Java Regular Expression Syntax - Web Development and Design | Tutorial for Java, PHP, HTML, Javascript Java Regular Expression Syntax - Web Development and Design | Tutorial for Java, PHP, HTML, Javascript

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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Java Regular Expression Syntax

Java Regular Expression Syntax

Problem

You need to learn the syntax of JDK 1.4 regular expressions.

Solution

Consult Table 4-2 for a list of the regular expression characters.

Explained

These pattern characters let you specify regexes of considerable power. In building
patterns, you can use any combination of ordinary text and the metacharacters, or
special characters, in Table 4-2. These can all be used in any combination that makes
sense. For example, a+ means any number of occurrences of the letter a , from one up
to a million or a gazillion. The pattern Mrs?\. matches Mr. or Mrs. . And .* means
“any character, any number of times,” and is similar in meaning to most command-
line interpreters’ meaning of the * alone. The pattern \d+ means any number of
numeric digits. \d{2,3} means a two- or three-digit number.






Regexes match anyplace possible in the string. Patterns followed by a greedy multi-
plier (the only type that existed in traditional Unix regexes) consume (match) as
much as possible without compromising any subexpressions which follow; patterns
followed by a possessive multiplier match as much as possible without regard to fol-
lowing subexpressions; patterns followed by a reluctant multiplier consume as few
characters as possible to still get a match.

Also, unlike regex packages in some other languages, the JDK 1.4 package was
designed to handle Unicode characters from the beginning. And the standard Java
escape sequence \unnnn is used to specify a Unicode character in the pattern. We use
methods of java.lang.Character to determine Unicode character properties, such as
whether a given character is a space.

To help you learn how regexes work, I provide a little program called REDemo . * In the
online directory javasrc/RE, you should be able to type either ant REDemo , or javac
REDemo followed by java REDemo , to get the program running.

In the uppermost text box, type the regex pattern you want to test.
Note that as you type each character, the regex is checked for syntax; if the syntax is
OK, you see a checkmark beside it. You can then select Match, Find, or Find All.
Match means that the entire string must match the regex, while Find means the regex
must be found somewhere in the string (Find All counts the number of occurrences that are found). Below that, you type a string that the regex is to match against.

Experiment to your heart’s content. When you have the regex the way you want it,
you can paste it into your Java program. You’ll need to escape (backslash) any char-
acters that are treated specially by both the Java compiler and the JDK 1.4 regex
package, such as the backslash itself, double quotes, and others (see the sidebar
“Remember This!”).

Remember This!

Remember that because a regex compiles strings that are also compiled by javac, you
usually need two levels of escaping for any special characters, including backslash,
double quotes, and so on. For example, the regex:

"You said it\."

has to be typed like this to be a Java language String :

"\"You said it\\.\""

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made the mistake of forgetting the extra backslash
in \d+ , \w+ , and their kin!.

I typed qu into the REDemo program’s Pattern box, which is a syntacti-
cally valid regex pattern: any ordinary characters stand as regexes for themselves, so
this looks for the letter q followed by u . In the top version, I typed only a q into the
string, which is not matched. In the second, I have typed quack and the q of a second
quack . Since I have selected Find All, the count shows one match. As soon as I type
the second u , the count is updated to two, as shown in the third version.

Regexes can do far more than just character matching. For example, the two-charac-
ter regex ^T would match beginning of line ( ^ ) immediately followed by a capital T—
i.e., any line beginning with a capital T. It doesn’t matter whether the line begins
with Tiny trumpets, Titanic tubas, or Triumphant slide trombones, as long as the capi-
tal T is present in the first position.

But here we’re not very far ahead. Have we really invested all this effort in regex tech-
nology just to be able to do what we could already do with the java.lang.String
method startsWith( ) ? Hmmm, I can hear some of you getting a bit restless. Stay in
your seats! What if you wanted to match not only a letter T in the first position, but
also a vowel (a, e, i, o, or u) immediately after it, followed by any number of letters in
a word, followed by an exclamation point? Surely you could do this in Java by check-
ing startsWith("T") and charAt(1) == 'a' || charAt(1) == 'e' , and so on? Yes, but by
the time you did that, you’d have written a lot of very highly specialized code that
you couldn’t use in any other application. With regular expressions, you can just
give the pattern ^T[aeiou]\w*! . That is, ^ and T as before, followed by a character
class listing the vowels, followed by any number of word characters ( \w* ), followed
by the exclamation point.

“But wait, there’s more!” as my late, great boss Yuri Rubinsky used to say. What if
you want to be able to change the pattern you’re looking for at runtime? Remember
all that Java code you just wrote to match T in column 1, plus a vowel, some word
characters, and an exclamation point? Well, it’s time to throw it out. Because this
morning we need to match Q , followed by a letter other than u , followed by a num-
ber of digits, followed by a period. While some of you start writing a new function to
do that, the rest of us will just saunter over to the RegEx Bar & Grille, order a
^Q[^u]\d+\.. from the bartender, and be on our way.

OK, the [^u] means “match any one character that is not the character u .” The \d+
means one or more numeric digits. The + is a multiplier or quantifier meaning one or
more occurrences of what it follows, and \d is any one numeric digit. So \d+ means a
number with one, two, or more digits. Finally, the \. ? Well, . by itself is a metachar-
acter. Most single metacharacters are switched off by preceding them with an escape
character. Not the ESC key on your keyboard, of course. The regex “escape” charac-
ter is the backslash. Preceding a metacharacter like . with escape turns off its special
meaning. Preceding a few selected alphabetic characters (e.g., n , r , t , s , w ) with
escape turns them into metacharacters. The ^Q[^u]\d+\.. regex in
action. In the first frame, I have typed part of the regex as ^Q[^u and, since there is an unclosed square bracket, the Syntax OK flag is turned off; when I complete the
regex, it will be turned back on. In the second frame, I have finished the regex and
typed the string as QA577 (which you should expect to match the ^Q[^u]\d+ , but not
the period since I haven’t typed it). In the third frame, I’ve typed the period so the
Matches flag is set to Yes.

One good way to think of regular expressions is as a “little language” for matching
patterns of characters in text contained in strings. Give yourself extra points if you’ve
already recognized this as the design pattern known as Interpreter. A regular expres-
sion API is an interpreter for matching regular expressions.

So now you should have at least a basic grasp of how regexes work in practice. The
rest of this chapter gives more examples and explains some of the more powerful
topics, such as capture groups. As for how regexes work in theory—and there is a lot
of theoretical details and differences among regex flavors—the interested reader is
referred to the book Mastering Regular Expressions. Meanwhile, let’s start learning
how to write Java programs that use regular expressions.

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