- publishing free software manuals
The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 1A - SQL Language Reference
by The PostgreSQL Global Development Group
Paperback (6"x9"), 454 pages
ISBN 9781906966041
RRP £14.95 ($19.95)

Sales of this book support the PostgreSQL project! Get a printed copy>>>

7.7.3.5 Regular Expression Matching Rules

In the event that an RE could match more than one substring of a given string, the RE matches the one starting earliest in the string. If the RE could match more than one substring starting at that point, either the longest possible match or the shortest possible match will be taken, depending on whether the RE is greedy or non-greedy.

Whether an RE is greedy or not is determined by the following rules:

The above rules associate greediness attributes not only with individual quantified atoms, but with branches and entire REs that contain quantified atoms. What that means is that the matching is done in such a way that the branch, or whole RE, matches the longest or shortest possible substring as a whole. Once the length of the entire match is determined, the part of it that matches any particular subexpression is determined on the basis of the greediness attribute of that subexpression, with subexpressions starting earlier in the RE taking priority over ones starting later.

An example of what this means:

SELECT SUBSTRING('XY1234Z', 'Y*([0-9]{1,3})');
Result: 123
SELECT SUBSTRING('XY1234Z', 'Y*?([0-9]{1,3})');
Result: 1

In the first case, the RE as a whole is greedy because Y* is greedy. It can match beginning at the Y, and it matches the longest possible string starting there, i.e., Y123. The output is the parenthesized part of that, or 123. In the second case, the RE as a whole is non-greedy because Y*? is non-greedy. It can match beginning at the Y, and it matches the shortest possible string starting there, i.e., Y1. The subexpression [0-9]{1,3} is greedy but it cannot change the decision as to the overall match length; so it is forced to match just 1.

In short, when an RE contains both greedy and non-greedy subexpressions, the total match length is either as long as possible or as short as possible, according to the attribute assigned to the whole RE. The attributes assigned to the subexpressions only affect how much of that match they are allowed to “eat” relative to each other.

The quantifiers {1,1} and {1,1}? can be used to force greediness or non-greediness, respectively, on a subexpression or a whole RE.

Match lengths are measured in characters, not collating elements. An empty string is considered longer than no match at all. For example: bb* matches the three middle characters of abbbc; (week|wee)(night|knights) matches all ten characters of weeknights; when (.*).* is matched against abc the parenthesized subexpression matches all three characters; and when (a*)* is matched against bc both the whole RE and the parenthesized subexpression match an empty string.

If case-independent matching is specified, the effect is much as if all case distinctions had vanished from the alphabet. When an alphabetic that exists in multiple cases appears as an ordinary character outside a bracket expression, it is effectively transformed into a bracket expression containing both cases, e.g., x becomes [xX]. When it appears inside a bracket expression, all case counterparts of it are added to the bracket expression, e.g., [x] becomes [xX] and [^x] becomes [^xX].

If newline-sensitive matching is specified, . and bracket expressions using ^ will never match the newline character (so that matches will never cross newlines unless the RE explicitly arranges it) and ^and $ will match the empty string after and before a newline respectively, in addition to matching at beginning and end of string respectively. But the ARE escapes \A and \Z continue to match beginning or end of string only.

If partial newline-sensitive matching is specified, this affects . and bracket expressions as with newline-sensitive matching, but not ^ and $.

If inverse partial newline-sensitive matching is specified, this affects ^ and $ as with newline-sensitive matching, but not . and bracket expressions. This isn't very useful but is provided for symmetry.

ISBN 9781906966041The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 1A - SQL Language ReferenceSee the print edition