Regex is used for matching strings to a pattern. For example, if you want to find a series of three digits in a row, the regex equivalent is ddd. Here is a short summary for my own reference that you can use, from a much larger tutorial here by Automate The Boring Stuff. The code examples are literally copy-pasted from there, so if you actually want to learn regex please go read that blog post as it is amazing.

Summary of how regex is used

Briefest summary

import re 
phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'\d\d\d-\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d')

# Finding a group in a regex 
>>> mo = phoneNumRegex.search('My number is 415-555-4242.')
>>> print('Phone number found: ' + mo.group())
'Phone number found: 415-555-4242'

# Using parentheses to split groups. 
>>> phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'(\d\d\d)-(\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d)')
>>> mo = phoneNumRegex.search('My number is 415-555-4242.')
>>> mo.group(1)
'415'
>>> mo.group(2)
'555-4242'
>>> mo.group(0)
'415-555-4242'
>>> mo.group()
'415-555-4242'

# Use findall() 
# With just our usual search() 
>>> phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'\d\d\d-\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d')
>>> mo = phoneNumRegex.search('Cell: 415-555-9999 Work: 212-555-0000')
>>> mo.group()
'415-555-9999'

# With findall() 
>>> phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'\d\d\d-\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d') # has no groups
>>> phoneNumRegex.findall('Cell: 415-555-9999 Work: 212-555-0000')
['415-555-9999', '212-555-0000']

# If there are groups in the regex, then it returns list of tuples like this instead. 
>>> phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'(\d\d\d)-(\d\d\d)-(\d\d\d\d)') # has groups
>>> phoneNumRegex.findall('Cell: 415-555-9999 Work: 212-555-0000')
[('415', '555', '9999'), ('212', '555', '0000')]


# Matching everything with .* 
>>> nameRegex = re.compile(r'First Name: (.*) Last Name: (.*)')
>>> mo = nameRegex.search('First Name: Al Last Name: Sweigart')
>>> mo.group(1)
'Al'
>>> mo.group(2)
'Sweigart'

Notation

The ? matches zero or one of the preceding group.

The * matches zero or more of the preceding group.

The + matches one or more of the preceding group.

The {n} matches exactly n of the preceding group.

The {n,} matches n or more of the preceding group.

The {,m} matches 0 to m of the preceding group.

The {n,m} matches at least n and at most m of the preceding group.

{n,m}? or *? or +? performs a non-greedy match of the preceding group.
^spam means the string must begin with spam.
spam$ means the string must end with spam.

The . matches any character, except newline characters.
\d, \w, and \s match a digit, word, or space character, respectively.
\D, \W, and \S match anything except a digit, word, or space character, respectively.

[abc] matches any character between the brackets (such as a, b, or c).

[^abc] matches any character that isn’t between the brackets.

How to use regex in Python

All Regex functions are in the re module in Python

import re 

You need to create a regex object in order to match a pattern.

phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'\d\d\d-\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d')

The phoneNumRegex variable now contains the Regex object.

To get the pattern, search() the string with your shiny new Regex object.

  • Run search() on your object
  • search() returns None if regex pattern not found in the string
phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'\d\d\d-\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d')
mo = phoneNumRegex.search('My number is 415-555-4242.')
print('Phone number found: ' + mo.group())
_Phone number found: 415-555-4242_
  • This creates a Match object
  • The Match object has a group() method. That’s what’s used tor return it.
  • Say you want to separate the area code from the rest of the phone number. Adding parentheses will create groups in the regex: (ddd)-(ddd-dddd). Then you can use the group() match object method to grab the matching text from just one group.
>>> phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'(\d\d\d)-(\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d)')
>>> mo = phoneNumRegex.search('My number is 415-555-4242.')
>>> mo.group(1)
'415'
>>> mo.group(2)
'555-4242'
>>> mo.group(0)
'415-555-4242'
>>> mo.group()
'415-555-4242'

  • If you would like to retrieve all the groups at once, use the groups() method—note the plural form for the name.
>>> mo.groups()
('415', '555-4242')
>>> areaCode, mainNumber = mo.groups()
>>> print(areaCode)
415
>>> print(mainNumber)
555-4242
  • If you want to match parentheses in your text, escape it by using a .
>>> phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'(\(\d\d\d\)) (\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d)')
>>> mo = phoneNumRegex.search('My phone number is (415) 555-4242.')
>>> mo.group(1)
'(415)'
  • Similarly, you’ll need to escape other punctuation with a .
\.  \^  \$  \*  \+  \?  \{  \}  \[  \]  \\  \|  \(  \)

Matching examples

Matching with a pipe

Returns the first of any of the examples you provide.

>>> heroRegex = re.compile (r'Batman|Tina Fey')
>>> mo1 = heroRegex.search('Batman and Tina Fey')
>>> mo1.group()
'Batman'

>>> mo2 = heroRegex.search('Tina Fey and Batman')
>>> mo2.group()
'Tina Fey'

If you want to, you can add a necessary prefix.

>>> batRegex = re.compile(r'Bat(man|mobile|copter|bat)')
>>> mo = batRegex.search('Batmobile lost a wheel')
>>> mo.group()
'Batmobile'
>>> mo.group(1)
'mobile'

Optional matching with a (word)?

Makes a group optional by using ?.

>>> batRegex = re.compile(r'Bat(wo)?man')
>>> mo1 = batRegex.search('The Adventures of Batman')
>>> mo1.group()
'Batman'

>>> mo2 = batRegex.search('The Adventures of Batwoman')
>>> mo2.group()
'Batwoman'

Match Zero or More with a *

Matches whether the group is there or not.

>>> batRegex = re.compile(r'Bat(wo)*man')
>>> mo1 = batRegex.search('The Adventures of Batman')
>>> mo1.group()
'Batman'

>>> mo2 = batRegex.search('The Adventures of Batwoman')
>>> mo2.group()
'Batwoman'

>>> mo3 = batRegex.search('The Adventures of Batwowowowoman')
>>> mo3.group()
'Batwowowowoman'

Match One or More with a +

The group preceding a plus must appear at least once unlike with *.

>>> batRegex = re.compile(r'Bat(wo)+man')
>>> mo1 = batRegex.search('The Adventures of Batwoman')
>>> mo1.group()
'Batwoman'

>>> mo2 = batRegex.search('The Adventures of Batwowowowoman')
>>> mo2.group()
'Batwowowowoman'

>>> mo3 = batRegex.search('The Adventures of Batman')
>>> mo3 == None
True

Match repetitions with {)

>>> haRegex = re.compile(r'(Ha){3}')
>>> mo1 = haRegex.search('HaHaHa')
>>> mo1.group()
'HaHaHa'

>>> mo2 = haRegex.search('Ha')
>>> mo2 == None
True

Python’s regular expressions are greedy by default, which means that in ambiguous situations they will match the longest string possible. You can use a lazy version that matches the shortest version possible, using a question mark like this: {]?

# Greedy version without the ?
>>> greedyHaRegex = re.compile(r'(Ha){3,5}')
>>> mo1 = greedyHaRegex.search('HaHaHaHaHa')
>>> mo1.group()
'HaHaHaHaHa'

# Lazy version with a ?
>>> nongreedyHaRegex = re.compile(r'(Ha){3,5}?')
>>> mo2 = nongreedyHaRegex.search('HaHaHaHaHa')
>>> mo2.group()
'HaHaHa'

Findall()

In addition to the search() method, Regex objects also have a findall() method. While search() will return a Match object of the first matched text in the searched string, the findall() method will return the strings of every match in the searched string.

# With just our usual search() 
>>> phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'\d\d\d-\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d')
>>> mo = phoneNumRegex.search('Cell: 415-555-9999 Work: 212-555-0000')
>>> mo.group()
'415-555-9999'

# With findall() 
>>> phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'\d\d\d-\d\d\d-\d\d\d\d') # has no groups
>>> phoneNumRegex.findall('Cell: 415-555-9999 Work: 212-555-0000')
['415-555-9999', '212-555-0000']

# If there are groups in the regex, then it returns list of tuples like this instead. 
>>> phoneNumRegex = re.compile(r'(\d\d\d)-(\d\d\d)-(\d\d\d\d)') # has groups
>>> phoneNumRegex.findall('Cell: 415-555-9999 Work: 212-555-0000')
[('415', '555', '9999'), ('212', '555', '0000')]

Making your own character classes

Sometimes you don’t want words, or the alphabet. You can define your own character class in this circumstance, by using [].

>>> vowelRegex = re.compile(r'[aeiouAEIOU]')
>>> vowelRegex.findall('RoboCop eats baby food. BABY FOOD.')
['o', 'o', 'o', 'e', 'a', 'a', 'o', 'o', 'A', 'O', 'O']

By placing a caret character (^) just after the character class’s opening bracket, you can make a negative character class. A negative character class will match all the characters that are not in the character class.

>>> consonantRegex = re.compile(r'[^aeiouAEIOU]')
>>> consonantRegex.findall('RoboCop eats baby food. BABY FOOD.')
['R', 'b', 'C', 'p', ' ', 't', 's', ' ', 'b', 'b', 'y', ' ', 'f', 'd', '.', '
', 'B', 'B', 'Y', ' ', 'F', 'D', '.']

Confusingly, a ^ can also be used to specify that a string must occur at the beginning of the text.

>>> beginsWithHello = re.compile(r'^Hello')
>>> beginsWithHello.search('Hello, world!')
<re.Match object; span=(0, 5), match='Hello'>
>>> beginsWithHello.search('He said hello.') == None
True

The $ is the opposite of that, specifying it must occur at the end of the text.

>>> endsWithNumber = re.compile(r'\d$')
>>> endsWithNumber.search('Your number is 42')
<re.Match object; span=(16, 17), match='2'>
>>> endsWithNumber.search('Your number is forty two.') == None
True

Matching any character except for a newline

The . (or dot) in a regex is called a wildcard, matching any character except for a newline. It just matches one character.

>>> atRegex = re.compile(r'.at')
>>> atRegex.findall('The cat in the hat sat on the flat mat.')
['cat', 'hat', 'sat', 'lat', 'mat']

Matching Everything with Dot-Star (.*)

Sometimes you will want to match everything and anything. For example, say you want to match the string 'First Name:', followed by any and all text, followed by 'Last Name:', and then followed by anything again. You can use the dot-star (.*) to stand in for that “anything.” Remember that the dot character means “any single character except the newline,” and the star character means “zero or more of the preceding character.”

>>> nameRegex = re.compile(r'First Name: (.*) Last Name: (.*)')
>>> mo = nameRegex.search('First Name: Al Last Name: Sweigart')
>>> mo.group(1)
'Al'
>>> mo.group(2)
'Sweigart'

You can use greedy vs non-greedy versions. The non-greedy version is specified by the ?, returning only the shortest string possible. The greedy version returns the longest string possible, and doesn’t have a ?.

>>> nongreedyRegex = re.compile(r'<.*?>')
>>> mo = nongreedyRegex.search('<To serve man> for dinner.>')
>>> mo.group()
'<To serve man>'

>>> greedyRegex = re.compile(r'<.*>')
>>> mo = greedyRegex.search('<To serve man> for dinner.>')
>>> mo.group()
'<To serve man> for dinner.>'

What if you want to match a newline?

The dot-star will match everything except a newline. By passing re.DOTALL as the second argument to re.compile(), you can make the dot character match all characters, including the newline character.

>>> noNewlineRegex = re.compile('.*')
>>> noNewlineRegex.search('Serve the public trust.\nProtect the innocent.
\nUphold the law.').group()
'Serve the public trust.'


>>> newlineRegex = re.compile('.*', re.DOTALL)
>>> newlineRegex.search('Serve the public trust.\nProtect the innocent.
\nUphold the law.').group()
'Serve the public trust.\nProtect the innocent.\nUphold the law.'