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PCREPARTIAL(3)		   Library Functions Manual		PCREPARTIAL(3)

       PCRE - Perl-compatible regular expressions

       In normal use of	PCRE, if the subject string that is passed to a	match-
       ing function matches as far as it goes, but is too short	to  match  the
       entire pattern, PCRE_ERROR_NOMATCH is returned. There are circumstances
       where it	might be helpful to distinguish	this case from other cases  in
       which there is no match.

       Consider, for example, an application where a human is required to type
       in data for a field with	specific formatting requirements.  An  example
       might be	a date in the form ddmmmyy, defined by this pattern:


       If the application sees the user's keystrokes one by one, and can check
       that what has been typed	so far is potentially valid,  it  is  able  to
       raise  an  error	 as  soon as a mistake is made,	by beeping and not re-
       flecting	the character that has been typed, for example.	This immediate
       feedback	 is  likely to be a better user	interface than a check that is
       delayed until the entire	string has been	entered. Partial matching  can
       also  be	 useful	 when  the  subject string is very long	and is not all
       available at once.

       PCRE supports partial matching by means of  the	PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT  and
       PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD  options,  which  can	be set when calling any	of the
       matching	functions. For backwards compatibility,	PCRE_PARTIAL is	a syn-
       onym  for  PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT.  The essential difference between the two
       options is whether or not a partial match is preferred to  an  alterna-
       tive complete match, though the details differ between the two types of
       matching	function. If both options  are	set,  PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD	 takes

       If  you	want to	use partial matching with just-in-time optimized code,
       you must	call pcre_study(), pcre16_study() or  pcre32_study() with  one
       or both of these	options:


       PCRE_STUDY_JIT_COMPILE  should also be set if you are going to run non-
       partial matches on the same pattern. If the appropriate JIT study  mode
       has not been set	for a match, the interpretive matching code is used.

       Setting a partial matching option disables two of PCRE's	standard opti-
       mizations. PCRE remembers the last literal data unit in a pattern,  and
       abandons	 matching  immediately	if  it	is  not	present	in the subject
       string. This optimization cannot	be used	 for  a	 subject  string  that
       might  match only partially. If the pattern was studied,	PCRE knows the
       minimum length of a matching string, and	does not  bother  to  run  the
       matching	 function  on  shorter strings.	This optimization is also dis-
       abled for partial matching.

PARTIAL	MATCHING USING pcre_exec() OR pcre[16|32]_exec()
       A  partial   match   occurs   during   a	  call	 to   pcre_exec()   or
       pcre[16|32]_exec()  when	 the end of the	subject	string is reached suc-
       cessfully, but matching cannot continue	because	 more  characters  are
       needed.	 However, at least one character in the	subject	must have been
       inspected. This character need not  form	 part  of  the	final  matched
       string;	lookbehind  assertions and the \K escape sequence provide ways
       of inspecting characters	before the start of a matched  substring.  The
       requirement  for	 inspecting  at	 least one character exists because an
       empty string can	always be matched; without such	 a  restriction	 there
       would  always  be  a partial match of an	empty string at	the end	of the

       If there	are at least two slots in the offsets vector  when  a  partial
       match  is returned, the first slot is set to the	offset of the earliest
       character that was inspected. For convenience, the second offset	points
       to the end of the subject so that a substring can easily	be identified.
       If there	are at least three slots in the	offsets	vector,	the third slot
       is set to the offset of the character where matching started.

       For the majority	of patterns, the contents of the first and third slots
       will be the same. However, for patterns that contain lookbehind	asser-
       tions, or begin with \b or \B, characters before	the one	where matching
       started may have	been inspected while carrying out the match. For exam-
       ple, consider this pattern:


       This pattern matches "123", but only if it is preceded by "abc".	If the
       subject string is "xyzabc12", the first two  offsets  after  a  partial
       match  are for the substring "abc12", because all these characters were
       inspected. However, the third offset is set to 6, because that  is  the
       offset where matching began.

       What happens when a partial match is identified depends on which	of the
       two partial matching options are	set.

   PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT WITH pcre_exec() OR pcre[16|32]_exec()
       If PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT is	set  when  pcre_exec()	or  pcre[16|32]_exec()
       identifies a partial match, the partial match is	remembered, but	match-
       ing continues as	normal,	and other  alternatives	 in  the  pattern  are
       tried.  If  no  complete	 match can be found, PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL	is re-
       turned instead of PCRE_ERROR_NOMATCH.

       This option is "soft" because it	prefers	a complete match over  a  par-
       tial  match.   All the various matching items in	a pattern behave as if
       the subject string is potentially complete. For example,	\z, \Z,	and  $
       match  at  the end of the subject, as normal, and for \b	and \B the end
       of the subject is treated as a non-alphanumeric.

       If there	is more	than one partial match,	the first one that  was	 found
       provides	the data that is returned. Consider this pattern:


       If  this	is matched against the subject string "abc123dog", both	alter-
       natives fail to match, but the end of the  subject  is  reached	during
       matching,  so  PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL is returned. The offsets are set to 3
       and 9, identifying "123dog" as the first	partial	match that was	found.
       (In  this  example, there are two partial matches, because "dog"	on its
       own partially matches the second	alternative.)

   PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD WITH pcre_exec() OR pcre[16|32]_exec()
       If PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is	set  for  pcre_exec()  or  pcre[16|32]_exec(),
       PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL  is  returned	 as  soon as a partial match is	found,
       without continuing to search for	possible complete matches. This	option
       is "hard" because it prefers an earlier partial match over a later com-
       plete match. For	this reason, the assumption is made that  the  end  of
       the  supplied  subject  string may not be the true end of the available
       data, and so, if	\z, \Z,	\b, \B,	or $ are encountered at	the end	of the
       subject,	 the  result is	PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL, provided that at least one
       character in the	subject	has been inspected.

       Setting PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD also affects the way UTF-8 and	UTF-16 subject
       strings	are checked for	validity. Normally, an invalid sequence	causes
       the error PCRE_ERROR_BADUTF8 or PCRE_ERROR_BADUTF16.  However,  in  the
       special	case  of  a  truncated	character  at  the end of the subject,
       PCRE_ERROR_SHORTUTF8  or	  PCRE_ERROR_SHORTUTF16	  is   returned	  when
       PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is set.

   Comparing hard and soft partial matching
       The  difference	between	the two	partial	matching options can be	illus-
       trated by a pattern such	as:


       This matches either "dog" or "dogsbody",	greedily (that is, it  prefers
       the  longer  string  if	possible). If it is matched against the	string
       "dog" with PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT, it	yields a  complete  match  for	"dog".
       However,	if PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is	set, the result	is PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL.
       On the other hand, if the pattern is made ungreedy the result  is  dif-


       In  this	 case  the  result  is always a	complete match because that is
       found first, and	matching never	continues  after  finding  a  complete
       match. It might be easier to follow this	explanation by thinking	of the
       two patterns like this:

	 /dog(sbody)?/	  is the same as  /dogsbody|dog/
	 /dog(sbody)??/	  is the same as  /dog|dogsbody/

       The second pattern will never match "dogsbody", because it will	always
       find the	shorter	match first.

PARTIAL	MATCHING USING pcre_dfa_exec() OR pcre[16|32]_dfa_exec()
       The DFA functions move along the	subject	string character by character,
       without backtracking, searching for  all	 possible  matches  simultane-
       ously.  If the end of the subject is reached before the end of the pat-
       tern, there is the possibility of a partial match, again	provided  that
       at least	one character has been inspected.

       When  PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT	is set,	PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL is returned only if
       there have been no complete matches. Otherwise,	the  complete  matches
       are  returned.	However,  if PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is set, a partial match
       takes precedence	over any complete matches. The portion of  the	string
       that  was  inspected when the longest partial match was found is	set as
       the first matching string, provided there are at	least two slots	in the
       offsets vector.

       Because	the  DFA functions always search for all possible matches, and
       there is	no difference between greedy and  ungreedy  repetition,	 their
       behaviour  is  different	 from  the  standard  functions	when PCRE_PAR-
       TIAL_HARD is set. Consider the string "dog"  matched  against  the  un-
       greedy pattern shown above:


       Whereas	the  standard functions	stop as	soon as	they find the complete
       match for "dog",	the DFA	functions also	find  the  partial  match  for
       "dogsbody", and so return that when PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD is	set.

       If  a  pattern ends with	one of sequences \b or \B, which test for word
       boundaries, partial matching with PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT can	give  counter-
       intuitive results. Consider this	pattern:


       This matches "cat", provided there is a word boundary at	either end. If
       the subject string is "the cat",	the comparison of the final "t"	with a
       following  character  cannot  take  place, so a partial match is	found.
       However,	normal matching	carries	on, and	\b matches at the end  of  the
       subject	when  the  last	 character is a	letter,	so a complete match is
       found.  The  result,  therefore,	 is  not   PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL.	 Using
       PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD  in  this case	does yield PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL, because
       then the	partial	match takes precedence.

       For releases of PCRE prior to 8.00, because of the way certain internal
       optimizations   were  implemented  in  the  pcre_exec()	function,  the
       PCRE_PARTIAL option (predecessor	of  PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT)	could  not  be
       used  with all patterns.	From release 8.00 onwards, the restrictions no
       longer apply, and partial matching with can be requested	for  any  pat-

       Items that were formerly	restricted were	repeated single	characters and
       repeated	metasequences. If PCRE_PARTIAL was set for a pattern that  did
       not  conform  to	 the restrictions, pcre_exec() returned	the error code
       PCRE_ERROR_BADPARTIAL (-13). This error code is no longer in  use.  The
       PCRE_INFO_OKPARTIAL  call  to pcre_fullinfo() to	find out if a compiled
       pattern can be used for partial matching	now always returns 1.

       If the escape sequence \P is present  in	 a  pcretest  data  line,  the
       PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT  option  is  used  for	 the  match.  Here is a	run of
       pcretest	that uses the date example quoted above:

	   re> /^\d?\d(jan|feb|mar|apr|may|jun|jul|aug|sep|oct|nov|dec)\d\d$/
	 data> 25jun04\P
	  0: 25jun04
	  1: jun
	 data> 25dec3\P
	 Partial match:	23dec3
	 data> 3ju\P
	 Partial match:	3ju
	 data> 3juj\P
	 No match
	 data> j\P
	 No match

       The first data string is	matched	 completely,  so  pcretest  shows  the
       matched	substrings.  The  remaining four strings do not	match the com-
       plete pattern, but the first two	are partial matches. Similar output is
       obtained	if DFA matching	is used.

       If  the escape sequence \P is present more than once in a pcretest data
       line, the PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD option is set for the match.

MULTI-SEGMENT MATCHING WITH pcre_dfa_exec() OR pcre[16|32]_dfa_exec()
       When a partial match has	been found using a DFA matching	 function,  it
       is  possible to continue	the match by providing additional subject data
       and calling the function	again with the same compiled  regular  expres-
       sion,  this time	setting	the PCRE_DFA_RESTART option. You must pass the
       same working space as before, because this is where details of the pre-
       vious  partial match are	stored.	Here is	an example using pcretest, us-
       ing the \R escape sequence to set the PCRE_DFA_RESTART option (\D spec-
       ifies the use of	the DFA	matching function):

	   re> /^\d?\d(jan|feb|mar|apr|may|jun|jul|aug|sep|oct|nov|dec)\d\d$/
	 data> 23ja\P\D
	 Partial match:	23ja
	 data> n05\R\D
	  0: n05

       The  first  call	has "23ja" as the subject, and requests	partial	match-
       ing; the	second call  has  "n05"	 as  the  subject  for	the  continued
       (restarted)  match.   Notice  that when the match is complete, only the
       last part is shown; PCRE	does  not  retain  the	previously  partially-
       matched	string.	It is up to the	calling	program	to do that if it needs

       That means that,	for an unanchored pattern, if a	continued match	fails,
       it  is  not possible to try again at a new starting point. All this fa-
       cility is capable of doing is continuing	with the  previous  match  at-
       tempt. In the previous example, if the second set of data is "ug23" the
       result is no match, even	though there would be a	match for  "aug23"  if
       the  entire  string  were  given	at once. Depending on the application,
       this may	or may not be what you want.  The only way to allow for	start-
       ing  again  at  the next	character is to	retain the matched part	of the
       subject and try a new complete match.

       You can set the PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT  or  PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD	 options  with
       PCRE_DFA_RESTART	 to  continue partial matching over multiple segments.
       This facility can be used to pass very long subject strings to the  DFA
       matching	functions.

MULTI-SEGMENT MATCHING WITH pcre_exec()	OR pcre[16|32]_exec()
       From  release 8.00, the standard	matching functions can also be used to
       do multi-segment	matching. Unlike the DFA functions, it is not possible
       to  restart the previous	match with a new segment of data. Instead, new
       data must be added to the previous subject string, and the entire match
       re-run,	starting from the point	where the partial match	occurred. Ear-
       lier data can be	discarded.

       It is best to use PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD in this situation, because it  does
       not  treat the end of a segment as the end of the subject when matching
       \z, \Z, \b, \B, and $. Consider	an  unanchored	pattern	 that  matches

	   re> /\d?\d(jan|feb|mar|apr|may|jun|jul|aug|sep|oct|nov|dec)\d\d/
	 data> The date	is 23ja\P\P
	 Partial match:	23ja

       At  this	stage, an application could discard the	text preceding "23ja",
       add on text from	the next  segment,  and	 call  the  matching  function
       again.  Unlike  the  DFA	matching functions, the	entire matching	string
       must always be available, and the complete matching process occurs  for
       each call, so more memory and more processing time is needed.

       Note:  If  the pattern contains lookbehind assertions, or \K, or	starts
       with \b or \B, the string that is returned for a	partial	match includes
       characters  that	precede	the start of what would	be returned for	a com-
       plete match, because it contains	all the	characters that	were inspected
       during the partial match.

       Certain types of	pattern	may give problems with multi-segment matching,
       whichever matching function is used.

       1. If the pattern contains a test for the beginning of a	line, you need
       to  pass	 the  PCRE_NOTBOL  option when the subject string for any call
       does start at the beginning of a	line. There is also a PCRE_NOTEOL  op-
       tion,  but  in practice when doing multi-segment	matching you should be
       using PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD,	which includes the effect of PCRE_NOTEOL.

       2. Lookbehind assertions	that have already been obeyed are catered  for
       in the offsets that are returned	for a partial match. However a lookbe-
       hind assertion later in the pattern could require even earlier  charac-
       ters   to  be  inspected.  You  can  handle  this  case	by  using  the
       PCRE_INFO_MAXLOOKBEHIND	  option    of	  the	 pcre_fullinfo()    or
       pcre[16|32]_fullinfo()  functions  to  obtain the length	of the longest
       lookbehind in the pattern. This length  is  given  in  characters,  not
       bytes.  If  you	always retain at least that many characters before the
       partially matched string, all should be	well.  (Of  course,  near  the
       start of	the subject, fewer characters may be present; in that case all
       characters should be retained.)

       From release 8.33, there	is a more accurate way of deciding which char-
       acters  to  retain.  Instead  of	 subtracting the length	of the longest
       lookbehind from the  earliest  inspected	 character  (offsets[0]),  the
       match  start  position  (offsets[2]) should be used, and	the next match
       attempt started at the offsets[2] character by setting the  startoffset
       argument	of pcre_exec() or pcre_dfa_exec().

       For  example, if	the pattern "(?<=123)abc" is partially matched against
       the string "xx123a", the	three offset values returned are 2, 6, and  5.
       This  indicates	that  the  matching  process that gave a partial match
       started at offset 5, but	the characters "123a" were all inspected.  The
       maximum	lookbehind  for	 that pattern is 3, so taking that away	from 5
       shows that we need only keep "123a", and	the next match attempt can  be
       started at offset 3 (that is, at	"a") when further characters have been
       added. When the match start is not the  earliest	 inspected  character,
       pcretest	shows it explicitly:

	   re> "(?<=123)abc"
	 data> xx123a\P\P
	 Partial match at offset 5: 123a

       3.  Because a partial match must	always contain at least	one character,
       what might be considered	a partial match	of an  empty  string  actually
       gives a "no match" result. For example:

	   re> /c(?<=abc)x/
	 data> ab\P
	 No match

       If the next segment begins "cx",	a match	should be found, but this will
       only happen if characters from the previous segment are	retained.  For
       this  reason,  a	 "no  match"  result should be interpreted as "partial
       match of	an empty string" when the pattern contains lookbehinds.

       4. Matching a subject string that is split into multiple	 segments  may
       not  always produce exactly the same result as matching over one	single
       long string, especially when PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT  is  used.  The  section
       "Partial	 Matching  and	Word Boundaries" above describes an issue that
       arises if the pattern ends with \b or \B. Another  kind	of  difference
       may  occur when there are multiple matching possibilities, because (for
       PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT) a partial match result is given only when there  are
       no completed matches. This means	that as	soon as	the shortest match has
       been found, continuation	to a new subject segment is no	longer	possi-
       ble. Consider again this	pcretest example:

	   re> /dog(sbody)?/
	 data> dogsb\P
	  0: dog
	 data> do\P\D
	 Partial match:	do
	 data> gsb\R\P\D
	  0: g
	 data> dogsbody\D
	  0: dogsbody
	  1: dog

       The  first  data	 line passes the string	"dogsb"	to a standard matching
       function, setting the PCRE_PARTIAL_SOFT option. Although	the string  is
       a  partial  match for "dogsbody", the result is not PCRE_ERROR_PARTIAL,
       because the shorter string "dog"	is a complete match.  Similarly,  when
       the  subject  is	 presented to a	DFA matching function in several parts
       ("do" and "gsb" being the first two) the	match  stops  when  "dog"  has
       been  found, and	it is not possible to continue.	 On the	other hand, if
       "dogsbody" is presented as a single string,  a  DFA  matching  function
       finds both matches.

       Because	of  these  problems,  it is best to use	PCRE_PARTIAL_HARD when
       matching	multi-segment data. The	example	 above	then  behaves  differ-

	   re> /dog(sbody)?/
	 data> dogsb\P\P
	 Partial match:	dogsb
	 data> do\P\D
	 Partial match:	do
	 data> gsb\R\P\P\D
	 Partial match:	gsb

       5. Patterns that	contain	alternatives at	the top	level which do not all
       start with the  same  pattern  item  may	 not  work  as	expected  when
       PCRE_DFA_RESTART	is used. For example, consider this pattern:


       If  the	first  part of the subject is "ABC123",	a partial match	of the
       first alternative is found at offset 3. There is	no partial  match  for
       the second alternative, because such a match does not start at the same
       point in	the subject string. Attempting to  continue  with  the	string
       "7890"  does  not  yield	 a  match because only those alternatives that
       match at	one point in the subject are remembered.  The  problem	arises
       because	the  start  of the second alternative matches within the first
       alternative. There is no	problem	with  anchored	patterns  or  patterns
       such as:


       where  no  string can be	a partial match	for both alternatives. This is
       not a problem if	a standard matching function is	used, because the  en-
       tire match has to be rerun each time:

	   re> /1234|3789/
	 data> ABC123\P\P
	 Partial match:	123
	 data> 1237890
	  0: 3789

       Of course, instead of using PCRE_DFA_RESTART, the same technique	of re-
       running the entire match	can also be used with the DFA  matching	 func-
       tions.  Another	possibility  is	to work	with two buffers. If a partial
       match at	offset n in the	first buffer is	followed by  "no  match"  when
       PCRE_DFA_RESTART	 is  used on the second	buffer,	you can	then try a new
       match starting at offset	n+1 in the first buffer.

       Philip Hazel
       University Computing Service
       Cambridge CB2 3QH, England.

       Last updated: 02	July 2013
       Copyright (c) 1997-2013 University of Cambridge.

PCRE 8.34			 02 July 2013			PCREPARTIAL(3)


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