A string split function and iterator for Lua since Lua's standard sting library doesn't provide such a function.
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A string split function and iterator for Lua since Lua's standard sting library doesn't provide such a function. When working with text split is very useful, and many people have written a version for Lua.


  • split(string, delimiter) => { results }

    The delimiter can be a literal string or a Lua pattern. The function returns a table of items found by splitting the string up into pieces divided by the delimiter. If the delimiter is not present in the string, then the result will be a table consisting of one item: the original string parameter. Extra delimiters anywhere in the string will result in empty strings being returned as part of the results table.

    The function also provides two shortcuts for common situations. If the delimiter parameter is an empty string, the function returns a table containing every character in the original string as a separate item. (I.e., if the delimiter is the empty string, the function explodes the string.) If the delimiter parameter is nil, the function considers this equivalent to the Lua pattern '%s+' and splits the string on whitespace.


    • Split on a literal character

        local split = require 'split'.split
        split('foo,bar,buzz', ',') -- returns {'foo', 'bar', 'buzz'}
        split(',foo,bar,,buzz,', ',') -- returns {'', 'foo', 'bar', '', 'buzz', ''}
    • Split on a Lua pattern

        split('foo       bar		buzz', '%s+') -- returns {'foo', 'bar', 'buzz'}
    • A special case: empty string delimiter

      If the delimiter is an empty string, the function returns each character from the original string as an individual item. Think of this as "explode the string".

        split('foo', '') -- returns {'f', 'o', 'o'}
    • Another special case: nil delimiter

      Pass nothing or an explicit nil as the delimiter and split acts as if the delimiter were '$s+'. This makes it easier to split on consecutive runs of whitespace.

        split('foo       bar	buzz') -- returns {'foo', 'bar', 'buzz'}
  • each(string, delimiter) => custom iterator

    NB: This function was previously called spliterator, but I've renamed it to the shorter and less goofy each. In order to give people who might rely on the previous name time to switch over, spliterator is still provided as an alias for each. However, that name will be removed in the next major version release (i.e., 4.0.0) of this module.

    This is an iterator version of the same idea as split. Everything from above applies, except that the function returns a iterator to work through results rather than a table.

          local split_each = require 'split'.each
          local str = 'foo,bar,bizz,buzz'
          local count = 1
          for p in split_each(str, ',') do
            print(count .. '. [' .. p .. ']')
            count = count + 1
  • first_and_rest(string, delimiter) => string, string (or nil)

    This function is a string equivalent for a function that divides a list into its head and tail. The head of the string is everything that appears before the first appearance of a specified delimiter; the tail is the rest of the string. first_and_rest attempts to split a string into two pieces, and it returns two results using Lua's multiple return. The exact return values vary depending on the string and delimiter.

    In the simplest case, the string contains the delimiter at least once. If so, the first return value will be the portion of the string before the first appearance of the delimiter, and the second return value will be the rest of the string after that delimiter.

    If the delimiter does not appear in the string, however, then there's no possible split. In this case, the first return value will be the entire string, and the second return value will be nil. (From Lua's point of view, a second return value of nil is equivalent to saying that the function only returns one value.)

    If the second return value is nil, there is probably a problem or malformed record. So it will often make sense to test the second return value before proceeding. For example:

          local head, tail = first_and_rest(record, '%s*:%s*')
          if not tail then
            -- Signal an error to the caller.
            -- Process the record.

    A second complication is that the strings returned by the function may be empty. If the delimiter is found, but the portion of the string before or after it is zero-length, then an empty string may be returned. The examples below show various possible outcomes.

          first_and_rest('head: tail', ': ') -- returns 'head', 'tail'
          first_and_rest('head, tail', ': ') -- returns 'head, tail', nil
          first_and_rest(': tail', ': ') -- returns '', 'tail'
          first_and_rest('head: ', ': ') -- returns 'head', ''

    Like split and each, first_and_rest accepts nil or an empty string as special cases for the delimiter. nil is automatically transformed into '%s+', a generic "separated by space" pattern. In the case of an empty string delimiter, first_and_rest returns the first character of the input and the rest of the input. (This seems to be the only reasonable interpretation of "exploding" the input string in the context of this function.)


The module provides four informational functions that return strings. They should be self-explanatory.

  • version() -- 3.2.1

  • author() -- Peter Aronoff

  • url() -- https://github.com/telemachus/split

  • license() -- BSD 3-Clause


Many of my ideas came from reading the LuaWiki page on split. I thank all those contributors for their suggestions and examples.

Alexey Melnichuk, AKA moteus provided the idea and initial code for first_and_rest.

All mistakes are mine. See version history for release details.

(c) 2012-2018 Peter Aronoff. BSD 3-Clause license; see LICENSE.md for details.