A regular expression (sometimes abbreviated to regex) is a way for a computer user or programmer to express how a computer program should look for a specified pattern in text and then what the program is to do when each pattern match is found. For example, a very simple regular expression could tell a program to search for all text lines that contain the phrase “OS X 10.6” and then to print out each line in which a match is found or substitute another text sequence (for example, just “OS X”) where any match occurs. More complicated regular expressions can be designed to search for just about anything – email addresses, phone numbers, urls, prices, part numbers, you name it. In fact, entire books have been written about regular expressions and how to use them (more on those in a moment). Regular expressions are an extremely powerful tool that can almost seem as if they have superhero powers!

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Learning About Regular Expressions

Regular expressions are a huge topic. Rather than re-invent the wheel here, we suggest that you refer to the huge library of learning material available both online and in books. A Google search for regular expressions will turn up hundreds of links, here are some of the most useful we’ve found:

Regular Expressions Info (A very complete step-by-step tutorial)

Wikipedia (Basics and History of regular expressions)

Perl Regex Tutorial (The Perl language syntax is quite different from Panorama, but the actual regex format is nearly identical.)


We also highly recommend these two O’Reilly books:

Mastering Regular Expressions (Jeffery E.F. Freidl)

Regular Expressions Cookbook (Jan Goyvaerts, Steven Levithan)


There are a number of regular expression software tools available for the Mac. Our favorite is RegExRX, which is available for $5 from the Mac App Store.

This software allows you to see the immediate results of a regular expression as you type. We often develop a regular expression using RegExRx and then transfer it to Panorama.

Regular Expression Syntax

The following tables are a reference to the character expressions used by Panorama’s regular expression engine to match patterns within a string, the pattern operators that specify how many times a pattern is matched and additional matching restrictions, and the last table specifies flags that can be included in the regular expression pattern that specify search behavior over multiple lines.

Note: Panorama actually uses the regular expression engine supplied by Apple with OS X and iOS. This engine is called the ICU regular expression guide and was developed by IBM and made available under an open source license.

Regular Expression Metacharacters

This table describes the character sequences used to match characters within a string.

Character ExpressionDescription
\aMatch a BELL, \u0007
\AMatch at the beginning of the input. Differs from ^ in that \A will not match after a new line within the input.
\b
(outside of a [Set])
Match if the current position is a word boundary. Boundaries occur at the transitions between word (\w) and non-word (\W) characters, with combining marks ignored.
\b
(within a [Set])
Match a BACKSPACE, \u0008.
\BMatch if the current position is not a word boundary.
\cXMatch a control-X character
\dMatch any character with the Unicode General Category of Nd (Number, Decimal Digit.)
\DMatch any character that is not a decimal digit.
\eMatch an ESCAPE, \u001B.
\ETerminates a \Q … \E quoted sequence.
\fMatch a FORM FEED, \u000C.
\GMatch if the current position is at the end of the previous match.
\nMatch a LINE FEED, \u000A.
\N{UNICODE CHARACTER NAME}Match the named character.
\p{UNICODE PROPERTY NAME}Match any character with the specified Unicode Property.
\P{UNICODE PROPERTY NAME}Match any character not having the specified Unicode Property.
\QQuotes all following characters until \E.
\rMatch a CARRIAGE RETURN, \u000D.
\sMatch a white space character. White space is defined as [\t\n\f\r\p{Z}].
\SMatch a non-white space character.
\tMatch a HORIZONTAL TABULATION, \u0009.
\uhhhhMatch the character with the hex value hhhh.
\UhhhhhhhhMatch the character with the hex value hhhhhhhh. Exactly eight hex digits must be provided, even though the largest Unicode code point is \U0010ffff.
\wMatch a word character. Word characters are [\p{Ll}\p{Lu}\p{Lt}\p{Lo}\p{Nd}].
\WMatch a non-word character.
\x{hhhh}Match the character with hex value hhhh. From one to six hex digits may be supplied.
\xhhMatch the character with two digit hex value hh.
\XMatch a Grapheme Cluster.
\ZMatch if the current position is at the end of input, but before the final line terminator, if one exists.
\zMatch if the current position is at the end of input.
\nBack Reference. Match whatever the nth capturing group matched. n must be a number > 1 and < total number of capture groups in the pattern.
\0oooMatch an Octal character. ooo is from one to three octal digits. 0377 is the largest allowed Octal character. The leading zero is required; it distinguishes Octal constants from back references.
[pattern]Match any one character from the pattern.
.Match any character.
^Match at the beginning of a line.
$Match at the end of a line.
</code>Quotes the following character. Characters that must be quoted to be treated as literals are * ? + [ ( ) { } ^ $ | \ . /

Regular Expression Operators

This table defines the regular expression operators.

OperatorDescription
|Alternation. A|B matches either A or B.
*Match 0 or more times. Match as many times as possible.
+Match 1 or more times. Match as many times as possible.
?Match zero or one times. Prefer one.
{n}Match exactly n times.
{n,}Match at least n times. Match as many times as possible.
{n,m}Match between n and m times. Match as many times as possible, but not more than m.
*?Match 0 or more times. Match as few times as possible.
+?Match 1 or more times. Match as few times as possible.
??Match zero or one times. Prefer zero.
{n}?Match exactly n times.
{n,}?Match at least n times, but no more than required for an overall pattern match.
{n,m}?Match between n and m times. Match as few times as possible, but not less than n.
*+Match 0 or more times. Match as many times as possible when first encountered, do not retry with fewer even if overall match fails (Possessive Match).
++Match 1 or more times. Possessive match.
?+Match zero or one times. Possessive match.
{n}+Match exactly n times.
{n,}+Match at least n times. Possessive Match.
{n,m}+Match between n and m times. Possessive Match.
(...)Capturing parentheses. Range of input that matched the parenthesized subexpression is available after the match.
(?:...)Non-capturing parentheses. Groups the included pattern, but does not provide capturing of matching text. Somewhat more efficient than capturing parentheses.
(?>...)Atomic-match parentheses. First match of the parenthesized subexpression is the only one tried; if it does not lead to an overall pattern match, back up the search for a match to a position before the "(?>"
(?# ... )Free-format comment (?# comment).
(?= ... )Look-ahead assertion. True if the parenthesized pattern matches at the current input position, but does not advance the input position.
(?! ... )Negative look-ahead assertion. True if the parenthesized pattern does not match at the current input position. Does not advance the input position.
(?<= ... )Look-behind assertion. True if the parenthesized pattern matches text preceding the current input position, with the last character of the match being the input character just before the current position. Does not alter the input position. The length of possible strings matched by the look-behind pattern must not be unbounded (no * or + operators.)
(?Negative Look-behind assertion. True if the parenthesized pattern does not match text preceding the current input position, with the last character of the match being the input character just before the current position. Does not alter the input position. The length of possible strings matched by the look-behind pattern must not be unbounded (no * or + operators.)
(?ismwx-ismwx: ... )Flag settings. Evaluate the parenthesized expression with the specified flags enabled or -disabled. The flags are defined in Flag Options (see below).

Template Matching Format

The regexreplace( function matches a regular expression and replaces any found matches with a template. The template may contain special characters as described in the table below.

CharacterDescriptions
$nThe text of capture group n will be substituted for $n. n must be greater than or equal to 0 and not greater than the number of capture groups. A $ not followed by a digit has no special meaning, and will appear in the substitution text as itself, a $.
\Treat the following character as a literal, suppressing any special meaning. Backslash escaping in substitution text is only required for '$' and '\', but may be used on any other character without bad effects.


The replacement string is treated as a template, with $0 being replaced by the contents of the matched range, $1 by the contents of the first capture group, and so on. Additional digits beyond the maximum required to represent the number of capture groups will be treated as ordinary characters, as will a $ not followed by digits. Backslash will escape both $ and \ .

Flag Options

The following flags control various aspects of regular expression matching. These flag values may be specified within the pattern using the (?ismx-ismx) pattern options (see above).

Flag (Pattern)Description
iIf set, matching will take place in a case-insensitive manner.
xIf set, allow use of white space and #comments within patterns
sIf set, a "." in a pattern will match a line terminator in the input text. By default, it will not. Note that a carriage-return / line-feed pair in text behave as a single line terminator, and will match a single "." in a regular expression pattern.
mControl the behavior of "^" and "$" in a pattern. By default these will only match at the start and end, respectively, of the input text. If this flag is set, "^" and "$" will also match at the start and end of each line within the input text.
ParaControls the behavior of \b in a pattern. If set, word boundaries are found according to the definitions of word found in Unicode UAX 29, Text Boundaries. By default, word boundaries are identified by means of a simple classification of characters as either *word* or *non-word*, which approximates traditional regular expression behavior. The results obtained with the two options can be quite different in runs of spaces and other non-word characters.

ICU License

The reference tables on this page are reproduced from the ICU User Guide, Copyright (c) 2000 - 2009 IBM and Others, which are licensed under the following terms:

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See Also


History

VersionStatusNotes
10.0NewRegular expression support is new in this version