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Regexp::Parser - base class for parsing regexes


See examples in "USAGE".


This is version 0.022b. The documentation is (still) incomplete. It may be a little jumbled or hard to understand. If you find a problem, please let me know.

Documentation has been added and moved around. See Regexp::Parser::Objects for documentation about nodes and the objects that represent them. See Regexp::Parser::Handlers for information about sub-classing this module.


This module parses regular expressions (regexes). Its default "grammar" is Perl 5.8.4's regex set. Grammar is quoted because the module does not so much define a grammar as let each matched node state what it expects to match next, but there is not currently a way of extracting a complete grammar. This may change in future versions.

This module is designed as a replacement (though not drop-in) for my old YAPE::Regex modules.


Creating an Instance

To use this module as is, load it, and create an instance:

  use Regexp::Parser;
  my $parser = Regexp::Parser->new;

Setting a Regex

To have the parser work on a specific regex, you can do use any of the following methods:

$parser = Regexp::Parser->new($regex)

You can send the regex to be parsed as the argument to the constructor.


Clears the parser's memory and sets $regex as the regex to be parsed.

These two approaches do an initial pass over the regex to make sure it is well-formed -- any warnings or errors will be determined during this initial pass.

Fatal Errors

If there is a compilation-stopping error, $parser->errmsg will return that error message, and $parser->errnum will return the numerical value of the message. If you use new() the Regexp::Parser object will still be returned, but if you use regex() then it will return false.

  if (! $parser->regex($rx)) {
    my $errmsg = $parser->errmsg;
    my $errnum = $parser->errnum;
    # ...

If you want to see if an error is a particular error, see "ERROR HANDLING".

Inspecting the Parsing

To intercept each node as it is parsed, use the next() method:

  while (my $node = $parser->next) {
    # $node is a Regexp::Parser::* object

When the regex is finished being parsed, next() returns false, and will return false if called again.

Building the Tree

If you don't care to intercept the building of the tree, you can use the parse() method to explicitly build it:


This is not necessary, though, because the following methods will invoke parse() if the tree has not been made yet.

Setting and Parsing Together

You can also use parse() instead of regex() to set the regex and create the tree in one step:

  my $ok = $parser->parse($new_regex);

Again, $ok will be false if a fatal error was raised in the inital scan of the regex.

Getting the Tree

You can access the root of the tree with the root() method:

  my $root = $parser->root;

It will be an array reference of objects.

Getting the OPEN Count

You can access the number capture groups with the nparen() method:

  my $captgroups = $parser->nparen;

Getting All Captures

You can access all the capture groups with the captures() method:

  my $all_captures = $parser->captures();

If you want to access a specific capture group, pass its numerical value:

  my $capture_2 = $parser->captures(2);

Walking the Tree

To walk over the created tree, create an iterator with walker():

  my $iter = $parser->walker;

This will produce an iterator that will traverse the entire parse tree, to any depth. To restrict the depth to which it reaches, pass walker() an argument:

  my $iter = $parser->walker(0);  # top-level
  my $iter = $parser->walker(1);  # top- and second-level
  my $iter = $parser->walker(2);  # top- through third-level

The iterator returned is a function reference. When called in scalar context, it returns the next node:

  while (my $node = $iter->()) {
    # $node is a Regexp::Parser::* object

In list context, it returns the next node and its depth:

  while (my ($node, $depth) = $iter->()) {
    # $node is a Regexp::Parser::* object
    # $depth = 0, 1, 2...

If passed the argument -depth, it returns the depth to which it will look:

  while (my ($node, $depth) = $iter->()) {
    if ($depth == $iter->(-depth)) {
      # this is as deep as it will look

If passed any other argument, it will warn that it is ignoring it.

The iterator will return undef when it has reached the end of the tree; it will then reset itself, and will start from the beginning the next time it is called.

Viewing the Regex

You can get the regex back from the parser with the visual() method:

  my $rx = $parser->visual;

This will not return a Regexp object, but the regex; it might be slightly different from the regex you passed it, but it will not operate differently.

The string representation is built by calling the visual() method of each node in the tree.

Using the Regex

You can use the qr() method to get back a Regexp object:

  my $real_rx = $parser->qr;

The regex is formed by calling the qr() method of each node in the tree, which may be different from the visual() method; specifically, in the case of a sub-class that adds a handler, the qr() method is used to produce the Perl regex implementation of the new node.

Named Character Support

Perl's regex engine doesn't see \N{NAME} escapes -- they get interpolated by Perl first. In fact, if one slipped through:

  my $rx = '\N{LATIN CAPITAL LETTER R}';
  my $qr = qr/$rx/;

Perl's regex interprets the '\N' as a needlessly backslashed 'N'. My module parses them and handles them properly. The nchar() method takes a named character's name, and returns the actual character:

  my $R = $parser->nchar("LATIN CAPITAL LETTER R");

This means you must have the charnames pragma installed, but since this module requires Perl 5.6 or better, I don't expect that to be a problem.

Using the Tree

If you want to work with the parse tree independently, use the root() method to get it. From there, you're on your own. You'll probably want to make a recursive function that takes an object (or a reference to an array of them) and does something to them (and their children).


Determining Error

Use the errmsg() and errnum() methods to get the error information.

To see if an error is a particular one, use the error_is() method:

  if ($parser->error_is($parser->RPe_BCURLY)) {
    # there was a {n,m} quantifier with n > m

Standard Warnings and Errors

Here are the standard warning and error messages. Their values are all negative; positive values are left available for extensions. Please refer to perldiag for the explanations of the messages.

These are all constants in the Regexp::Parser package, which means you can access them as though they were methods. They return two values, their numeric value, and a format string for use with sprintf().

  # for when you have a zero-width chunk
  # with a boundless quantifier on it
  my ($num, $fmt) = $parser->RPe_NULNUL;

Quantifier unexpected on zero-length expression


Sequence (?%.*s...) not implemented


Sequence (?#... not terminated


(?p{}) is deprecated -- use (??{})


Sequence (?{...}) not terminated or not {}-balanced


Switch condition not recognized


Switch (?(condition)... contains too many branches


Unknown switch condition (?(%.2s


Sequence (? incomplete

RPe_UQUANT (-10)

Useless (%s%s) -- %suse /%s modifier

RPe_NOTREC (-11)

Sequence (?%.*s...) not recognized

RPe_LPAREN (-12)

Unmatched (

RPe_RPAREN (-13)

Unmatched )

RPe_BCURLY (-14)

Can't do {n,m} with n > m

RPe_NULNUL (-15)

%s matches null string many times

RPe_NESTED (-16)

Nested quantifiers

RPe_LBRACK (-17)

Unmatched [

RPe_EQUANT (-18)

Quantifier follows nothing

RPe_BRACES (-19)

Missing braces on \%s{}

RPe_RBRACE (-20)

Missing right brace on \%s{}

RPe_BGROUP (-21)

Reference to nonexistent group

RPe_ESLASH (-22)

Trailing \

RPe_BADESC (-23)

Unrecognized escape %s%s passed through

RPe_BADPOS (-24)

POSIX class [:%s:] unknown

RPe_OUTPOS (-25)

POSIX syntax [%s %s] belongs inside character classes

RPe_EMPTYB (-26)

Empty \%s{}

RPe_FRANGE (-27)

False [] range "%s-%s"

RPe_IRANGE (-28)

Invalid [] range "%s-%s"


Here are some ideas for extensions (sub-classes) for this module. Some of them may be absorbed into the core functionality of Regexp::Parser in the future. Module names are merely the author's suggestions.


Adds handlers for < and > anchors, which match at the beginning and end of a "word", respectively. /</ is equivalent to /(?!\w)(?=\w)/, and />/ is equivalent to /(?<=\w)(?!\w)/. (So that's the object's qr() method for you right there!)


Implements a min_length() method for all objects that determines the minimum length of a string that would be matched by the regex; provides a front-end method for the parser.


Removes quantifiers as objects, and makes 'min' and 'max' attributes of other objects themselves.

Regexp::Explain (pending, Jeff Pinyan)

Produces a human-readable explanation of the execution of a regex. Will be able to produce HTML output that color-codes the elements of the regex according to a style-sheet (syntax highlighting).

Regexp::Reverse (difficulty rating: ****)

Reverses a regex so it matches backwards. Ex.: /\s+$/ becomes /^\n?\s+/, which perhaps gets optimized to /^\s+/. The difficulty rating is so high because of cases like /(\d+)(\w+)/ which, when reversed, can match differently.

  "100years" =~ /(\d+)(\w+)/;  # $1 = 100, $2 = years
  "sraey001" =~ /(\w+)(\d+)/;  # $1 = sraey00, $2 = 1

This means character classes should store a hash of what characters they represent, as well as the macros \w, \d, etc. Then this example would be reversed into something like /(\w+(?<!\d))(\d+)/. The other difficulty is complex regexes with if-then assertions. I don't want to think about that. This module is more of a theoretical exercise, a jump-start to built-in reversing capability in Perl.


Implements character class operations like union, intersection, and subtraction.


Eliminates redundancy from a regex. It should have various options, such as whether to do optimize...

  # strings
  /foo|father|fort/  => /f(?:o(?:o|rt)|ather)/

  # char classes
  /[\w\d][a-zaeiou]/ => /[\w][a-z]/

  # redundancy
  /^\n?\s+/          => /^\s+/
  /[\w]/             => /\w/

There are other possibilities as well.


0.022b -- July 6, 2004

Hierarchy Changes

There are now abstract classes anchor and assertion. You can't call their new() method directly, you can only call it through an object that inherits from that class.

There are no longer star, plus, and curly classes; they have been combined into one class, quantifier. You pass it the min and max, and the object's type is determined dynamically.

Character Class Hashes

Character classes (anyof objects) now have another attribute, charmap, which is a hash reference holding character values (eg. 65 for 'A') and the number of times that character appeared in the character class. The character class [A-CB-E] would have a character map of { 65 => 1, 66 => 2, 67 => 2, 68 => 1, 69 => 1}. This will reflect ranges and embedded classes (such as [:cntrl:] or \p{Print}.

Character Class Rendering

The visual() method of anyof objects will quell the repetition of any character in the class outside of embedded classes, so the class [\w\d:4-65:] will render as [\w\d:4-6]. If you want to prevent characters and ranges from being display if they are included in an embedded class, set the anyof object's strict attribute to 1; the character class would render as [\w\d:]. If you want to go even further and remove any embedded class that is entirely redundant (that is, every character in that embedded class is already found in the class), set the strict attribute to 2; the class above would render as [\w:].

0.021 -- July 3, 2004

anyof_class Changed

If an anyof_class element is a Unicode property or a Perl class (like \w or \S), the object's data field points to the underlying object type (prop, alnum, etc.). If the element is a POSIX class, the data field is the string "POSIX". POSIX classes don't exist in a regex outside of a character class, so I'm a little wary of making them objects in their own right, even if it would create a better sense of uniformity.


Fixed some poor wording, and documented the problem with using SUPER:: inside MyClass::__object__.

Bug Fixes

Character classes weren't closing properly in the tree. Fixed.

Standard escapes (\a, \e, etc.) were being returned as exact nodes instead of anyof_char nodes when inside character classes. Fixed. (Mike Lambert)

Non-grouping parentheses weren't being parsed properly. Fixed. (Mike Lambert)

Flags weren't being turned off. Fixed.

0.02 -- July 1, 2004

Better Abstracting

The object() method calls force_object(). force_object() creates an object no matter what pass the parser is making; object() will return immediately if it's just the first pass. This means that force_object() should be used to create stand-alone objects.

Each object now has an insert() method that defines how it gets placed into the regex tree. Most objects inherit theirs from the base object class.

The walker() method is also now abstracted -- each node it comes across will have its walk() method called. And the ending node for stack-type nodes has been abstracted to the ender() method of the node.

The init() method has been moved to another file to help keep this file as abstract as possible. Regexp::Parser installs its handlers in Regexp/Parser/ That file might end up being where documentation on writing handlers goes.

The documentation on sub-classing includes an ordered list of what packages a method is looked up in for a given object of type 'OBJ': YourMod::OBJ, YourMod::__object__, Regexp::Parser::OBJ, Regexp::Parser::__object__.

Cleaner Grammar Flow

Now the only places 'atom' gets pushed to the queue are after an opening parenthesis or after 'atom' matches. This makes things flow more cleanly.

Flag Handlers

Flag handlers now receive an additional argument that says whether they're being turned on or off. Also, if the flag handler returns 0, that flag is removed from the resulting object's visual flag set. That means (?gi-o) becomes (?i).

Diagnostics and Bug Fixes

More tests added (specifically, making sure (?(N)T|F) works right). In doing so, found that the "too many branches" error wasn't being raised until the second pass. Figured out how to improve the grammar to get it to work properly. Also added tests for the new captures() method.

I changed the field 'class' to 'family' in objects. I was getting confused by it, so I figured it was a sign that I'd chosen an awful name for the field. There will still be a class() method in __object__, but it will throw a "use of class() is deprecated" warning.

Quantifiers of the form {n} were being misrepresented as {n,}. It's been corrected. (Mike Lambert)

\b was being turned into "b" inside a character class, instead of a backspace. (Mike Lambert)

Fixed errant "Quantifier unexpected" warning raised by a zero-width assertion followed by ?, which doesn't warrant the warning.

Added "Unrecognized escape" warnings to all escape sequence handlers.

The 'g', 'c', and 'o' flags now evoke "Useless ..." warnings when used in flag and non-capturing group constructs.

0.01 -- June 29, 2004

First Release

Documentation not complete, etc.


  • Bugs...?

    I'd like to say this module doesn't have bugs. I don't know of any in this current version, because I've tried to fix those I've already found. Those who find bugs should email me. Messages should include the code you ran that contains the bug, and your opinion on what's wrong with it.

  • Variable interpolation

    This module parses regexes, not Perl. If you send a single-quoted string as a regex with a variable in it, that '$' will be interpreted as an anchor. If you want to include variables, use qr//, or mix single- and double-quoted strings in building your regex.


Jeff japhy Pinyan,


Copyright (c) 2004 Jeff Pinyan All rights reserved. This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as Perl itself.

1 POD Error

The following errors were encountered while parsing the POD:

Around line 310:

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