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About Regex++ syntax

Published: January 11, 2010

Updated: June 1, 2010

Applies To: Intelligent Application Gateway (IAG), Unified Access Gateway

During Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG) configuration, you might need to use the regular expression syntax used by the Regex++ library. This topic is an excerpt from the documentation of the Regex++, Regular Expression Syntax, published by Dr. John Maddock in the Boost library.

Literals

All characters are literals except: ".", "*", "?", "+", "(", ")", "{", "}", "[", "]", "^", "$", and "\". These characters are literals when preceded by a "\".

Wildcard

The dot character "." matches any single character. When specifying .* as a variable, the parser will return the last occurrence of the delimiter after the .*, and not the first delimiter.

Repeats

A repeat is an expression that is repeated an arbitrary number of times. An expression followed by "*" can be repeated any number of times including zero. An expression followed by "+" can be repeated any number of times, but at least once. An expression followed by "?" may be repeated zero or one times only. When it is necessary to specify the minimum and maximum number of repeats explicitly, the bounds operator "{}" may be used, thus "a{2}" is the letter "a" repeated exactly twice, "a{2,4}" represents the letter "a" repeated between 2 and 4 times, and "a{2,}" represents the letter "a" repeated at least twice with no upper limit. Note that there must be no white-space inside the {}, and there is no upper limit on the values of the lower and upper bounds.

All repeat expressions refer to the shortest possible previous subexpression: a single character; a character set, or a sub-expression grouped with "()" for example.

Examples:

  • "ba*" will match all of "b", "ba", "baaa", and so on.

  • "ba+" will match "ba" or "baaaa" for example but not "b".

  • "ba?" will match "b" or "ba".

  • "ba{2,4}" will match "baa", "baaa" and "baaaa".

Parenthesis

Parentheses serve two purposes, to group items together into a subexpression, and to mark what generated the match. For example the expression "(ab)*" would match all of the string "ababab".

Alternatives

Alternatives occur when the expression can match either one subexpression or another, each alternative is separated by a "|". Each alternative is the largest possible previous sub-expression; this is the opposite behavior from repetition operators.

Examples:

  • "a(b|c)" could match "ab" or "ac".

  • "abc|def" could match "abc" or "def".

Sets

A set is a set of characters that can match any single character that is a member of the set. Sets are delimited by "[" and "]" and can contain literals, character ranges, character classes, collating elements and equivalence classes. Set declarations that start with "^" contain the complement of the elements that follow.

Examples:

  • Character literals:

    • "[abc]" will match either of "a", "b", or "c".

    • "[^abc] will match any character other than "a", "b", or "c".

  • Character ranges:

    • "[a-z]" will match any character in the range "a" to "z".

    • "[^A-Z]" will match any character other than those in the range "A" to "Z".

Character Classes

Character classes are denoted using the syntax "[:classname:]" within a

set declaration, for example "[[:space:]]" is the set of all white space

characters. The available character classes are:

Regex++ Character Classes

 

Class Description

alnum

Any alpha numeric character.

alpha

Any alphabetical character a-z and A-Z. Other characters may also be included depending upon the locale.

blank

Any blank character, either a space or a tab.

cntrl

Any control character.

digit

Any digit 0-9.

graph

Any graphical character.

lower

Any lower case character a-z. Other characters may also be included depending upon the locale.

print

Any printable character.

punct

Any punctuation character.

space

Any white space character.

upper

Any upper case character A-Z. Other characters may also be included depending upon the locale.

xdigit

Any hexadecimal digit character, 0-9, a-f and A-F.

word

Any word character - all alphanumeric characters plus the underscore.

unicode

Any character whose code is greater than 255, this applies to the wide character traits classes only.

There are some shortcuts that can be used in place of the character classes, provided the flag regbase: :escape_in_lists is set then you can use:

  • \w in place of [:word:]

  • \s in place of [:space:]

  • \d in place of [:digit:]

  • \l in place of [:lower:]

  • \u in place of [:upper:]

Sample Set

To include a literal "-" in a set declaration, make it the first character after the opening "[" or "[^", the endpoint of a range. To include a literal "[" or "]" or "^" in a set, make them the endpoint of a range.

Line Anchors

An anchor is something that matches the null string at the start or end of a line: "^" matches the null string at the start of a line, "$" matches the null string at the end of a line.

Back References

A back reference is a reference to a previous sub-expression that has already been matched, the reference is to what the sub-expression matched, not to the expression itself. A back reference consists of the escape character "\" followed by a digit "1" to "9", "\1" refers to the first sub-expression, "\2" to the second, and so on. For example the expression "(.*)\1" matches any string that is repeated about its mid-point for example "abcabc" or "xyzxyz". A back reference to a sub-expression that did not participate in any match, matches the null string: NB this is different to some other regular expression matchers. Back references are only available if the expression is compiled with the flag regbase::bk_refs set.

Characters by Code

This is an extension to the algorithm that is not available in other libraries, it consists of the escape character followed by the digit "0" followed by the octal character code. For example "\023" represents the character whose octal code is 23. Where ambiguity could occur, use parentheses to break the expression up: "\0103" represents the character whose code is 103, "(\010)3 represents the character 10 followed by "3". To match characters by their hexadecimal code, use \x followed by a string of hexadecimal digits, optionally enclosed inside {}, for example \xf0 or \x{aff}, notice the latter example is a Unicode character.

Word Operators

The following operators are provided for compatibility with the GNU regular expression library:

  • "\w" matches any single character that is a member of the “word” character class, this is identical to the expression "[[:word:]]".

  • "\W" matches any single character that is not a member of the “word” character class, this is identical to the expression "[^[:word:]]".

  • "\<" matches the null string at the start of a word.

  • "\>" matches the null string at the end of the word.

  • "\b" matches the null string at either the start or the end of a word.

  • "\B" matches a null string within a word.

The start of the sequence passed to the matching algorithms is considered to be a potential start of a word unless the flag match_not_bow is set. The end of the sequence passed to the matching algorithms is considered to be a potential end of a word unless the flag match_not_eow is set.

Buffer Operators

The following operators are provide for compatibility with the GNU regular expression library, and Perl regular expressions:

  • "\`" matches the start of a buffer.

  • "\A" matches the start of the buffer.

  • "\'" matches the end of a buffer.

  • "\z" matches the end of a buffer.

  • "\Z" matches the end of a buffer, or possibly one or more new line characters followed by the end of the buffer.

A buffer is considered to consist of the whole sequence passed to the matching algorithms, unless the flags match_not_bob or match_not_eob are set.

Escape Operator

The escape character "\" has several meanings.

  • Inside a set declaration the escape character is a normal character.

  • The escape operator may introduce an operator, for example: back references, or a word operator.

  • The escape operator may make the following character normal, for example "\*" represents a literal "*" rather than the repeat operator.

Single Character Escape Sequences

The following escape sequences are aliases for single characters:

Regex++ Single Character Escape Sequences

 

Escape Sequence Character Code Meaning

\a

0x07

Bell character

\f

0x0C

Form feed.

\n

0x0A

Newline character.

\r

0x0D

Carriage return.

\t

0x09

Tab character.

\v

0x0B

Vertical tab.

\e

0x1B

ASCII Escape character.

\0dd

0dd

An octal character code, where dd is one or more octal digits.

\xXX

0xXX

A hexadecimal character code, where XX is one or more hexadecimal digits.

\x{XX}

0xXX

A hexadecimal character code, where XX is one or more hexadecimal digits, optionally a unicode character.

\cZ

z-@

An ASCII escape sequence control-Z, where Z is any ASCII character greater than or equal to the character code for '@'.

Miscellaneous Escape Sequences

The following are provided mostly for perl compatibility, but note that

there are some differences in the meanings of \l \L \u and \U:

Regex++ Miscellaneous Escape Sequences

 

Escape Sequence Meaning

\w

Equivalent to [[:word:]].

\W

Equivalent to [^[:word:]].

\s

Equivalent to [[:space:]].

\S

Equivalent to [^[:space:]].

\d

Equivalent to [[:digit:]].

\D

Equivalent to [^[:digit:]].

\l

Equivalent to [[:lower:]].

\L

Equivalent to [^[:lower:]].

\u

Equivalent to [[:upper:]].

\U

Equivalent to [^[:upper:]].

\C

Any single character, equivalent to '.'.

\X

Match any Unicode combining character sequence, for example "a\x 0301" (a letter a with an acute).

\Q

The begin quote operator, everything that follows is treated as a literal character until a \E end quote operator is found.

\E

The end quote operator, terminates a sequence begun with \Q.

What Gets Matched?

The regular expression library will match the first possible matching string, if more than one string starting at a given location can match then it matches the longest possible string, or the last string, unless the flag match_any is set, in which case the first match encountered is returned. Use of the match_any option can reduce the time taken to find the match—but is only useful if the user is less concerned about what matched—for example it would not be suitable for search and replace operations. In cases where their are multiple possible matches all starting at the same location, and all of the same length, then the match chosen is the one with the longest first subexpression, if that is the same for two or more matches, then the second sub-expression will be examined and so on.

Copyright © 1998-2001

Dr. John Maddock

Permission to use, copy, modify, distribute and sell this software and its documentation for any purpose is hereby granted without fee. Dr. John Maddock makes no representations about the suitability of this software for any purpose. It is provided “as is” without express or implied warranty.

 
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