Regular Expressions Basics

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Groups & Capturing Groups

Groups use the ( ) symbols (like alternations, but the | symbol is not needed). They are useful for creating blocks of patterns, so you can apply repetitions or other modifiers to them as a whole. In the pattern ([a-x]{3}[0-9])+, the + metacharacter is applied to the whole group.

Also, another main use of groups is for processing parts of a match like extracting data or replacing it.

( ) Unnamed Groups

With pattern1(pattern2)pattern3, you'll capture the results of pattern2 for later use but not the parts matched by pattern1 or pattern3. This is useful when you want to extract only a portion of the search. Imagine that you are reading some text files that are formatted as forms. They could have data like this:

Name:"John" Surname:"Doe" Email:"[email protected]"

If you need to extract the value of the Name part (John in the example), you can use a pattern like Name:"([\w]+?)" to capture just the useful data, using the Name:" as a reference for locating the data within the text.

Note: If you apply a repetition to a group, only the last match of the repetition is stored. ([\w])+? will only give you the last matched character. However, the ([\w]+?) group has the repetition inside, so it will give you all matched characters.

(?: ) Non capturing Groups

Use (?: ) for non capturing groups. If you need to use a group as a block but you won't process the results later, then make it non-capturing.

Named Groups

Use (?<groupname> ) to capture a group with name groupname. This is useful for later processing when input data may be presented in a different order than desired.

Name:"John" Surname:"Doe" Email:"[email protected]"

Consider the following regex pattern:


This pattern will match each piece of data and will create three Name Groups: Group 'Name' with data John, Group 'Surname' with data Doe and Group 'Email' with data [email protected]. Each language and regex engine define how to access matched groups. Check your language documentation to learn how to iterate and process matched groups.

Exercise 6 - Image Files with Path

Note: There are many other types of grouping, for lookahead, lookbehind, atomic groups, conditionals, recursion, etc. All of these are outside the scope of this course. However, feel free to contribute to this course by adding these groupings and filing a PR.

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