# Regular Expressions

# Matching strings

The =~ operator attempts to match a regular expression (set apart by /) to a string:

my $str = "hello world";
print "Hi, yourself!\n" if $str =~ /^hello/;

/^hello/ is the actual regular expression. The ^ is a special character that tells the regular expression to start with the beginning of the string and not match in the middle somewhere. Then the regex tries to find the following letters in order h, e, l, l, and o.

Regular expressions attempt to match the default variable ($_) if bare:

$_ = "hello world";

print "Ahoy!\n" if /^hello/;

You can also use different delimiters is you precede the regular expression with the m operator:


This is useful when matching strings that include the / character:

print "user directory" if m|^/usr|;

# Replace a string using regular expressions

s/foo/bar/;         # replace "foo" with "bar" in $_
my $foo = "foo";
$foo =~ s/foo/bar/; # do the above on a different variable using the binding operator =~
s~ foo ~ bar ~;     # using ~ as a delimiter
$foo = s/foo/bar/r; # non-destructive r flag: returns the replacement string without modifying the variable it's bound to
s/foo/bar/g;        # replace all instances

# Usage of \Q and \E in pattern matching

# What's between \Q and \E is treated as normal characters


my $str = "hello.it's.me";

my @test = (

sub ismatched($) { $_[0] ? "MATCHED!" : "DID NOT MATCH!" }

my @match = (
      [ general_match=> sub { ismatched /$str/ } ],
      [ qe_match    => sub { ismatched /\Q$str\E/ } ],

for (@test) {
    print "\String = '$_':\n";

foreach my $method (@match) {
    my($name,$match) = @$method;
    print "  - $name: ", $match->(), "\n";



String = 'hello.it's.me':
  - general_match: MATCHED!
  - qe_match: MATCHED!
String = 'hello/it's!me':
  - general_match: MATCHED!
  - qe_match: DID NOT MATCH!

# Parsing a string with a regex

Generally, it's not a good idea to use a regular expression to parse a complex structure (opens new window). But it can be done. For instance, you might want to load data into hive table and fields are separated by comma but complex types like array are separated by a "|". Files contain records with all fields separated by comma and complex type are inside square bracket. In that case, this bit of disposable Perl might be sufficient:

echo "1,2,[3,4,5],5,6,[7,8],[1,2,34],5" | \
    perl -ne \
        'while( /\[[^,\]]+\,.*\]/ ){
            if( /\[([^\]\|]+)\]/){
                $text = $1;
                $text_to_replace = $text;
                $text =~ s/\,/\|/g;
        } print'

You'll want to spot check the output: