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September 28, 2023 22:39
June 13, 2015 20:03
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RegExp Escaping Proposal

This ECMAScript proposal seeks to investigate the problem area of escaping a string for use inside a Regular Expression.


This proposal is a stage 2 proposal and is awaiting implementation and more input. Please see the issues to get involved.


It is often the case when we want to build a regular expression out of a string without treating special characters from the string as special regular expression tokens. For example, if we want to replace all occurrences of the the string let text = "Hello." which we got from the user, we might be tempted to do ourLongText.replace(new RegExp(text, "g")). However, this would match . against any character rather than matching it against a dot.

This is commonly-desired functionality, as can be seen from this years-old es-discuss thread. Standardizing it would be very useful to developers, and avoid subpar implementations they might create that could miss edge cases.

Chosen solutions:

RegExp.escape function

This would be a RegExp.escape static function, such that strings can be escaped in order to be used inside regular expressions:

const str = prompt("Please enter a string");
const escaped = RegExp.escape(str);
const re = new RegExp(escaped, 'g'); // handles reg exp special tokens with the replacement.

Note the double backslashes in the example string contents, which render as a single backslash.

RegExp.escape("The Quick Brown Fox"); // "The\\ Quick\\ Brown\\ Fox"
RegExp.escape("Buy it. use it. break it. fix it.") // "Buy\\ it\\.\\ use it\\.\\ break\\ it\\.\\ fix\\ it\\."
RegExp.escape("(*.*)"); // "\\(\\*\\.\\*\\)"
RegExp.escape("。^・ェ・^。") // "。\\^・ェ・\\^。"
RegExp.escape("😊 *_* +_+ ... 👍"); // "😊\\ \\*_\\*\\ \\+_\\+\\ \\.\\.\\.\\ 👍"
RegExp.escape("\\d \\D (?:)"); // "\\\\d \\\\D \\(\\?\\:\\)"

Cross-cutting concerns

Per, we now escape anything that could possible cause a “context escape”.

This would be a commitment to only entering/exiting new contexts using whitespace or ASCII punctuators. That seems like it will not be a significant impediment to language evolution.

Other solutions considered:

Template tag function

This would be, for example, a template tag function RegExp.tag, used to produce a complete regular expression instead of potentially a piece of one:

const str = prompt("Please enter a string");
const re = RegExp.tag`/${str}/g`;

In other languages

Note that the languages differ in what they do (e.g. Perl does something different from C#), but they all have the same goal.

We've had a meeting about this subject, whose notes include a more detailed writeup of what other languages do, and the pros and cons thereof.


  • Why is each escaped character escaped?

    See [].

  • How is Unicode handled?

    This proposal deals with code points and not code units, so further extensions and dealing with Unicode is done.

  • What about RegExp.unescape?

    While some other languages provide an unescape method we choose to defer discussion about it to a later point, mainly because no evidence of people asking for it has been found (while RegExp.escape is commonly asked for).

  • How does this relate to the EscapeRegExpPattern AO?

    EscapeRegExpPattern (as the name implies) takes a pattern and escapes it so that it can be represented as a string. What RegExp.escape does is take a string and escapes it so it can be literally represented as a pattern. The two do not need to share an escaped set and we can't use one for the other. We're discussing renaming EscapeRegExpPattern in the spec in the future to avoid confusion for readers.

  • Why not RegExp.tag or another tagged template based proposal?

    During the first time this proposal was presented - an edge case was brought up where tagged templates were suggested as an alternative. We believe a simple function is a much better and simpler alternative to tagged templates here:

    • Users have consistently been asking for RegExp.escape over the past 5 years - both in this repo and elsewhere. Packages providing this functionality are very popular (see escape-string-regexp and escape-regexp). For comparison there are no downloads and virtually zero issues or interest when I initiated work on a tag proposal.
    • When interviewing users regarding RegExp.tag when trying to get motivating use cases for the API - users spoken with were very confused because of the tagged templates. The feedback was negative enough and they found the API confusing and awkward enough for me to stop pursuing it.
    • Virtually every other programming language offers .escape (see "in other languages") and made the trade-off to ship .escape even though most of these could have shipped a tagged template API (equivalent, per language).
    • This proposal does not block effort on a tag proposal, the two proposals are not mutually exclusive and both APIs can eventually land. See this issue for discussion.
  • Why don't you do X?

    If you believe there is a concern that was not addressed yet, please open an issue.