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33.3.1 Syntax of Regular Expressions

Regular expressions have a syntax in which a few characters are special constructs and the rest are ordinary. An ordinary character is a simple regular expression that matches that character and nothing else. The special characters are ‘.’, ‘*’, ‘+’, ‘?’, ‘[’, ‘^’, ‘$’, and ‘\’; no new special characters will be defined in the future. The character ‘]’ is special if it ends a character alternative (see later). The character ‘-’ is special inside a character alternative. A ‘[:’ and balancing ‘:]’ enclose a character class inside a character alternative. Any other character appearing in a regular expression is ordinary, unless a ‘\’ precedes it.

For example, ‘f’ is not a special character, so it is ordinary, and therefore ‘f’ is a regular expression that matches the string ‘f’ and no other string. (It does not match the string ‘fg’, but it does match a part of that string.) Likewise, ‘o’ is a regular expression that matches only ‘o’.

Any two regular expressions a and b can be concatenated. The result is a regular expression that matches a string if a matches some amount of the beginning of that string and b matches the rest of the string.

As a simple example, we can concatenate the regular expressions ‘f’ and ‘o’ to get the regular expression ‘fo’, which matches only the string ‘fo’. Still trivial. To do something more powerful, you need to use one of the special regular expression constructs.

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