pcreperform


PCRE PERFORMANCE

       Two  aspects  of performance are discussed below: memory usage and pro-
       cessing time. The way you express your pattern as a regular  expression
       can affect both of them.

COMPILED PATTERN MEMORY USAGE

       Patterns  are compiled by PCRE into a reasonably efficient interpretive
       code, so that most simple patterns do not  use  much  memory.  However,
       there  is  one case where the memory usage of a compiled pattern can be
       unexpectedly large. If a parenthesized subpattern has a quantifier with
       a minimum greater than 1 and/or a limited maximum, the whole subpattern
       is repeated in the compiled code. For example, the pattern

         (abc|def){2,4}

       is compiled as if it were

         (abc|def)(abc|def)((abc|def)(abc|def)?)?

       (Technical aside: It is done this way so that backtrack  points  within
       each of the repetitions can be independently maintained.)

       For  regular expressions whose quantifiers use only small numbers, this
       is not usually a problem. However, if the numbers are large,  and  par-
       ticularly  if  such repetitions are nested, the memory usage can become
       an embarrassment. For example, the very simple pattern

         ((ab){1,1000}c){1,3}

       uses 51K bytes when compiled using the 8-bit library. When PCRE is com-
       piled  with  its  default  internal pointer size of two bytes, the size
       limit on a compiled pattern is 64K data units, and this is reached with
       the  above  pattern  if  the outer repetition is increased from 3 to 4.
       PCRE can be compiled to use larger internal pointers  and  thus  handle
       larger  compiled patterns, but it is better to try to rewrite your pat-
       tern to use less memory if you can.

       One way of reducing the memory usage for such patterns is to  make  use
       of PCRE's "subroutine" facility. Re-writing the above pattern as

         ((ab)(?2){0,999}c)(?1){0,2}

       reduces the memory requirements to 18K, and indeed it remains under 20K
       even with the outer repetition increased to 100. However, this  pattern
       is  not  exactly equivalent, because the "subroutine" calls are treated
       as atomic groups into which there can be no backtracking if there is  a
       subsequent  matching  failure.  Therefore,  PCRE cannot do this kind of
       rewriting automatically.  Furthermore, there is a  noticeable  loss  of
       speed  when executing the modified pattern. Nevertheless, if the atomic
       grouping is not a problem and the loss of  speed  is  acceptable,  this
       kind  of  rewriting will allow you to process patterns that PCRE cannot

       Certain  items  in regular expression patterns are processed more effi-
       ciently than others. It is more efficient to use a character class like
       [aeiou]   than   a   set   of  single-character  alternatives  such  as
       (a|e|i|o|u). In general, the simplest construction  that  provides  the
       required behaviour is usually the most efficient. Jeffrey Friedl's book
       contains a lot of useful general discussion  about  optimizing  regular
       expressions  for  efficient  performance.  This document contains a few
       observations about PCRE.

       Using Unicode character properties (the \p,  \P,  and  \X  escapes)  is
       slow,  because PCRE has to scan a structure that contains data for over
       fifteen thousand characters whenever it needs a  character's  property.
       If  you  can  find  an  alternative pattern that does not use character
       properties, it will probably be faster.

       By default, the escape sequences \b, \d, \s,  and  \w,  and  the  POSIX
       character  classes  such  as  [:alpha:]  do not use Unicode properties,
       partly for backwards compatibility, and partly for performance reasons.
       However,  you can set PCRE_UCP if you want Unicode character properties
       to be used. This can double the matching time for  items  such  as  \d,
       when matched with a traditional matching function; the performance loss
       is less with a DFA matching function, and in both cases  there  is  not
       much difference for \b.

       When  a  pattern  begins  with .* not in parentheses, or in parentheses
       that are not the subject of a backreference, and the PCRE_DOTALL option
       is  set, the pattern is implicitly anchored by PCRE, since it can match
       only at the start of a subject string. However, if PCRE_DOTALL  is  not
       set,  PCRE  cannot  make this optimization, because the . metacharacter
       does not then match a newline, and if the subject string contains  new-
       lines,  the  pattern may match from the character immediately following
       one of them instead of from the very start. For example, the pattern

         .*second

       matches the subject "first\nand second" (where \n stands for a  newline
       character),  with the match starting at the seventh character. In order
       to do this, PCRE has to retry the match starting after every newline in
       the subject.

       If  you  are using such a pattern with subject strings that do not con-
       tain newlines, the best performance is obtained by setting PCRE_DOTALL,
       or  starting  the pattern with ^.* or ^.*? to indicate explicit anchor-
       ing. That saves PCRE from having to scan along the subject looking  for
       a newline to restart at.

       Beware  of  patterns  that contain nested indefinite repeats. These can
       take a long time to run when applied to a string that does  not  match.
       Consider the pattern fragment

         ^(a+)*

       This  can  match "aaaa" in 16 different ways, and this number increases
       matching procedure, PCRE checks that there is a "b" later in  the  sub-
       ject  string, and if there is not, it fails the match immediately. How-
       ever, when there is no following literal this  optimization  cannot  be
       used. You can see the difference by comparing the behaviour of

         (a+)*\d

       with  the  pattern  above.  The former gives a failure almost instantly
       when applied to a whole line of  "a"  characters,  whereas  the  latter
       takes an appreciable time with strings longer than about 20 characters.

       In many cases, the solution to this kind of performance issue is to use
       an atomic group or a possessive quantifier.

AUTHOR

       Philip Hazel
       University Computing Service
       Cambridge CB2 3QH, England.

REVISION

       Last updated: 09 January 2012
       Copyright (c) 1997-2012 University of Cambridge.



PCRE 8.30                       09 January 2012                 PCREPERFORM(3)
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