Regular expressions are patterns used to match character combinations in strings.

Constructing a RegExp

  • var re = /ab+c/i;
  • var re = new RegExp("ab+c", "i");

Lookahead

x(?=y) (Positive Lookahead)

Matches 'x' only if 'x' is followed by 'y'.

For example, /Jack(?=Sprat)/ matches 'Jack' only if it is followed by 'Sprat'. /Jack(?=Sprat|Frost)/ matches 'Jack' only if it is followed by 'Sprat' or 'Frost'. However, neither ‘Sprat’ nor ‘Frost’ is part of the match results.

x(?!y) (Negative Lookahead)

Matches 'x' only if 'x' is not followed by 'y'.

For example, /\d+(?!\.)/ matches a number only if it is not followed by a decimal point. The regular expression /\d+(?!\.)/.exec("3.141") matches '141' but not '3.141'.

Lookahead does not consume characters in the string. It only asserts whether a match is possible or not.

As soon as the lookaround condition is satisfied, the regex engine forgets about everything inside the lookaround.

// Intersaction
// Match a 6+ letter password with at least:
// one number, one letter, and one symbol
var re = /^(?=.*\d)(?=.*[a-z])(?=.*[\W_]).{6,}$/i;

// Subtraction
// Any number that's NOT divisible by 5
var re = /\b(?!\d+[05])\d+\b/;

// Negation
// Anything that doesn't contain 'foo'
var re = /^(?!.*foo).+$/;

Lookbehind

Lookbehind works backwards. It tells the regex engine to temporarily check backwards in the string.

(?<=y)x (Positive Lookbehind)

Matches 'x' only if 'x' is preceded by 'y'.

(?<!y)x (Negative Lookbehind)

Matches 'x' only if 'x' is not preceded by 'y'.

For example, (?<!\\)(\\\\)*\\$ matches odd numbers of consecutive \.

Note: Lookbehind is not available in JavaScript.

Backreferences

(x)

Matches 'x' and remembers the match. The parentheses are called capturing parentheses.

(?:x)

Matches 'x' but does not remember the match. The parentheses are called non-capturing parentheses.

In expression /(?:foo){1,2}/. Without the non-capturing parentheses, the {1,2} characters would apply only to the last 'o' in 'foo'. With the capturing parentheses, the {1,2} applies to the entire word 'foo'.

Including parentheses in a regular expression pattern causes the corresponding submatch to be remembered.

// match quote string "hello"
/('|").+?('|")/g.exec('"hello"');
// but false positive: "hello' or 'hello"
/('|").+?('|")/g.exec('"hello\'');

// better: match quote string "hello 'world'"
/('|").+?\1/g.exec('"hello \'world\'"');
// but false positive: "hello \"world\""
/('|").+?\1/g.exec('"hello "world""');

// best: can match quote string "hello \"world\""
/('|")(\\?.)*?\1/g.exec('"hello \\"world\\""');

Furthermore, in string#replace method. the script can uses $1 and $2 to denote the first and second parenthesized substring matches.

"John Smith".replace(/(\w+)\s(\w+)/, "$2, $1");
// => "Smith, John"

Special Characters

?

If used immediately after any of the quantifiers *, +, ?, or {}, makes the quantifier non-greedy.

For example, applying /\d+/ to "123abc" matches "123". But applying /\d+?/ to that same string matches only the "1".

\b

Matches a word boundary. A word boundary matches the position where a word character is not followed or preceeded by another word-character. Note that a matched word boundary is not included in the match.

Examples:

  • /\bm/ matches the 'm' in "moon" ;
  • /oo\b/ does not match the 'oo' in "moon", because 'oo' is followed by 'n' which is a word character;
  • /oon\b/ matches the 'oon' in "moon", because 'oon' is the end of the string, thus not followed by a word character;
  • /\w\b\w/ will never match anything, because a word character can never be followed by both a non-word and a word character.

References

Comments