An assertion is a test on the characters following or
preceding the current matching point that does not actually
consume any characters. The simple assertions coded as \b,
\B, \A, \Z, \z, ^ and $ are described above. More complicated
assertions are coded as subpatterns. There are two
kinds: those that look ahead of the current position in the
subject string, and those that look behind it.
An assertion subpattern is matched in the normal way, except
that it does not cause the current matching position to be
changed. Lookahead assertions start with (?= for positive
assertions and (?! for negative assertions. For example,
matches a word followed by a semicolon, but does not include
the semicolon in the match, and
matches any occurrence of "foo" that is not followed by
"bar". Note that the apparently similar pattern
does not find an occurrence of "bar" that is preceded by
something other than "foo"; it finds any occurrence of "bar"
whatsoever, because the assertion (?!foo) is always
when the next three characters are "bar". A lookbehind
assertion is needed to achieve this effect.
Lookbehind assertions start with (?<= for positive assertions
and (?<! for negative assertions. For example,
does find an occurrence of "bar" that is not preceded by
"foo". The contents of a lookbehind assertion are restricted
such that all the strings it matches must have a fixed
length. However, if there are several alternatives, they do
not all have to have the same fixed length. Thus
is permitted, but
causes an error at compile time. Branches that match different
length strings are permitted only at the top level of
a lookbehind assertion. This is an extension compared with
Perl 5.005, which requires all branches to match the same
length of string. An assertion such as
is not permitted, because its single top-level branch can
match two different lengths, but it is acceptable if rewritten
to use two top-level branches:
The implementation of lookbehind assertions is, for each
alternative, to temporarily move the current position back
by the fixed width and then try to match. If there are
insufficient characters before the current position, the
match is deemed to fail. Lookbehinds in conjunction with
once-only subpatterns can be particularly useful for matching
at the ends of strings; an example is given at the end
of the section on once-only subpatterns.
Several assertions (of any sort) may occur in succession.
matches "foo" preceded by three digits that are not "999".
Notice that each of the assertions is applied independently
at the same point in the subject string. First there is a
check that the previous three characters are all digits,
then there is a check that the same three characters are not
"999". This pattern does not match "foo" preceded by six
characters, the first of which are digits and the last three
of which are not "999". For example, it doesn't match
"123abcfoo". A pattern to do that is
This time the first assertion looks at the preceding six
characters, checking that the first three are digits, and
then the second assertion checks that the preceding three
characters are not "999".
Assertions can be nested in any combination. For example,
matches an occurrence of "baz" that is preceded by "bar"
which in turn is not preceded by "foo", while
is another pattern which matches "foo" preceded by three
digits and any three characters that are not "999".
Assertion subpatterns are not capturing subpatterns, and may
not be repeated, because it makes no sense to assert the
same thing several times. If any kind of assertion contains
capturing subpatterns within it, these are counted for the
purposes of numbering the capturing subpatterns in the whole
pattern. However, substring capturing is carried out only
for positive assertions, because it does not make sense for
Assertions count towards the maximum of 200 parenthesized