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PCREPATTERN(3)             Library Functions Manual             PCREPATTERN(3)



NAME
       PCRE - Perl-compatible regular expressions

PCRE REGULAR EXPRESSION DETAILS

       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. 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
       page.

       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.

NEWLINE CONVENTIONS

       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

       These override the default and the options given to pcre_compile(). For
       example, on a Unix system where LF is the default newline sequence, the
       pattern

         (*CR)a.b

       changes the convention to CR. That pattern matches "a\nb" because LF is
       no longer a newline. Note that these special settings,  which  are  not
       Perl-compatible,  are  recognized  only at the very start of a pattern,
       and that they must be in upper case.  If  more  than  one  of  them  is
       present, the last one is used.

       The  newline  convention  does  not  affect what the \R escape sequence
       matches. By default, this is any Unicode  newline  sequence,  for  Perl
       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.

CHARACTERS AND METACHARACTERS

       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:

         \      general escape character
         ^      negate the class, but only if the first character
         -      indicates character range
         [      POSIX character class (only if followed by POSIX
                  syntax)
         ]      terminates the character class

       The following sections describe the use of each of the metacharacters.

BACKSLASH

       The backslash character has several uses. Firstly, if it is followed by
       a non-alphanumeric character, it takes away any  special  meaning  that
       character  may  have.  This  use  of  backslash  as an escape character
       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, whitespace 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 whitespace  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
       classes.

   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        formfeed (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,
       it is converted to upper case. Then bit 6 of the character (hex 40)  is
       inverted.   Thus  \cz becomes hex 1A, but \c{ becomes hex 3B, while \c;
       becomes hex 7B.

       After \x, from zero to two hexadecimal digits are read (letters can  be
       in  upper  or  lower case). Any number of hexadecimal digits may appear
       between \x{ and }, but the value of the character  code  must  be  less
       than 256 in non-UTF-8 mode, and less than 2**31 in UTF-8 mode. That is,
       the maximum value in hexadecimal is 7FFFFFFF. Note that this is  bigger
       than the largest Unicode code point, which is 10FFFF.

       If  characters  other than hexadecimal digits appear between \x{ and },
       or if there is no terminating }, this form of escape is not recognized.
       Instead,  the  initial  \x  will  be interpreted as a basic hexadecimal
       escape, with no following digits, giving a  character  whose  value  is
       zero.

       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
       example:

         \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
       different meanings (see below).

   Absolute and relative back references

       The  sequence  \g followed by an unsigned or a negative number, option-
       ally enclosed in braces, is an absolute or relative back  reference.  A
       named back reference can be coded as \g{name}. Back references are dis-
       cussed later, following the discussion of parenthesized subpatterns.

   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 whitespace character
         \H     any character that is not a horizontal whitespace character
         \s     any whitespace character
         \S     any character that is not a whitespace character
         \v     any vertical whitespace character
         \V     any character that is not a vertical whitespace 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+2002     En space
         U+2003     Em space
         U+2004     Three-per-em space
         U+2005     Four-per-em space
         U+2006     Six-per-em space
         U+2007     Figure space
         U+2008     Punctuation space
         U+2009     Thin space
         U+200A     Hair space
         U+202F     Narrow no-break space
         U+205F     Medium mathematical space
         U+3000     Ideographic space

       The vertical space characters are:

         U+000A     Linefeed
         U+000B     Vertical tab
         U+000C     Formfeed
         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:

         (?>\r\n|\n|\x0b|\f|\r|\x85)

       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 (formfeed, U+000C), CR (carriage
       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
       special settings, which are not Perl-compatible, are recognized only at
       the  very  start  of a pattern, and that they must be in upper case. If
       more than one of them is present, the last one is  used.  They  can  be
       combined  with  a  change of newline convention, for example, a pattern
       can start with:

         (*ANY)(*BSR_ANYCRLF)

       Inside a character class, \R matches the letter "R".

   Unicode character properties

       When PCRE is built with Unicode character property support, three addi-
       tional  escape sequences that match characters with specific properties
       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:

         \p{Greek}
         \P{Han}

       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:

         \p{L}
         \pL

       The following general category property codes are supported:

         C     Other
         Cc    Control
         Cf    Format
         Cn    Unassigned
         Co    Private use
         Cs    Surrogate

         L     Letter
         Ll    Lower case letter
         Lm    Modifier letter
         Lo    Other letter
         Lt    Title case letter
         Lu    Upper case letter

         M     Mark
         Mc    Spacing mark
         Me    Enclosing mark
         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

         (?>\PM\pM*)

       That  is,  it matches a character without the "mark" property, followed
       by zero or more characters with the "mark"  property,  and  treats  the
       sequence  as  an  atomic group (see below).  Characters with the "mark"
       property are typically accents that  affect  the  preceding  character.
       None  of  them  have  codepoints less than 256, so in non-UTF-8 mode \X
       matches any one character.

       Matching characters by Unicode property is not fast, because  PCRE  has
       to  search  a  structure  that  contains data for over fifteen thousand
       characters. That is why the traditional escape sequences such as \d and
       \w do not use Unicode properties in PCRE.

   Resetting the match start

       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:

         foo\Kbar

       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

         (foo)\Kbar

       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
       that \Z matches before a newline at the end of the string as well as at
       the very end, whereas \z matches only at the end.

       The  \G assertion is true only when the current matching position is at
       the start point of the match, as specified by the startoffset  argument
       of  pcre_exec().  It  differs  from \A when the value of startoffset is
       non-zero. By calling pcre_exec() multiple times with appropriate  argu-
       ments, you can mimic Perl's /g option, and it is in this kind of imple-
       mentation where \G can be useful.

       Note, however, that PCRE's interpretation of \G, as the  start  of  the
       current match, is subtly different from Perl's, which defines it as the
       end of the previous match. In Perl, these can  be  different  when  the
       previously  matched  string was empty. Because PCRE does just one match
       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.

CIRCUMFLEX AND DOLLAR

       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
       and end of the subject in both modes, and if all branches of a  pattern
       start  with  \A it is always anchored, whether or not PCRE_MULTILINE is
       set.

FULL STOP (PERIOD, DOT)

       Outside a character class, a dot in the pattern matches any one charac-
       ter  in  the subject string except (by default) a character that signi-
       fies the end of a line. In UTF-8 mode, the  matched  character  may  be
       more than one byte long.

       When  a line ending is defined as a single character, dot never matches
       that character; when the two-character sequence CRLF is used, dot  does
       not  match  CR  if  it  is immediately followed by LF, but otherwise it
       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.

MATCHING A SINGLE BYTE

       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
       avoided.

       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.

SQUARE BRACKETS AND CHARACTER CLASSES

       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
       in a class as a literal string of bytes, or by using the  \x{  escaping
       mechanism.

       When  caseless  matching  is set, any letters in a class represent both
       their upper case and lower case versions, so for  example,  a  caseless
       [aeiou]  matches  "A"  as well as "a", and a caseless [^aeiou] does not
       match "A", whereas a caseful version would. 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  values,  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.

       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.

POSIX CHARACTER CLASSES

       Perl supports the POSIX notation for character classes. This uses names
       enclosed by [: and :] within the enclosing square brackets.  PCRE  also
       supports this notation. For example,

         [01[:alpha:]%]

       matches "0", "1", any alphabetic character, or "%". The supported class
       names are

         alnum    letters and digits
         alpha    letters
         ascii    character codes 0 - 127
         blank    space or tab only
         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,

         [12[:^digit:]]

       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

       Vertical bar characters are used to separate alternative patterns.  For
       example, the pattern

         gilbert|sullivan

       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.

INTERNAL OPTION SETTING

       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
         s  for PCRE_DOTALL
         x  for PCRE_EXTENDED

       For example, (?im) sets caseless, multiline matching. It is also possi-
       ble to unset these options by preceding the letter with a hyphen, and a
       combined  setting and unsetting such as (?im-sx), which sets PCRE_CASE-
       LESS and PCRE_MULTILINE while unsetting PCRE_DOTALL and  PCRE_EXTENDED,
       is  also  permitted.  If  a  letter  appears  both before and after the
       hyphen, the option is unset.

       The PCRE-specific options PCRE_DUPNAMES, PCRE_UNGREEDY, and  PCRE_EXTRA
       can  be changed in the same way as the Perl-compatible options by using
       the characters J, U and X respectively.

       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

         (a(?i)b)c

       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
       example,

         (a(?i)b|c)

       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

       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

         cat(aract|erpillar|)

       matches one of the words "cat", "cataract", or  "caterpillar".  Without
       the  parentheses,  it  would  match  "cataract", "erpillar" or an empty
       string.

       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
       subpatterns.

       For  example,  if the string "the red king" is matched against the pat-
       tern

         the ((red|white) (king|queen))

       the captured substrings are "red king", "red", and "king", and are num-
       bered 1, 2, and 3, respectively.

       The  fact  that  plain  parentheses  fulfil two functions is not always
       helpful.  There are often times when a grouping subpattern is  required
       without  a capturing requirement. If an opening parenthesis is followed
       by a question mark and a colon, the subpattern does not do any  captur-
       ing,  and  is  not  counted when computing the number of any subsequent
       capturing subpatterns. For example, if the string "the white queen"  is
       matched against the pattern

         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

         (?i:saturday|sunday)
         (?:(?i)saturday|sunday)

       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
       "Saturday".

DUPLICATE SUBPATTERN NUMBERS

       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:

         (?|(Sat)ur|(Sun))day

       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.

NAMED SUBPATTERNS

       Identifying capturing parentheses by number is simple, but  it  can  be
       very  hard  to keep track of the numbers in complicated regular expres-
       sions. Furthermore, if an  expression  is  modified,  the  numbers  may
       change.  To help with this difficulty, PCRE supports the naming of sub-
       patterns. This feature was not added to Perl until release 5.10. Python
       had  the  feature earlier, and PCRE introduced it at release 4.0, using
       the Python syntax. PCRE now supports both the Perl and the Python  syn-
       tax.

       In  PCRE,  a subpattern can be named in one of three ways: (?<name>...)
       or (?'name'...) as in Perl, or (?P<name>...) as in  Python.  References
       to capturing parentheses from other parts of the pattern, such as back-
       references, recursion, and conditions, can be made by name as  well  as
       by number.

       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:

         (?<DN>Mon|Fri|Sun)(?:day)?|
         (?<DN>Tue)(?:sday)?|
         (?<DN>Wed)(?:nesday)?|
         (?<DN>Thu)(?:rsday)?|
         (?<DN>Sat)(?:urday)?

       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

       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:

         z{2,4}

       matches "zz", "zzz", or "zzzz". A closing brace on its  own  is  not  a
       special  character.  If  the second number is omitted, but the comma is
       present, there is no upper limit; if the second number  and  the  comma
       are  both omitted, the quantifier specifies an exact number of required
       matches. Thus

         [aeiou]{3,}

       matches at least 3 successive vowels, but may match many more, while

         \d{8}

       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.

       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:

         (a?)*

       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-
       ken.

       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
       pattern

         /\*.*\*/

       to the string

         /* first comment */  not comment  /* second comment */

       fails, because it matches the entire string owing to the greediness  of
       the .*  item.

       However,  if  a quantifier is followed by a question mark, it ceases to
       be greedy, and instead matches the minimum number of times possible, so
       the pattern

         /\*.*?\*/

       does  the  right  thing with the C comments. The meaning of the various
       quantifiers is not otherwise changed,  just  the  preferred  number  of
       matches.   Do  not  confuse this use of question mark with its use as a
       quantifier in its own right. Because it has two uses, it can  sometimes
       appear doubled, as in

         \d??\d

       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:

         (.*)abc\1

       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

         (tweedle[dume]{3}\s*)+

       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

         /(a|(b))+/

       matches "aba" the value of the second captured substring is "b".

ATOMIC GROUPING AND POSSESSIVE QUANTIFIERS

       With both maximizing ("greedy") and minimizing ("ungreedy"  or  "lazy")
       repetition,  failure  of what follows normally causes the repeated item
       to be re-evaluated to see if a different number of repeats  allows  the
       rest  of  the pattern to match. Sometimes it is useful to prevent this,
       either to change the nature of the match, or to cause it  fail  earlier
       than  it otherwise might, when the author of the pattern knows there is
       no point in carrying on.

       Consider, for example, the pattern \d+foo when applied to  the  subject
       line

         123456bar

       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:

         (?>\d+)foo

       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
       digits.

       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

         \d++foo

       Note that a possessive quantifier can be used with an entire group, for
       example:

         (abc|xyz){2,3}+

       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-
       tax.  Jeffrey Friedl originated the idea (and the name)  in  the  first
       edition of his book. Mike McCloskey liked it, so implemented it when he
       built Sun's Java package, and PCRE copied it from there. It  ultimately
       found its way into Perl at release 5.10.

       PCRE has an optimization that automatically "possessifies" certain sim-
       ple pattern constructs. For example, the sequence  A+B  is  treated  as
       A++B  because  there is no point in backtracking into a sequence of A's
       when B must follow.

       When a pattern contains an unlimited repeat inside  a  subpattern  that
       can  itself  be  repeated  an  unlimited number of times, the use of an
       atomic group is the only way to avoid some  failing  matches  taking  a
       very long time indeed. The pattern

         (\D+|<\d+>)*[!?]

       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

         aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

       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:

         ((?>\D+)|<\d+>)*[!?]

       sequences of non-digits cannot be broken, and failure happens quickly.

BACK REFERENCES

       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-
       tion.

       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:

         (ring), \1
         (ring), \g1
         (ring), \g{1}

       An  unsigned number specifies an absolute reference without the ambigu-
       ity that is present in the older syntax. It is also useful when literal
       digits follow the reference. A negative number is a relative reference.
       Consider this example:

         (abc(def)ghi)\g{-1}

       The sequence \g{-1} is a reference to the most recently started captur-
       ing  subpattern  before \g, that is, is it equivalent to \2. Similarly,
       \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-
       ple,

         ((?i)rah)\s+\1

       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:

         (?<p1>(?i)rah)\s+\k<p1>
         (?'p1'(?i)rah)\s+\k{p1}
         (?P<p1>(?i)rah)\s+(?P=p1)
         (?<p1>(?i)rah)\s+\g{p1}

       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

         (a|(bc))\2

       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 whitespace.  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
       matches.   However,  such references can be useful inside repeated sub-
       patterns. For example, the pattern

         (a|b\1)+

       matches any number of "a"s and also "aba", "ababbaa" etc. At each iter-
       ation  of  the  subpattern,  the  back  reference matches the character
       string corresponding to the previous iteration. In order  for  this  to
       work,  the  pattern must be such that the first iteration does not need
       to match the back reference. This can be done using alternation, as  in
       the example above, or by a quantifier with a minimum of zero.

ASSERTIONS

       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,

         \w+(?=;)

       matches  a word followed by a semicolon, but does not include the semi-
       colon in the match, and

         foo(?!bar)

       matches any occurrence of "foo" that is not  followed  by  "bar".  Note
       that the apparently similar pattern

         (?!foo)bar

       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,

         (?<!foo)bar

       does find an occurrence of "bar" that is not  preceded  by  "foo".  The
       contents  of  a  lookbehind  assertion are restricted such that all the
       strings it matches must have a fixed length. However, if there are sev-
       eral  top-level  alternatives,  they  do  not all have to have the same
       fixed length. Thus

         (?<=bullock|donkey)

       is permitted, but

         (?<!dogs?|cats?)

       causes an error at compile time. Branches that match  different  length
       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

         (?<=ab(c|de))

       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:

         (?<=abc|abde)

       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-
       length.

       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

         abcd$

       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

         ^.*abcd$

       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

         ^.*+(?<=abcd)

       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
       processing time.

   Using multiple assertions

       Several assertions (of any sort) may occur in succession. For example,

         (?<=\d{3})(?<!999)foo

       matches  "foo" preceded by three digits that are not "999". Notice that
       each of the assertions is applied independently at the  same  point  in
       the  subject  string.  First  there  is a check that the previous three
       characters are all digits, and then there is  a  check  that  the  same
       three characters are not "999".  This pattern does not match "foo" pre-
       ceded by six characters, the first of which are  digits  and  the  last
       three  of  which  are not "999". For example, it doesn't match "123abc-
       foo". A pattern to do that is

         (?<=\d{3}...)(?<!999)foo

       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,

         (?<=(?<!foo)bar)baz

       matches an occurrence of "baz" that is preceded by "bar" which in  turn
       is not preceded by "foo", while

         (?<=\d{3}(?!999)...)foo

       is  another pattern that matches "foo" preceded by three digits and any
       three characters that are not "999".

CONDITIONAL SUBPATTERNS

       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
       are

         (?(condition)yes-pattern)
         (?(condition)yes-pattern|no-pattern)

       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
       divide it into three parts for ease of discussion:

         ( \( )?    [^()]+    (?(1) \) )

       The first part matches an optional opening  parenthesis,  and  if  that
       character is present, sets it as the first captured substring. The sec-
       ond part matches one or more characters that are not  parentheses.  The
       third part is a conditional subpattern that tests whether the first set
       of parentheses matched or not. If they did, that is, if subject started
       with an opening parenthesis, the condition is true, and so the yes-pat-
       tern is executed and a  closing  parenthesis  is  required.  Otherwise,
       since  no-pattern  is  not  present, the subpattern matches nothing. In
       other words,  this  pattern  matches  a  sequence  of  non-parentheses,
       optionally enclosed in parentheses.

       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
       pattern.

   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 whitespace and line breaks):

         (?(DEFINE) (?<byte> 2[0-4]\d | 25[0-5] | 1\d\d | [1-9]?\d) )
         \b (?&byte) (\.(?&byte)){3} \b

       The first part of the pattern is a DEFINE group inside which a  another
       group  named "byte" is defined. This matches an individual component of
       an IPv4 address (a number less than 256). When  matching  takes  place,
       this  part  of  the pattern is skipped because DEFINE acts like a false
       condition.

       The rest of the pattern uses references to the named group to match the
       four  dot-separated  components of an IPv4 address, insisting on a word
       boundary at each end.

   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:

         (?(?=[^a-z]*[a-z])
         \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.

COMMENTS

       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.

RECURSIVE PATTERNS

       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
       depth.

       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
       release 5.10.

       A  special  item  that consists of (? followed by a number greater than
       zero and a closing parenthesis is a recursive call of the subpattern of
       the  given  number, provided that it occurs inside that subpattern. (If
       not, it is a "subroutine" call, which is described  in  the  next  sec-
       tion.)  The special item (?R) or (?0) is a recursive call of the entire
       regular expression.

       In PCRE (like Python, but unlike Perl), a recursive subpattern 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.

       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
       section.

       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
       to

         (aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa()

       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.

       At the end of a match, the values set for any capturing subpatterns are
       those from the outermost level of the recursion at which the subpattern
       value is set.  If you want to obtain  intermediate  values,  a  callout
       function  can be used (see below and the pcrecallout documentation). If
       the pattern above is matched against

         (ab(cd)ef)

       the value for the capturing parentheses is  "ef",  which  is  the  last
       value  taken  on at the top level. If additional parentheses are added,
       giving

         \( ( ( (?>[^()]+) | (?R) )* ) \)
            ^                        ^
            ^                        ^

       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.

SUBPATTERNS AS SUBROUTINES

       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:

         (...(absolute)...)...(?2)...
         (...(relative)...)...(?-1)...
         (...(?+1)...(relative)...

       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
       above.

       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.

       When  a  subpattern is used as a subroutine, processing options such as
       case-independence are fixed when the subpattern is defined. They cannot
       be changed for different calls. For example, consider this pattern:

         (abc)(?i:(?-1))

       It  matches  "abcabc". It does not match "abcABC" because the change of
       processing option does not affect the called subpattern.

CALLOUTS

       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-
       tion.

       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
       points:

         (?C1)abc(?C2)def

       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.

BACKTRACKING CONTROL

       Perl 5.10 introduced a number of "Special Backtracking Control  Verbs",
       which are described in the Perl documentation as "experimental and sub-
       ject to change or removal in a future version of Perl". It goes  on  to
       say:  "Their usage in production code should be noted to avoid problems
       during upgrades." The same remarks apply to the PCRE features described
       in this section.

       Since these verbs are specifically related to backtracking, they can be
       used only when the pattern is to be matched  using  pcre_exec(),  which
       uses  a  backtracking  algorithm. They cause an error if encountered by
       pcre_dfa_exec().

       The new verbs make use of what was previously invalid syntax: an  open-
       ing parenthesis followed by an asterisk. In Perl, they are generally of
       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:

          (*ACCEPT)

       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:

         A(A|B(*ACCEPT)|C)D

       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-
       tern:

         a+(?C)(*FAIL)

       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
       occurs.

         (*COMMIT)

       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:

         a+(*COMMIT)b

       This matches "xxaab" but not "aacaab". It can be thought of as  a  kind
       of dynamic anchor, or "I've started, so I must finish."

         (*PRUNE)

       This  verb causes the match to fail at the current position if the rest
       of the pattern does not match. If the pattern is unanchored, the normal
       "bumpalong"  advance to the next starting character then happens. Back-
       tracking can occur as usual to the left of (*PRUNE), or  when  matching
       to  the right of (*PRUNE), but if there is no match to the right, back-
       tracking cannot cross (*PRUNE).  In simple cases, the use  of  (*PRUNE)
       is just an alternative to an atomic group or possessive quantifier, but
       there are some uses of (*PRUNE) that cannot be expressed in  any  other
       way.

         (*SKIP)

       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:

         a+(*SKIP)b

       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
       "c".

         (*THEN)

       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).

SEE ALSO

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

AUTHOR

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

REVISION

       Last updated: 17 September 2007
       Copyright (c) 1997-2007 University of Cambridge.



                                                                PCREPATTERN(3)