Regular Expressions Basics


Alternations (|)

With [ ], you have the OR operator at a character level. With alternation, you have the OR operator at the pattern level:

(pattern1|pattern2|pattern3) will match either pattern1 OR pattern2 OR pattern3.

Those subpatterns can be as complex as needed, and there is no limit to the number of patterns that can be separated by the | metacharacter.


  • Example 1: (yes|no) Will search for exactly yes OR no.
  • Example 2: ([Yy]es|[Nn]o){2,4} Will search for Yes OR yes OR No OR no repeated between two to four times.
  • Example 3: \b([0-9]+|[a-z]+)\b Will search for a word made entirely of digits OR a word made entirely of lowercase letters. But it won't match mixtures of letters and digits.
  • Example 4: (([Yy]es|[Nn]o){2,4}|\b([0-9]+|[a-z]+)\b) Combination of the two previous patterns. So it matches either the same as "Example 2" OR "Example 3".
Exercise 5 - Search Image Files

Continue to the next lesson to learn about Groups and Capturing Groups.

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