|Regular Expression Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach|
|author||Nathan A. Good|
|reviewer||Raymond Lodato (rlodato AT yahoo DOT com)|
|summary||A cookbook of useful regular expressions for Perl, Python and more.|
Regular expressions are not restricted to just the Perl or shell environments, so Nathan offers variations for Python, PHP, and VIM as well. In most cases the translation is relatively straight-forward, but in a few cases a different environment may have (or lack) additional facilities, prompting a different expression to do the same task.
Before you even read chapter 1, Nathan provides a quick summary course on regular expressions, with detail given to each of the five environments you might utilize. He has written the syntax overview in a highly-readable format, making it easy to understand the gobbledy-gook of the most bizarre concoctions you might encounter.
The first chapter (Words and Text) starts simply enough. He gives examples of how to find single words, multiple words, and repeated words, along with examples of how to replace various detected strings with others. In each case he gives an example of its use for each platform, followed by a bit-by-bit breakdown of how it works. Not every environment is given on every example, and in many cases the "How It Works" section refers to the first one, as most REs are identical between the platforms.
The next chapter (URLs and Paths) offers various methods of doing commonly needed parsing. Pulling out file names, query strings, and directories, as well as reconstructing them in useful fashions is covered in the 15 offerings given here. Validating, converting, and extracting fields of CSV and tab-delimited files are handled in chapter 3, while chapter 4 is concerned with validating field formats, as well as re-formatting text for the fields. Chapter 5 handles similar tasks for HTML and XML documents. The final chapter covers expressions that facilitate the management of program code, log files, and the output of selected commands.
First, I must admit that there are a number of useful solutions provided, especially for someone who is concerned with application and web development. However, I did feel a little cheated by the fact that several chapters covered essentially the same task, with only minor variations. It almost seemed as though the author was trying to pad out the solution count to the magic number 100. A simple example: three solutions in chapter one cover (a) replacing smart quotes with straight quotes, (b) replacing copyright symbols with the (c) tri-graph, and (c) replacing trademark symbols with the (tm) sequence. In each case, the expression was simply "s/\xhh/ rep /g;". Did we really need three separate chapters for that? I don't think so.
Another quibble revolves around some of the coding of the expressions. Nathan has made liberal use of the non-capturing groups (that is, (: expr )) to insure only the items that needed replacement were captured. While a worthy idea, in some cases the expression may have been simplified for understanding. Another issue is a slight error in searching for letters. In a number of expressions, Nathan uses [A-z] to capture all letters. Unfortunately, the special characters [, \, ], ^, _, and ` occur between upper-case Z and lower-case a, making it match too much. Either [[:alpha:]] or [A-Za-z] should have been used.
Despite these quibbles, Regular Expression Recipes does provide a useful compendium of solutions for common problems developers face. Presenting the information in a cookbook fashion, along with ensuring that those using something other than Perl don't have to sweat translating the expressions to their target language, makes this a handy book to have. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
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