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REGEX(7)                   Linux Programmer's Manual                  REGEX(7)

       regex - POSIX.2 regular expressions

       Regular  expressions  ("RE"s),  as  defined  in POSIX.2, come in two forms: modern REs (roughly those of egrep;
       POSIX.2 calls these "extended" REs) and obsolete REs (roughly those of ed(1); POSIX.2 "basic"  REs).   Obsolete
       REs  mostly  exist for backward compatibility in some old programs; they will be discussed at the end.  POSIX.2
       leaves some aspects of RE syntax and semantics open; "(!)" marks decisions on these aspects  that  may  not  be
       fully portable to other POSIX.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 followed 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(!))
       inclusive, and if there are two of them, the first may not exceed the second.  An atom followed by a bound con-
       taining one integer i and no comma matches a sequence of exactly i matches of the atom.  An atom followed by  a
       bound  containing  one integer i and a comma matches a sequence of i or more matches of the atom.  An atom fol-
       lowed by a bound containing two integers i and j matches a sequence of i through j (inclusive) matches  of  the

       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),  '^'
       (matching  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  '\'  followed  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 significance (matching  that  character).   A
       '{'  followed  by a character other than a digit is an ordinary character, not the beginning of a bound(!).  It
       is illegal to end an RE with '\'.

       A bracket expression is a list of characters enclosed in "[]".  It normally matches any single  character  from
       the  list  (but  see  below).  If the list begins with '^', it matches any single character (but see below) not
       from the rest of the list.  If two characters in the list are separated by '-', this is shorthand for the  full
       range  of  characters  between  those  two (inclusive) in the collating sequence, for example, "[0-9]" in ASCII
       matches any decimal digit.  It is illegal(!) for two ranges to share an endpoint, for example, "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
       literal '-', make it the first or last character, or the second 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 exception of these and some combinations using '[' (see next paragraphs),  all  other  special  characters,
       including '\', lose their special significance within a bracket expression.

       Within  a  bracket expression, a collating element (a character, 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 charac-
       ter, for example, 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 equivalent 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 synonymous.  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
       characters 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.

       In the event that an RE could match more than one substring of a given string, the RE matches the one  starting
       earliest  in  the string.  If the RE could match more than one substring starting at that point, it matches 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 earlier in the RE taking priority over ones starting
       later.  Note that higher-level subexpressions thus take priority over their  lower-level  component  subexpres-

       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 subexpres-
       sion matches all three characters, and when "(a*)*" is matched against "bc" both the whole RE and the parenthe-
       sized 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, for example, 'x'
       becomes "[xX]".  When it appears inside a bracket expression, all case counterparts of  it  are  added  to  the
       bracket expression, so that, for example, "[x]" becomes "[xX]" and "[^x]" becomes "[^xX]".

       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 ordinary 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 subexpressions by the
       positions of their opening parentheses, left to right), so that, for example, "\([bc]\)\1" matches "bb" or "cc"
       but not "bc".

       Having two kinds of REs is a botch.

       The current POSIX.2 spec says that ')' is an ordinary character in the absence of an unmatched '('; this was an
       unintentional result of a wording error, and change is likely.  Avoid relying on it.

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

       POSIX.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.

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

       grep(1), regex(3)

       POSIX.2, section 2.8 (Regular Expression Notation).

       This page is part of release 3.22 of the Linux man-pages project.  A description of the project,  and  informa-
       tion about reporting bugs, can be found at

                                  2009-01-12                          REGEX(7)