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Synopsis_05 - Rules


Synopsis_05 - Rules


Damian Conway <> and Allison Randal <>


   Maintainer: Patrick Michaud <>

   Date: 24 Jun 2002

   Last Modified: 25 Feb 2006

   Number: 5

   Version: 12

This document summarizes Apocalypse 5, which is about the new regex syntax. We now try to call them ``rules'' because they haven't been regular expressions for a long time. (The term ``regex'' is still acceptable.)

New match state and capture variables

The underlying match state object is now available as the $/ variable, which is implicitly lexically scoped. All access to the current (or most recent) match is through this variable, even when it doesn't look like it. The individual capture variables (such as $0, $1, etc.) are just elements of $/.

By the way, the numbered capture variables now start at $0, $1, $2, etc. See below.

Unchanged syntactic features

The following regex features use the same syntax as in Perl 5:

  • Capturing: (...)

  • Repetition quantifiers: *, +, and ?

  • Alternatives: |

  • Backslash escape: \

  • Minimal matching suffix: ??, *?, +?


  • The extended syntax (/x) is no longer's the default.

  • There are no /s or /m modifiers (changes to the meta-characters replace them - see below).

  • There is no /e evaluation modifier on substitutions; instead use:
         s/pattern/{ code() }/

  • Modifiers are now placed as adverbs at the start of a match/substitution:
         m:g:i/\s* (\w*) \s* ,?/;

    Every modifier must start with its own colon. The delimiter must be separated from the final modifier by a colon or whitespace if it would be taken as an argument to the preceding modifier.

  • The single-character modifiers also have longer versions:
             :i        :ignorecase
             :g        :global

  • The :c (or :continue) modifier causes the pattern to continue scanning from the string's current .pos:
         m:c/ pattern /        # start at end of
                               # previous match on $_

    Note that this does not automatically anchor the pattern to the starting location. (Use :p for that.) The pattern you supply to split has an implicit :c modifier.

  • The :p (or :pos) modifier causes the pattern to try to match only at the string's current .pos:
         m:p/ pattern /        # match at end of
                               # previous match on $_

    Since this is implicitly anchored to the position, it's suitable for building parsers and lexers. The pattern you supply to a Perl macro's ``is parsed'' trait has an implicit :p modifier.

    Note that


    is roughly equivalent to

         m:p/.*? pattern/

  • The new :once modifier replaces the Perl 5 ?...? syntax:
         m:once/ pattern /    # only matches first time

  • [Note: We're still not sure if :w is ultimately going to work exactly as described below. But this is how it works for now.]

    The new :w (:words) modifier causes whitespace sequences to be replaced by \s* or \s+ subpattern as defined by the <?ws> rule.

         m:w/ next cmd =   <condition>/

    Same as:

         m/ <?ws> next <?ws> cmd <?ws> = <?ws> <condition>/

    which is effectively the same as:

         m/ \s* next \s+ cmd \s* = \s* <condition>/

    But in the case of

         m:w { (a|\*) (b|\+) }

    or equivalently,

         m { (a|\*) <?ws> (b|\+) }

    <?ws> can't decide what to do until it sees the data. It still does the right thing. If not, define your own <?ws> and :w will use that.

  • New modifiers specify Unicode level:
         m:bytes / .**{2} /       # match two bytes
         m:codes / .**{2} /       # match two codepoints
         m:graphs/ .**{2} /       # match two graphemes
         m:langs / .**{2} /       # match two language dependent chars

    There are corresponding pragmas to default to these levels.

  • The new :perl5 modifier allows Perl 5 regex syntax to be used instead:

    (It does not go so far as to allow you to put your modifiers at the end.)

  • Any integer modifier specifies a count. What kind of count is determined by the character that follows.

  • If followed by an x, it means repetition. Use :x(4) for the general form. So
         s:4x { (<?ident>) = (\N+) $$}{$0 => $1};

    is the same as:

         s:x(4) { (<?ident>) = (\N+) $$}{$0 => $1};

    which is almost the same as:

         $_.pos = 0;
         s:c{ (<?ident>) = (\N+) $$}{$0 => $1} for 1..4;

    except that the string is unchanged unless all four matches are found. However, ranges are allowed, so you can say :x(1..4) to change anywhere from one to four matches.

  • If the number is followed by an st, nd, rd, or th, it means find the Nth occurrence. Use :nth(3) for the general form. So

    is the same as


    which is the same as:

         m/(\d+)/ && m:c/(\d+)/ && s:c/(\d+)/@data[$0]/;

    Lists and junctions are allowed: :nth(1|2|3|5|8|13|21|34|55|89).

    So are closures: :nth{.is_fibonacci}

  • With the new :ov (:overlap) modifier, the current rule will match at all possible character positions (including overlapping) and return all matches in a list context, or a disjunction of matches in a scalar context. The first match at any position is returned.
         $str = "abracadabra";
         if $str ~~ m:overlap/ a (.*) a / {
             @substrings = $/.matches();    # bracadabr cadabr dabr br

  • With the new :ex (:exhaustive) modifier, the current rule will match every possible way (including overlapping) and return all matches in a list context, or a disjunction of matches in a scalar context.
         $str = "abracadabra";
         if $str ~~ m:exhaustive/ a (.*) a / {
             @substrings = $/.matches();    # br brac bracad bracadabr
                                            # c cad cadabr d dabr br

  • The new :rw modifier causes this rule to ``claim'' the current string for modification rather than assuming copy-on-write semantics. All the bindings in $/ become lvalues into the string, such that if you modify, say, $1, the original string is modified in that location, and the positions of all the other fields modified accordingly (whatever that means). In the absence of this modifier (especially if it isn't implemented yet, or is never implemented), all pieces of $/ are considered copy-on-write, if not read-only.

  • The new :keepall modifier causes this rule and all invoked subrules to remember everything, even if the rules themselves don't ask for their subrules to be remembered. This is for forcing a grammar that throws away whitespace and comments to keep them instead.

  • The :i, :w, :perl5, and Unicode-level modifiers can be placed inside the rule (and are lexically scoped):
         m/:w alignment = [:i left|right|cent[er|re]] /

  • User-defined modifiers will be possible:

  • User-defined modifiers can also take arguments:

  • To use parens or brackets for your delimiters you have to separate:
             m:fuzzy (pattern);

    or you'll end up with:

             m:fuzzy(fuzzyargs); pattern ;

Changed metacharacters

  • A dot . now matches any character including newline. (The /s modifier is gone.)

  • ^ and $ now always match the start/end of a string, like the old \A and \z. (The /m modifier is gone.)

  • A $ no longer matches an optional preceding \n so it's necessary to say \n?$ if that's what you mean.

  • \n now matches a logical (platform independent) newline not just \x0a.

  • The \A, \Z, and \z metacharacters are gone.

New metacharacters

  • Because /x is default:
    • An unescaped # now always introduces a comment.

    • Whitespace is now always metasyntactic, i.e. used only for layout and not matched literally (but see the :w modifier described above).

  • ^^ and $$ match line beginnings and endings. (The /m modifier is gone.) They are both zero-width assertions. $$ matches before any \n (logical newline), and also at the end of the string if the final character was not a \n. ^^ always matches the beginning of the string and after any \n that is not the final character in the string.

  • . matches an ``anything'', while \N matches an ``anything except newline''. (The /s modifier is gone.) In particular, \N matches neither carriage return nor line feed.

  • The new & metacharacter separates conjunctive terms. The patterns on either side must match with the same beginning and end point. The operator is list associative like |, has higher precedence than |, and backtracking makes the right argument vary faster than the left.

Bracket rationalization

  • (...) still delimits a capturing group. However the ordering of these groups is hierarchical, rather than linear. See Nested subpattern captures.

  • [...] is no longer a character class. It now delimits a non-capturing group.

  • {...} is no longer a repetition quantifier. It now delimits an embedded closure.

  • You can call Perl code as part of a rule match by using a closure. Embedded code does not usually affect the match--it is only used for side-effects:
         / (\S+) { print "string not blank\n"; $text = $0; }
            \s+  { print "but does contain whitespace\n" }

  • It can affect the match if it calls fail:
         / (\d+) { $0 < 256 or fail } /

    Closures are guaranteed to be called at the canonical time even if the optimizer could prove that something after them can't match. (Anything before is fair game, however.)

  • The repetition specifier is now **{...} for maximal matching, with a corresponding **{...}? for minimal matching. Space is allowed on either side of the asterisks. The curlies are taken to be a closure returning a number or a range.
         / value was (\d ** {1..6}?) with ([\w]**{$m..$n}) /

    It is illegal to return a list, so this easy mistake fails:

         / [foo]**{1,3} /

    (At least, it fails in the absence of ``use rx :listquantifier'', which is likely to be unimplemented in Perl 6.0.0 anyway).

    The optimizer will likely optimize away things like **{1...} so that the closure is never actually run in that case. But it's a closure that must be run in the general case, so you can use it to generate a range on the fly based on the earlier matching. (Of course, bear in mind the closure is run before attempting to match whatever it quantifies.)

  • <...> are now extensible metasyntax delimiters or ``assertions'' (i.e. they replace Perl 5's crufty (?...) syntax).

Variable (non-)interpolation

  • In Perl 6 rules, variables don't interpolate.

  • Instead they're passed ``raw'' to the rule engine, which can then decide how to handle them (more on that below).

  • The default way in which the engine handles a scalar is to match it as a <'...'> literal (i.e. it does not treat the interpolated string as a subpattern). In other words, a Perl 6:
         / $var /

    is like a Perl 5:

         / \Q$var\E /

    (To get rule interpolation use an assertion - see below)

  • An interpolated array:
         / @cmds /

    is matched as if it were an alternation of its elements:

         / [ @cmds[0] | @cmds[1] | @cmds[2] | ... ] /

    As with a scalar variable, each element is matched as a literal.

  • An interpolated hash matches the longest possible key of the hash as a literal, or fails if no key matches. (A "" key will match anywhere, provided no longer key matches.)
    • If the corresponding value of the hash element is a closure, it is executed.

    • If it is a string or rule object, it is executed as a subrule.

    • If it has the value 1, nothing special happens beyond the match.

    • Any other value causes the match to fail.

Extensible metasyntax (<...>)

  • The first character after < determines the behaviour of the assertion.

  • A leading alphabetic character means it's a capturing grammatical assertion (i.e. a subrule or a named character class - see below):
         / <sign>? <mantissa> <exponent>? /

  • The special named assertions include:
         / <before pattern> /    # was /(?=pattern)/
         / <after pattern> /     # was /(?<pattern)/
         / <ws> /                # match whitespace by :w rules
         / <sp> /                # match a space char

    The after assertion implements lookbehind by reversing the syntax tree and looking for things in the opposite order going to the left. It is illegal to do lookbehind on a pattern that cannot be reversed.

  • A leading ? causes the assertion not to capture what it matches (see Subrule captures. For example:
         / <ident>  <ws>  /      # $/<ident> and $/<ws> both captured
         / <?ident> <ws>  /      # only $/<ws> captured
         / <?ident> <?ws> /      # nothing captured

  • A leading $ indicates an indirect rule. The variable must contain either a hard reference to a rule, or a string containing the rule.

  • A leading :: indicates a symbolic indirect rule:
         / <::($somename)>

    The variable must contain the name of a rule.

  • A leading @ matches like a bare array except that each element is treated as a rule (string or hard ref) rather than as a literal.

  • A leading % matches like a bare hash except that each key is treated as a rule (string or hard ref) rather than as a literal.

  • A leading { indicates code that produces a rule to be interpolated into the pattern at that point:
         / (<?ident>)  <{ %cache{$0} //= get_body($0) }> /

    The closure is guaranteed to be run at the canonical time.

    An explicit return from the closure binds the result object for this match, ignores the rest of the current rule, and reports success:

            / (\d) { return $0.sqrt } NotReached /;

    This has the effect of capturing the square root of the numified string, instead of the string. The NotReached part is not reached.

    These closures are invoked as anonymous methods on the Match object. See Match objects below for more about result objects.

  • A leading & interpolates the return value of a subroutine call as a rule. Hence

    is short for

         <{ foo() }>

  • In any case of rule interpolation, if the value already happens to be a rule object, it is not recompiled. If it is a string, the compiled form is cached with the string so that it is not recompiled next time you use it unless the string changes. (Any external lexical variable names must be rebound each time though.) Rules may not be interpolated with unbalanced bracketing. An interpolated subrule keeps its own inner $/, so its parentheses never count toward the outer rules groupings. (In other words, parenthesis numbering is always lexically scoped.)

  • A leading ?{ or !{indicates a code assertion:
         / (\d**{1..3}) <?{ $0 < 256 }> /
         / (\d**{1..3}) <!{ $0 < 256 }> /

    Similar to:

         / (\d**{1..3}) { $0 < 256 or fail } /
         / (\d**{1..3}) { $0 < 256 and fail } /

    Unlike closures, code assertions are not guaranteed to be run at the canonical time if the optimizer can prove something later can't match. So you can sneak in a call to a non-canonical closure that way:

         /^foo .* <?{ do { say "Got here!" } or 1 }> .* bar$/

    The do block is unlikely to run unless the string ends with ``bar''.

  • A leading ( indicates the start of a result capture:
        / foo <( \d+ )> bar /

    is equivalent to:

        / <after foo> \d+ <before bar> /

    except that the scan for ``foo'' can be done in the forward direction, while a lookbehind assertion would presumably scan for \d+ and then match ``foo'' backwards. The use of <(...)> affects only the meaning of the ``result object'' and the positions of the beginning and ending of the match. That is, after the match above, $() contains only the digits matched, and .pos is pointing to after the digits. Other captures (named or numbered) are unaffected and may be accessed through $/.

  • A leading [ or + indicates an enumerated character class. Ranges in enumerated character classes are indicated with ...
         / <[a..z_]>* /
         / <+[a..z_]>* /

  • A leading - indicates a complemented character class:
         / <-[a..z_]> <-alpha> /

  • Character classes can be combined (additively or subtractively) within a single set of angle brackets. For example:
         / <[a..z]-[aeiou]+xdigit> /      # consonant or hex digit

    If such a combination starts with a named character class, a leading + is required:

         / <+alpha-[Jj]> /               # J-less alpha

  • A leading ' indicates a literal match (including whitespace):
         / <'match this exactly (whitespace matters)'> /

  • A leading " indicates a literal match after interpolation:
         / <"match $THIS exactly (whitespace still matters)"> /

  • The special assertion <.> matches any logical grapheme (including a Unicode combining character sequences):
         / seekto = <.> /  # Maybe a combined char

    Same as:

         / seekto = [:graphs .] /

  • A leading ! indicates a negated meaning (always a zero-width assertion):
         / <!before _ > /    # We aren't before an _

Backslash reform

  • The \p and \P properties become intrinsic grammar rules (<prop ...> and <!prop ...>).

  • The \L...\E, \U...\E, and \Q...\E sequences are gone. In the rare cases that need them you can use <{ lc $rule }> etc.

  • The \G sequence is gone. Use :p instead. (Note, however, that it makes no sense to use :p within a pattern, since every internal pattern is implicitly anchored to the current position. You'll have to explicitly compare <( .pos == $oldpos )> in that case.)

  • Backreferences (e.g. \1, \2, etc.) are gone; $0, $1, etc. can be used instead, because variables are no longer interpolated.

  • New backslash sequences, \h and \v, match horizontal and vertical whitespace respectively, including Unicode.

  • \s now matches any Unicode whitespace character.

  • The new backslash sequence \N matches anything except a logical newline; it is the negation of \n.

  • A series of other new capital backslash sequences are also the negation of their lower-case counterparts:
    • \H matches anything but horizontal whitespace.

    • \V matches anything but vertical whitespace.

    • \T matches anything but a tab.

    • \R matches anything but a return.

    • \F matches anything but a formfeed.

    • \E matches anything but an escape.

    • \X... matches anything but the specified character (specified in hexadecimal).

Regexes are rules

  • The Perl 5 qr/pattern/ regex constructor is gone.

  • The Perl 6 equivalents are:
         rule { pattern }    # always takes {...} as delimiters
           rx / pattern /    # can take (almost any) chars as delimiters

    You may not use whitespace or alphanumerics for delimiters. Space is optional unless needed to distinguish from modifier arguments or function parens. So you may use parens as your rx delimiters, but only if you interpose a colon or whitespace:

         rx:( pattern )      # okay
         rx ( pattern )      # okay
         rx( 1,2,3 )         # tries to call rx function

  • If either form needs modifiers, they go before the opening delimiter:
         $rule = rule :g:w:i { my name is (.*) };
         $rule = rx:g:w:i / my name is (.*) /;

    Space or colon is necessary after the final modifer if you use any bracketing character for the delimiter. (Otherwise it would be taken as an argument to the modifier.)

  • You may not use colons for the delimiter. Space is allowed between modifiers:
         $rule = rx :g :w :i / my name is (.*) /;

  • The name of the constructor was changed from qr because it's no longer an interpolating quote-like operator. rx stands for ``rule expression'', or occasionally ``regex''. :-)

  • As the syntax indicates, it is now more closely analogous to a sub {...} constructor. In fact, that analogy will run very deep in Perl 6.

  • Just as a raw {...} is now always a closure (which may still execute immediately in certain contexts and be passed as a reference in others), so too a raw /.../ is now always a rule (which may still match immediately in certain contexts and be passed as a reference in others).

  • Specifically, a /.../ matches immediately in a value context (void, Boolean, string, or numeric), or when it is an explicit argument of a ~~. Otherwise it's a rule constructor. So this:
         $var = /pattern/;

    no longer does the match and sets $var to the result. Instead it assigns a rule reference to $var.

  • The two cases can always be distinguished using m{...} or rx{...}:
         $var = m{pattern};    # Match rule immediately, assign result
         $var = rx{pattern};   # Assign rule expression itself

  • Note that this means that former magically lazy usages like:
         @list = split /pattern/, $str;

    are now just consequences of the normal semantics.

  • It's now also possible to set up a user-defined subroutine that acts like grep:
         sub my_grep($selector, *@list) {
             given $selector {
                 when Rule  { ... }
                 when Code  { ... }
                 when Hash  { ... }
                 # etc.

    Using {...} or /.../ in the scalar context of the first argument causes it to produce a Code or Rule reference, which the switch statement then selects upon.

Backtracking control

  • Backtracking over a single colon causes the rule engine not to retry the preceding atom:
         m:w/ \( <expr> [ , <expr> ]* : \) /

    (i.e. there's no point trying fewer <expr> matches, if there's no closing parenthesis on the horizon)

  • Backtracking over a double colon causes the surrounding group of alternations to immediately fail:
         m:w/ [ if :: <expr> <block>
              | for :: <list> <block>
              | loop :: <loop_controls>? <block>

    (i.e. there's no point trying to match a different keyword if one was already found but failed).

  • Backtracking over a triple colon causes the current rule to fail outright (no matter where in the rule it occurs):
         rule ident {
               ( [<alpha>|_] \w* ) ::: { fail if %reserved{$0} }
             | " [<alpha>|_] \w* "
         m:w/ get <ident>? /

    (i.e. using an unquoted reserved word as an identifier is not permitted)

  • Backtracking over a <commit> assertion causes the entire match to fail outright, no matter how many subrules down it happens:
         rule subname {
             ([<alpha>|_] \w*) <commit> { fail if %reserved{$0} }
         m:w/ sub <subname>? <block> /

    (i.e. using a reserved word as a subroutine name is instantly fatal to the ``surrounding'' match as well)

  • A <cut> assertion always matches successfully, and has the side effect of deleting the parts of the string already matched.

  • Attempting to backtrack past a <cut> causes the complete match to fail (like backtracking past a <commit>. This is because there's now no preceding text to backtrack into.

  • This is useful for throwing away successfully processed input when matching from an input stream or an iterator of arbitrary length.

Named Regexes

  • The analogy between sub and rule extends much further.

  • Just as you can have anonymous subs and named subs...

  • too you can have anonymous rules and named rules:
         rule ident { [<alpha>|_] \w* }
         # and later...
         @ids = grep /<ident>/, @strings;

  • As the above example indicates, it's possible to refer to named rules, such as:
         rule serial_number { <[A..Z]> \d**{8} }
         rule type { alpha | beta | production | deprecated | legacy }

    in other rules as named assertions:

         rule identification { [soft|hard]ware <type> <serial_number> }

Nothing is illegal

  • The null pattern is now illegal.

  • To match whatever the prior successful rule matched, use:

  • To match the zero-width string, use:

    For example:

         split /<?null>/, $string

    splits between characters.

  • To match a null alternative, use:

    This makes it easier to catch errors like this:

         m:w/ [
              | if :: <expr> <block>
              | for :: <list> <block>
              | loop :: <loop_controls>? <block>

  • However, it's okay for a non-null syntactic construct to have a degenerate case matching the null string:
         $something = "";

Return values from matches

Match objects

  • A match always returns a ``match object'', which is also available as $/, which is an environmental lexical declared in the outer subroutine that is calling the rule. (A closure lexically embedded in a rule does not redeclare $/, so $/ always refers to the current match, not any prior submatch done within the closure).

  • Notionally, a match object contains (among other things) a boolean success value, a scalar ``result object'', an array of ordered submatch objects, and a hash of named submatch objects. To provide convenient access to these various values, the match object evaluates differently in different contexts:
    • In boolean context it evaluates as true or false (i.e. did the match succeed?):
           if /pattern/ {...}
           # or:
           /pattern/; if $/ {...}

    • In string context it evaluates to the stringified value of its result object, which is usually the entire matched string:
           print %hash{ "{$text ~~ /<?ident>/}" };
           # or equivalently:
           $text ~~ /<?ident>/  &&  print %hash{~$/};

      But generally you should say ~$/ if you mean ~$/.

    • In numeric context it evaluates to the numeric value of its result object, which is usually the entire matched string:
           $sum += /\d+/;
           # or equivalently:
           /\d+/; $sum = $sum + $/;

    • When called as a closure, a Match object evaluates to its underlying result object. Usually this is just the entire match string, but you can override that by calling return inside a rule:
          my $moose = m:{
              <antler> <body>
              { return body => $<body>().attach($<antler>) ) }
              # match succeeds -- ignore the rest of the rule

      $() is a shorthand for $/.() or $/(). The result object may be of any type, not just a string.

      You may also capture a subset of the match as the result object using the <(...)> construct:

          "foo123bar" ~~ / foo <( \d+ )> bar /
          say $();    # says 123

      In this case the result object is always a string when doing string matching, and a list of one or more elements when doing array matching.

      Additionally, the Match object delegates its coerce calls (such as +$match and ~$match) to its underlying result object. The only exception is that Match handles boolean coercion itself, which returns whether the match had succeeded.

      This means that these two work the same:

          / <moose> { $<moose>.() as Moose } /
          / <moose> { $<moose>    as Moose } /

    • When used as an array, a Match object pretends to be an array of all its positional captures. Hence
           ($key, $val) = m:w/ (\S+) => (\S+)/;

      can also be written:

           $result = m:w/ (\S+) => (\S+)/;
           ($key, $val) = @$result;

      To get a single capture into a string, use a subscript:

           $mystring = "{ m:w/ (\S+) => (\S+)/[0] }";

      To get all the captures into a string, use a ``zen'' slice:

           $mystring = "{ m:w/ (\S+) => (\S+)/[] }";

      Note that, as a scalar variable, $/ doesn't automatically flatten in list context. Use @$/ or $/[] to flatten as an array.

    • When used as a hash, a Match object pretends to be a hash of all its named captures. The keys do not include any sigils, so if you capture to variable @<foo> its real name is $/{'foo'} or $/<foo>. However, you may still refer to it as @<foo> anywhere $/ is visible. (But it is erroneous to use the same name for two different capture datatypes.)

      Note that, as a scalar variable, $/ doesn't automatically flatten in list context. Use %$/ or $/{} to flatten as a hash, or bind it to a variable of the appropriate type.

    • The numbered captures may be treated as named, so $<0 1 2> is equivalent to $/[0,1,2]. This allows you to write slices of intermixed named and numbered captures.

    • In ordinary code, variables $0, $1, etc. are just aliases into $/[0], $/[1], etc. Hence they will all be undefined if the last match failed (unless they were explicitly bound in a closure without using the let keyword).

  • Match objects have methods that provide additional information about the match. For example:
         if m/ def <ident> <codeblock> / {
             say "Found sub def from index $/.from() to index $/.to()";

  • All match attempts--successful or not--against any rule, subrule, or subpattern (see below) return an object of class Match. That is:
         $match_obj = $str ~~ /pattern/;
         say "Matched" if $match_obj;

  • This returned object is also automatically assigned to the lexical $/ variable, unless the match statement is inside another rule. That is:
         $str ~~ /pattern/;
         say "Matched" if $/;

  • Inside a rule, the $/ variable holds the current rule's incomplete Match object (which can be modified via the internal $/. For example:
        $str ~~ / foo                # Match 'foo'
                   { $/ = 'bar' }     # But pretend we matched 'bar'
        say $/;                       # says 'bar'

    This is slightly dangerous, insofar as you might return something that does not behave like a Match object to some context that requires one. Fortunately, you normally just want to return a result object instead:

        $str ~~ / foo                 # Match 'foo'
                   { return 'bar' }   # But pretend we matched 'bar'
        say $();                      # says 'bar'

Subpattern captures

  • Any part of a rule that is enclosed in capturing parentheses is called a subpattern. For example:
            #               subpattern
            #  _________________/\____________________
            # |                                       |
            # |       subpattern  subpattern          |
            # |          __/\__    __/\__             |
            # |         |      |  |      |            |
         m:w/ (I am the (walrus), ( khoo )**{2} kachoo) /;

  • Each subpattern in a rule produces a Match object if it is successfully matched.

  • Each subpattern's Match object is pushed onto the array inside the outer Match object belonging to the surrounding scope (known as its parent Match object). The surrounding scope may be either the innermost surrounding subpattern (if the subpattern is nested) or else the entire rule itself.

  • Like all captures, these assignments to the array are hypothetical, and are undone if the subpattern is backtracked.

  • For example, if the following pattern matched successfully:
            #                subpat-A
            #  _________________/\____________________
            # |                                       |
            # |         subpat-B  subpat-C            |
            # |          __/\__    __/\__             |
            # |         |      |  |      |            |
         m:w/ (I am the (walrus), ( khoo )**{2} kachoo) /;

    then the Match objects representing the matches made by subpat-B and subpat-C would be successively pushed onto the array inside subpat- A's Match object. Then subpat-A's Match object would itself be pushed onto the array inside the Match object for the entire rule (i.e. onto $/'s array).

  • As a result of these semantics, capturing parentheses in Perl 6 are hierarchical, not linear (see Nested subpattern captures).

Accessing captured subpatterns

  • The array elements of a Match object are referred to using either the standard array access notation (e.g. $/[0], $/[1], $/[2], etc.) or else via the corresponding lexically scoped numeric aliases (i.e. $0, $1, $2, etc.) So:
         say "$/[1] was found between $/[0] and $/[2]";

    is the same as:

         say "$1 was found between $0 and $2";

  • Note that, in Perl 6, the numeric capture variables start from $0, not $1, with the numbers corresponding to the element's index inside $/.

  • The array elements of the rule's Match object (i.e. $/) store individual Match objects representing the substrings that where matched and captured by the first, second, third, etc. outermost (i.e. unnested) subpatterns. So these elements can be treated like fully fledged match results. For example:
         if m/ (\d\d\d\d)-(\d\d)-(\d\d) (BCE?|AD|CE)?/ {
               ($yr, $mon, $day) = $/[0..2]
               $era = "$3" if $3;                    # stringify/boolify
               @datepos = ( $0.from() .. $ );  # Call Match methods

Nested subpattern captures

  • Substrings matched by nested subpatterns (i.e. nested capturing parens) are assigned to the array inside the subpattern's parent Match surrounding subpattern, not to the array of $/.

  • This behaviour is quite different to Perl 5 semantics:
          # Perl 5...
          # $1---------------------  $4---------  $5------------------
          # |   $2---------------  | |          | | $6----  $7------  |
          # |   |         $3--   | | |          | | |     | |       | |
          # |   |         |   |  | | |          | | |     | |       | |
         m/ ( A (guy|gal|g(\S+)  ) ) (sees|calls) ( (the|a) (gal|guy) ) /x;

  • In Perl 6, nested parens produce properly nested captures:
          # Perl 6...
          # $0---------------------  $1---------  $2------------------
          # |   $0[0]------------  | |          | | $2[0]-  $2[1]---  |
          # |   |       $0[0][0] | | |          | | |     | |       | |
          # |   |         |   |  | | |          | | |     | |       | |
         m/ ( A (guy|gal|g(\S+)  ) ) (sees|calls) ( (the|a) (gal|guy) ) /;

Quantified subpattern captures

  • If a subpattern is directly quantified (using any quantifier), it no longer produces a single Match object. Instead, it produces a list of Match objects corresponding to the sequence of individual matches made by the repeated subpattern.

  • Because a quantified subpattern returns a list of Match objects, the corresponding array element for the quantified capture will store a reference to a (nested) array, rather than a single Match object. For example:
         if m/ (\w+) \: (\w+ \s+)* / {
             say "Key:    $0";         # Unquantified --> single Match
             say "Values: { @{$1} }";  # Quantified   --> array of Match

Indirectly quantified subpattern captures

  • A subpattern may sometimes be nested inside a quantified non-capturing structure:
          #       non-capturing       quantifier
          #  __________/\____________  __/\__
          # |                        ||      |
          # |   $0         $1        ||      |
          # |  _^_      ___^___      ||      |
          # | |   |    |       |     ||      |
         m/ [ (\w+) \: (\w+ \h*)* \n ]**{2...} /

    Non-capturing brackets don't create a separate nested lexical scope, so the two subpatterns inside them are actually still in the rule's top-level scope. Hence their top-level designations: $0 and $1.

  • However, because the two subpatterns are inside a quantified structure, $0 and $1 will each contain a reference to an array. The elements of that array will be the submatches returned by the corresponding subpattern on each iteration of the non-capturing parentheses. For example:
         my $text = "foo:food fool\nbar:bard barb";
                   #   $0--     $1------
                   #   |   |    |       |
         $text ~~ m/ [ (\w+) \: (\w+ \h*)* \n ]**{2...} /;
         # Because they're in a quantified non-capturing block...
         # $0 contains the equivalent of:
         #       [>'foo'),>'bar') ]
         # and $1 contains the equivalent of:
         #       [>'food '),
         #>'fool' ),
         #>'bard '),
         #>'barb' ),
         #       ]

  • In contrast, if the outer quantified structure is a capturing structure (i.e. a subpattern) then it will introduce a nested lexical scope. That outer quantified structure will then return an array of Match objects representing the captures of the inner parens for every iteration (as described above). That is:
         my $text = "foo:food fool\nbar:bard barb";
                   # $0-----------------------
                   # |                        |
                   # | $0[0]    $0[1]---      |
                   # | |   |    |       |     |
         $text ~~ m/ ( (\w+) \: (\w+ \h*)* \n )**{2...} /;
         # Because it's in a quantified capturing block,
         # $0 contains the equivalent of:
         #       [ str=>"foo:food fool\n",
         #                    arr=>[>'foo'),
         #                           [
         #                     >'food '),
         #                     >'fool'),
         #                           ]
         #                         ],
         #                  ),
         # str=>'bar:bard barb',
         #                    arr=>[>'bar'),
         #                           [
         #                     >'bard '),
         #                     >'barb'),
         #                           ]
         #                         ],
         #                  ),
         #       ]
         # and there is no $1

  • In other words, quantified non-capturing parens collect their components into handy flattened lists, whereas quantified capturing parens collect their components in a handy hierarchical structure.

Subpattern numbering

  • The index of a given subpattern can always be statically determined, but is not necessarily unique nor always monotonic. The numbering of subpatterns restarts in each lexical scope (either a rule, a subpattern, or the branch of an alternation).

  • In particular, the index of capturing parentheses restarts after each |. Hence:
                      # $0      $1    $2   $3    $4           $5
         $tune_up = rx/ (don't) (ray) (me) (for) (solar tea), (d'oh!)
                      # $0      $1      $2    $3        $4
                      | (every) (green) (BEM) (devours) (faces)

    This means that if the second alternation matches, the @$/ array will contain ('every', 'green', 'BEM', 'devours', 'faces'), rather than (undef, undef, undef, undef, undef, undef, 'every', 'green', 'BEM', 'devours', 'faces') (as the same regex would in Perl 5).

  • Note that it is still possible to mimic the monotonic Perl 5 capture indexing semantics. See Numbered scalar aliasing below for details.

Subrule captures

  • Any call to a named <rule> within a pattern is known as a subrule.

  • Any bracketed construct that is aliased (see Aliasing below) to a named variable is also a subrule.

  • For example, this rule contains three subrules:
          # subrule       subrule      subrule
          #  __^__    _______^______    __^__
          # |     |  |              |  |     |
         m/ <ident>  $<spaces>:=(\s*)  <digit>+ /

  • Just like subpatterns, each successfully matched subrule within a rule produces a Match object. But, unlike subpatterns, that Match object is not assigned to the array inside its parent Match object. Instead, it is assigned to an entry of the hash inside its parent Match object. For example:
          #  .... $/ .....................................
          # :                                             :
          # :              .... $/[0] ..................  :
          # :             :                             : :
          # : $/<ident>   :        $/[0]<ident>         : :
          # :   __^__     :           __^__             : :
          # :  |     |    :          |     |            : :
         m:w/  <ident> \: ( known as <ident> previously ) /

Accessing captured subrules

  • The hash entries of a Match object can be referred to using any of the standard hash access notations ($/{'foo'}, $/<bar>, $/«baz», etc.), or else via corresponding lexically scoped aliases ($<foo>, $«bar», $<baz>, etc.) So the previous example also implies:
          #    $<ident>             $0<ident>
          #     __^__                 __^__
          #    |     |               |     |
         m:w/  <ident> \: ( known as <ident> previously ) /

  • Note that it makes no difference whether a subrule is angle-bracketted (< <ident >>) or aliased ($<ident> := (<alpha>\w*). The name's the thing.

Repeated captures of the same subrule

  • If a subrule appears two (or more) times in any branch of a lexical scope (i.e. twice within the same subpattern and alternation), or if the subrule is quantified anywhere within a given scope, then its corresponding hash entry is always assigned a reference to an array of Match objects, rather than a single Match object.

  • Successive matches of the same subrule (whether from separate calls, or from a single quantified repetition) append their individual Match objects to this array. For example:
         if m:w/ mv <file> <file> / {
             $from = $<file>[0];
             $to   = $<file>[1];

    Likewise, with a quantified subrule:

         if m:w/ mv <file>**{2} / {
             $from = $<file>[0];
             $to   = $<file>[1];

    Likewise, with a mixture of both:

         if m:w/ mv <file>+ <file> / {
             $to   = pop @{$<file>};
             @from = @{$<file>};

  • However, if a subrule is explicitly renamed (or aliased -- see Aliasing), then only the ``final'' name counts when deciding whether it is or isn't repeated. For example:
         if m:w/ mv <file> $<dir>:=<file> / {
             $from = $<file>;  # Only one subrule named <file>, so scalar
             $to   = $<dir>;   # The Capture Formerly Known As <file>

    Likewise, neither of the following constructions causes <file> to produce an array of Match objects, since none of them has two or more <file> subrules in the same lexical scope:

         if m:w/ (keep) <file> | (toss) <file> / {
             # Each <file> is in a separate alternation, therefore <file>
             # is not repeated in any one scope, hence $<file> is
             # not an array ref...
             $action = $0;
             $target = $<file>;
         if m:w/ <file> \: (<file>|none) / {
             # Second <file> nested in subpattern which confers a
             # different scope...
             $actual  = $/<file>;
             $virtual = $/[0]<file> if $/[0]<file>;

  • On the other hand, unaliased square brackets don't confer a separate scope (because they don't have an associated Match object). So:
         if m:w/ <file> \: [<file>|none] / { # Two <file>s in same scope
             $actual  = $/<file>[0];
             $virtual = $/<file>[1] if $/<file>[1];


Aliases can be named or numbered. They can be scalar-, array-, or hash-like. And they can be applied to either capturing or non-capturing constructs. The following sections highlight special features of the semantics of some of those combinations.

Named scalar aliasing to subpatterns

  • If a named scalar alias is applied to a set of capturing parens:
            #          ______/capturing parens\_____
            #         |                             |
            #         |                             |
         m:w/ $<key>:=( (<[A..E]>) (\d**{3..6}) (X?) ) /;

    then the outer capturing parens no longer capture into the array of $/ (like unaliased parens would). Instead the aliased parens capture into the hash of $/; specifically into the hash element whose key is the alias name.

  • So, in the above example, a successful match sets $<key> (i.e. $/<key>), but not $0 (i.e. not $/[0]).

  • More specifically:
    • $/<key> will contain the Match object that would previously have been placed in $/[0].

    • $/<key>[0] will contain the A-E letter,

    • $/<key>[1] will contain the digits,

    • $/<key>[2] will contain the optional X.

  • Another way to think about this behaviour is that aliased parens create a kind of lexically scoped named subrule; that the contents of the brackets are treated as if they were part of a separate subrule whose name is the alias.

Named scalar aliases applied to non-capturing brackets

  • If an named scalar alias is applied to a set of non-capturing brackets:
            #          ___/non-capturing brackets\__
            #         |                             |
            #         |                             |
         m:w/ $<key>:=[ (<[A..E]>) (\d**{3..6}) (X?) ] /;

    then the corresponding $/<key> object contains only the string matched by the non-capturing brackets.

  • In particular, the array of the $/<key> entry is empty. That's because square brackets do not create a nested lexical scope, so the subpatterns are unnested and hence correspond to $0, $1, and $2, and not to $/<key>[0], $/<key>[1], and $/<key>[2].

  • In other words:
    • $/<key> will contain the complete substring matched by the square brackets (in a Match object, as described above),

    • $0 will contain the A-E letter,

    • $1 will contain the digits,

    • $2 will contain the optional X.

Named scalar aliasing to subrules

  • If a subrule is aliased, it assigns its Match object to the hash entry whose key is the name of the alias. And it no longer assigns anything to the hash entry whose key is the subrule name. That is:
         if m:/ ID\: $<id>:=<ident> / {
             say "Identified as $/<id>";    # $/<ident> is undefined

  • Hence aliasing a subrule changes the destination of the subrule's Match object. This is particularly useful for differentiating two or more calls to the same subrule in the same scope. For example:
         if m:w/ mv <file>+ $<dir>:=<file> / {
             @from = @{$<file>};
             $to   = $<dir>;

Numbered scalar aliasing

  • If a numbered alias is used instead of a named alias:
         m/ $1:=(<-[:]>*) \:  $0:=<ident> /

    the behaviour is exactly the same as for a named alias (i.e the various cases described above), except that the resulting Match object is assigned to the corresponding element of the appropriate array, rather than to an element of the hash.

  • If any numbered alias is used, the numbering of subsequent unaliased subpatterns in the same scope automatically increments from that alias number (much like enum values increment from the last explicit value). That is:
          #  ---$1---    -$2-    ---$6---    -$7-
          # |        |  |    |  |        |  |    |
         m/ $1:=(food)  (bard)  $6:=(bazd)  (quxd) /;

  • This ``follow-on'' behaviour is particularly useful for reinstituting Perl5 semantics for consecutive subpattern numbering in alternations:
         $tune_up = rx/ (don't) (ray) (me) (for) (solar tea), (d'oh!)
                      | $6:=(every) (green) (BEM) (devours) (faces)
                      #             $7      $8    $9        $10

  • It also provides an easy way in Perl 6 to reinstitute the unnested numbering semantics of nested Perl 5 subpatterns:
          # Perl 5...
          #               $1
          #  _____________/\______________
          # |    $2          $3       $4  |
          # |  __/\___   ____/\____   /\  |
          # | |       | |          | |  | |
         m/ ( (<[A..E]>) (\d**{3..6}) (X?) ) /;
          # Perl 6...
          #               $0
          #  _____________/\______________
          # |  $0[0]       $0[1]    $0[2] |
          # |  __/\___   ____/\____   /\  |
          # | |       | |          | |  | |
         m/ ( (<[A..E]>) (\d**{3..6}) (X?) ) /;
          # Perl 6 simulating Perl 5...
          #                 $1
          #  _______________/\________________
          # |        $2          $3       $4  |
          # |      __/\___   ____/\____   /\  |
          # |     |       | |          | |  | |
         m/ $1:=[ (<[A..E]>) (\d**{3..6}) (X?) ] /;

    The non-capturing brackets don't introduce a scope, so the subpatterns within them are at rule scope, and hence numbered at the top level. Aliasing the square brackets to $1 means that the next subpattern at the same level (i.e. the (<[A..E]>)) is numbered sequentially (i.e. $2), etc.

Scalar aliases applied to quantified constructs

  • All of the above semantics apply equally to aliases which are bound to quantified structures.

  • The only difference is that, if the aliased construct is a subrule or subpattern, that quantified subrule or subpattern will have returned a list of Match objects (as described in Quantified subpattern captures and Repeated captures of the same subrule). So the corresponding array element or hash entry for the alias will contain a reference to an array, instead of a single Match object.

  • In other words, aliasing and quantification are completely orthogonal. For example:
         if m/ mv $0:=<file>+ / {
             # <file>+ returns a list of Match objects,
             # so $0 contains a reference to an array of Match objects,
             # one for each successful call to <file>
             # $/<file> does not exist (it's pre-empted by the alias)
         if m/ mv $<from>:=(\S+ \s+)* / {
             # Quantified subpattern returns a list of Match objects,
             # so $/<from> contains a reference to an array of Match
             # objects, one for each successful match of the subpattern
             # $0 does not exist (it's pre-empted by the alias)

  • Note, however, that a set of quantified non-capturing brackets always returns a single Match object which contains only the complete substring that was matched by the full set of repetitions of the brackets (as described in Named scalar aliases applied to non-capturing brackets). For example:
         "coffee fifo fumble" ~~ m/ $<effs>:=[f <-[f]>**{1..2} \s*]+ /;
         say $<effs>;    # prints "fee fifo fum"

Array aliasing

  • An alias can also be specified using an array as the alias instead of scalar. For example:
         m/ mv @<from>:=[(\S+) \s+]* <dir> /;

  • Using the @<alias>:= notation instead of a $<alias>:= mandates that the corresponding hash entry or array element always receives a reference to an array of Match objects, even if the construct being aliased would normally return a single Match object. This is useful for creating consistent capture semantics across structurally different alternations (by enforcing array captures in all branches):
         m:w/ Mr?s? @<names>:=<ident> W\. @<names>:=<ident>
            | Mr?s? @<names>:=<ident>
         # Aliasing to @<names> means $/<names> is always
         # an array reference, so...
         say @{$/<names>};

  • For convenience and consistency, @<key> can also be used outside a regex, as a shorthand for @{ $/<key> }. That is:
         m:w/ Mr?s? @<names>:=<ident> W\. @<names>:=<ident>
            | Mr?s? @<names>:=<ident>
         say @<names>;

  • If an array alias is applied to a quantified pair of non-capturing brackets, it captures the substrings matched by each repetition of the brackets into separate elements of the corresponding array. That is:
         m/ mv $<files>:=[ f.. \s* ]* /; # $/<files> assigned a single
                                         # Match object containing the
                                         # complete substring matched by
                                         # the full set of repetitions
                                         # of the non-capturing brackets
         m/ mv @<files>:=[ f.. \s* ]* /; # $/<files> assigned an array,
                                         # each element of which is a
                                         # C<Match> object containing
                                         # the substring matched by Nth
                                         # repetition of the non-
                                         # capturing bracket match

  • If an array alias is applied to a quantified pair of capturing parens (i.e. to a subpattern), then the corresponding hash or array element is assigned a list constructed by concatenating the array values of each Match object returned by one repetition of the subpattern. That is, an array alias on a subpattern flattens and collects all nested subpattern captures within the aliased subpattern. For example:
         if m:w/ $<pairs>:=( (\w+) \: (\N+) )+ / {
             # Scalar alias, so $/<pairs> is assigned an array
             # of Match objects, each of which has its own array
             # of two subcaptures...
             for @{$<pairs>} -> $pair {
                 say "Key: $pair[0]";
                 say "Val: $pair[1]";
         if m:w/ @<pairs>:=( (\w+) \: (\N+) )+ / {
             # Array alias, so $/<pairs> is assigned an array
             # of Match objects, each of which is flattened out of
             # the two subcaptures within the subpattern
             for @{$<pairs>} -> $key, $val {
                 say "Key: $key";
                 say "Val: $val";

  • Likewise, if an array alias is applied to a quantified subrule, then the hash or array element corresponding to the alias is assigned a list containing the array values of each Match object returned by each repetition of the subrule, all flattened into a single array:
         rule pair :w { (\w+) \: (\N+) \n }
         if m:w/ $<pairs>:=<pair>+ / {
             # Scalar alias, so $/<pairs> contains an array of
             # Match objects, each of which is the result of the
             # <pair> subrule call...
             for @{$<pairs>} -> $pair {
                 say "Key: $pair[0]";
                 say "Val: $pair[1]";
         if m:w/ mv @<pairs>:=<pair>+ / {
             # Array alias, so $/<pairs> contains an array of
             # Match objects, all flattened down from the
             # nested arrays inside the Match objects returned
             # by each match of the <pair> subrule...
             for @{$<pairs>} -> $key, $val {
                 say "Key: $key";
                 say "Val: $val";

  • In other words, an array alias is useful to flatten into a single array any nested captures that might occur within a quantified subpattern or subrule. Whereas a scalar alias is useful to preserve within a top-level array the internal structure of each repetition.

  • It is also possible to use a numbered variable as an array alias. The semantics are exactly as described above, with the sole difference being that the resulting array of Match objects is assigned into the appropriate element of the rule's match array, rather than to a key of its match hash. For example:
         if m/ mv  \s+  @0:=((\w+) \s+)+  $1:=((\W+) (\s*))* / {
             #          |                 |
             #          |                 |
             #          |                  \_ Scalar alias, so $1 gets an
             #          |                     array, with each element
             #          |                     a Match object containing
             #          |                     the two nested captures
             #          |
             #           \___ Array alias, so $0 gets a flattened array of
             #                just the (\w+) captures from each repetition
             @from     = @{$0};      # Flattened list
             $to_str   = $1[0][0];   # Nested elems of
             $to_gap   = $1[0][1];   #    unflattened list

  • Note again that, outside a rule, @0 is simply a shorthand for @{$0}, so the first assignment above could also have been written:
             @from = @0;

Hash aliasing

  • An alias can also be specified using a hash as the alias variable, instead of a scalar or an array. For example:
         m/ mv %<location>:=( (<ident>) \: (\N+) )+ /;

  • A hash alias causes the correponding hash or array element in the current scope's Match object to be assigned a (nested) hash reference (rather than an array reference or a single Match object).

  • If a hash alias is applied to a subrule or subpattern then the first nested numeric capture becomes the key of each hash entry and any remaining numeric captures become the values (in an array if there is more than one),

  • As with array aliases it is also possible to use a numbered variable as a hash alias. Once again, the only difference is where the resulting Match object is stored:
         rule one_to_many {  (\w+) \: (\S+) (\S+) (\S+) }
         if m:w/ %0:=<one_to_many>+ / {
             # $/[0] contains a hash, in which each key is provided by
             # the first subcapture within C<one_to_many>, and each
             # value is a reference to an  array containing the
             # subrule's second, third, and fourth, etc. subcaptures...
             for %{$/[0]} -> $pair {
                 say "One:  $pair.key";
                 say "Many: { @{$pair.value} }";

  • Outside the rule, %0 is a shortcut for %{$0}:
             for %0 -> $pair {
                 say "One:  $pair.key";
                 say "Many: { @{$pair.value} }";

External aliasing

  • Instead of using internal aliases like:
         m/ mv  @<files>:=<ident>+  $<dir>:=<ident> /

    the name of an ordinary variable can be used as an ``external alias'', like so:

         m/ mv  @files:=<ident>+  $dir:=<ident> /

  • In this case, the behaviour of each alias is exactly as described in the previous sections, except that the resulting capture(s) are bound directly (but still hypothetically) to the variables of the specified name that exist in the scope in which the rule declared.

Capturing from repeated matches

  • When an entire rule is successfully matched with repetitions (specified via the :x or :g flag) or overlaps (specified via the :ov or :ex flag), it will usually produce a series of distinct matches.

  • A successful match under any of these flags still returns a single Match object in $/. However, the values of this match object are slightly different from those provided by a non-repeated match:
    • The boolean value of $/ after such matches is true or false, depending on whether the pattern matched.

    • The string value is the substring from the start of the first match to the end of the last match (including any intervening parts of the string that the rule skipped over in order to find later matches).

    • There are no array contents or hash entries.

    For example:

         if $text ~~ m:w:g/ (\S+:) <rocks> / {
             say 'Full match context is: [$/]';
  • The list of individual match objects corresponding to each separate match is also available, via the .matches method. For example:
         if $text ~~ m:w:g/ (\S+:) <rocks> / {
             say "Matched { +$/.matches } times";
             for $/.matches -> $m {
                 say "Match between $m.from() and $";
                 say 'Right on, dude!' if $m[0] eq 'Perl';
                 say "Rocks like $m<rocks>";


  • All rules remember everything if :keepall is in effect anywhere in the outer dynamic scope. In this case everything inside the angles is used as part of the key. Suppose the earlier example parsed whitespace:
         / <key> <?ws> <'=>'> <?ws> <value> { %hash{$<key>} = $<value> } /

    The two instances of <?ws> above would store an array of two values accessible as @<?ws>. It would also store the literal match into $<'=\>'>. Just to make sure nothing is forgotten, under :keepall any text or whitespace not otherwise remembered is attached as an extra property on the subsequent node. (The name of that property is ``pretext''.)


  • Your private ident rule shouldn't clobber someone else's ident rule. So some mechanism is needed to confine rules to a namespace.

  • If subs are the model for rules, then modules/classes are the obvious model for aggregating them. Such collections of rules are generally known as ``grammars''.

  • Just as a class can collect named actions together:
         class Identity {
             method name { "Name = $.name" }
             method age  { "Age  = $.age"  }
             method addr { "Addr = $.addr" }
             method desc {
                 print &.name(), "\n",
                       &.age(),  "\n",
                       &.addr(), "\n";
             # etc.

    so too a grammar can collect a set of named rules together:

         grammar Identity {
             rule name :w { Name = (\N+) }
             rule age  :w { Age  = (\d+) }
             rule addr :w { Addr = (\N+) }
             rule desc {
                 <name> \n
                 <age>  \n
                 <addr> \n
             # etc.

  • Like classes, grammars can inherit:
         grammar Letter {
             rule text     { <greet> <body> <close> }
             rule greet :w { [Hi|Hey|Yo] $<to>:=(\S+?) , $$}
             rule body     { <line>+ }
             rule close :w { Later dude, $<from>:=(.+) }
             # etc.
         grammar FormalLetter is Letter {
             rule greet :w { Dear $<to>:=(\S+?) , $$}
             rule close :w { Yours sincerely, $<from>:=(.+) }

  • Just like the methods of a class, the rule definitions of a grammar are inherited (and polymorphic!). So there's no need to respecify body, line, etc.

  • Perl 6 will come with at least one grammar predefined:
         grammar Perl {    # Perl's own grammar
             rule prog { <statement>* }
             rule statement { <decl>
                       | <loop>
                       | <label> [<cond>|<sideff>|;]
             rule decl { <sub> | <class> | <use> }
             # etc. etc. etc.

  • Hence:
         given $source_code {
             $parsetree = m:keepall/<Perl.prog>/;

Syntactic categories

For writing your own backslash and assertion rules or macros, you may use the following syntactic categories:

     rule rxbackslash:<w> { ... }    # define your own \w and \W

     rule rxassertion:<*> { ... }    # define your own <*stuff>

     macro rxmetachar:<,> { ... }    # define a new metacharacter

     macro rxmodinternal:<x> { ... } # define your own /:x() stuff/

     macro rxmodexternal:<x> { ... } # define your own m:x()/stuff/

As with any such syntactic shenanigans, the declaration must be visible in the lexical scope to have any effect. It's possible the internal/external distinction is just a trait, and that some of those things are subs or methods rather than rules or macros. (The numeric rxmods are recognized by fallback macros defined with an empty operator name.)


The rx pragma may be used to control various aspects of regex compilation and usage not otherwise provided for.


  • The tr/// quote-like operator now also has a method form called trans(). Its argument is a list of pairs. You can use anything that produces a pair list:
         $str.trans( %mapping.pairs.sort );

    Use the .= form to do a translation in place:

         $str.=trans( %mapping.pairs.sort );

  • The two sides of the any pair can be strings interpreted as tr/// would:
         $str.=trans( 'A..C' => 'a..c', 'XYZ' => 'xyz' );

    As a degenerate case, each side can be individual characters:

         $str.=trans( 'A'=>'a', 'B'=>'b', 'C'=>'c' );

  • The two sides of each pair may also be array references:
         $str.=trans( ['A'..'C'] => ['a'..'c'], <X Y Z> => <x y z> );

  • The array version can map one-or-more characters to one-or-more characters:
         $str.=trans( [' ',      '<',    '>',    '&'    ] =>
                      ['&nbsp;', '&lt;', '&gt;', '&amp;' ]);

    In the case that more than one sequence of input characters matches, the longest one wins. In the case of two identical sequences the first in order wins.

    There are also method forms of m// and s///:

         $str.subst(//, "replacement")
         $str.subst(//, {"replacement"})
         $str.=subst(//, "replacement")
         $str.=subst(//, {"replacement"})

Matching against non-strings

  • Anything that can be tied to a string can be matched against a rule. This feature is particularly useful with input streams:
         my $stream is from($fh);       # tie scalar to filehandle
         # and later...
         $stream ~~ m/pattern/;         # match from stream

    An array can be matched against a rule. The special <,> rule matches the boundary between elements. If the array elements are strings, they are concatenated virtually into a single logical string. If the array elements are tokens or other such objects, the objects must provide appropriate methods for the kinds of rules to match against. It is an assertion error to match a string-matching assertion against an object that doesn't provide a string view. However, pure token objects can be parsed as long as the match rule restricts itself to assertions like:


    It is permissible to mix tokens and strings in an array as long as they're in different elements. You may not embed objects in strings, however.

    To match against each element of an array, use a hyper operator: