Regular Expressions (POSIX)

POSIX's Regular Expressions differ in implementation than the standard regex we know today.

POSIX Regular Expressions Syntax

From the Wikipedia page[1]:

Basic Regular Syntax (BRE)

In the POSIX standard, Basic Regular Syntax (BRE) requires that the metacharacters ( ) and { } be designated \(\) and \{\}, whereas Extended Regular Syntax (ERE) does not.

Metacharacter Description
^ Matches the starting position within the string. In line-based tools, it matches the starting position of any line.
. Matches any single character (many applications exclude newlines, and exactly which characters are considered newlines is flavor-, character-encoding-, and platform-specific, but it is safe to assume that the line feed character is included). Within POSIX bracket expressions, the dot character matches a literal dot. For example, a.c matches "abc", etc., but [a.c] matches only "a", ".", or "c".
[ ] A bracket expression. Matches a single character that is contained within the brackets. For example, [abc] matches "a", "b", or "c". [a-z] specifies a range which matches any lowercase letter from "a" to "z". These forms can be mixed: [abcx-z] matches "a", "b", "c", "x", "y", or "z", as does [a-cx-z]. The - character is treated as a literal character if it is the last or the first (after the ^, if present) character within the brackets: [abc-], [-abc]. Note that backslash escapes are not allowed. The ] character can be included in a bracket expression if it is the first (after the ^) character: []abc].
[^ ] Matches a single character that is not contained within the brackets. For example, [^abc] matches any character other than "a", "b", or "c". [^a-z] matches any single character that is not a lowercase letter from "a" to "z". Likewise, literal characters and ranges can be mixed.
$ Matches the ending position of the string or the position just before a string-ending newline. In line-based tools, it matches the ending position of any line.
( ) Defines a marked subexpression. The string matched within the parentheses can be recalled later (see the next entry, \*n*). A marked subexpression is also called a block or capturing group. BRE mode requires \( \).
\*n* Matches what the nth marked subexpression matched, where n is a digit from 1 to 9. This construct is vaguely defined in the POSIX.2 standard. Some tools allow referencing more than nine capturing groups. Also known as a backreference. backreferences are only supported in BRE mode
* Matches the preceding element zero or more times. For example, ab*c matches "ac", "abc", "abbbc", etc. [xyz]* matches "", "x", "y", "z", "zx", "zyx", "xyzzy", and so on. (ab)* matches "", "ab", "abab", "ababab", and so on.
{*m*,*n*} Matches the preceding element at least m and not more than n times. For example, a{3,5} matches only "aaa", "aaaa", and "aaaaa". This is not found in a few older instances of regexes. BRE mode requires \{\*m\*,\*n\*\}.

Extended Regular Syntax (ERE)

The meaning of metacharacters escaped with a backslash is reversed for some characters in the POSIX Extended Regular Expression (ERE) syntax. With this syntax, a backslash causes the metacharacter to be treated as a literal character. So, for example, \( \) is now ( ) and \{ \} is now { }. Additionally, support is removed for \*n* backreferences and the following metacharacters are added:

Metacharacter Description
? Matches the preceding element zero or one time. For example, ab?c matches only "ac" or "abc".
+ Matches the preceding element one or more times. For example, ab+c matches "abc", "abbc", "abbbc", and so on, but not "ac".
` `

Bracket Expressions/Character Classes

Pulled from[6]:

Don’t confuse the POSIX term “character class” with what is normally called a regular expression character class. [x-z0-9] is an example of what this tutorial calls a “character class” and what POSIX calls a “bracket expression”. [:digit:] is a POSIX character class, used inside a bracket expression like [x-z[:digit:]]. The POSIX character class names must be written all lowercase.

One key syntactic difference is that the backslash is NOT a metacharacter in a POSIX bracket expression. So in POSIX, the regular expression [\d] matches a \ or a d. To match a ], put it as the first character after the opening [ or the negating ^. To match a -, put it right before the closing ]. To match a ^, put it before the final literal - or the closing ]. Put together, []\d^-] matches ], \, d, ^ or -.

POSIX Description ASCII
[:alnum:] Alphanumeric characters [a-zA-Z0-9]
[:alpha:] Alphabetic characters [a-zA-Z]
[:ascii:] ASCII characters [\x00-\x7F]
[:blank:] Space and tab [ \t]
[:cntrl:] Control characters [\x00-\x1F\x7F]
[:digit:] Digits [0-9]
[:graph:] Visible characters (anything except spaces and control characters) [\x21-\x7E]
[:lower:] Lowercase letters [a-z]
[:print:] Visible characters and spaces (anything except control characters) [\x20-\x7E]
[:punct:] Punctuation (and symbols). `[!"#$%&'()*+, -./:;<=>?@[ \]^_‘{
[:space:] All whitespace characters, including line breaks [ \t\r\n\v\f]
[:upper:] Uppercase letters [A-Z]
[:word:] Word characters (letters, numbers and underscores) [A-Za-z0-9_]
[:xdigit:] Hexadecimal digits [A-Fa-f0-9]



Last modified: 202201182333