limit to the number of captured substrings that you may use.  However Perl also uses \10, \11, etc.
       as aliases for \010, \011, etc.  (Recall that 0 means octal, so \011 is the character at number 9 in your coded
       character set; which would be the 10th character, a horizontal tab under ASCII.)  Perl resolves this ambiguity
       by interpreting \10 as a backreference only if at least 10 left parentheses have opened before it.  Likewise
       \11 is a backreference only if at least 11 left parentheses have opened before it.  And so on.  \1 through \9
       are always interpreted as backreferences.


           s/^([^ ]*) *([^ ]*)/$2 $1/;     # swap first two words

            if (/(.)\1/) {                 # find first doubled char
                print "'$1' is the first doubled character\n";

           if (/Time: (..):(..):(..)/) {   # parse out values
               $hours = $1;
               $minutes = $2;
               $seconds = $3;

       Several special variables also refer back to portions of the previous match.  $+ returns whatever the last
       bracket match matched.  $& returns the entire matched string.  (At one point $0 did also, but now it returns
       the name of the program.)  $' returns everything before the matched string.  $' returns everything after the
       matched string. And $^N contains whatever was matched by the most-recently closed group (submatch). $^N can be
       used in extended patterns (see below), for example to assign a submatch to a variable.

       The numbered match variables ($1, $2, $3, etc.) and the related punctuation set ($+, $&, $', $', and $^N) are
       all dynamically scoped until the end of the enclosing block or until the next successful match, whichever comes
       first.  (See "Compound Statements" in perlsyn.)

       NOTE: failed matches in Perl do not reset the match variables, which makes it easier to write code that tests
       for a series of more specific cases and remembers the best match.

       WARNING: Once Perl sees that you need one of $&, $', or $' anywhere in the program, it has to provide them for
       every pattern match.  This may substantially slow your program.  Perl uses the same mechanism to produce $1,
       $2, etc, so you also pay a price for each pattern that contains capturing parentheses.  (To avoid this cost
       while retaining the grouping behaviour, use the extended regular expression "(?: ... )" instead.)  But if you
       never use $&, $' or $', then patterns without capturing parentheses will not be penalized.  So avoid $&, $',
       and $' if you can, but if you can't (and some algorithms really appreciate them), once you've used them once,
       use them at will, because you've already paid the price.  As of 5.005, $& is not so costly as the other two.

       Backslashed metacharacters in Perl are alphanumeric, such as "\b", "\w", "\n".  Unlike some other regular
       expression languages, there are no backslashed symbols that aren't alphanumeric.  So anything that looks like
       \\, \(, \), \<, \>, \{, or \} is always interpreted as a literal character, not a metacharacter.  This was once
       used in a common idiom to disable or quote the special meanings of regular expression metacharacters in a
       string that you want to use for a pattern. Simply quote all non-"word" characters:

           $pattern =~ s/(\W)/\\$1/g;

       (If "use locale" is set, then this depends on the current locale.)  Today it is more common to use the
       quotemeta() function or the "\Q" metaquoting escape sequence to disable all metacharacters' special meanings
       like this:


       Beware that if you put literal backslashes (those not inside interpolated variables) between "\Q" and "\E",
       double-quotish backslash interpolation may lead to confusing results.  If you need to use literal backslashes
       within "\Q...\E", consult "Gory details of parsing quoted constructs" in perlop.

       Extended Patterns

       Perl also defines a consistent extension syntax for features not found in standard tools like awk and lex.  The
       syntax is a pair of parentheses with a question mark as the first thing within the parentheses.  The character
       after the question mark indicates the extension.

       The stability of these extensions varies widely.  Some have been part of the core language for many years.
       Others are experimental and may change without warning or be completely removed.  Check the documentation on an
       individual feature to verify its current status.

       A question mark was chosen for this and for the minimal-matching construct because 1) question marks are rare
       in older regular expressions, and 2) whenever you see one, you should stop and "question" exactly what is going
       on.  That's psychology...

                 A comment.  The text is ignored.  If the "/x" modifier enables whitespace formatting, a simple "#"
                 will suffice.  Note that Perl closes the comment as soon as it sees a ")", so there is no way to put
                 a literal ")" in the comment.

                 One or more embedded pattern-match modifiers, to be turned on (or turned off, if preceded by "-") for
                 the remainder of the pattern or the remainder of the enclosing pattern group (if any). This is par-
                 ticularly useful for dynamic patterns, such as those read in from a configuration file, read in as an
                 argument, are specified in a table somewhere, etc.  Consider the case that some of which want to be
                 case sensitive and some do not.  The case insensitive ones need to include merely "(?i)" at the front
                 of the pattern.  For example:

                     $pattern = "foobar";
                     if ( /$pattern/i ) { }

                     # more flexible:

                     $pattern = "(?i)foobar";
                     if ( /$pattern/ ) { }

                 These modifiers are restored at the end of the enclosing group. For example,

                     ( (?i) blah ) \s+ \1

                 will match a repeated (including the case!) word "blah" in any case, assuming "x" modifier, and no
                 "i" modifier outside this group.

                 This is for clustering, not capturing; it groups subexpressions like "()", but doesn't make backref-
                 erences as "()" does.  So

                     @fields = split(/\b(?:a|b|c)\b/)

                 is like

                     @fields = split(/\b(a|b|c)\b/)

                 but doesn't spit out extra fields.  It's also cheaper not to capture characters if you don't need to.

                 Any letters between "?" and ":" act as flags modifiers as with "(?imsx-imsx)".  For example,


                 is equivalent to the more verbose


                 A zero-width positive look-ahead assertion.  For example, "/\w+(?=\t)/" matches a word followed by a
                 tab, without including the tab in $&.

                 A zero-width negative look-ahead assertion.  For example "/foo(?!bar)/" matches any occurrence of
                 "foo" that isn't followed by "bar".  Note however that look-ahead and look-behind are NOT the same
                 thing.  You cannot use this for look-behind.

                 If you are looking for a "bar" that isn't preceded by a "foo", "/(?!foo)bar/" will not do what you
                 want.  That's because the "(?!foo)" is just saying that the next thing cannot be "foo"--and it's not,
                 it's a "bar", so "foobar" will match.  You would have to do something like "/(?!foo)" for
                 that.   We say "like" because there's the case of your "bar" not having three characters before it.
                 You could cover that this way: "/(?:(?!foo)...|^.{0,2})bar/".  Sometimes it's still easier just to

                     if (/bar/ && $' !~ /foo$/)

                 For look-behind see below.

                 A zero-width positive look-behind assertion.  For example, "/(?<=\t)\w+/" matches a word that follows
                 a tab, without including the tab in $&.  Works only for fixed-width look-behind.

                 A zero-width negative look-behind assertion.  For example "/(?<!bar)foo/" matches any occurrence of
                 "foo" that does not follow "bar".  Works only for fixed-width look-behind.

       "(?{ code })"
                 WARNING: This extended regular expression feature is considered highly experimental, and may be
                 changed or deleted without notice.

                 This zero-width assertion evaluates any embedded Perl code.  It always succeeds, and its "code" is
                 not interpolated.  Currently, the rules to determine where the "code" ends are somewhat convoluted.

                 This feature can be used together with the special variable $^N to capture the results of submatches
                 in variables without having to keep track of the number of nested parentheses. For example:

                   $_ = "The brown fox jumps over the lazy dog";
                   /the (\S+)(?{ $color = $^N }) (\S+)(?{ $animal = $^N })/i;
                   print "color = $color, animal = $animal\n";

                 Inside the "(?{...})" block, $_ refers to the string the regular expression is matching against. You
                 can also use "pos()" to know what is the current position of matching within this string.

                 The "code" is properly scoped in the following sense: If the assertion is backtracked (compare "Back-
                 tracking"), all changes introduced after "local"ization are undone, so that

                   $_ = 'a' x 8;
                      (?{ $cnt = 0 })                    # Initialize $cnt.
                            local $cnt = $cnt + 1;       # Update $cnt, backtracking-safe.
                      (?{ $res = $cnt })                 # On success copy to non-localized
                                                         # location.

                 will set "$res = 4".  Note that after the match, $cnt returns to the globally introduced value,
                 because the scopes that restrict "local" operators are unwound.

                 This assertion may be used as a "(?(condition)yes-pattern|no-pattern)" switch.  If not used in this
                 way, the result of evaluation of "code" is put into the special variable $^R.  This happens immedi-
                 ately, so $^R can be used from other "(?{ code })" assertions inside the same regular expression.

                 The assignment to $^R above is properly localized, so the old value of $^R is restored if the asser-
                 tion is backtracked; compare "Backtracking".

                 For reasons of security, this construct is forbidden if the regular expression involves run-time
                 interpolation of variables, unless the perilous "use re 'eval'" pragma has been used (see re), or the
                 variables contain results of "qr//" operator (see "qr/STRING/imosx" in perlop).

                 This restriction is because of the wide-spread and remarkably convenient custom of using run-time
                 determined strings as patterns.  For example:

                     $re = <>;
                     chomp $re;
                     $string =~ /$re/;

                 Before Perl knew how to execute interpolated code within a pattern, this operation was completely
                 safe from a security point of view, although it could raise an exception from an illegal pattern.  If
                 you turn on the "use re 'eval'", though, it is no longer secure, so you should only do so if you are
                 also using taint checking.  Better yet, use the carefully constrained evaluation within a Safe com-
                 partment.  See perlsec for details about both these mechanisms.

       "(??{ code })"
                 WARNING: This extended regular expression feature is considered highly experimental, and may be
                 changed or deleted without notice.  A simplified version of the syntax may be introduced for commonly
                 used idioms.

                 This is a "postponed" regular subexpression.  The "code" is evaluated at run time, at the moment this
                 subexpression may match.  The result of evaluation is considered as a regular expression and matched
                 as if it were inserted instead of this construct.

                 The "code" is not interpolated.  As before, the rules to determine where the "code" ends are cur-
                 rently somewhat convoluted.

                 The following pattern matches a parenthesized group:

                   $re = qr{
                                 (?> [^()]+ )    # Non-parens without backtracking
                                 (??{ $re })     # Group with matching parens

                 WARNING: This extended regular expression feature is considered highly experimental, and may be
                 changed or deleted without notice.

                 An "independent" subexpression, one which matches the substring that a standalone "pattern" would
                 match if anchored at the given position, and it matches nothing other than this substring.  This con-
                 struct is useful for optimizations of what would otherwise be "eternal" matches, because it will not
                 backtrack (see "Backtracking").  It may also be useful in places where the "grab all you can, and do
                 not give anything back" semantic is desirable.

                 For example: "^(?>a*)ab" will never match, since "(?>a*)" (anchored at the beginning of string, as
                 above) will match all characters "a" at the beginning of string, leaving no "a" for "ab" to match.
                 In contrast, "a*ab" will match the same as "a+b", since the match of the subgroup "a*" is influenced
                 by the following group "ab" (see "Backtracking").  In particular, "a*" inside "a*ab" will match fewer
                 characters than a standalone "a*", since this makes the tail match.

                 An effect similar to "(?>pattern)" may be achieved by writing "(?=(pattern))\1".  This matches the
                 same substring as a standalone "a+", and the following "\1" eats the matched string; it therefore
                 makes a zero-length assertion into an analogue of "(?>...)".  (The difference between these two con-
                 structs is that the second one uses a capturing group, thus shifting ordinals of backreferences in
                 the rest of a regular expression.)

                 Consider this pattern:

                     m{ \(
                             [^()]+              # x+
                             \( [^()]* \)

                 That will efficiently match a nonempty group with matching parentheses two levels deep or less.  How-
                 ever, if there is no such group, it will take virtually forever on a long string.  That's because
                 there are so many different ways to split a long string into several substrings.  This is what
                 "(.+)+" is doing, and "(.+)+" is similar to a subpattern of the above pattern.  Consider how the pat-
                 tern above detects no-match on "((()aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa" in several seconds, but that each extra let-
                 ter doubles this time.  This exponential performance will make it appear that your program has hung.
                 However, a tiny change to this pattern

                     m{ \(
                             (?> [^()]+ )        # change x+ above to (?> x+ )
                             \( [^()]* \)

                 which uses "(?>...)" matches exactly when the one above does (verifying this yourself would be a pro-
                 ductive exercise), but finishes in a fourth the time when used on a similar string with 1000000 "a"s.
                 Be aware, however, that this pattern currently triggers a warning message under the "use warnings"
                 pragma or -w switch saying it "matches null string many times in regex".

                 On simple groups, such as the pattern "(?> [^()]+ )", a comparable effect may be achieved by negative
                 look-ahead, as in "[^()]+ (?! [^()] )".  This was only 4 times slower on a string with 1000000 "a"s.

                 The "grab all you can, and do not give anything back" semantic is desirable in many situations where
                 on the first sight a simple "()*" looks like the correct solution.  Suppose we parse text with com-
                 ments being delimited by "#" followed by some optional (horizontal) whitespace.  Contrary to its
                 appearance, "#[ \t]*" is not the correct subexpression to match the comment delimiter, because it may
                 "give up" some whitespace if the remainder of the pattern can be made to match that way.  The correct
                 answer is either one of these:

                     (?>#[ \t]*)
                     #[ \t]*(?![ \t])

                 For example, to grab non-empty comments into $1, one should use either one of these:

                     / (?> \# [ \t]* ) (        .+ ) /x;
                     /     \# [ \t]*   ( [^ \t] .* ) /x;

                 Which one you pick depends on which of these expressions better reflects the above specification of

                 WARNING: This extended regular expression feature is considered highly experimental, and may be
                 changed or deleted without notice.

                 Conditional expression.  "(condition)" should be either an integer in parentheses (which is valid if
                 the corresponding pair of parentheses matched), or look-ahead/look-behind/evaluate zero-width asser-

                 For example:

                     m{ ( \( )?
                        (?(1) \) )

                 matches a chunk of non-parentheses, possibly included in parentheses themselves.


       NOTE: This section presents an abstract approximation of regular expression behavior.  For a more rigorous (and
       complicated) view of the rules involved in selecting a match among possible alternatives, see "Combining pieces

       A fundamental feature of regular expression matching involves the notion called backtracking, which is cur-
       rently used (when needed) by all regular expression quantifiers, namely "*", "*?", "+", "+?", "{n,m}", and
       "{n,m}?".  Backtracking is often optimized internally, but the general principle outlined here is valid.

       For a regular expression to match, the entire regular expression must match, not just part of it.  So if the
       beginning of a pattern containing a quantifier succeeds in a way that causes later parts in the pattern to
       fail, the matching engine backs up and recalculates the beginning part--that's why it's called backtracking.

       Here is an example of backtracking:  Let's say you want to find the word following "foo" in the string "Food is
       on the foo table.":

           $_ = "Food is on the foo table.";
           if ( /\b(foo)\s+(\w+)/i ) {
               print "$2 follows $1.\n";

       When the match runs, the first part of the regular expression ("\b(foo)") finds a possible match right at the
       beginning of the string, and loads up $1 with "Foo".  However, as soon as the matching engine sees that there's
       no whitespace following the "Foo" that it had saved in $1, it realizes its mistake and starts over again one
       character after where it had the tentative match.  This time it goes all the way until the next occurrence of
       "foo". The complete regular expression matches this time, and you get the expected output of "table follows

       Sometimes minimal matching can help a lot.  Imagine you'd like to match everything between "foo" and "bar".
       Initially, you write something like this:

           $_ =  "The food is under the bar in the barn.";
           if ( /foo(.*)bar/ ) {
               print "got <$1>\n";

       Which perhaps unexpectedly yields:

         got <d is under the bar in the >

       That's because ".*" was greedy, so you get everything between the first "foo" and the last "bar".  Here it's
       more effective to use minimal matching to make sure you get the text between a "foo" and the first "bar" there-

           if ( /foo(.*?)bar/ ) { print "got <$1>\n" }
         got <d is under the >

       Here's another example: let's say you'd like to match a number at the end of a string, and you also want to
       keep the preceding part of the match.  So you write this:

           $_ = "I have 2 numbers: 53147";
           if ( /(.*)(\d*)/ ) {                                # Wrong!
               print "Beginning is <$1>, number is <$2>.\n";

       That won't work at all, because ".*" was greedy and gobbled up the whole string. As "\d*" can match on an empty
       string the complete regular expression matched successfully.

           Beginning is <I have 2 numbers: 53147>, number is <>.

       Here are some variants, most of which don't work:

           $_ = "I have 2 numbers: 53147";
           @pats = qw{

           for $pat (@pats) {
               printf "%-12s ", $pat;
               if ( /$pat/ ) {
                   print "<$1> <$2>\n";
               } else {
                   print "FAIL\n";

       That will print out:

           (.*)(\d*)    <I have 2 numbers: 53147> <>
           (.*)(\d+)    <I have 2 numbers: 5314> <7>
           (.*?)(\d*)   <> <>
           (.*?)(\d+)   <I have > <2>
           (.*)(\d+)$   <I have 2 numbers: 5314> <7>
           (.*?)(\d+)$  <I have 2 numbers: > <53147>
           (.*)\b(\d+)$ <I have 2 numbers: > <53147>
           (.*\D)(\d+)$ <I have 2 numbers: > <53147>

       As you see, this can be a bit tricky.  It's important to realize that a regular expression is merely a set of
       assertions that gives a definition of success.  There may be 0, 1, or several different ways that the defini-
       tion might succeed against a particular string.  And if there are multiple ways it might succeed, you need to
       understand backtracking to know which variety of success you will achieve.

       When using look-ahead assertions and negations, this can all get even trickier.  Imagine you'd like to find a
       sequence of non-digits not followed by "123".  You might try to write that as

           $_ = "ABC123";
           if ( /^\D*(?!123)/ ) {              # Wrong!
               print "Yup, no 123 in $_\n";

       But that isn't going to match; at least, not the way you're hoping.  It claims that there is no 123 in the
       string.  Here's a clearer picture of why that pattern matches, contrary to popular expectations:

           $x = 'ABC123';
           $y = 'ABC445';

           print "1: got $1\n" if $x =~ /^(ABC)(?!123)/;
           print "2: got $1\n" if $y =~ /^(ABC)(?!123)/;

           print "3: got $1\n" if $x =~ /^(\D*)(?!123)/;
           print "4: got $1\n" if $y =~ /^(\D*)(?!123)/;

       This prints

           2: got ABC
           3: got AB
           4: got ABC

       You might have expected test 3 to fail because it seems to a more general purpose version of test 1.  The
       important difference between them is that test 3 contains a quantifier ("\D*") and so can use backtracking,
       whereas test 1 will not.  What's happening is that you've asked "Is it true that at the start of $x, following
       0 or more non-digits, you have something that's not 123?"  If the pattern matcher had let "\D*" expand to
       "ABC", this would have caused the whole pattern to fail.

       The search engine will initially match "\D*" with "ABC".  Then it will try to match "(?!123" with "123", which
       fails.  But because a quantifier ("\D*") has been used in the regular expression, the search engine can back-
       track and retry the match differently in the hope of matching the complete regular expression.

       The pattern really, really wants to succeed, so it uses the standard pattern back-off-and-retry and lets "\D*"
       expand to just "AB" this time.  Now there's indeed something following "AB" that is not "123".  It's "C123",
       which suffices.

       We can deal with this by using both an assertion and a negation.  We'll say that the first part in $1 must be
       followed both by a digit and by something that's not "123".  Remember that the look-aheads are zero-width
       expressions--they only look, but don't consume any of the string in their match.  So rewriting this way pro-
       duces what you'd expect; that is, case 5 will fail, but case 6 succeeds:

           print "5: got $1\n" if $x =~ /^(\D*)(?=\d)(?!123)/;
           print "6: got $1\n" if $y =~ /^(\D*)(?=\d)(?!123)/;

           6: got ABC

       In other words, the two zero-width assertions next to each other work as though they're ANDed together, just as
       you'd use any built-in assertions:  "/^$/" matches only if you're at the beginning of the line AND the end of
       the line simultaneously.  The deeper underlying truth is that juxtaposition in regular expressions always means
       AND, except when you write an explicit OR using the vertical bar.  "/ab/" means match "a" AND (then) match "b",
       although the attempted matches are made at different positions because "a" is not a zero-width assertion, but a
       one-width assertion.

       WARNING: particularly complicated regular expressions can take exponential time to solve because of the immense
       number of possible ways they can use backtracking to try match.  For example, without internal optimizations
       done by the regular expression engine, this will take a painfully long time to run:

           'aaaaaaaaaaaa' =~ /((a{0,5}){0,5})*[c]/

       And if you used "*"'s in the internal groups instead of limiting them to 0 through 5 matches, then it would
       take forever--or until you ran out of stack space.  Moreover, these internal optimizations are not always
       applicable.  For example, if you put "{0,5}" instead of "*" on the external group, no current optimization is
       applicable, and the match takes a long time to finish.

       A powerful tool for optimizing such beasts is what is known as an "independent group", which does not backtrack
       (see ""(?>pattern)"").  Note also that zero-length look-ahead/look-behind assertions will not backtrack to make
       the tail match, since they are in "logical" context: only whether they match is considered relevant.  For an
       example where side-effects of look-ahead might have influenced the following match, see ""(?>pattern)"".

       Version 8 Regular Expressions

       In case you're not familiar with the "regular" Version 8 regex routines, here are the pattern-matching rules
       not described above.

       Any single character matches itself, unless it is a metacharacter with a special meaning described here or
       above.  You can cause characters that normally function as metacharacters to be interpreted literally by pre-
       fixing them with a "\" (e.g., "\." matches a ".", not any character; "\\" matches a "\").  A series of charac-
       ters matches that series of characters in the target string, so the pattern "blurfl" would match "blurfl" in
       the target string.

       You can specify a character class, by enclosing a list of characters in "[]", which will match any one charac-
       ter from the list.  If the first character after the "[" is "^", the class matches any character not in the
       list.  Within a list, the "-" character specifies a range, so that "a-z" represents all characters between "a"
       and "z", inclusive.  If you want either "-" or "]" itself to be a member of a class, put it at the start of the
       list (possibly after a "^"), or escape it with a backslash.  "-" is also taken literally when it is at the end
       of the list, just before the closing "]".  (The following all specify the same class of three characters:
       "[-az]", "[az-]", and "[a\-z]".  All are different from "[a-z]", which specifies a class containing twenty-six
       characters, even on EBCDIC based coded character sets.)  Also, if you try to use the character classes "\w",
       "\W", "\s", "\S", "\d", or "\D" as endpoints of a range, that's not a range, the "-" is understood literally.

       Note also that the whole range idea is rather unportable between character sets--and even within character sets
       they may cause results you probably didn't expect.  A sound principle is to use only ranges that begin from and
       end at either alphabets of equal case ([a-e], [A-E]), or digits ([0-9]).  Anything else is unsafe.  If in
       doubt, spell out the character sets in full.

       Characters may be specified using a metacharacter syntax much like that used in C: "\n" matches a newline, "\t"
       a tab, "\r" a carriage return, "\f" a form feed, etc.  More generally, \nnn, where nnn is a string of octal
       digits, matches the character whose coded character set value is nnn.  Similarly, \xnn, where nn are hexadeci-
       mal digits, matches the character whose numeric value is nn. The expression \cx matches the character con-
       trol-x.  Finally, the "." metacharacter matches any character except "\n" (unless you use "/s").

       You can specify a series of alternatives for a pattern using "|" to separate them, so that "fee|fie|foe" will
       match any of "fee", "fie", or "foe" in the target string (as would "f(e|i|o)e").  The first alternative
       includes everything from the last pattern delimiter ("(", "[", or the beginning of the pattern) up to the first
       "|", and the last alternative contains everything from the last "|" to the next pattern delimiter.  That's why
       it's common practice to include alternatives in parentheses: to minimize confusion about where they start and

       Alternatives are tried from left to right, so the first alternative found for which the entire expression
       matches, is the one that is chosen. This means that alternatives are not necessarily greedy. For example: when
       matching "foo|foot" against "barefoot", only the "foo" part will match, as that is the first alternative tried,
       and it successfully matches the target string. (This might not seem important, but it is important when you are
       capturing matched text using parentheses.)

       Also remember that "|" is interpreted as a literal within square brackets, so if you write "[fee|fie|foe]"
       you're really only matching "[feio|]".

       Within a pattern, you may designate subpatterns for later reference by enclosing them in parentheses, and you
       may refer back to the nth subpattern later in the pattern using the metacharacter \n.  Subpatterns are numbered
       based on the left to right order of their opening parenthesis.  A backreference matches whatever actually
       matched the subpattern in the string being examined, not the rules for that subpattern.  Therefore,
       "(0|0x)\d*\s\1\d*" will match "0x1234 0x4321", but not "0x1234 01234", because subpattern 1 matched "0x", even
       though the rule "0|0x" could potentially match the leading 0 in the second number.

       Warning on \1 vs $1

       Some people get too used to writing things like:

           $pattern =~ s/(\W)/\\\1/g;

       This is grandfathered for the RHS of a substitute to avoid shocking the sed addicts, but it's a dirty habit to
       get into.  That's because in PerlThink, the righthand side of an "s///" is a double-quoted string.  "\1" in the
       usual double-quoted string means a control-A.  The customary Unix meaning of "\1" is kludged in for "s///".
       However, if you get into the habit of doing that, you get yourself into trouble if you then add an "/e" modi-

           s/(\d+)/ \1 + 1 /eg;        # causes warning under -w

       Or if you try to do


       You can't disambiguate that by saying "\{1}000", whereas you can fix it with "${1}000".  The operation of
       interpolation should not be confused with the operation of matching a backreference.  Certainly they mean two
       different things on the left side of the "s///".

       Repeated patterns matching zero-length substring

       WARNING: Difficult material (and prose) ahead.  This section needs a rewrite.

       Regular expressions provide a terse and powerful programming language.  As with most other power tools, power
       comes together with the ability to wreak havoc.

       A common abuse of this power stems from the ability to make infinite loops using regular expressions, with
       something as innocuous as:

           'foo' =~ m{ ( o? )* }x;

       The "o?" can match at the beginning of 'foo', and since the position in the string is not moved by the match,
       "o?" would match again and again because of the "*" modifier.  Another common way to create a similar cycle is
       with the looping modifier "//g":

           @matches = ( 'foo' =~ m{ o? }xg );


           print "match: <$&>\n" while 'foo' =~ m{ o? }xg;

       or the loop implied by split().

       However, long experience has shown that many programming tasks may be significantly simplified by using
       repeated subexpressions that may match zero-length substrings.  Here's a simple example being:

           @chars = split //, $string;           # // is not magic in split
           ($whitewashed = $string) =~ s/()/ /g; # parens avoid magic s// /

       Thus Perl allows such constructs, by forcefully breaking the infinite loop.  The rules for this are different
       for lower-level loops given by the greedy modifiers "*+{}", and for higher-level ones like the "/g" modifier or
       split() operator.

       The lower-level loops are interrupted (that is, the loop is broken) when Perl detects that a repeated expres-
       sion matched a zero-length substring.   Thus

          m{ (?: NON_ZERO_LENGTH | ZERO_LENGTH )* }x;

       is made equivalent to

          m{   (?: NON_ZERO_LENGTH )*
               (?: ZERO_LENGTH )?

       The higher level-loops preserve an additional state between iterations: whether the last match was zero-length.
       To break the loop, the following match after a zero-length match is prohibited to have a length of zero.  This
       prohibition interacts with backtracking (see "Backtracking"), and so the second best match is chosen if the
       best match is of zero length.

       For example:

           $_ = 'bar';

       results in "<><b><><a><><r><>".  At each position of the string the best match given by non-greedy "??" is the
       zero-length match, and the second best match is what is matched by "\w".  Thus zero-length matches alternate
       with one-character-long matches.

       Similarly, for repeated "m/()/g" the second-best match is the match at the position one notch further in the

       The additional state of being matched with zero-length is associated with the matched string, and is reset by
       each assignment to pos().  Zero-length matches at the end of the previous match are ignored during "split".

       Combining pieces together

       Each of the elementary pieces of regular expressions which were described before (such as "ab" or "\Z") could
       match at most one substring at the given position of the input string.  However, in a typical regular expres-
       sion these elementary pieces are combined into more complicated patterns using combining operators "ST", "S|T",
       "S*" etc (in these examples "S" and "T" are regular subexpressions).

       Such combinations can include alternatives, leading to a problem of choice: if we match a regular expression
       "a|ab" against "abc", will it match substring "a" or "ab"?  One way to describe which substring is actually
       matched is the concept of backtracking (see "Backtracking").  However, this description is too low-level and
       makes you think in terms of a particular implementation.

       Another description starts with notions of "better"/"worse".  All the substrings which may be matched by the
       given regular expression can be sorted from the "best" match to the "worst" match, and it is the "best" match
       which is chosen.  This substitutes the question of "what is chosen?"  by the question of "which matches are
       better, and which are worse?".

       Again, for elementary pieces there is no such question, since at most one match at a given position is possi-
       ble.  This section describes the notion of better/worse for combining operators.  In the description below "S"
       and "T" are regular subexpressions.

           Consider two possible matches, "AB" and "A'B'", "A" and "A'" are substrings which can be matched by "S",
           "B" and "B'" are substrings which can be matched by "T".

           If "A" is better match for "S" than "A'", "AB" is a better match than "A'B'".

           If "A" and "A'" coincide: "AB" is a better match than "AB'" if "B" is better match for "T" than "B'".

           When "S" can match, it is a better match than when only "T" can match.

           Ordering of two matches for "S" is the same as for "S".  Similar for two matches for "T".

           Matches as "SSS...S" (repeated as many times as necessary).

           Matches as "S{max}|S{max-1}|...|S{min+1}|S{min}".

           Matches as "S{min}|S{min+1}|...|S{max-1}|S{max}".

       "S?", "S*", "S+"
           Same as "S{0,1}", "S{0,BIG_NUMBER}", "S{1,BIG_NUMBER}" respectively.

       "S??", "S*?", "S+?"
           Same as "S{0,1}?", "S{0,BIG_NUMBER}?", "S{1,BIG_NUMBER}?" respectively.

           Matches the best match for "S" and only that.

       "(?=S)", "(?<=S)"
           Only the best match for "S" is considered.  (This is important only if "S" has capturing parentheses, and
           backreferences are used somewhere else in the whole regular expression.)

       "(?!S)", "(?<!S)"
           For this grouping operator there is no need to describe the ordering, since only whether or not "S" can
           match is important.

       "(??{ EXPR })"
           The ordering is the same as for the regular expression which is the result of EXPR.

           Recall that which of "yes-pattern" or "no-pattern" actually matches is already determined.  The ordering of
           the matches is the same as for the chosen subexpression.

       The above recipes describe the ordering of matches at a given position.  One more rule is needed to understand
       how a match is determined for the whole regular expression: a match at an earlier position is always better
       than a match at a later position.

       Creating custom RE engines

       Overloaded constants (see overload) provide a simple way to extend the functionality of the RE engine.

       Suppose that we want to enable a new RE escape-sequence "\Y|" which matches at boundary between whitespace
       characters and non-whitespace characters.  Note that "(?=\S)(?<!\S)|(?!\S)(?<=\S)" matches exactly at these
       positions, so we want to have each "\Y|" in the place of the more complicated version.  We can create a module
       "customre" to do this:

           package customre;
           use overload;

           sub import {
             die "No argument to customre::import allowed" if @_;
             overload::constant 'qr' => \&convert;

           sub invalid { die "/$_[0]/: invalid escape '\\$_[1]'"}

           # We must also take care of not escaping the legitimate \\Y|
           # sequence, hence the presence of '\\' in the conversion rules.
           my %rules = ( '\\' => '\\\\',
                         'Y|' => qr/(?=\S)(?<!\S)|(?!\S)(?<=\S)/ );
           sub convert {
             my $re = shift;
             $re =~ s{
                       \\ ( \\ | Y . )
                     { $rules{$1} or invalid($re,$1) }sgex;
             return $re;

       Now "use customre" enables the new escape in constant regular expressions, i.e., those without any runtime
       variable interpolations.  As documented in overload, this conversion will work only over literal parts of regu-
       lar expressions.  For "\Y|$re\Y|" the variable part of this regular expression needs to be converted explicitly
       (but only if the special meaning of "\Y|" should be enabled inside $re):

           use customre;
           $re = <>;
           chomp $re;
           $re = customre::convert $re;

       This document varies from difficult to understand to completely and utterly opaque.  The wandering prose rid-
       dled with jargon is hard to fathom in several places.

       This document needs a rewrite that separates the tutorial content from the reference content.



       "Regexp Quote-Like Operators" in perlop.

       "Gory details of parsing quoted constructs" in perlop.


       "pos" in perlfunc.



       Mastering Regular Expressions by Jeffrey Friedl, published by O'Reilly and Associates.

perl v5.8.8                       2006-01-07                         PERLRE(1)