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re_syntax(n)		     Tcl Built-In Commands		  re_syntax(n)


       re_syntax - Syntax of Tcl regular expressions.

       A  regular  expression describes strings of characters.	It's a pattern
       that matches certain strings and doesn't match others.

       Regular expressions (``RE''s), as defined by POSIX, come	 in  two  fla‐
       vors:  extended	REs  (``EREs'')	 and  basic  REs (``BREs'').  EREs are
       roughly those of the traditional egrep, while BREs are roughly those of
       the  traditional ed.  This implementation adds a third flavor, advanced
       REs (``AREs''), basically EREs with some significant extensions.

       This manual page primarily describes AREs.  BREs mostly exist for back‐
       ward  compatibility in some old programs; they will be discussed at the
       end.  POSIX EREs are almost an exact subset of AREs.  Features of  AREs
       that are not present in EREs will be indicated.

       Tcl  regular  expressions  are implemented using the package written by
       Henry Spencer, based on the 1003.2 spec and some (not quite all) of the
       Perl5  extensions (thanks, Henry!).  Much of the description of regular
       expressions below is copied verbatim from his manual entry.

       An ARE is one or more branches, separated  by  `|',  matching  anything
       that matches any of the branches.

       A branch is zero or more constraints or quantified atoms, concatenated.
       It matches a match for the first, followed by a match for  the  second,
       etc; an empty branch matches the empty string.

       A  quantified atom is an atom possibly followed by a single quantifier.
       Without a quantifier, it matches a match for  the  atom.	  The  quanti‐
       fiers, and what a so-quantified atom matches, are:

	 *     a sequence of 0 or more matches of the atom

	 +     a sequence of 1 or more matches of the atom

	 ?     a sequence of 0 or 1 matches of the atom

	 {m}   a sequence of exactly m matches of the atom

	 {m,}  a sequence of m or more matches of the atom

	 {m,n} a  sequence  of	m through n (inclusive) matches of the atom; m
	       may not exceed n

	 *?  +?	 ??  {m}?  {m,}?  {m,n}?
	       non-greedy quantifiers, which match the same possibilities, but
	       prefer  the  smallest  number rather than the largest number of
	       matches (see MATCHING)

       The forms using { and } are known as bounds.  The numbers m and	n  are
       unsigned	 decimal integers with permissible values from 0 to 255 inclu‐

       An atom is one of:

	 (re)  (where re is any regular expression) matches a  match  for  re,
	       with the match noted for possible reporting

	       as  previous, but does no reporting (a ``non-capturing'' set of

	 ()    matches an empty string, noted for possible reporting

	 (?:)  matches an empty string, without reporting

	       a bracket expression,  matching	any  one  of  the  chars  (see
	       BRACKET EXPRESSIONS for more detail)

	  .    matches any single character

	 \k    (where  k is a non-alphanumeric character) matches that charac‐
	       ter taken as an ordinary character, e.g. \\ matches a backslash

	 \c    where  c	 is  alphanumeric  (possibly followed by other charac‐
	       ters), an escape (AREs only), see ESCAPES below

	 {     when followed by a character other than a  digit,  matches  the
	       left-brace  character  `{'; when followed by a digit, it is the
	       beginning of a bound (see above)

	 x     where x is a  single  character	with  no  other	 significance,
	       matches that character.

       A  constraint matches an empty string when specific conditions are met.
       A constraint may not be followed by  a  quantifier.   The  simple  con‐
       straints	 are  as  follows;  some more constraints are described later,
       under ESCAPES.

	 ^	 matches at the beginning of a line

	 $	 matches at the end of a line

	 (?=re)	 positive lookahead (AREs only), matches at any point where  a
		 substring matching re begins

	 (?!re)	 negative lookahead (AREs only), matches at any point where no
		 substring matching re begins

       The lookahead constraints may not contain back references (see  later),
       and all parentheses within them are considered non-capturing.

       An RE may not end with `\'.

       A bracket expression is a list of characters enclosed in `[]'.  It nor‐
       mally matches any single character from the list (but see  below).   If
       the  list  begins  with	`^',  it matches any single character (but see
       below) not from the rest of the list.

       If two characters in the list are separated by `-', this	 is  shorthand
       for  the	 full range of characters between those two (inclusive) in the
       collating sequence, e.g.	 [0-9] in ASCII	 matches  any  decimal	digit.
       Two  ranges  may	 not  share  an	 endpoint,  so e.g.  a-c-e is illegal.
       Ranges are very	collating-sequence-dependent,  and  portable  programs
       should avoid relying on them.

       To  include  a  literal	]  or - in the list, the simplest method is to
       enclose it in [. and .]	to make it a collating	element	 (see  below).
       Alternatively,  make it the first character (following a possible `^'),
       or (AREs only) precede it with `\'.  Alternatively, for	`-',  make  it
       the  last  character, or the second endpoint of a range.	 To use a lit‐
       eral - as the first endpoint of a range, make it a collating element or
       (AREs  only)  precede  it  with `\'.  With the exception of these, some
       combinations using [ (see next paragraphs), and escapes, all other spe‐
       cial  characters	 lose  their  special  significance  within  a bracket

       Within a bracket expression, a collating element (a character, a multi-
       character sequence that collates as if it were a single character, or a
       collating-sequence name for either) enclosed in [. and .]   stands  for
       the  sequence of characters of that collating element.  The sequence is
       a single element of the bracket expression's list.  A  bracket  expres‐
       sion  in	 a locale that has multi-character collating elements can thus
       match more than one character.  So (insidiously), a bracket  expression │
       that starts with ^ can match multi-character collating elements even if │
       none of them appear in the bracket expression!	(Note:	Tcl  currently │
       has  no	multi-character	 collating elements.  This information is only │
       for illustration.)						       │

       For example, assume the collating sequence includes a ch	 multi-charac‐ │
       ter  collating element.	Then the RE [[.ch.]]*c (zero or more ch's fol‐ │
       lowed by c) matches the first five characters of `chchcc'.   Also,  the │
       RE [^c]b matches all of `chb' (because [^c] matches the multi-character │

       Within a bracket expression, a collating element enclosed in [= and  =]
       is  an  equivalence  class, standing for the sequences of characters of
       all collating elements equivalent to that one, including	 itself.   (If
       there  are  no other equivalent collating elements, the treatment is as
       if the enclosing delimiters were `[.' and `.]'.)	 For example, if o and
       ^  are  the members of an equivalence class, then `[[=o=]]', `[[=^=]]',
       and `[o^]' are all synonymous.  An equivalence class may not be an end‐
       point  of  a  range.   (Note: Tcl currently implements only the Unicode │
       locale.	It doesn't define any equivalence classes.  The examples above │
       are just illustrations.)

       Within  a bracket expression, the name of a character class enclosed in
       [: and :] stands for the list of all characters (not all collating ele‐
       ments!)	belonging to that class.  Standard character classes are:

	      alpha	  A letter.
	      upper	  An upper-case letter.
	      lower	  A lower-case letter.
	      digit	  A decimal digit.
	      xdigit	  A hexadecimal digit.
	      alnum	  An alphanumeric (letter or digit).
	      print	  An alphanumeric (same as alnum).
	      blank	  A space or tab character.
	      space	  A character producing white space in displayed text.
	      punct	  A punctuation character.
	      graph	  A character with a visible representation.
	      cntrl	  A control character.

       A locale may provide others.  (Note that the current Tcl implementation │
       has only one locale: the Unicode locale.)  A character class may not be
       used as an endpoint of a range.

       There are two special cases of bracket expressions: the bracket expres‐
       sions [[:<:]] and [[:>:]] are constraints, matching  empty  strings  at
       the  beginning  and end of a word respectively.	A word is defined as a
       sequence of word characters that is neither preceded  nor  followed  by
       word  characters.   A word character is an alnum character or an under‐
       score (_).  These special bracket expressions are deprecated; users  of
       AREs should use constraint escapes instead (see below).

       Escapes	(AREs  only), which begin with a \ followed by an alphanumeric
       character, come in several varieties:  character	 entry,	 class	short‐
       hands,  constraint  escapes,  and  back references.  A \ followed by an
       alphanumeric character but not constituting a valid escape  is  illegal
       in  AREs.  In EREs, there are no escapes: outside a bracket expression,
       a \ followed by an alphanumeric character merely stands for that	 char‐
       acter  as  an ordinary character, and inside a bracket expression, \ is
       an ordinary character.  (The latter is the one  actual  incompatibility
       between EREs and AREs.)

       Character-entry	escapes (AREs only) exist to make it easier to specify
       non-printing and otherwise inconvenient characters in REs:

	 \a   alert (bell) character, as in C

	 \b   backspace, as in C

	 \B   synonym for \ to help reduce backslash doubling in some applica‐
	      tions where there are multiple levels of backslash processing

	 \cX  (where  X is any character) the character whose low-order 5 bits
	      are the same as those of X, and whose other bits are all zero

	 \e   the character whose collating-sequence name is `ESC', or failing
	      that, the character with octal value 033

	 \f   formfeed, as in C

	 \n   newline, as in C

	 \r   carriage return, as in C

	 \t   horizontal tab, as in C

	      (where  wxyz  is	exactly	 four  hexadecimal digits) the Unicode
	      character U+wxyz in the local byte ordering

	      (where stuvwxyz is exactly eight	hexadecimal  digits)  reserved
	      for a somewhat-hypothetical Unicode extension to 32 bits

	 \v   vertical tab, as in C are all available.

	      (where  hhh is any sequence of hexadecimal digits) the character
	      whose hexadecimal value is 0xhhh (a single character  no	matter
	      how many hexadecimal digits are used).

	 \0   the character whose value is 0

	 \xy  (where  xy is exactly two octal digits, and is not a back refer‐
	      ence (see below)) the character whose octal value is 0xy

	 \xyz (where xyz is exactly three octal digits, and is not a back ref‐
	      erence (see below)) the character whose octal value is 0xyz

       Hexadecimal digits are `0'-`9', `a'-`f', and `A'-`F'.  Octal digits are

       The character-entry escapes are always taken  as	 ordinary  characters.
       For  example, \135 is ] in ASCII, but \135 does not terminate a bracket
       expression.  Beware, however, that some applications (e.g.,  C  compil‐
       ers)  interpret such sequences themselves before the regular-expression
       package gets to see them,  which	 may  require  doubling	 (quadrupling,
       etc.) the `\'.

       Class-shorthand escapes (AREs only) provide shorthands for certain com‐
       monly-used character classes:

	 \d	   [[:digit:]]

	 \s	   [[:space:]]

	 \w	   [[:alnum:]_] (note underscore)

	 \D	   [^[:digit:]]

	 \S	   [^[:space:]]

	 \W	   [^[:alnum:]_] (note underscore)

       Within bracket expressions, `\d',  `\s',	 and  `\w'  lose  their	 outer
       brackets,  and `\D', `\S', and `\W' are illegal.	 (So, for example, [a- │
       c\d] is equivalent to [a-c[:digit:]].  Also, [a-c\D], which is  equiva‐ │
       lent to [a-c^[:digit:]], is illegal.)

       A  constraint  escape  (AREs  only) is a constraint, matching the empty
       string if specific conditions are met, written as an escape:

	 \A    matches only at the beginning  of  the  string  (see  MATCHING,
	       below, for how this differs from `^')

	 \m    matches only at the beginning of a word

	 \M    matches only at the end of a word

	 \y    matches only at the beginning or end of a word

	 \Y    matches	only  at a point that is not the beginning or end of a

	 \Z    matches only at the end of the string (see MATCHING, below, for
	       how this differs from `$')

	 \m    (where m is a nonzero digit) a back reference, see below

	 \mnn  (where  m  is  a nonzero digit, and nn is some more digits, and
	       the decimal value mnn is not greater than the number of closing
	       capturing parentheses seen so far) a back reference, see below

       A word is defined as in the specification of [[:<:]] and [[:>:]] above.
       Constraint escapes are illegal within bracket expressions.

       A back reference (AREs only) matches the same  string  matched  by  the
       parenthesized  subexpression  specified	by  the number, so that (e.g.)
       ([bc])\1 matches bb  or	cc  but	 not  `bc'.   The  subexpression  must
       entirely precede the back reference in the RE.  Subexpressions are num‐
       bered in the order of their leading parentheses.	 Non-capturing	paren‐
       theses do not define subexpressions.

       There is an inherent historical ambiguity between octal character-entry
       escapes and back references, which is resolved by heuristics, as hinted
       at  above.   A leading zero always indicates an octal escape.  A single
       non-zero digit, not followed by another digit, is  always  taken	 as  a
       back  reference.	  A  multi-digit  sequence not starting with a zero is
       taken as a back reference if it comes after  a  suitable	 subexpression
       (i.e.  the number is in the legal range for a back reference), and oth‐
       erwise is taken as octal.

       In addition to the main syntax described above, there are some  special
       forms and miscellaneous syntactic facilities available.

       Normally the flavor of RE being used is specified by application-depen‐
       dent means.  However, this can be overridden by a director.  If	an  RE
       of  any flavor begins with `***:', the rest of the RE is an ARE.	 If an
       RE of any flavor begins with `***=', the rest of the RE is taken to  be
       a literal string, with all characters considered ordinary characters.

       An ARE may begin with embedded options: a sequence (?xyz) (where xyz is
       one or more alphabetic characters) specifies options affecting the rest
       of  the	RE.  These supplement, and can override, any options specified
       by the application.  The available option letters are:

	 b  rest of RE is a BRE

	 c  case-sensitive matching (usual default)

	 e  rest of RE is an ERE

	 i  case-insensitive matching (see MATCHING, below)

	 m  historical synonym for n

	 n  newline-sensitive matching (see MATCHING, below)

	 p  partial newline-sensitive matching (see MATCHING, below)

	 q  rest of RE is a literal (``quoted'') string, all ordinary  charac‐

	 s  non-newline-sensitive matching (usual default)

	 t  tight syntax (usual default; see below)

	 w  inverse partial newline-sensitive (``weird'') matching (see MATCH‐
	    ING, below)

	 x  expanded syntax (see below)

       Embedded options take effect at the ) terminating the  sequence.	  They
       are  available  only  at the start of an ARE, and may not be used later
       within it.

       In addition to the usual (tight) RE syntax, in which all characters are
       significant,  there  is an expanded syntax, available in all flavors of
       RE with the -expanded switch, or in AREs with the  embedded  x  option.
       In  the	expanded  syntax,  white-space	characters are ignored and all
       characters between a # and the following newline (or the end of the RE)
       are  ignored,  permitting  paragraphing	and  commenting	 a complex RE.
       There are three exceptions to that basic rule:

	 a white-space character or `#' preceded by `\' is retained

	 white space or `#' within a bracket expression is retained

	 white space and comments are illegal within  multi-character  symbols
	 like the ARE `(?:' or the BRE `\('

       Expanded-syntax white-space characters are blank, tab, newline, and any │
       character that belongs to the space character class.

       Finally, in an ARE, outside bracket expressions, the sequence `(?#ttt)'
       (where  ttt  is any text not containing a `)') is a comment, completely
       ignored.	 Again, this is not allowed between the characters  of	multi-
       character  symbols  like	 `(?:'.	  Such	comments are more a historical
       artifact than a useful facility, and their use is deprecated;  use  the
       expanded syntax instead.

       None of these metasyntax extensions is available if the application (or
       an initial ***= director)  has  specified  that	the  user's  input  be
       treated as a literal string rather than as an RE.

       In  the event that an RE could match more than one substring of a given
       string, the RE matches the one starting earliest in the string.	If the
       RE  could  match	 more  than  one substring starting at that point, its
       choice is determined by its preference: either the  longest  substring,
       or the shortest.

       Most  atoms,  and all constraints, have no preference.  A parenthesized
       RE has the same preference (possibly none) as  the  RE.	 A  quantified
       atom  with  quantifier  {m}  or {m}?  has the same preference (possibly
       none) as the atom itself.  A quantified atom with other normal  quanti‐
       fiers  (including  {m,n}	 with  m equal to n) prefers longest match.  A
       quantified atom with other  non-greedy  quantifiers  (including	{m,n}?
       with m equal to n) prefers shortest match.  A branch has the same pref‐
       erence as the first quantified atom in it which has a  preference.   An
       RE  consisting  of  two	or  more  branches connected by the | operator
       prefers longest match.

       Subject to the constraints imposed by the rules for matching the	 whole
       RE,  subexpressions  also  match	 the longest or shortest possible sub‐
       strings, based on their preferences, with subexpressions starting  ear‐
       lier  in	 the  RE  taking priority over ones starting later.  Note that
       outer subexpressions thus take priority over their component subexpres‐

       Note  that the quantifiers {1,1} and {1,1}?  can be used to force long‐
       est and shortest preference, respectively,  on  a  subexpression	 or  a
       whole RE.

       Match  lengths  are measured in characters, not collating elements.  An
       empty string is considered longer than no match at all.	 For  example,
       bb*    matches	 the	three	 middle	   characters	 of   `abbbc',
       (week|wee)(night|knights) matches all ten characters  of	 `weeknights',
       when  (.*).*   is  matched  against abc the parenthesized subexpression
       matches all three characters, and when (a*)* is matched against bc both
       the whole RE and the parenthesized subexpression match an empty string.

       If case-independent matching is specified, the effect is much as if all
       case distinctions had vanished from the alphabet.  When	an  alphabetic
       that  exists in multiple cases appears as an ordinary character outside
       a bracket expression, it is  effectively	 transformed  into  a  bracket
       expression  containing  both  cases, so that x becomes `[xX]'.  When it
       appears inside a bracket expression, all case counterparts  of  it  are
       added  to  the  bracket	expression,  so that [x] becomes [xX] and [^x]
       becomes `[^xX]'.

       If newline-sensitive matching is specified, .  and bracket  expressions
       using  ^	 will  never match the newline character (so that matches will
       never cross newlines unless the RE explicitly arranges it) and ^ and  $
       will match the empty string after and before a newline respectively, in
       addition to matching at beginning and end of string respectively.   ARE
       \A and \Z continue to match beginning or end of string only.

       If partial newline-sensitive matching is specified, this affects .  and
       bracket expressions as with newline-sensitive matching, but not	^  and

       If  inverse  partial  newline-sensitive	matching  is  specified,  this
       affects ^ and $ as with newline-sensitive  matching,  but  not  .   and
       bracket expressions.  This isn't very useful but is provided for symme‐

       No particular limit is imposed on the length of REs.  Programs intended
       to be highly portable should not employ REs longer than 256 bytes, as a
       POSIX-compliant implementation can refuse to accept such REs.

       The only feature of AREs that is actually incompatible with POSIX  EREs
       is that \ does not lose its special significance inside bracket expres‐
       sions.  All other ARE features use syntax which is illegal or has unde‐
       fined or unspecified effects in POSIX EREs; the *** syntax of directors
       likewise is outside the POSIX syntax for both BREs and EREs.

       Many of the ARE extensions are borrowed from Perl, but some  have  been
       changed	to  clean  them up, and a few Perl extensions are not present.
       Incompatibilities of note include  `\b',	 `\B',	the  lack  of  special
       treatment  for a trailing newline, the addition of complemented bracket
       expressions to the things affected by newline-sensitive	matching,  the
       restrictions  on	 parentheses  and  back	 references  in lookahead con‐
       straints, and  the  longest/shortest-match  (rather  than  first-match)
       matching semantics.

       The  matching rules for REs containing both normal and non-greedy quan‐
       tifiers have changed since early beta-test versions  of	this  package.
       (The  new rules are much simpler and cleaner, but don't work as hard at
       guessing the user's real intentions.)

       Henry Spencer's original 1986 regexp package, still in  widespread  use
       (e.g.,  in  pre-8.1  releases  of Tcl), implemented an early version of
       today's EREs.  There are four incompatibilities between regexp's	 near-
       EREs  (`RREs' for short) and AREs.  In roughly increasing order of sig‐

	      In AREs, \ followed by an alphanumeric character	is  either  an
	      escape  or  an  error, while in RREs, it was just another way of
	      writing the alphanumeric.	 This should not be a problem  because
	      there was no reason to write such a sequence in RREs.

	      {	 followed  by  a  digit in an ARE is the beginning of a bound,
	      while in	RREs,  {  was  always  an  ordinary  character.	  Such
	      sequences	 should	 be  rare,  and	 will often result in an error
	      because following characters will not look like a valid bound.

	      In AREs, \ remains a special character within `[]', so a literal
	      \	 within	 []  must  be written `\\'.  \\ also gives a literal \
	      within [] in RREs, but only truly paranoid programmers routinely
	      doubled the backslash.

	      AREs  report  the longest/shortest match for the RE, rather than
	      the first found in a specified search order.   This  may	affect
	      some  RREs  which were written in the expectation that the first
	      match would be reported.	(The careful crafting of RREs to opti‐
	      mize  the search order for fast matching is obsolete (AREs exam‐
	      ine all possible matches in parallel, and their  performance  is
	      largely  insensitive  to	their  complexity) but cases where the
	      search order was exploited to deliberately find  a  match	 which
	      was not the longest/shortest will need rewriting.)

       BREs  differ from EREs in several respects.  `|', `+', and ?  are ordi‐
       nary characters and there is no	equivalent  for	 their	functionality.
       The  delimiters	for bounds are \{ and `\}', with { and } by themselves
       ordinary characters.  The parentheses for nested subexpressions are  \(
       and  `\)',  with	 (  and	 ) by themselves ordinary characters.  ^ is an
       ordinary character except at the beginning of the RE or	the  beginning
       of  a parenthesized subexpression, $ is an ordinary character except at
       the end of the RE or the end of a parenthesized subexpression, and * is
       an  ordinary  character if it appears at the beginning of the RE or the
       beginning of a parenthesized subexpression (after  a  possible  leading
       `^').   Finally, single-digit back references are available, and \< and
       \> are synonyms for [[:<:]] and [[:>:]] respectively; no other  escapes
       are available.

       RegExp(3), regexp(n), regsub(n), lsearch(n), switch(n), text(n)

       match, regular expression, string

Tcl				      8.1			  re_syntax(n)

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