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PCRE2PERFORM(3)		   Library Functions Manual	       PCRE2PERFORM(3)

       PCRE2 - Perl-compatible regular expressions (revised API)


       Two  aspects  of	performance are	discussed below: memory	usage and pro-
       cessing time. The way you express your pattern as a regular  expression
       can affect both of them.


       Patterns	are compiled by	PCRE2 into a reasonably	efficient interpretive
       code, so	that most simple patterns do not use much memory  for  storing
       the compiled version. However, there is one case	where the memory usage
       of a compiled pattern can be unexpectedly  large.  If  a	 parenthesized
       group  has  a quantifier	with a minimum greater than 1 and/or a limited
       maximum,	the whole group	is repeated in the compiled code. For example,
       the pattern


       is compiled as if it were


       (Technical  aside:  It is done this way so that backtrack points	within
       each of the repetitions can be independently maintained.)

       For regular expressions whose quantifiers use only small	numbers,  this
       is  not	usually	a problem. However, if the numbers are large, and par-
       ticularly if such repetitions are nested, the memory usage  can	become
       an embarrassment. For example, the very simple pattern


       uses  over  50KiB  when compiled	using the 8-bit	library. When PCRE2 is
       compiled	with its default internal pointer size of two bytes, the  size
       limit on	a compiled pattern is 65535 code units in the 8-bit and	16-bit
       libraries, and this is reached with the above pattern if	the outer rep-
       etition	is  increased from 3 to	4. PCRE2 can be	compiled to use	larger
       internal	pointers and thus handle larger	compiled patterns, but	it  is
       better to try to	rewrite	your pattern to	use less memory	if you can.

       One  way	 of reducing the memory	usage for such patterns	is to make use
       of PCRE2's "subroutine" facility. Re-writing the	above pattern as


       reduces the memory requirements to around 16KiB,	and indeed it  remains
       under  20KiB  even with the outer repetition increased to 100. However,
       this kind of pattern is not always exactly equivalent, because any cap-
       tures  within  subroutine calls are lost	when the subroutine completes.
       If this is not a	problem, this kind of  rewriting  will	allow  you  to
       process	patterns that PCRE2 cannot otherwise handle. The matching per-
       formance	of the two different versions of the pattern are  roughly  the
       same.  (This applies from release 10.30 - things	were different in ear-
       lier releases.)


       From release 10.30, the interpretive (non-JIT) version of pcre2_match()
       uses  very  little system stack at run time. In earlier releases	recur-
       sive function calls could use a great deal of  stack,  and  this	 could
       cause  problems,	but this usage has been	eliminated. Backtracking posi-
       tions are now explicitly	remembered in memory frames controlled by  the
       code.  An  initial  20KiB  vector  of frames is allocated on the	system
       stack (enough for about 100 frames for small patterns), but if this  is
       insufficient,  heap  memory  is	used. The amount of heap memory	can be
       limited;	if the limit is	set to zero, only the initial stack vector  is
       used.  Rewriting	patterns to be time-efficient, as described below, may
       also reduce the memory requirements.

       In contrast to  pcre2_match(),  pcre2_dfa_match()  does	use  recursive
       function	 calls,	 but only for processing atomic	groups,	lookaround as-
       sertions, and recursion within the pattern. The original	version	of the
       code  used  to  allocate	 quite large internal workspace	vectors	on the
       stack, which caused some	problems for  some  patterns  in  environments
       with  small  stacks.  From release 10.32	the code for pcre2_dfa_match()
       has been	re-factored to use heap	memory	when  necessary	 for  internal
       workspace  when	recursing,  though  recursive function calls are still

       The "match depth" parameter can be used to limit	the depth of  function
       recursion,  and	the  "match  heap"  parameter  to limit	heap memory in


       Certain items in	regular	expression patterns are	processed  more	 effi-
       ciently than others. It is more efficient to use	a character class like
       [aeiou]	than  a	 set  of   single-character   alternatives   such   as
       (a|e|i|o|u).  In	 general,  the simplest	construction that provides the
       required	behaviour is usually the most efficient. Jeffrey Friedl's book
       contains	 a  lot	 of useful general discussion about optimizing regular
       expressions for efficient performance. This document contains a few ob-
       servations about	PCRE2.

       Using  Unicode  character  properties  (the  \p,	\P, and	\X escapes) is
       slow, because PCRE2 has to use a	multi-stage table lookup  whenever  it
       needs  a	 character's  property.	If you can find	an alternative pattern
       that does not use character properties, it will probably	be faster.

       By default, the escape sequences	\b, \d,	\s,  and  \w,  and  the	 POSIX
       character  classes  such	 as  [:alpha:]	do not use Unicode properties,
       partly for backwards compatibility, and partly for performance reasons.
       However,	 you  can  set	the PCRE2_UCP option or	start the pattern with
       (*UCP) if you want Unicode character properties to be  used.  This  can
       double  the  matching  time  for	 items	such  as \d, when matched with
       pcre2_match(); the performance loss is less with	a DFA  matching	 func-
       tion, and in both cases there is	not much difference for	\b.

       When  a pattern begins with .* not in atomic parentheses, nor in	paren-
       theses that are the subject of a	backreference,	and  the  PCRE2_DOTALL
       option  is  set,	 the pattern is	implicitly anchored by PCRE2, since it
       can match only at the start of a	subject	string.	 If  the  pattern  has
       multiple	top-level branches, they must all be anchorable. The optimiza-
       tion can	be disabled by the PCRE2_NO_DOTSTAR_ANCHOR option, and is  au-
       tomatically disabled if the pattern contains (*PRUNE) or	(*SKIP).

       If  PCRE2_DOTALL	 is  not set, PCRE2 cannot make	this optimization, be-
       cause the dot metacharacter does	not then match a newline, and  if  the
       subject	string contains	newlines, the pattern may match	from the char-
       acter immediately following one of them instead of from the very	start.
       For example, the	pattern


       matches	the subject "first\nand	second"	(where \n stands for a newline
       character), with	the match starting at the seventh character. In	 order
       to  do  this, PCRE2 has to retry	the match starting after every newline
       in the subject.

       If you are using	such a pattern with subject strings that do  not  con-
       tain   newlines,	  the	best   performance   is	 obtained  by  setting
       PCRE2_DOTALL, or	starting the pattern with ^.* or ^.*? to indicate  ex-
       plicit  anchoring.  That	saves PCRE2 from having	to scan	along the sub-
       ject looking for	a newline to restart at.

       Beware of patterns that contain nested indefinite  repeats.  These  can
       take  a	long time to run when applied to a string that does not	match.
       Consider	the pattern fragment


       This can	match "aaaa" in	16 different ways, and this  number  increases
       very  rapidly  as the string gets longer. (The *	repeat can match 0, 1,
       2, 3, or	4 times, and for each of those cases other than	0 or 4,	the  +
       repeats	can  match  different numbers of times.) When the remainder of
       the pattern is such that	the entire match is going to fail,  PCRE2  has
       in  principle to	try every possible variation, and this can take	an ex-
       tremely long time, even for relatively short strings.

       An optimization catches some of the more	simple cases such as


       where a literal character follows. Before  embarking  on	 the  standard
       matching	 procedure, PCRE2 checks that there is a "b" later in the sub-
       ject string, and	if there is not, it fails the match immediately.  How-
       ever,  when  there  is no following literal this	optimization cannot be
       used. You can see the difference	by comparing the behaviour of


       with the	pattern	above. The former gives	 a  failure  almost  instantly
       when  applied  to  a  whole  line of "a"	characters, whereas the	latter
       takes an	appreciable time with strings longer than about	20 characters.

       In many cases, the solution to this kind	of performance issue is	to use
       an  atomic group	or a possessive	quantifier. This can often reduce mem-
       ory requirements	as well. As another example, consider this pattern:


       It matches from wherever	it starts until	it encounters "<inet"  or  the
       end  of	the  data,  and	is the kind of pattern that might be used when
       processing an XML file. Each iteration of the outer parentheses matches
       either  one  character that is not "<" or a "<" that is not followed by
       "inet". However,	each time a parenthesis	is processed,  a  backtracking
       position	 is  passed,  so this formulation uses a memory	frame for each
       matched character. For a	long string, a lot of memory is	required. Con-
       sider  now  this	 rewritten  pattern,  which  matches  exactly the same


       This runs much faster, because sequences	of characters that do not con-
       tain "<"	are "swallowed"	in one item inside the parentheses, and	a pos-
       sessive quantifier is used to stop any backtracking into	 the  runs  of
       non-"<"	characters.  This  version also	uses a lot less	memory because
       entry to	a new set of parentheses happens only  when  a	"<"  character
       that  is	 not  followed by "inet" is encountered	(and we	assume this is
       relatively rare).

       This example shows that one way of optimizing performance when matching
       long  subject strings is	to write repeated parenthesized	subpatterns to
       match more than one character whenever possible.


       You can set limits on the amount	of processing that  takes  place  when
       matching,  and  on  the amount of heap memory that is used. The default
       values of the limits are	very large, and	unlikely ever to operate. They
       can  be	changed	 when  PCRE2  is  built, and they can also be set when
       pcre2_match() or	pcre2_dfa_match() is called. For details of these  in-
       terfaces,  see  the  pcre2build	documentation and the section entitled
       "The match context" in the pcre2api documentation.

       The pcre2test test program has a	modifier called	 "find_limits"	which,
       if  applied  to	a  subject line, causes	it to find the smallest	limits
       that allow a pattern to match. This is done by repeatedly matching with
       different limits.


       Philip Hazel
       University Computing Service
       Cambridge, England.


       Last updated: 03	February 2019
       Copyright (c) 1997-2019 University of Cambridge.

PCRE2 10.33		       03 February 2019		       PCRE2PERFORM(3)


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