Regex madness

In order to make my brain melt, I just need to look at this: ((?:[^ ]|[^ ] [^ ])+)(?: +|$)

Q: What the hell does it do? A: It parses a row where columns are separated by two or more spaces! Q: Why the hell would you do that? A: Because Huawei

Here’s my header line

Route name        Route Number  Priority

and I want to get the field headers Route name, Route Number and Priority out of the above. Note that there are two spaces between Route Number and Priority.

Let’s simplify the problem to the point of uselessness and build up from there:

You have a single column containing multiple instances of a


the regex would be


The column can include a space, but only in the middle

aa aa a

Here I want to match either an a or an a a one or more times. Let’s do this * a or a a = (a|a a) * That multiple times = (a|a a)+ * Capture the above by wrapping it with ()


((a|a a)+)$

But look at that in It leaves us with the problem that there are now two capturing groups. The inside parens are there only to provide the choice, we don’t really care abou them. Enter Regular Expressions Non-Capturing Groups. Put a ?: at the beginning of the group:

((?:a|a a)+)$

Nice! What next. Let’s have multiple columns separated by two spaces. What we’re actually looking for after our capturing is actually either two spaces OR the end of line $. So ( |$)…. buuuut that creates another captured group, therefore (?: |$).

Version 3 is

((?:a|a a)+)(?:  |$)

Let’s change the separator to 2 or more spaces ` +`

((?:a|a a)+)(?:  +|$)

And we’re nearly there. The only problem is the character a is quite limiting. What about if we were to change it to the opposite of a space [^ ]. I’ve saved this step for last because it visually complicates things. Here is the final regex:

((?:[^ ]|[^ ] [^ ])+)(?:  +|$)

Published: June 16 2016

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