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.NET Framework Regular Expressions
pattern-matching with regular expressions, about pattern-matching
searching with regular expressions, about regular expressions
pattern-matching with regular expressions
searching with regular expressions
parsing text with regular expressions
regular expressions [.NET Framework], about regular expressions
regular expressions [.NET Framework]
.NET Framework regular expressions, about
characters [.NET Framework], regular expressions
parsing text with regular expressions, overview
.NET Framework regular expressions
strings [.NET Framework], regular expressions

.NET Regular Expressions

Regular expressions provide a powerful, flexible, and efficient method for processing text. The extensive pattern-matching notation of regular expressions enables you to quickly parse large amounts of text to find specific character patterns; to validate text to ensure that it matches a predefined pattern (such as an email address); to extract, edit, replace, or delete text substrings; and to add the extracted strings to a collection in order to generate a report. For many applications that deal with strings or that parse large blocks of text, regular expressions are an indispensable tool.

How Regular Expressions Work

The centerpiece of text processing with regular expressions is the regular expression engine, which is represented by the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex?displayProperty=nameWithType object in .NET. At a minimum, processing text using regular expressions requires that the regular expression engine be provided with the following two items of information:

  • The regular expression pattern to identify in the text.

    In .NET, regular expression patterns are defined by a special syntax or language, which is compatible with Perl 5 regular expressions and adds some additional features such as right-to-left matching. For more information, see Regular Expression Language - Quick Reference.

  • The text to parse for the regular expression pattern.

The methods of the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex class let you perform the following operations:

  • Determine whether the regular expression pattern occurs in the input text by calling the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex.IsMatch%2A?displayProperty=nameWithType method. For an example that uses the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex.IsMatch%2A method for validating text, see How to: Verify that Strings Are in Valid Email Format.

  • Retrieve one or all occurrences of text that matches the regular expression pattern by calling the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex.Match%2A?displayProperty=nameWithType or xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex.Matches%2A?displayProperty=nameWithType method. The former method returns a xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Match?displayProperty=nameWithType object that provides information about the matching text. The latter returns a xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.MatchCollection object that contains one xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Match?displayProperty=nameWithType object for each match found in the parsed text.

  • Replace text that matches the regular expression pattern by calling the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex.Replace%2A?displayProperty=nameWithType method. For examples that use the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex.Replace%2A method to change date formats and remove invalid characters from a string, see How to: Strip Invalid Characters from a String and Example: Changing Date Formats.

For an overview of the regular expression object model, see The Regular Expression Object Model.

For more information about the regular expression language, see Regular Expression Language - Quick Reference or download and print one of these brochures:

Quick Reference in Word (.docx) format
Quick Reference in PDF (.pdf) format

Regular Expression Examples

The xref:System.String class includes a number of string search and replacement methods that you can use when you want to locate literal strings in a larger string. Regular expressions are most useful either when you want to locate one of several substrings in a larger string, or when you want to identify patterns in a string, as the following examples illustrate.

Example 1: Replacing Substrings

Assume that a mailing list contains names that sometimes include a title (Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms.) along with a first and last name. If you do not want to include the titles when you generate envelope labels from the list, you can use a regular expression to remove the titles, as the following example illustrates.

[!code-csharpConceptual.Regex#2] [!code-vbConceptual.Regex#2]

The regular expression pattern(Mr\.? |Mrs\.? |Miss |Ms\.? ) matches any occurrence of "Mr ", "Mr. ", "Mrs ", "Mrs. ", "Miss ", "Ms or "Ms. ". The call to the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex.Replace%2A?displayProperty=nameWithType method replaces the matched string with xref:System.String.Empty?displayProperty=nameWithType; in other words, it removes it from the original string.

Example 2: Identifying Duplicated Words

Accidentally duplicating words is a common error that writers make. A regular expression can be used to identify duplicated words, as the following example shows.

[!code-csharpConceptual.Regex#3] [!code-vbConceptual.Regex#3]

The regular expression pattern \b(\w+?)\s\1\b can be interpreted as follows:

\b Start at a word boundary.
(\w+?) Match one or more word characters, but as few characters as possible. Together, they form a group that can be referred to as \1.
\s Match a white-space character.
\1 Match the substring that is equal to the group named \1.
\b Match a word boundary.

The xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex.Matches%2A?displayProperty=nameWithType method is called with regular expression options set to xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.RegexOptions.IgnoreCase?displayProperty=nameWithType. Therefore, the match operation is case-insensitive, and the example identifies the substring "This this" as a duplication.

Note that the input string includes the substring "this? This". However, because of the intervening punctuation mark, it is not identified as a duplication.

Example 3: Dynamically Building a Culture-Sensitive Regular Expression

The following example illustrates the power of regular expressions combined with the flexibility offered by .NET's globalization features. It uses the xref:System.Globalization.NumberFormatInfo object to determine the format of currency values in the system's current culture. It then uses that information to dynamically construct a regular expression that extracts currency values from the text. For each match, it extracts the subgroup that contains the numeric string only, converts it to a xref:System.Decimal value, and calculates a running total.

[!code-csharpConceptual.Regex#1] [!code-vbConceptual.Regex#1]

On a computer whose current culture is English - United States (en-US), the example dynamically builds the regular expression \$\s*[-+]?([0-9]{0,3}(,[0-9]{3})*(\.[0-9]+)?). This regular expression pattern can be interpreted as follows:

\$ Look for a single occurrence of the dollar symbol ($) in the input string. The regular expression pattern string includes a backslash to indicate that the dollar symbol is to be interpreted literally rather than as a regular expression anchor. (The $ symbol alone would indicate that the regular expression engine should try to begin its match at the end of a string.) To ensure that the current culture's currency symbol is not misinterpreted as a regular expression symbol, the example calls the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Regex.Escape%2A method to escape the character.
\s* Look for zero or more occurrences of a white-space character.
[-+]? Look for zero or one occurrence of either a positive sign or a negative sign.
([0-9]{0,3}(,[0-9]{3})*(\.[0-9]+)?) The outer parentheses around this expression define it as a capturing group or a subexpression. If a match is found, information about this part of the matching string can be retrieved from the second xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Group object in the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.GroupCollection object returned by the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Match.Groups%2A?displayProperty=nameWithType property. (The first element in the collection represents the entire match.)
[0-9]{0,3} Look for zero to three occurrences of the decimal digits 0 through 9.
(,[0-9]{3})* Look for zero or more occurrences of a group separator followed by three decimal digits.
\. Look for a single occurrence of the decimal separator.
[0-9]+ Look for one or more decimal digits.
(\.[0-9]+)? Look for zero or one occurrence of the decimal separator followed by at least one decimal digit.

If each of these subpatterns is found in the input string, the match succeeds, and a xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.Match object that contains information about the match is added to the xref:System.Text.RegularExpressions.MatchCollection object.

Related Topics

Title Description
Regular Expression Language - Quick Reference Provides information on the set of characters, operators, and constructs that you can use to define regular expressions.
The Regular Expression Object Model Provides information and code examples that illustrate how to use the regular expression classes.
Details of Regular Expression Behavior Provides information about the capabilities and behavior of .NET regular expressions.
Regular Expression Examples Provides code examples that illustrate typical uses of regular expressions.


Regular Expressions - Quick Reference (download in Word format)
Regular Expressions - Quick Reference (download in PDF format)