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           The  syntax and semantics of the regular expressions that are supported
           by PCRE are described in detail below. There is a quick-reference  syn-
           tax summary in the pcresyntax page. PCRE tries to match Perl syntax and
           semantics as closely as it can. PCRE  also  supports  some  alternative
           regular  expression  syntax (which does not conflict with the Perl syn-
           tax) in order to provide some compatibility with regular expressions in
           Python, .NET, and Oniguruma.
           Perl's  regular expressions are described in its own documentation, and
           regular expressions in general are covered in a number of  books,  some
           of  which  have  copious  examples. Jeffrey Friedl's "Mastering Regular
           Expressions", published by  O'Reilly,  covers  regular  expressions  in
           great  detail.  This  description  of  PCRE's  regular  expressions  is
           intended as reference material.
           The original operation of PCRE was on strings of  one-byte  characters.
           However,  there is now also support for UTF-8 character strings. To use
           this, you must build PCRE to  include  UTF-8  support,  and  then  call
           pcre_compile()  with  the  PCRE_UTF8  option.  How this affects pattern
           matching is mentioned in several places below. There is also a  summary
           of  UTF-8  features  in  the  section on UTF-8 support in the main pcre
           The remainder of this document discusses the  patterns  that  are  sup-
           ported  by  PCRE when its main matching function, pcre_exec(), is used.
           From  release  6.0,   PCRE   offers   a   second   matching   function,
           pcre_dfa_exec(),  which matches using a different algorithm that is not
           Perl-compatible. Some of the features discussed below are not available
           when  pcre_dfa_exec()  is used. The advantages and disadvantages of the
           alternative function, and how it differs from the normal function,  are
           discussed in the pcrematching page.


           PCRE  supports five different conventions for indicating line breaks in
           strings: a single CR (carriage return) character, a  single  LF  (line-
           feed) character, the two-character sequence CRLF, any of the three pre-
           ceding, or any Unicode newline sequence. The pcreapi page  has  further
           discussion  about newlines, and shows how to set the newline convention
           in the options arguments for the compiling and matching functions.
           It is also possible to specify a newline convention by starting a  pat-
           tern string with one of the following five sequences:
             (*CR)        carriage return
             (*LF)        linefeed
             (*CRLF)      carriage return, followed by linefeed
             (*ANYCRLF)   any of the three above
             (*ANY)       all Unicode newline sequences
           compatibility.  However, this can be changed; see the description of \R
           in the section entitled "Newline sequences" below. A change of \R  set-
           ting can be combined with a change of newline convention.


           A  regular  expression  is  a pattern that is matched against a subject
           string from left to right. Most characters stand for  themselves  in  a
           pattern,  and  match  the corresponding characters in the subject. As a
           trivial example, the pattern
             The quick brown fox
           matches a portion of a subject string that is identical to itself. When
           caseless  matching is specified (the PCRE_CASELESS option), letters are
           matched independently of case. In UTF-8 mode, PCRE  always  understands
           the  concept  of case for characters whose values are less than 128, so
           caseless matching is always possible. For characters with  higher  val-
           ues,  the concept of case is supported if PCRE is compiled with Unicode
           property support, but not otherwise.   If  you  want  to  use  caseless
           matching  for  characters  128  and above, you must ensure that PCRE is
           compiled with Unicode property support as well as with UTF-8 support.
           The power of regular expressions comes  from  the  ability  to  include
           alternatives  and  repetitions in the pattern. These are encoded in the
           pattern by the use of metacharacters, which do not stand for themselves
           but instead are interpreted in some special way.
           There  are  two different sets of metacharacters: those that are recog-
           nized anywhere in the pattern except within square brackets, and  those
           that  are  recognized  within square brackets. Outside square brackets,
           the metacharacters are as follows:
             \      general escape character with several uses
             ^      assert start of string (or line, in multiline mode)
             $      assert end of string (or line, in multiline mode)
             .      match any character except newline (by default)
             [      start character class definition
             |      start of alternative branch
             (      start subpattern
             )      end subpattern
             ?      extends the meaning of (
                    also 0 or 1 quantifier
                    also quantifier minimizer
             *      0 or more quantifier
             +      1 or more quantifier
                    also "possessive quantifier"
             {      start min/max quantifier
           Part of a pattern that is in square brackets  is  called  a  "character
           class". In a character class the only metacharacters are:
           applies both inside and outside character classes.
           For  example,  if  you want to match a * character, you write \* in the
           pattern.  This escaping action applies whether  or  not  the  following
           character  would  otherwise be interpreted as a metacharacter, so it is
           always safe to precede a non-alphanumeric  with  backslash  to  specify
           that  it stands for itself. In particular, if you want to match a back-
           slash, you write \\.
           If a pattern is compiled with the PCRE_EXTENDED option, white space  in
           the  pattern (other than in a character class) and characters between a
           # outside a character class and the next newline are ignored. An escap-
           ing  backslash  can  be used to include a white space or # character as
           part of the pattern.
           If you want to remove the special meaning from a  sequence  of  charac-
           ters,  you can do so by putting them between \Q and \E. This is differ-
           ent from Perl in that $ and  @  are  handled  as  literals  in  \Q...\E
           sequences  in  PCRE, whereas in Perl, $ and @ cause variable interpola-
           tion. Note the following examples:
             Pattern            PCRE matches   Perl matches
             \Qabc$xyz\E        abc$xyz        abc followed by the
                                                 contents of $xyz
             \Qabc\$xyz\E       abc\$xyz       abc\$xyz
             \Qabc\E\$\Qxyz\E   abc$xyz        abc$xyz
           The \Q...\E sequence is recognized both inside  and  outside  character
       Non-printing characters
           A second use of backslash provides a way of encoding non-printing char-
           acters in patterns in a visible manner. There is no restriction on  the
           appearance  of non-printing characters, apart from the binary zero that
           terminates a pattern, but when a pattern  is  being  prepared  by  text
           editing,  it  is  usually  easier  to  use  one of the following escape
           sequences than the binary character it represents:
             \a        alarm, that is, the BEL character (hex 07)
             \cx       "control-x", where x is any character
             \e        escape (hex 1B)
             \f        form feed (hex 0C)
             \n        linefeed (hex 0A)
             \r        carriage return (hex 0D)
             \t        tab (hex 09)
             \ddd      character with octal code ddd, or backreference
             \xhh      character with hex code hh
             \x{hhh..} character with hex code hhh..
           The precise effect of \cx is as follows: if x is a lower  case  letter,
           escape,  with  no  following  digits, giving a character whose value is
           Characters whose value is less than 256 can be defined by either of the
           two  syntaxes  for  \x. There is no difference in the way they are han-
           dled. For example, \xdc is exactly the same as \x{dc}.
           After \0 up to two further octal digits are read. If  there  are  fewer
           than  two  digits,  just  those  that  are  present  are used. Thus the
           sequence \0\x\07 specifies two binary zeros followed by a BEL character
           (code  value 7). Make sure you supply two digits after the initial zero
           if the pattern character that follows is itself an octal digit.
           The handling of a backslash followed by a digit other than 0 is compli-
           cated.  Outside a character class, PCRE reads it and any following dig-
           its as a decimal number. If the number is less than  10,  or  if  there
           have been at least that many previous capturing left parentheses in the
           expression, the entire  sequence  is  taken  as  a  back  reference.  A
           description  of how this works is given later, following the discussion
           of parenthesized subpatterns.
           Inside a character class, or if the decimal number is  greater  than  9
           and  there have not been that many capturing subpatterns, PCRE re-reads
           up to three octal digits following the backslash, and uses them to gen-
           erate  a data character. Any subsequent digits stand for themselves. In
           non-UTF-8 mode, the value of a character specified  in  octal  must  be
           less  than  \400.  In  UTF-8 mode, values up to \777 are permitted. For
             \040   is another way of writing a space
             \40    is the same, provided there are fewer than 40
                       previous capturing subpatterns
             \7     is always a back reference
             \11    might be a back reference, or another way of
                       writing a tab
             \011   is always a tab
             \0113  is a tab followed by the character "3"
             \113   might be a back reference, otherwise the
                       character with octal code 113
             \377   might be a back reference, otherwise
                       the byte consisting entirely of 1 bits
             \81    is either a back reference, or a binary zero
                       followed by the two characters "8" and "1"
           Note that octal values of 100 or greater must not be  introduced  by  a
           leading zero, because no more than three octal digits are ever read.
           All the sequences that define a single character value can be used both
           inside and outside character classes. In addition, inside  a  character
           class,  the  sequence \b is interpreted as the backspace character (hex
           08), and the sequences \R and \X are interpreted as the characters  "R"
           and  "X", respectively. Outside a character class, these sequences have
           Details  are  discussed  later.   Note  that  \g{...} (Perl syntax) and
           \g<...> (Oniguruma syntax) are not synonymous. The  former  is  a  back
           reference; the latter is a subroutine call.
       Generic character types
           Another use of backslash is for specifying generic character types. The
           following are always recognized:
             \d     any decimal digit
             \D     any character that is not a decimal digit
             \h     any horizontal white space character
             \H     any character that is not a horizontal white space character
             \s     any white space character
             \S     any character that is not a white space character
             \v     any vertical white space character
             \V     any character that is not a vertical white space character
             \w     any "word" character
             \W     any "non-word" character
           Each pair of escape sequences partitions the complete set of characters
           into  two disjoint sets. Any given character matches one, and only one,
           of each pair.
           These character type sequences can appear both inside and outside char-
           acter  classes.  They each match one character of the appropriate type.
           If the current matching point is at the end of the subject string,  all
           of them fail, since there is no character to match.
           For  compatibility  with Perl, \s does not match the VT character (code
           11).  This makes it different from the the POSIX "space" class. The  \s
           characters  are  HT  (9), LF (10), FF (12), CR (13), and space (32). If
           "use locale;" is included in a Perl script, \s may match the VT charac-
           ter. In PCRE, it never does.
           In  UTF-8 mode, characters with values greater than 128 never match \d,
           \s, or \w, and always match \D, \S, and \W. This is true even when Uni-
           code  character  property  support is available. These sequences retain
           their original meanings from before UTF-8 support was available, mainly
           for efficiency reasons.
           The sequences \h, \H, \v, and \V are Perl 5.10 features. In contrast to
           the other sequences, these do match certain high-valued  codepoints  in
           UTF-8 mode.  The horizontal space characters are:
             U+0009     Horizontal tab
             U+0020     Space
             U+00A0     Non-break space
             U+1680     Ogham space mark
             U+180E     Mongolian vowel separator
             U+2000     En quad
             U+2001     Em quad
             U+000A     Linefeed
             U+000B     Vertical tab
             U+000C     Form feed
             U+000D     Carriage return
             U+0085     Next line
             U+2028     Line separator
             U+2029     Paragraph separator
           A "word" character is an underscore or any character less than 256 that
           is a letter or digit. The definition of  letters  and  digits  is  con-
           trolled  by PCRE's low-valued character tables, and may vary if locale-
           specific matching is taking place (see "Locale support" in the  pcreapi
           page).  For  example,  in  a French locale such as "fr_FR" in Unix-like
           systems, or "french" in Windows, some character codes greater than  128
           are  used for accented letters, and these are matched by \w. The use of
           locales with Unicode is discouraged.
       Newline sequences
           Outside a character class, by default, the escape sequence  \R  matches
           any Unicode newline sequence. This is a Perl 5.10 feature. In non-UTF-8
           mode \R is equivalent to the following:
           This is an example of an "atomic group", details  of  which  are  given
           below.  This particular group matches either the two-character sequence
           CR followed by LF, or  one  of  the  single  characters  LF  (linefeed,
           U+000A),  VT  (vertical  tab, U+000B), FF (form feed, U+000C), CR (car-
           riage return, U+000D), or NEL (next line,  U+0085).  The  two-character
           sequence is treated as a single unit that cannot be split.
           In  UTF-8  mode, two additional characters whose codepoints are greater
           than 255 are added: LS (line separator, U+2028) and PS (paragraph sepa-
           rator,  U+2029).   Unicode character property support is not needed for
           these characters to be recognized.
           It is possible to restrict \R to match only CR, LF, or CRLF (instead of
           the  complete  set  of  Unicode  line  endings)  by  setting the option
           PCRE_BSR_ANYCRLF either at compile time or when the pattern is matched.
           (BSR is an abbrevation for "backslash R".) This can be made the default
           when PCRE is built; if this is the case, the  other  behaviour  can  be
           requested  via  the  PCRE_BSR_UNICODE  option.   It is also possible to
           specify these settings by starting a pattern string  with  one  of  the
           following sequences:
             (*BSR_ANYCRLF)   CR, LF, or CRLF only
             (*BSR_UNICODE)   any Unicode newline sequence
           These override the default and the options given to pcre_compile(), but
           they can be overridden by options given to pcre_exec(). Note that these
           are  available.   When not in UTF-8 mode, these sequences are of course
           limited to testing characters whose codepoints are less than  256,  but
           they do work in this mode.  The extra escape sequences are:
             \p{xx}   a character with the xx property
             \P{xx}   a character without the xx property
             \X       an extended Unicode sequence
           The  property  names represented by xx above are limited to the Unicode
           script names, the general category properties, and "Any", which matches
           any character (including newline). Other properties such as "InMusical-
           Symbols" are not currently supported by PCRE. Note  that  \P{Any}  does
           not match any characters, so always causes a match failure.
           Sets of Unicode characters are defined as belonging to certain scripts.
           A character from one of these sets can be matched using a script  name.
           For example:
           Those  that are not part of an identified script are lumped together as
           "Common". The current list of scripts is:
           Arabic,  Armenian,  Balinese,  Bengali,  Bopomofo,  Braille,  Buginese,
           Buhid,   Canadian_Aboriginal,   Cherokee,  Common,  Coptic,  Cuneiform,
           Cypriot, Cyrillic, Deseret, Devanagari, Ethiopic, Georgian, Glagolitic,
           Gothic,  Greek, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Han, Hangul, Hanunoo, Hebrew, Hira-
           gana, Inherited, Kannada,  Katakana,  Kharoshthi,  Khmer,  Lao,  Latin,
           Limbu,  Linear_B,  Malayalam,  Mongolian,  Myanmar,  New_Tai_Lue,  Nko,
           Ogham, Old_Italic, Old_Persian, Oriya, Osmanya,  Phags_Pa,  Phoenician,
           Runic,  Shavian,  Sinhala,  Syloti_Nagri,  Syriac,  Tagalog,  Tagbanwa,
           Tai_Le, Tamil, Telugu, Thaana, Thai, Tibetan, Tifinagh, Ugaritic, Yi.
           Each character has exactly one general category property, specified  by
           a two-letter abbreviation. For compatibility with Perl, negation can be
           specified by including a circumflex between the opening brace  and  the
           property name. For example, \p{^Lu} is the same as \P{Lu}.
           If only one letter is specified with \p or \P, it includes all the gen-
           eral category properties that start with that letter. In this case,  in
           the  absence of negation, the curly brackets in the escape sequence are
           optional; these two examples have the same effect:
           The following general category property codes are supported:
             C     Other
             Cc    Control
             Cf    Format
             Mn    Non-spacing mark
             N     Number
             Nd    Decimal number
             Nl    Letter number
             No    Other number
             P     Punctuation
             Pc    Connector punctuation
             Pd    Dash punctuation
             Pe    Close punctuation
             Pf    Final punctuation
             Pi    Initial punctuation
             Po    Other punctuation
             Ps    Open punctuation
             S     Symbol
             Sc    Currency symbol
             Sk    Modifier symbol
             Sm    Mathematical symbol
             So    Other symbol
             Z     Separator
             Zl    Line separator
             Zp    Paragraph separator
             Zs    Space separator
           The special property L& is also supported: it matches a character  that
           has  the  Lu,  Ll, or Lt property, in other words, a letter that is not
           classified as a modifier or "other".
           The Cs (Surrogate) property applies only to  characters  in  the  range
           U+D800  to  U+DFFF. Such characters are not valid in UTF-8 strings (see
           RFC 3629) and so cannot be tested by PCRE, unless UTF-8 validity check-
           ing  has  been  turned off (see the discussion of PCRE_NO_UTF8_CHECK in
           the pcreapi page).
           The long synonyms for these properties  that  Perl  supports  (such  as
           \p{Letter})  are  not  supported by PCRE, nor is it permitted to prefix
           any of these properties with "Is".
           No character that is in the Unicode table has the Cn (unassigned) prop-
           erty.  Instead, this property is assumed for any code point that is not
           in the Unicode table.
           Specifying caseless matching does not affect  these  escape  sequences.
           For example, \p{Lu} always matches only upper case letters.
           The  \X  escape  matches  any number of Unicode characters that form an
           extended Unicode sequence. \X is equivalent to
           The escape sequence \K, which is a Perl 5.10 feature, causes any previ-
           ously  matched  characters  not  to  be  included  in the final matched
           sequence. For example, the pattern:
           matches "foobar", but reports that it has matched "bar".  This  feature
           is  similar  to  a lookbehind assertion (described below).  However, in
           this case, the part of the subject before the real match does not  have
           to  be of fixed length, as lookbehind assertions do. The use of \K does
           not interfere with the setting of captured  substrings.   For  example,
           when the pattern
           matches "foobar", the first substring is still set to "foo".
       Simple assertions
           The  final use of backslash is for certain simple assertions. An asser-
           tion specifies a condition that has to be met at a particular point  in
           a  match, without consuming any characters from the subject string. The
           use of subpatterns for more complicated assertions is described  below.
           The backslashed assertions are:
             \b     matches at a word boundary
             \B     matches when not at a word boundary
             \A     matches at the start of the subject
             \Z     matches at the end of the subject
                     also matches before a newline at the end of the subject
             \z     matches only at the end of the subject
             \G     matches at the first matching position in the subject
           These  assertions may not appear in character classes (but note that \b
           has a different meaning, namely the backspace character, inside a char-
           acter class).
           A  word  boundary is a position in the subject string where the current
           character and the previous character do not both match \w or  \W  (i.e.
           one  matches  \w  and the other matches \W), or the start or end of the
           string if the first or last character matches \w, respectively.
           The \A, \Z, and \z assertions differ from  the  traditional  circumflex
           and dollar (described in the next section) in that they only ever match
           at the very start and end of the subject string, whatever  options  are
           set.  Thus,  they are independent of multiline mode. These three asser-
           tions are not affected by the PCRE_NOTBOL or PCRE_NOTEOL options, which
           affect  only the behaviour of the circumflex and dollar metacharacters.
           However, if the startoffset argument of pcre_exec() is non-zero,  indi-
           cating that matching is to start at a point other than the beginning of
           the subject, \A can never match. The difference between \Z  and  \z  is
           at a time, it cannot reproduce this behaviour.
           If  all  the alternatives of a pattern begin with \G, the expression is
           anchored to the starting match position, and the "anchored" flag is set
           in the compiled regular expression.


           Outside a character class, in the default matching mode, the circumflex
           character is an assertion that is true only  if  the  current  matching
           point  is  at the start of the subject string. If the startoffset argu-
           ment of pcre_exec() is non-zero, circumflex  can  never  match  if  the
           PCRE_MULTILINE  option  is  unset. Inside a character class, circumflex
           has an entirely different meaning (see below).
           Circumflex need not be the first character of the pattern if  a  number
           of  alternatives are involved, but it should be the first thing in each
           alternative in which it appears if the pattern is ever  to  match  that
           branch.  If all possible alternatives start with a circumflex, that is,
           if the pattern is constrained to match only at the start  of  the  sub-
           ject,  it  is  said  to be an "anchored" pattern. (There are also other
           constructs that can cause a pattern to be anchored.)
           A dollar character is an assertion that is true  only  if  the  current
           matching  point  is  at  the  end of the subject string, or immediately
           before a newline at the end of the string (by default). Dollar need not
           be  the  last  character of the pattern if a number of alternatives are
           involved, but it should be the last item in  any  branch  in  which  it
           appears. Dollar has no special meaning in a character class.
           The  meaning  of  dollar  can be changed so that it matches only at the
           very end of the string, by setting the  PCRE_DOLLAR_ENDONLY  option  at
           compile time. This does not affect the \Z assertion.
           The meanings of the circumflex and dollar characters are changed if the
           PCRE_MULTILINE option is set. When  this  is  the  case,  a  circumflex
           matches  immediately after internal newlines as well as at the start of
           the subject string. It does not match after a  newline  that  ends  the
           string.  A dollar matches before any newlines in the string, as well as
           at the very end, when PCRE_MULTILINE is set. When newline is  specified
           as  the  two-character  sequence CRLF, isolated CR and LF characters do
           not indicate newlines.
           For example, the pattern /^abc$/ matches the subject string  "def\nabc"
           (where  \n  represents a newline) in multiline mode, but not otherwise.
           Consequently, patterns that are anchored in single  line  mode  because
           all  branches  start  with  ^ are not anchored in multiline mode, and a
           match for circumflex is  possible  when  the  startoffset  argument  of
           pcre_exec()  is  non-zero. The PCRE_DOLLAR_ENDONLY option is ignored if
           PCRE_MULTILINE is set.
           Note that the sequences \A, \Z, and \z can be used to match  the  start
           matches  all characters (including isolated CRs and LFs). When any Uni-
           code line endings are being recognized, dot does not match CR or LF  or
           any of the other line ending characters.
           The  behaviour  of  dot  with regard to newlines can be changed. If the
           PCRE_DOTALL option is set, a dot matches  any  one  character,  without
           exception. If the two-character sequence CRLF is present in the subject
           string, it takes two dots to match it.
           The handling of dot is entirely independent of the handling of  circum-
           flex  and  dollar,  the  only relationship being that they both involve
           newlines. Dot has no special meaning in a character class.


           Outside a character class, the escape sequence \C matches any one byte,
           both  in  and  out  of  UTF-8 mode. Unlike a dot, it always matches any
           line-ending characters. The feature is provided in  Perl  in  order  to
           match  individual bytes in UTF-8 mode. Because it breaks up UTF-8 char-
           acters into individual bytes, what remains in the string may be a  mal-
           formed  UTF-8  string.  For this reason, the \C escape sequence is best
           PCRE does not allow \C to appear in  lookbehind  assertions  (described
           below),  because  in UTF-8 mode this would make it impossible to calcu-
           late the length of the lookbehind.


           An opening square bracket introduces a character class, terminated by a
           closing square bracket. A closing square bracket on its own is not spe-
           cial. If a closing square bracket is required as a member of the class,
           it  should  be  the first data character in the class (after an initial
           circumflex, if present) or escaped with a backslash.
           A character class matches a single character in the subject.  In  UTF-8
           mode,  the character may occupy more than one byte. A matched character
           must be in the set of characters defined by the class, unless the first
           character  in  the  class definition is a circumflex, in which case the
           subject character must not be in the set defined by  the  class.  If  a
           circumflex  is actually required as a member of the class, ensure it is
           not the first character, or escape it with a backslash.
           For example, the character class [aeiou] matches any lower case  vowel,
           while  [^aeiou]  matches  any character that is not a lower case vowel.
           Note that a circumflex is just a convenient notation for specifying the
           characters  that  are in the class by enumerating those that are not. A
           class that starts with a circumflex is not an assertion: it still  con-
           sumes  a  character  from the subject string, and therefore it fails if
           the current pointer is at the end of the string.
           In UTF-8 mode, characters with values greater than 255 can be  included
           Characters that might indicate line breaks are  never  treated  in  any
           special  way  when  matching  character  classes,  whatever line-ending
           sequence is in  use,  and  whatever  setting  of  the  PCRE_DOTALL  and
           PCRE_MULTILINE options is used. A class such as [^a] always matches one
           of these characters.
           The minus (hyphen) character can be used to specify a range of  charac-
           ters  in  a  character  class.  For  example,  [d-m] matches any letter
           between d and m, inclusive. If a  minus  character  is  required  in  a
           class,  it  must  be  escaped  with a backslash or appear in a position
           where it cannot be interpreted as indicating a range, typically as  the
           first or last character in the class.
           It is not possible to have the literal character "]" as the end charac-
           ter of a range. A pattern such as [W-]46] is interpreted as a class  of
           two  characters ("W" and "-") followed by a literal string "46]", so it
           would match "W46]" or "-46]". However, if the "]"  is  escaped  with  a
           backslash  it is interpreted as the end of range, so [W-\]46] is inter-
           preted as a class containing a range followed by two other  characters.
           The  octal or hexadecimal representation of "]" can also be used to end
           a range.
           Ranges operate in the collating sequence of character values. They  can
           also   be  used  for  characters  specified  numerically,  for  example
           [\000-\037]. In UTF-8 mode, ranges can include characters whose  values
           are greater than 255, for example [\x{100}-\x{2ff}].
           If a range that includes letters is used when caseless matching is set,
           it matches the letters in either case. For example, [W-c] is equivalent
           to  [][\\^_'wxyzabc],  matched  caselessly,  and  in non-UTF-8 mode, if
           character tables for a French locale are in  use,  [\xc8-\xcb]  matches
           accented  E  characters in both cases. In UTF-8 mode, PCRE supports the
           concept of case for characters with values greater than 128  only  when
           it is compiled with Unicode property support.
           The  character types \d, \D, \p, \P, \s, \S, \w, and \W may also appear
           in a character class, and add the characters that  they  match  to  the
           class. For example, [\dABCDEF] matches any hexadecimal digit. A circum-
           flex can conveniently be used with the upper case  character  types  to
           specify  a  more  restricted  set of characters than the matching lower
           case type. For example, the class [^\W_] matches any letter  or  digit,
           but not underscore.
           The  only  metacharacters  that are recognized in character classes are
           backslash, hyphen (only where it can be  interpreted  as  specifying  a
           range),  circumflex  (only  at the start), opening square bracket (only
           when it can be interpreted as introducing a POSIX class name - see  the
           next  section),  and  the  terminating closing square bracket. However,
           escaping other non-alphanumeric characters does no harm.


             cntrl    control characters
             digit    decimal digits (same as \d)
             graph    printing characters, excluding space
             lower    lower case letters
             print    printing characters, including space
             punct    printing characters, excluding letters and digits
             space    white space (not quite the same as \s)
             upper    upper case letters
             word     "word" characters (same as \w)
             xdigit   hexadecimal digits
           The  "space" characters are HT (9), LF (10), VT (11), FF (12), CR (13),
           and space (32). Notice that this list includes the VT  character  (code
           11). This makes "space" different to \s, which does not include VT (for
           Perl compatibility).
           The name "word" is a Perl extension, and "blank"  is  a  GNU  extension
           from  Perl  5.8. Another Perl extension is negation, which is indicated
           by a ^ character after the colon. For example,
           matches "1", "2", or any non-digit. PCRE (and Perl) also recognize  the
           POSIX syntax [.ch.] and [=ch=] where "ch" is a "collating element", but
           these are not supported, and an error is given if they are encountered.
           In UTF-8 mode, characters with values greater than 128 do not match any
           of the POSIX character classes.


           Vertical bar characters are used to separate alternative patterns.  For
           example, the pattern
           matches  either "gilbert" or "sullivan". Any number of alternatives may
           appear, and an empty  alternative  is  permitted  (matching  the  empty
           string). The matching process tries each alternative in turn, from left
           to right, and the first one that succeeds is used. If the  alternatives
           are  within a subpattern (defined below), "succeeds" means matching the
           rest of the main pattern as well as the alternative in the  subpattern.


           The  settings  of  the  PCRE_CASELESS, PCRE_MULTILINE, PCRE_DOTALL, and
           PCRE_EXTENDED options (which are Perl-compatible) can be  changed  from
           within  the  pattern  by  a  sequence  of  Perl option letters enclosed
           between "(?" and ")".  The option letters are
             i  for PCRE_CASELESS
             m  for PCRE_MULTILINE
           When  an option change occurs at top level (that is, not inside subpat-
           tern parentheses), the change applies to the remainder of  the  pattern
           that follows.  If the change is placed right at the start of a pattern,
           PCRE extracts it into the global options (and it will therefore show up
           in data extracted by the pcre_fullinfo() function).
           An  option  change  within a subpattern (see below for a description of
           subpatterns) affects only that part of the current pattern that follows
           it, so
           matches abc and aBc and no other strings (assuming PCRE_CASELESS is not
           used).  By this means, options can be made to have  different  settings
           in  different parts of the pattern. Any changes made in one alternative
           do carry on into subsequent branches within the  same  subpattern.  For
           matches  "ab",  "aB",  "c",  and "C", even though when matching "C" the
           first branch is abandoned before the option setting.  This  is  because
           the  effects  of option settings happen at compile time. There would be
           some very weird behaviour otherwise.
           Note: There are other PCRE-specific options that  can  be  set  by  the
           application  when  the  compile  or match functions are called. In some
           cases the pattern can contain special  leading  sequences  to  override
           what  the  application  has set or what has been defaulted. Details are
           given in the section entitled "Newline sequences" above.


           Subpatterns are delimited by parentheses (round brackets), which can be
           nested.  Turning part of a pattern into a subpattern does two things:
           1. It localizes a set of alternatives. For example, the pattern
           matches  one  of the words "cat", "cataract", or "caterpillar". Without
           the parentheses, it would match  "cataract",  "erpillar"  or  an  empty
           2.  It  sets  up  the  subpattern as a capturing subpattern. This means
           that, when the whole pattern  matches,  that  portion  of  the  subject
           string that matched the subpattern is passed back to the caller via the
           ovector argument of pcre_exec(). Opening parentheses are  counted  from
           left  to  right  (starting  from 1) to obtain numbers for the capturing
           For example, if the string "the red king" is matched against  the  pat-
             the ((?:red|white) (king|queen))
           the captured substrings are "white queen" and "queen", and are numbered
           1 and 2. The maximum number of capturing subpatterns is 65535.
           As  a  convenient shorthand, if any option settings are required at the
           start of a non-capturing subpattern,  the  option  letters  may  appear
           between the "?" and the ":". Thus the two patterns
           match exactly the same set of strings. Because alternative branches are
           tried from left to right, and options are not reset until  the  end  of
           the  subpattern is reached, an option setting in one branch does affect
           subsequent branches, so the above patterns match "SUNDAY"  as  well  as


           Perl 5.10 introduced a feature whereby each alternative in a subpattern
           uses the same numbers for its capturing parentheses. Such a  subpattern
           starts  with (?| and is itself a non-capturing subpattern. For example,
           consider this pattern:
           Because the two alternatives are inside a (?| group, both sets of  cap-
           turing  parentheses  are  numbered one. Thus, when the pattern matches,
           you can look at captured substring number  one,  whichever  alternative
           matched.  This  construct  is useful when you want to capture part, but
           not all, of one of a number of alternatives. Inside a (?| group, paren-
           theses  are  numbered as usual, but the number is reset at the start of
           each branch. The numbers of any capturing buffers that follow the  sub-
           pattern  start after the highest number used in any branch. The follow-
           ing example is taken from the Perl documentation.  The  numbers  under-
           neath show in which buffer the captured content will be stored.
             # before  ---------------branch-reset----------- after
             / ( a )  (?| x ( y ) z | (p (q) r) | (t) u (v) ) ( z ) /x
             # 1            2         2  3        2     3     4
           A  backreference  or  a  recursive call to a numbered subpattern always
           refers to the first one in the pattern with the given number.
           An alternative approach to using this "branch reset" feature is to  use
           duplicate named subpatterns, as described in the next section.


           Identifying  capturing  parentheses  by number is simple, but it can be
           Names consist of up to  32  alphanumeric  characters  and  underscores.
           Named  capturing  parentheses  are  still  allocated numbers as well as
           names, exactly as if the names were not present. The PCRE API  provides
           function calls for extracting the name-to-number translation table from
           a compiled pattern. There is also a convenience function for extracting
           a captured substring by name.
           By  default, a name must be unique within a pattern, but it is possible
           to relax this constraint by setting the PCRE_DUPNAMES option at compile
           time.  This  can  be useful for patterns where only one instance of the
           named parentheses can match. Suppose you want to match the  name  of  a
           weekday,  either as a 3-letter abbreviation or as the full name, and in
           both cases you want to extract the abbreviation. This pattern (ignoring
           the line breaks) does the job:
           There  are  five capturing substrings, but only one is ever set after a
           match.  (An alternative way of solving this problem is to use a "branch
           reset" subpattern, as described in the previous section.)
           The  convenience  function  for extracting the data by name returns the
           substring for the first (and in this example, the only)  subpattern  of
           that  name  that  matched.  This saves searching to find which numbered
           subpattern it was. If you make a reference to a non-unique  named  sub-
           pattern  from elsewhere in the pattern, the one that corresponds to the
           lowest number is used. For further details of the interfaces  for  han-
           dling named subpatterns, see the pcreapi documentation.


           Repetition  is  specified  by  quantifiers, which can follow any of the
           following items:
             a literal data character
             the dot metacharacter
             the \C escape sequence
             the \X escape sequence (in UTF-8 mode with Unicode properties)
             the \R escape sequence
             an escape such as \d that matches a single character
             a character class
             a back reference (see next section)
             a parenthesized subpattern (unless it is an assertion)
           The general repetition quantifier specifies a minimum and maximum  num-
           ber  of  permitted matches, by giving the two numbers in curly brackets
           (braces), separated by a comma. The numbers must be  less  than  65536,
           and the first must be less than or equal to the second. For example:
           matches  exactly  8  digits. An opening curly bracket that appears in a
           position where a quantifier is not allowed, or one that does not  match
           the  syntax of a quantifier, is taken as a literal character. For exam-
           ple, {,6} is not a quantifier, but a literal string of four characters.
           In  UTF-8  mode,  quantifiers  apply to UTF-8 characters rather than to
           individual bytes. Thus, for example, \x{100}{2} matches two UTF-8 char-
           acters, each of which is represented by a two-byte sequence. Similarly,
           when Unicode property support is available, \X{3} matches three Unicode
           extended  sequences,  each of which may be several bytes long (and they
           may be of different lengths).
           The quantifier {0} is permitted, causing the expression to behave as if
           the previous item and the quantifier were not present. This may be use-
           ful for subpatterns that are referenced as subroutines  from  elsewhere
           in the pattern. Items other than subpatterns that have a {0} quantifier
           are omitted from the compiled pattern.
           For convenience, the three most common quantifiers have  single-charac-
           ter abbreviations:
             *    is equivalent to {0,}
             +    is equivalent to {1,}
             ?    is equivalent to {0,1}
           It  is  possible  to construct infinite loops by following a subpattern
           that can match no characters with a quantifier that has no upper limit,
           for example:
           Earlier versions of Perl and PCRE used to give an error at compile time
           for such patterns. However, because there are cases where this  can  be
           useful,  such  patterns  are now accepted, but if any repetition of the
           subpattern does in fact match no characters, the loop is forcibly  bro-
           By  default,  the quantifiers are "greedy", that is, they match as much
           as possible (up to the maximum  number  of  permitted  times),  without
           causing  the  rest of the pattern to fail. The classic example of where
           this gives problems is in trying to match comments in C programs. These
           appear  between  /*  and  */ and within the comment, individual * and /
           characters may appear. An attempt to match C comments by  applying  the
           to the string
             /* first comment */  not comment  /* second comment */
           which matches one digit by preference, but can match two if that is the
           only way the rest of the pattern matches.
           If  the PCRE_UNGREEDY option is set (an option that is not available in
           Perl), the quantifiers are not greedy by default, but  individual  ones
           can  be  made  greedy  by following them with a question mark. In other
           words, it inverts the default behaviour.
           When a parenthesized subpattern is quantified  with  a  minimum  repeat
           count  that is greater than 1 or with a limited maximum, more memory is
           required for the compiled pattern, in proportion to  the  size  of  the
           minimum or maximum.
           If a pattern starts with .* or .{0,} and the PCRE_DOTALL option (equiv-
           alent to Perl's /s) is set, thus allowing the dot  to  match  newlines,
           the  pattern  is  implicitly anchored, because whatever follows will be
           tried against every character position in the subject string, so  there
           is  no  point  in  retrying the overall match at any position after the
           first. PCRE normally treats such a pattern as though it  were  preceded
           by \A.
           In  cases  where  it  is known that the subject string contains no new-
           lines, it is worth setting PCRE_DOTALL in order to  obtain  this  opti-
           mization, or alternatively using ^ to indicate anchoring explicitly.
           However,  there is one situation where the optimization cannot be used.
           When .*  is inside capturing parentheses that  are  the  subject  of  a
           backreference  elsewhere  in the pattern, a match at the start may fail
           where a later one succeeds. Consider, for example:
           If the subject is "xyz123abc123" the match point is the fourth  charac-
           ter. For this reason, such a pattern is not implicitly anchored.
           When a capturing subpattern is repeated, the value captured is the sub-
           string that matched the final iteration. For example, after
           has matched "tweedledum tweedledee" the value of the captured substring
           is  "tweedledee".  However,  if there are nested capturing subpatterns,
           the corresponding captured values may have been set in previous  itera-
           tions. For example, after
           matches "aba" the value of the second captured substring is "b".
           After matching all 6 digits and then failing to match "foo", the normal
           action  of  the matcher is to try again with only 5 digits matching the
           \d+ item, and then with  4,  and  so  on,  before  ultimately  failing.
           "Atomic  grouping"  (a  term taken from Jeffrey Friedl's book) provides
           the means for specifying that once a subpattern has matched, it is  not
           to be re-evaluated in this way.
           If  we  use atomic grouping for the previous example, the matcher gives
           up immediately on failing to match "foo" the first time.  The  notation
           is a kind of special parenthesis, starting with (?> as in this example:
           This kind of parenthesis "locks up" the  part of the  pattern  it  con-
           tains  once  it  has matched, and a failure further into the pattern is
           prevented from backtracking into it. Backtracking past it  to  previous
           items, however, works as normal.
           An  alternative  description  is that a subpattern of this type matches
           the string of characters that an  identical  standalone  pattern  would
           match, if anchored at the current point in the subject string.
           Atomic grouping subpatterns are not capturing subpatterns. Simple cases
           such as the above example can be thought of as a maximizing repeat that
           must  swallow  everything  it can. So, while both \d+ and \d+? are pre-
           pared to adjust the number of digits they match in order  to  make  the
           rest of the pattern match, (?>\d+) can only match an entire sequence of
           Atomic groups in general can of course contain arbitrarily  complicated
           subpatterns,  and  can  be  nested. However, when the subpattern for an
           atomic group is just a single repeated item, as in the example above, a
           simpler  notation,  called  a "possessive quantifier" can be used. This
           consists of an additional + character  following  a  quantifier.  Using
           this notation, the previous example can be rewritten as
           Note that a possessive quantifier can be used with an entire group, for
           Possessive  quantifiers  are  always  greedy;  the   setting   of   the
           PCRE_UNGREEDY option is ignored. They are a convenient notation for the
           simpler forms of atomic group. However, there is no difference  in  the
           meaning  of  a  possessive  quantifier and the equivalent atomic group,
           though there may be a performance  difference;  possessive  quantifiers
           should be slightly faster.
           The  possessive  quantifier syntax is an extension to the Perl 5.8 syn-
           matches  an  unlimited number of substrings that either consist of non-
           digits, or digits enclosed in <>, followed by either ! or  ?.  When  it
           matches, it runs quickly. However, if it is applied to
           it  takes  a  long  time  before reporting failure. This is because the
           string can be divided between the internal \D+ repeat and the  external
           *  repeat  in  a  large  number of ways, and all have to be tried. (The
           example uses [!?] rather than a single character at  the  end,  because
           both  PCRE  and  Perl have an optimization that allows for fast failure
           when a single character is used. They remember the last single  charac-
           ter  that  is required for a match, and fail early if it is not present
           in the string.) If the pattern is changed so that  it  uses  an  atomic
           group, like this:
           sequences  of non-digits cannot be broken, and failure happens quickly.


           Outside a character class, a backslash followed by a digit greater than
           0 (and possibly further digits) is a back reference to a capturing sub-
           pattern earlier (that is, to its left) in the pattern,  provided  there
           have been that many previous capturing left parentheses.
           However, if the decimal number following the backslash is less than 10,
           it is always taken as a back reference, and causes  an  error  only  if
           there  are  not that many capturing left parentheses in the entire pat-
           tern. In other words, the parentheses that are referenced need  not  be
           to  the left of the reference for numbers less than 10. A "forward back
           reference" of this type can make sense when a  repetition  is  involved
           and  the  subpattern to the right has participated in an earlier itera-
           It is not possible to have a numerical "forward back  reference"  to  a
           subpattern  whose  number  is  10  or  more using this syntax because a
           sequence such as \50 is interpreted as a character  defined  in  octal.
           See the subsection entitled "Non-printing characters" above for further
           details of the handling of digits following a backslash.  There  is  no
           such  problem  when named parentheses are used. A back reference to any
           subpattern is possible using named parentheses (see below).
           Another way of avoiding the ambiguity inherent in  the  use  of  digits
           following a backslash is to use the \g escape sequence, which is a fea-
           ture introduced in Perl 5.10.  This  escape  must  be  followed  by  an
           unsigned  number  or  a negative number, optionally enclosed in braces.
           These examples are all identical:
           \g{-2} would be equivalent to \1. The use of relative references can be
           helpful in long patterns, and also in  patterns  that  are  created  by
           joining together fragments that contain references within themselves.
           A  back  reference matches whatever actually matched the capturing sub-
           pattern in the current subject string, rather  than  anything  matching
           the subpattern itself (see "Subpatterns as subroutines" below for a way
           of doing that). So the pattern
             (sens|respons)e and \1ibility
           matches "sense and sensibility" and "response and responsibility",  but
           not  "sense and responsibility". If caseful matching is in force at the
           time of the back reference, the case of letters is relevant. For  exam-
           matches  "rah  rah"  and  "RAH RAH", but not "RAH rah", even though the
           original capturing subpattern is matched caselessly.
           There are several different ways of writing back  references  to  named
           subpatterns.  The  .NET syntax \k{name} and the Perl syntax \k<name> or
           \k'name' are supported, as is the Python syntax (?P=name). Perl  5.10's
           unified back reference syntax, in which \g can be used for both numeric
           and named references, is also supported. We  could  rewrite  the  above
           example in any of the following ways:
           A  subpattern  that  is  referenced  by  name may appear in the pattern
           before or after the reference.
           There may be more than one back reference to the same subpattern. If  a
           subpattern  has  not actually been used in a particular match, any back
           references to it always fail. For example, the pattern
           always fails if it starts to match "a" rather than "bc". Because  there
           may  be  many  capturing parentheses in a pattern, all digits following
           the backslash are taken as part of a potential back  reference  number.
           If the pattern continues with a digit character, some delimiter must be
           used to terminate the back reference. If the  PCRE_EXTENDED  option  is
           set,  this  can  be white space.  Otherwise an empty comment (see "Com-
           ments" below) can be used.
           A back reference that occurs inside the parentheses to which it  refers
           fails  when  the subpattern is first used, so, for example, (a\1) never
           An assertion is a test on the characters  following  or  preceding  the
           current  matching  point that does not actually consume any characters.
           The simple assertions coded as \b, \B, \A, \G, \Z,  \z,  ^  and  $  are
           described above.
           More  complicated  assertions  are  coded as subpatterns. There are two
           kinds: those that look ahead of the current  position  in  the  subject
           string,  and  those  that  look  behind  it. An assertion subpattern is
           matched in the normal way, except that it does not  cause  the  current
           matching position to be changed.
           Assertion  subpatterns  are  not  capturing subpatterns, and may not be
           repeated, because it makes no sense to assert the  same  thing  several
           times.  If  any kind of assertion contains capturing subpatterns within
           it, these are counted for the purposes of numbering the capturing  sub-
           patterns in the whole pattern.  However, substring capturing is carried
           out only for positive assertions, because it does not  make  sense  for
           negative assertions.
       Lookahead assertions
           Lookahead assertions start with (?= for positive assertions and (?! for
           negative assertions. For example,
           matches a word followed by a semicolon, but does not include the  semi-
           colon in the match, and
           matches  any  occurrence  of  "foo" that is not followed by "bar". Note
           that the apparently similar pattern
           does not find an occurrence of "bar"  that  is  preceded  by  something
           other  than "foo"; it finds any occurrence of "bar" whatsoever, because
           the assertion (?!foo) is always true when the next three characters are
           "bar". A lookbehind assertion is needed to achieve the other effect.
           If you want to force a matching failure at some point in a pattern, the
           most convenient way to do it is  with  (?!)  because  an  empty  string
           always  matches, so an assertion that requires there not to be an empty
           string must always fail.
       Lookbehind assertions
           Lookbehind assertions start with (?<= for positive assertions and  (?<!
           for negative assertions. For example,
           strings are permitted only at the top level of a lookbehind  assertion.
           This  is  an  extension  compared  with  Perl (at least for 5.8), which
           requires all branches to match the same length of string. An  assertion
           such as
           is  not  permitted,  because  its single top-level branch can match two
           different lengths, but it is acceptable if rewritten to  use  two  top-
           level branches:
           In some cases, the Perl 5.10 escape sequence \K (see above) can be used
           instead of a lookbehind assertion; this is not restricted to  a  fixed-
           The  implementation  of lookbehind assertions is, for each alternative,
           to temporarily move the current position back by the fixed  length  and
           then try to match. If there are insufficient characters before the cur-
           rent position, the assertion fails.
           PCRE does not allow the \C escape (which matches a single byte in UTF-8
           mode)  to appear in lookbehind assertions, because it makes it impossi-
           ble to calculate the length of the lookbehind. The \X and  \R  escapes,
           which can match different numbers of bytes, are also not permitted.
           Possessive  quantifiers  can  be  used  in  conjunction with lookbehind
           assertions to specify efficient matching at  the  end  of  the  subject
           string. Consider a simple pattern such as
           when  applied  to  a  long string that does not match. Because matching
           proceeds from left to right, PCRE will look for each "a" in the subject
           and  then  see  if what follows matches the rest of the pattern. If the
           pattern is specified as
           the initial .* matches the entire string at first, but when this  fails
           (because there is no following "a"), it backtracks to match all but the
           last character, then all but the last two characters, and so  on.  Once
           again  the search for "a" covers the entire string, from right to left,
           so we are no better off. However, if the pattern is written as
           there can be no backtracking for the .*+ item; it can  match  only  the
           entire  string.  The subsequent lookbehind assertion does a single test
           on the last four characters. If it fails, the match fails  immediately.
           For  long  strings, this approach makes a significant difference to the
           three of which are not "999". For example, it  doesn't  match  "123abc-
           foo". A pattern to do that is
           This  time  the  first assertion looks at the preceding six characters,
           checking that the first three are digits, and then the second assertion
           checks that the preceding three characters are not "999".
           Assertions can be nested in any combination. For example,
           matches  an occurrence of "baz" that is preceded by "bar" which in turn
           is not preceded by "foo", while
           is another pattern that matches "foo" preceded by three digits and  any
           three characters that are not "999".


           It  is possible to cause the matching process to obey a subpattern con-
           ditionally or to choose between two alternative subpatterns,  depending
           on  the result of an assertion, or whether a previous capturing subpat-
           tern matched or not. The two possible forms of  conditional  subpattern
           If  the  condition is satisfied, the yes-pattern is used; otherwise the
           no-pattern (if present) is used. If there are more  than  two  alterna-
           tives in the subpattern, a compile-time error occurs.
           There  are  four  kinds of condition: references to subpatterns, refer-
           ences to recursion, a pseudo-condition called DEFINE, and assertions.
       Checking for a used subpattern by number
           If the text between the parentheses consists of a sequence  of  digits,
           the  condition  is  true if the capturing subpattern of that number has
           previously matched. An alternative notation is to  precede  the  digits
           with a plus or minus sign. In this case, the subpattern number is rela-
           tive rather than absolute.  The most recently opened parentheses can be
           referenced  by  (?(-1),  the  next most recent by (?(-2), and so on. In
           looping constructs it can also make sense to refer to subsequent groups
           with constructs such as (?(+2).
           Consider  the  following  pattern, which contains non-significant white
           space to make it more readable (assume the PCRE_EXTENDED option) and to
           If you were embedding this pattern in a larger one,  you  could  use  a
           relative reference:
             ...other stuff... ( \( )?    [^()]+    (?(-1) \) ) ...
           This  makes  the  fragment independent of the parentheses in the larger
       Checking for a used subpattern by name
           Perl uses the syntax (?(<name>)...) or (?('name')...)  to  test  for  a
           used  subpattern  by  name.  For compatibility with earlier versions of
           PCRE, which had this facility before Perl, the syntax  (?(name)...)  is
           also  recognized. However, there is a possible ambiguity with this syn-
           tax, because subpattern names may  consist  entirely  of  digits.  PCRE
           looks  first for a named subpattern; if it cannot find one and the name
           consists entirely of digits, PCRE looks for a subpattern of  that  num-
           ber,  which must be greater than zero. Using subpattern names that con-
           sist entirely of digits is not recommended.
           Rewriting the above example to use a named subpattern gives this:
             (?<OPEN> \( )?    [^()]+    (?(<OPEN>) \) )
       Checking for pattern recursion
           If the condition is the string (R), and there is no subpattern with the
           name  R, the condition is true if a recursive call to the whole pattern
           or any subpattern has been made. If digits or a name preceded by amper-
           sand follow the letter R, for example:
             (?(R3)...) or (?(R&name)...)
           the  condition is true if the most recent recursion is into the subpat-
           tern whose number or name is given. This condition does not  check  the
           entire recursion stack.
           At  "top  level", all these recursion test conditions are false. Recur-
           sive patterns are described below.
       Defining subpatterns for use by reference only
           If the condition is the string (DEFINE), and  there  is  no  subpattern
           with  the  name  DEFINE,  the  condition is always false. In this case,
           there may be only one alternative  in  the  subpattern.  It  is  always
           skipped  if  control  reaches  this  point  in the pattern; the idea of
           DEFINE is that it can be used to define "subroutines" that can be  ref-
           erenced  from elsewhere. (The use of "subroutines" is described below.)
           For example, a pattern to match an IPv4 address could be  written  like
           this (ignore white space and line breaks):
       Assertion conditions
           If  the  condition  is  not  in any of the above formats, it must be an
           assertion.  This may be a positive or negative lookahead or  lookbehind
           assertion.  Consider  this  pattern,  again  containing non-significant
           white space, and with the two alternatives on the second line:
             \d{2}-[a-z]{3}-\d{2}  |  \d{2}-\d{2}-\d{2} )
           The condition  is  a  positive  lookahead  assertion  that  matches  an
           optional  sequence of non-letters followed by a letter. In other words,
           it tests for the presence of at least one letter in the subject.  If  a
           letter  is found, the subject is matched against the first alternative;
           otherwise it is  matched  against  the  second.  This  pattern  matches
           strings  in  one  of the two forms dd-aaa-dd or dd-dd-dd, where aaa are
           letters and dd are digits.


           The sequence (?# marks the start of a comment that continues up to  the
           next  closing  parenthesis.  Nested  parentheses are not permitted. The
           characters that make up a comment play no part in the pattern  matching
           at all.
           If  the PCRE_EXTENDED option is set, an unescaped # character outside a
           character class introduces a  comment  that  continues  to  immediately
           after the next newline in the pattern.


           Consider  the problem of matching a string in parentheses, allowing for
           unlimited nested parentheses. Without the use of  recursion,  the  best
           that  can  be  done  is  to use a pattern that matches up to some fixed
           depth of nesting. It is not possible to  handle  an  arbitrary  nesting
           For some time, Perl has provided a facility that allows regular expres-
           sions to recurse (amongst other things). It does this by  interpolating
           Perl  code in the expression at run time, and the code can refer to the
           expression itself. A Perl pattern using code interpolation to solve the
           parentheses problem can be created like this:
             $re = qr{\( (?: (?>[^()]+) | (?p{$re}) )* \)}x;
           The (?p{...}) item interpolates Perl code at run time, and in this case
           refers recursively to the pattern in which it appears.
           Obviously, PCRE cannot support the interpolation of Perl code. Instead,
           it  supports  special  syntax  for recursion of the entire pattern, and
           also for individual subpattern recursion.  After  its  introduction  in
           PCRE  and  Python,  this  kind of recursion was introduced into Perl at
           This PCRE pattern solves the nested  parentheses  problem  (assume  the
           PCRE_EXTENDED option is set so that white space is ignored):
             \( ( (?>[^()]+) | (?R) )* \)
           First  it matches an opening parenthesis. Then it matches any number of
           substrings which can either be a  sequence  of  non-parentheses,  or  a
           recursive  match  of the pattern itself (that is, a correctly parenthe-
           sized substring).  Finally there is a closing parenthesis.
           If this were part of a larger pattern, you would not  want  to  recurse
           the entire pattern, so instead you could use this:
             ( \( ( (?>[^()]+) | (?1) )* \) )
           We  have  put the pattern into parentheses, and caused the recursion to
           refer to them instead of the whole pattern.
           In a larger pattern,  keeping  track  of  parenthesis  numbers  can  be
           tricky.  This is made easier by the use of relative references. (A Perl
           5.10 feature.)  Instead of (?1) in the  pattern  above  you  can  write
           (?-2) to refer to the second most recently opened parentheses preceding
           the recursion. In other  words,  a  negative  number  counts  capturing
           parentheses leftwards from the point at which it is encountered.
           It  is  also  possible  to refer to subsequently opened parentheses, by
           writing references such as (?+2). However, these  cannot  be  recursive
           because  the  reference  is  not inside the parentheses that are refer-
           enced. They are always "subroutine" calls, as  described  in  the  next
           An  alternative  approach is to use named parentheses instead. The Perl
           syntax for this is (?&name); PCRE's earlier syntax  (?P>name)  is  also
           supported. We could rewrite the above example as follows:
             (?<pn> \( ( (?>[^()]+) | (?&pn) )* \) )
           If  there  is more than one subpattern with the same name, the earliest
           one is used.
           This particular example pattern that we have been looking  at  contains
           nested  unlimited repeats, and so the use of atomic grouping for match-
           ing strings of non-parentheses is important when applying  the  pattern
           to strings that do not match. For example, when this pattern is applied
           it yields "no match" quickly. However, if atomic grouping is not  used,
           the  match  runs  for a very long time indeed because there are so many
           different ways the + and * repeats can carve up the  subject,  and  all
           have to be tested before failure can be reported.
                ^                        ^
                ^                        ^
           the  string  they  capture is "ab(cd)ef", the contents of the top level
           parentheses. If there are more than 15 capturing parentheses in a  pat-
           tern, PCRE has to obtain extra memory to store data during a recursion,
           which it does by using pcre_malloc, freeing  it  via  pcre_free  after-
           wards.  If  no  memory  can  be  obtained,  the  match  fails  with the
           PCRE_ERROR_NOMEMORY error.
           Do not confuse the (?R) item with the condition (R),  which  tests  for
           recursion.   Consider  this pattern, which matches text in angle brack-
           ets, allowing for arbitrary nesting. Only digits are allowed in  nested
           brackets  (that is, when recursing), whereas any characters are permit-
           ted at the outer level.
             < (?: (?(R) \d++  | [^<>]*+) | (?R)) * >
           In this pattern, (?(R) is the start of a conditional  subpattern,  with
           two  different  alternatives for the recursive and non-recursive cases.
           The (?R) item is the actual recursive call.


           If the syntax for a recursive subpattern reference (either by number or
           by  name)  is used outside the parentheses to which it refers, it oper-
           ates like a subroutine in a programming language. The "called"  subpat-
           tern may be defined before or after the reference. A numbered reference
           can be absolute or relative, as in these examples:
           An earlier example pointed out that the pattern
             (sens|respons)e and \1ibility
           matches "sense and sensibility" and "response and responsibility",  but
           not "sense and responsibility". If instead the pattern
             (sens|respons)e and (?1)ibility
           is  used, it does match "sense and responsibility" as well as the other
           two strings. Another example is  given  in  the  discussion  of  DEFINE
           Like recursive subpatterns, a "subroutine" call is always treated as an
           atomic group. That is, once it has matched some of the subject  string,
           it  is  never  re-entered, even if it contains untried alternatives and
           there is a subsequent matching failure.
           possibly recursively. Here are two of the examples used above,  rewrit-
           ten using this syntax:
             (?<pn> \( ( (?>[^()]+) | \g<pn> )* \) )
             (sens|respons)e and \g'1'ibility
           PCRE  supports  an extension to Oniguruma: if a number is preceded by a
           plus or a minus sign it is taken as a relative reference. For example:
           Note that \g{...} (Perl syntax) and \g<...> (Oniguruma syntax) are  not
           synonymous.  The former is a back reference; the latter is a subroutine


           Perl has a feature whereby using the sequence (?{...}) causes arbitrary
           Perl  code to be obeyed in the middle of matching a regular expression.
           This makes it possible, amongst other things, to extract different sub-
           strings that match the same pair of parentheses when there is a repeti-
           PCRE provides a similar feature, but of course it cannot obey arbitrary
           Perl code. The feature is called "callout". The caller of PCRE provides
           an external function by putting its entry point in the global  variable
           pcre_callout.   By default, this variable contains NULL, which disables
           all calling out.
           Within a regular expression, (?C) indicates the  points  at  which  the
           external  function  is  to be called. If you want to identify different
           callout points, you can put a number less than 256 after the letter  C.
           The  default  value is zero.  For example, this pattern has two callout
           If the PCRE_AUTO_CALLOUT flag is passed to pcre_compile(), callouts are
           automatically  installed  before each item in the pattern. They are all
           numbered 255.
           During matching, when PCRE reaches a callout point (and pcre_callout is
           set),  the  external function is called. It is provided with the number
           of the callout, the position in the pattern, and, optionally, one  item
           of  data  originally supplied by the caller of pcre_exec(). The callout
           function may cause matching to proceed, to backtrack, or to fail  alto-
           gether. A complete description of the interface to the callout function
           is given in the pcrecallout documentation.


           Perl 5.10 introduced a number of "Special Backtracking Control  Verbs",
           the form (*VERB:ARG) but PCRE does not support the use of arguments, so
           its general form is just (*VERB). Any number of these verbs  may  occur
           in a pattern. There are two kinds:
       Verbs that act immediately
           The following verbs act as soon as they are encountered:
           This  verb causes the match to end successfully, skipping the remainder
           of the pattern. When inside a recursion, only the innermost pattern  is
           ended  immediately.  PCRE  differs  from  Perl  in  what happens if the
           (*ACCEPT) is inside capturing parentheses. In Perl, the data so far  is
           captured: in PCRE no data is captured. For example:
           This  matches  "AB", "AAD", or "ACD", but when it matches "AB", no data
           is captured.
             (*FAIL) or (*F)
           This verb causes the match to fail, forcing backtracking to  occur.  It
           is  equivalent to (?!) but easier to read. The Perl documentation notes
           that it is probably useful only when combined  with  (?{})  or  (??{}).
           Those  are,  of course, Perl features that are not present in PCRE. The
           nearest equivalent is the callout feature, as for example in this  pat-
           A  match  with the string "aaaa" always fails, but the callout is taken
           before each backtrack happens (in this example, 10 times).
       Verbs that act after backtracking
           The following verbs do nothing when they are encountered. Matching con-
           tinues  with what follows, but if there is no subsequent match, a fail-
           ure is forced.  The verbs  differ  in  exactly  what  kind  of  failure
           This  verb  causes  the whole match to fail outright if the rest of the
           pattern does not match. Even if the pattern is unanchored,  no  further
           attempts  to find a match by advancing the start point take place. Once
           (*COMMIT) has been passed, pcre_exec() is committed to finding a  match
           at the current starting point, or not at all. For example:
           This verb is like (*PRUNE), except that if the pattern  is  unanchored,
           the  "bumpalong" advance is not to the next character, but to the posi-
           tion in the subject where (*SKIP) was  encountered.  (*SKIP)  signifies
           that  whatever  text  was  matched leading up to it cannot be part of a
           successful match. Consider:
           If the subject is "aaaac...",  after  the  first  match  attempt  fails
           (starting  at  the  first  character in the string), the starting point
           skips on to start the next attempt at "c". Note that a possessive quan-
           tifer  does not have the same effect in this example; although it would
           suppress backtracking  during  the  first  match  attempt,  the  second
           attempt  would  start at the second character instead of skipping on to
           This verb causes a skip to the next alternation if the rest of the pat-
           tern does not match. That is, it cancels pending backtracking, but only
           within the current alternation. Its name  comes  from  the  observation
           that it can be used for a pattern-based if-then-else block:
             ( COND1 (*THEN) FOO | COND2 (*THEN) BAR | COND3 (*THEN) BAZ ) ...
           If  the COND1 pattern matches, FOO is tried (and possibly further items
           after the end of the group if FOO succeeds);  on  failure  the  matcher
           skips  to  the second alternative and tries COND2, without backtracking
           into COND1. If (*THEN) is used outside  of  any  alternation,  it  acts
           exactly like (*PRUNE).


           pcreapi(3), pcrecallout(3), pcrematching(3), pcre(3).


           Philip Hazel
           University Computing Service
           Cambridge CB2 3QH, England.


           Last updated: 19 April 2008
           Copyright (c) 1997-2008 University of Cambridge.

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