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Sets and ranges [...]

Several characters or character classes inside square brackets […] mean to "search for any character among given".

Sets

For instance, pattern:[eao] means any of the 3 characters: 'a', 'e', or 'o'.

That's called a set. Sets can be used in a regexp along with regular characters:

// find [t or m], and then "op"
alert( "Mop top".match(/[tm]op/gi) ); // "Mop", "top"

Please note that although there are multiple characters in the set, they correspond to exactly one character in the match.

So the example above gives no matches:

// find "V", then [o or i], then "la"
alert( "Voila".match(/V[oi]la/) ); // null, no matches

The pattern assumes:

  • pattern:V,
  • then one of the letters pattern:[oi],
  • then pattern:la.

So there would be a match for match:Vola or match:Vila.

Ranges

Square brackets may also contain character ranges.

For instance, pattern:[a-z] is a character in range from a to z, and pattern:[0-5] is a digit from 0 to 5.

In the example below we're searching for "x" followed by two digits or letters from A to F:

alert( "Exception 0xAF".match(/x[0-9A-F][0-9A-F]/g) ); // xAF

Please note that in the word subject:Exception there's a substring subject:xce. It didn't match the pattern, because the letters are lowercase, while in the set pattern:[0-9A-F] they are uppercase.

If we want to find it too, then we can add a range a-f: pattern:[0-9A-Fa-f]. The i flag would allow lowercase too.

Character classes are shorthands for certain character sets.

For instance:

  • \d -- is the same as pattern:[0-9],
  • \w -- is the same as pattern:[a-zA-Z0-9_],
  • \s -- is the same as pattern:[\t\n\v\f\r ] plus few other unicode space characters.

We can use character classes inside […] as well.

For instance, we want to match all wordly characters or a dash, for words like "twenty-third". We can't do it with pattern:\w+, because pattern:\w class does not include a dash. But we can use pattern:[\w-].

We also can use a combination of classes to cover every possible character, like pattern:[\s\S]. That matches spaces or non-spaces -- any character. That's wider than a dot ".", because the dot matches any character except a newline.

Excluding ranges

Besides normal ranges, there are "excluding" ranges that look like pattern:[^…].

They are denoted by a caret character ^ at the start and match any character except the given ones.

For instance:

  • pattern:[^aeyo] -- any character except 'a', 'e', 'y' or 'o'.
  • pattern:[^0-9] -- any character except a digit, the same as \D.
  • pattern:[^\s] -- any non-space character, same as \S.

The example below looks for any characters except letters, digits and spaces:

alert( "alice15@gmail.com".match(/[^\d\sA-Z]/gi) ); // @ and .

No escaping in […]

Usually when we want to find exactly the dot character, we need to escape it like pattern:\.. And if we need a backslash, then we use pattern:\\.

In square brackets the vast majority of special characters can be used without escaping:

  • A dot pattern:'.'.
  • A plus pattern:'+'.
  • Parentheses pattern:'( )'.
  • Dash pattern:'-' in the beginning or the end (where it does not define a range).
  • A caret pattern:'^' if not in the beginning (where it means exclusion).
  • And the opening square bracket pattern:'['.

In other words, all special characters are allowed except where they mean something for square brackets.

A dot "." inside square brackets means just a dot. The pattern pattern:[.,] would look for one of characters: either a dot or a comma.

In the example below the regexp pattern:[-().^+] looks for one of the characters -().^+:

// No need to escape
let reg = /[-().^+]/g;

alert( "1 + 2 - 3".match(reg) ); // Matches +, -

...But if you decide to escape them "just in case", then there would be no harm:

// Escaped everything
let reg = /[\-\(\)\.\^\+]/g;

alert( "1 + 2 - 3".match(reg) ); // also works: +, -