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1 .TH PCREPARTIAL 3
2 .SH NAME
3 PCRE - Perl-compatible regular expressions
4 .SH "PARTIAL MATCHING IN PCRE"
5 .rs
6 .sp
7 In normal use of PCRE, if the subject string that is passed to
8 \fBpcre_exec()\fP or \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP matches as far as it goes, but is
9 too short to match the entire pattern, PCRE_ERROR_NOMATCH is returned. There
10 are circumstances where it might be helpful to distinguish this case from other
11 cases in which there is no match.
12 .P
13 Consider, for example, an application where a human is required to type in data
14 for a field with specific formatting requirements. An example might be a date
15 in the form \fIddmmmyy\fP, defined by this pattern:
16 .sp
17 ^\ed?\ed(jan|feb|mar|apr|may|jun|jul|aug|sep|oct|nov|dec)\ed\ed$
18 .sp
19 If the application sees the user's keystrokes one by one, and can check that
20 what has been typed so far is potentially valid, it is able to raise an error
21 as soon as a mistake is made, by beeping and not reflecting the character that
22 has been typed, for example. This immediate feedback is likely to be a better
23 user interface than a check that is delayed until the entire string has been
24 entered. Partial matching can also be useful when the subject string is very
25 long and is not all available at once.
26 .P
27 PCRE supports partial matching by means of the PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT and
28 PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD options, which can be set when calling \fBpcre_exec()\fP or
29 \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP. For backwards compatibility, PCRE_PARTIAL is a synonym
30 for PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT. The essential difference between the two options is
31 whether or not a partial match is preferred to an alternative complete match,
32 though the details differ between the two matching functions. If both options
33 are set, PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD takes precedence.
34 .P
35 Setting a partial matching option disables two of PCRE's optimizations. PCRE
36 remembers the last literal byte in a pattern, and abandons matching immediately
37 if such a byte is not present in the subject string. This optimization cannot
38 be used for a subject string that might match only partially. If the pattern
39 was studied, PCRE knows the minimum length of a matching string, and does not
40 bother to run the matching function on shorter strings. This optimization is
41 also disabled for partial matching.
42 .
43 .
44 .SH "PARTIAL MATCHING USING pcre_exec()"
45 .rs
46 .sp
47 A partial match occurs during a call to \fBpcre_exec()\fP when the end of the
48 subject string is reached successfully, but matching cannot continue because
49 more characters are needed. However, at least one character in the subject must
50 have been inspected. This character need not form part of the final matched
51 string; lookbehind assertions and the \eK escape sequence provide ways of
52 inspecting characters before the start of a matched substring. The requirement
53 for inspecting at least one character exists because an empty string can always
54 be matched; without such a restriction there would always be a partial match of
55 an empty string at the end of the subject.
56 .P
57 If there are at least two slots in the offsets vector when \fBpcre_exec()\fP
58 returns with a partial match, the first slot is set to the offset of the
59 earliest character that was inspected when the partial match was found. For
60 convenience, the second offset points to the end of the subject so that a
61 substring can easily be identified.
62 .P
63 For the majority of patterns, the first offset identifies the start of the
64 partially matched string. However, for patterns that contain lookbehind
65 assertions, or \eK, or begin with \eb or \eB, earlier characters have been
66 inspected while carrying out the match. For example:
67 .sp
68 /(?<=abc)123/
69 .sp
70 This pattern matches "123", but only if it is preceded by "abc". If the subject
71 string is "xyzabc12", the offsets after a partial match are for the substring
72 "abc12", because all these characters are needed if another match is tried
73 with extra characters added to the subject.
74 .P
75 What happens when a partial match is identified depends on which of the two
76 partial matching options are set.
77 .
78 .
79 .SS "PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT with pcre_exec()"
80 .rs
81 .sp
82 If PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT is set when \fBpcre_exec()\fP identifies a partial match,
83 the partial match is remembered, but matching continues as normal, and other
84 alternatives in the pattern are tried. If no complete match can be found,
85 \fBpcre_exec()\fP returns PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL instead of PCRE_ERROR_NOMATCH.
86 .P
87 This option is "soft" because it prefers a complete match over a partial match.
88 All the various matching items in a pattern behave as if the subject string is
89 potentially complete. For example, \ez, \eZ, and $ match at the end of the
90 subject, as normal, and for \eb and \eB the end of the subject is treated as a
91 non-alphanumeric.
92 .P
93 If there is more than one partial match, the first one that was found provides
94 the data that is returned. Consider this pattern:
95 .sp
96 /123\ew+X|dogY/
97 .sp
98 If this is matched against the subject string "abc123dog", both
99 alternatives fail to match, but the end of the subject is reached during
100 matching, so PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL is returned. The offsets are set to 3 and 9,
101 identifying "123dog" as the first partial match that was found. (In this
102 example, there are two partial matches, because "dog" on its own partially
103 matches the second alternative.)
104 .
105 .
106 .SS "PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD with pcre_exec()"
107 .rs
108 .sp
109 If PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is set for \fBpcre_exec()\fP, it returns
110 PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL as soon as a partial match is found, without continuing to
111 search for possible complete matches. This option is "hard" because it prefers
112 an earlier partial match over a later complete match. For this reason, the
113 assumption is made that the end of the supplied subject string may not be the
114 true end of the available data, and so, if \ez, \eZ, \eb, \eB, or $ are
115 encountered at the end of the subject, the result is PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL.
116 .P
117 Setting PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD also affects the way \fBpcre_exec()\fP checks UTF-8
118 subject strings for validity. Normally, an invalid UTF-8 sequence causes the
119 error PCRE_ERROR_BADUTF8. However, in the special case of a truncated UTF-8
120 character at the end of the subject, PCRE_ERROR_SHORTUTF8 is returned when
121 PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is set.
122 .
123 .
124 .SS "Comparing hard and soft partial matching"
125 .rs
126 .sp
127 The difference between the two partial matching options can be illustrated by a
128 pattern such as:
129 .sp
130 /dog(sbody)?/
131 .sp
132 This matches either "dog" or "dogsbody", greedily (that is, it prefers the
133 longer string if possible). If it is matched against the string "dog" with
134 PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT, it yields a complete match for "dog". However, if
135 PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is set, the result is PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL. On the other hand,
136 if the pattern is made ungreedy the result is different:
137 .sp
138 /dog(sbody)??/
139 .sp
140 In this case the result is always a complete match because \fBpcre_exec()\fP
141 finds that first, and it never continues after finding a match. It might be
142 easier to follow this explanation by thinking of the two patterns like this:
143 .sp
144 /dog(sbody)?/ is the same as /dogsbody|dog/
145 /dog(sbody)??/ is the same as /dog|dogsbody/
146 .sp
147 The second pattern will never match "dogsbody" when \fBpcre_exec()\fP is
148 used, because it will always find the shorter match first.
149 .
150 .
151 .SH "PARTIAL MATCHING USING pcre_dfa_exec()"
152 .rs
153 .sp
154 The \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP function moves along the subject string character by
155 character, without backtracking, searching for all possible matches
156 simultaneously. If the end of the subject is reached before the end of the
157 pattern, there is the possibility of a partial match, again provided that at
158 least one character has been inspected.
159 .P
160 When PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT is set, PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL is returned only if there
161 have been no complete matches. Otherwise, the complete matches are returned.
162 However, if PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is set, a partial match takes precedence over any
163 complete matches. The portion of the string that was inspected when the longest
164 partial match was found is set as the first matching string, provided there are
165 at least two slots in the offsets vector.
166 .P
167 Because \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP always searches for all possible matches, and
168 there is no difference between greedy and ungreedy repetition, its behaviour is
169 different from \fBpcre_exec\fP when PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is set. Consider the
170 string "dog" matched against the ungreedy pattern shown above:
171 .sp
172 /dog(sbody)??/
173 .sp
174 Whereas \fBpcre_exec()\fP stops as soon as it finds the complete match for
175 "dog", \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP also finds the partial match for "dogsbody", and
176 so returns that when PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is set.
177 .
178 .
179 .SH "PARTIAL MATCHING AND WORD BOUNDARIES"
180 .rs
181 .sp
182 If a pattern ends with one of sequences \eb or \eB, which test for word
183 boundaries, partial matching with PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT can give counter-intuitive
184 results. Consider this pattern:
185 .sp
186 /\ebcat\eb/
187 .sp
188 This matches "cat", provided there is a word boundary at either end. If the
189 subject string is "the cat", the comparison of the final "t" with a following
190 character cannot take place, so a partial match is found. However,
191 \fBpcre_exec()\fP carries on with normal matching, which matches \eb at the end
192 of the subject when the last character is a letter, thus finding a complete
193 match. The result, therefore, is \fInot\fP PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL. The same thing
194 happens with \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP, because it also finds the complete match.
195 .P
196 Using PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD in this case does yield PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL, because
197 then the partial match takes precedence.
198 .
199 .
200 .SH "FORMERLY RESTRICTED PATTERNS"
201 .rs
202 .sp
203 For releases of PCRE prior to 8.00, because of the way certain internal
204 optimizations were implemented in the \fBpcre_exec()\fP function, the
205 PCRE_PARTIAL option (predecessor of PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT) could not be used with
206 all patterns. From release 8.00 onwards, the restrictions no longer apply, and
207 partial matching with \fBpcre_exec()\fP can be requested for any pattern.
208 .P
209 Items that were formerly restricted were repeated single characters and
210 repeated metasequences. If PCRE_PARTIAL was set for a pattern that did not
211 conform to the restrictions, \fBpcre_exec()\fP returned the error code
212 PCRE_ERROR_BADPARTIAL (-13). This error code is no longer in use. The
213 PCRE_INFO_OKPARTIAL call to \fBpcre_fullinfo()\fP to find out if a compiled
214 pattern can be used for partial matching now always returns 1.
215 .
216 .
217 .SH "EXAMPLE OF PARTIAL MATCHING USING PCRETEST"
218 .rs
219 .sp
220 If the escape sequence \eP is present in a \fBpcretest\fP data line, the
221 PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT option is used for the match. Here is a run of \fBpcretest\fP
222 that uses the date example quoted above:
223 .sp
224 re> /^\ed?\ed(jan|feb|mar|apr|may|jun|jul|aug|sep|oct|nov|dec)\ed\ed$/
225 data> 25jun04\eP
226 0: 25jun04
227 1: jun
228 data> 25dec3\eP
229 Partial match: 23dec3
230 data> 3ju\eP
231 Partial match: 3ju
232 data> 3juj\eP
233 No match
234 data> j\eP
235 No match
236 .sp
237 The first data string is matched completely, so \fBpcretest\fP shows the
238 matched substrings. The remaining four strings do not match the complete
239 pattern, but the first two are partial matches. Similar output is obtained
240 when \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP is used.
241 .P
242 If the escape sequence \eP is present more than once in a \fBpcretest\fP data
243 line, the PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD option is set for the match.
244 .
245 .
246 .SH "MULTI-SEGMENT MATCHING WITH pcre_dfa_exec()"
247 .rs
248 .sp
249 When a partial match has been found using \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP, it is possible
250 to continue the match by providing additional subject data and calling
251 \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP again with the same compiled regular expression, this
252 time setting the PCRE_DFA_RESTART option. You must pass the same working
253 space as before, because this is where details of the previous partial match
254 are stored. Here is an example using \fBpcretest\fP, using the \eR escape
255 sequence to set the PCRE_DFA_RESTART option (\eD specifies the use of
256 \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP):
257 .sp
258 re> /^\ed?\ed(jan|feb|mar|apr|may|jun|jul|aug|sep|oct|nov|dec)\ed\ed$/
259 data> 23ja\eP\eD
260 Partial match: 23ja
261 data> n05\eR\eD
262 0: n05
263 .sp
264 The first call has "23ja" as the subject, and requests partial matching; the
265 second call has "n05" as the subject for the continued (restarted) match.
266 Notice that when the match is complete, only the last part is shown; PCRE does
267 not retain the previously partially-matched string. It is up to the calling
268 program to do that if it needs to.
269 .P
270 You can set the PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT or PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD options with
271 PCRE_DFA_RESTART to continue partial matching over multiple segments. This
272 facility can be used to pass very long subject strings to
273 \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP.
274 .
275 .
276 .SH "MULTI-SEGMENT MATCHING WITH pcre_exec()"
277 .rs
278 .sp
279 From release 8.00, \fBpcre_exec()\fP can also be used to do multi-segment
280 matching. Unlike \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP, it is not possible to restart the
281 previous match with a new segment of data. Instead, new data must be added to
282 the previous subject string, and the entire match re-run, starting from the
283 point where the partial match occurred. Earlier data can be discarded. It is
284 best to use PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD in this situation, because it does not treat the
285 end of a segment as the end of the subject when matching \ez, \eZ, \eb, \eB,
286 and $. Consider an unanchored pattern that matches dates:
287 .sp
288 re> /\ed?\ed(jan|feb|mar|apr|may|jun|jul|aug|sep|oct|nov|dec)\ed\ed/
289 data> The date is 23ja\eP\eP
290 Partial match: 23ja
291 .sp
292 At this stage, an application could discard the text preceding "23ja", add on
293 text from the next segment, and call \fBpcre_exec()\fP again. Unlike
294 \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP, the entire matching string must always be available, and
295 the complete matching process occurs for each call, so more memory and more
296 processing time is needed.
297 .P
298 \fBNote:\fP If the pattern contains lookbehind assertions, or \eK, or starts
299 with \eb or \eB, the string that is returned for a partial match will include
300 characters that precede the partially matched string itself, because these must
301 be retained when adding on more characters for a subsequent matching attempt.
302 .
303 .
304 .SH "ISSUES WITH MULTI-SEGMENT MATCHING"
305 .rs
306 .sp
307 Certain types of pattern may give problems with multi-segment matching,
308 whichever matching function is used.
309 .P
310 1. If the pattern contains a test for the beginning of a line, you need to pass
311 the PCRE_NOTBOL option when the subject string for any call does start at the
312 beginning of a line. There is also a PCRE_NOTEOL option, but in practice when
313 doing multi-segment matching you should be using PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD, which
314 includes the effect of PCRE_NOTEOL.
315 .P
316 2. Lookbehind assertions at the start of a pattern are catered for in the
317 offsets that are returned for a partial match. However, in theory, a lookbehind
318 assertion later in the pattern could require even earlier characters to be
319 inspected, and it might not have been reached when a partial match occurs. This
320 is probably an extremely unlikely case; you could guard against it to a certain
321 extent by always including extra characters at the start.
322 .P
323 3. Matching a subject string that is split into multiple segments may not
324 always produce exactly the same result as matching over one single long string,
325 especially when PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT is used. The section "Partial Matching and
326 Word Boundaries" above describes an issue that arises if the pattern ends with
327 \eb or \eB. Another kind of difference may occur when there are multiple
328 matching possibilities, because (for PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT) a partial match result
329 is given only when there are no completed matches. This means that as soon as
330 the shortest match has been found, continuation to a new subject segment is no
331 longer possible. Consider again this \fBpcretest\fP example:
332 .sp
333 re> /dog(sbody)?/
334 data> dogsb\eP
335 0: dog
336 data> do\eP\eD
337 Partial match: do
338 data> gsb\eR\eP\eD
339 0: g
340 data> dogsbody\eD
341 0: dogsbody
342 1: dog
343 .sp
344 The first data line passes the string "dogsb" to \fBpcre_exec()\fP, setting the
345 PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT option. Although the string is a partial match for
346 "dogsbody", the result is not PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL, because the shorter string
347 "dog" is a complete match. Similarly, when the subject is presented to
348 \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP in several parts ("do" and "gsb" being the first two) the
349 match stops when "dog" has been found, and it is not possible to continue. On
350 the other hand, if "dogsbody" is presented as a single string,
351 \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP finds both matches.
352 .P
353 Because of these problems, it is best to use PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD when matching
354 multi-segment data. The example above then behaves differently:
355 .sp
356 re> /dog(sbody)?/
357 data> dogsb\eP\eP
358 Partial match: dogsb
359 data> do\eP\eD
360 Partial match: do
361 data> gsb\eR\eP\eP\eD
362 Partial match: gsb
363 .sp
364 4. Patterns that contain alternatives at the top level which do not all
365 start with the same pattern item may not work as expected when
366 PCRE_DFA_RESTART is used with \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP. For example, consider this
367 pattern:
368 .sp
369 1234|3789
370 .sp
371 If the first part of the subject is "ABC123", a partial match of the first
372 alternative is found at offset 3. There is no partial match for the second
373 alternative, because such a match does not start at the same point in the
374 subject string. Attempting to continue with the string "7890" does not yield a
375 match because only those alternatives that match at one point in the subject
376 are remembered. The problem arises because the start of the second alternative
377 matches within the first alternative. There is no problem with anchored
378 patterns or patterns such as:
379 .sp
380 1234|ABCD
381 .sp
382 where no string can be a partial match for both alternatives. This is not a
383 problem if \fBpcre_exec()\fP is used, because the entire match has to be rerun
384 each time:
385 .sp
386 re> /1234|3789/
387 data> ABC123\eP\eP
388 Partial match: 123
389 data> 1237890
390 0: 3789
391 .sp
392 Of course, instead of using PCRE_DFA_RESTART, the same technique of re-running
393 the entire match can also be used with \fBpcre_dfa_exec()\fP. Another
394 possibility is to work with two buffers. If a partial match at offset \fIn\fP
395 in the first buffer is followed by "no match" when PCRE_DFA_RESTART is used on
396 the second buffer, you can then try a new match starting at offset \fIn+1\fP in
397 the first buffer.
398 .
399 .
400 .SH AUTHOR
401 .rs
402 .sp
403 .nf
404 Philip Hazel
405 University Computing Service
406 Cambridge CB2 3QH, England.
407 .fi
408 .
409 .
410 .SH REVISION
411 .rs
412 .sp
413 .nf
414 Last updated: 07 November 2010
415 Copyright (c) 1997-2010 University of Cambridge.
416 .fi

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