PHP Regular Expressions Choosing Greedy or Nongreedy Matches - Web Development and Design | Tutorial for Java, PHP, HTML, Javascript PHP Regular Expressions Choosing Greedy or Nongreedy Matches - Web Development and Design | Tutorial for Java, PHP, HTML, Javascript

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Monday, July 8, 2019

PHP Regular Expressions Choosing Greedy or Nongreedy Matches

PHP Regular Expressions 



Choosing Greedy or Nongreedy Matches

Problem

You want your pattern to match the smallest possible string instead of the largest.

Solution

Example  Making a quantifier match as few characters as possible

       // find all <em>emphasized</em> sections
       preg_match_all('@<em>.+?</em>@', $html, $matches);

Or use the U pattern-modifier ending to invert all quantifiers from greedy (“match as many characters as possible”) to nongreedy (“match as few characters as possible”).

Example  Making a quantifier match as few characters as possible

       // find all <em>emphasized</em> sections
       preg_match_all('@<em>.+</em>@U', $html, $matches);

Discussion

By default, all regular expression quantifiers in PHP are greedy. For example, consider the pattern <em>.</em>, which matches "<em>, one or more characters, </em>,” matching against the string I simply <em>love</em> your <em>work</em>. A greedy regular expression finds one match, because after it matches the opening <em>, its .+ slurps up as much as possible, finally grinding to a halt at the final </em>. The .+ matches love</em> your <em>work.

A nongreedy regular expression, on the other hand, finds a pair of matches. The first <em> is matched as before, but then .+ stops as soon as it can, only matching love. A second match then goes ahead: the next .+ matches work.

Example  Greedy versus nongreedy matching

       $html = 'I simply <em>love</em> your <em>work</em>';
       // Greedy
       $matchCount = preg_match_all('@<em>.+</em>@', $html, $matches);
       print "Greedy count: " . $matchCount . "\n";
       // Nongreedy
       $matchCount = preg_match_all('@<em>.+?</em>@', $html, $matches);
       print "First non-greedy count: " . $matchCount . "\n";
       // Nongreedy
       $matchCount = preg_match_all('@<em>.+</em>@U', $html, $matches);
       print "Second non-greedy count: " . $matchCount . "\n";

Example  prints:

       Greedy count: 1
       First non-greedy count: 2
       Second non-greedy count: 2

Greedy matching is also known as maximal matching and nongreedy matching can be called minimal matching, because these methods match either the maximum or minimum number of characters possible.

The ereg() and ereg_replace() functions are always greedy. Being able to choose between greedy and nongreedy matching is another reason to use the PCRE functions instead.

Although nongreedy matching is useful for simplistic HTML parsing, it can break down if your markup isn’t 100 percent valid and there are, for example, stray <em> tags lying around.2 If your goal is just to remove all (or some) HTML tags from a block of text, you’re better off not using a regular expression. Instead, use the built-in function strip_tags(); it’s faster and it works correctly.

Finally, even though the idea of nongreedy matching comes from Perl, the U modifier is incompatible with Perl and is unique to PHP’s Perl-compatible regular expressions. It inverts all quantifiers, turning them from greedy to nongreedy and also the reverse. So to get a greedy quantifier inside of a pattern operating under a trailing /U, just add a ? to the end, the same way you would normally turn a greedy quantifier into a non‐greedy one.

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