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Is the regular expression standard used in grep POSIX + ASCII or something else is mixed in?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

That all depends on which flags you pass to grep.

The normal flagless grep (which is the same as passing -G) uses "Basic regular expressions":

-G, --basic-regexp
    Interpret PATTERN as a basic regular expression (BRE, see 
    below).  This is the default.

If you specify -E it uses "Extended" regular expressions:

-E, --extended-regexp
    Interpret PATTERN as an extended regular expression (ERE, 
    see below).  (-E is specified by POSIX.)

And then you have -P for Perl regular expressions (PCRE):

-P, --perl-regexp
    Interpret PATTERN as a Perl regular expression.  This is highly 
    experimental and grep -P may warn  of  unimplemented features.

Basic vs Extended Regular Expressions

In basic regular expressions the meta-characters ?, +, {, |, (, and ) lose their special meaning; instead use the backslashed versions \?, +, {, \|, (, and ).

Traditional egrep did not support the { meta-character, and some egrep implementations support { instead, so portable scripts should avoid { in grep -E patterns and should use [{] to match a literal {.

GNU grep -E attempts to support traditional usage by assuming that { is not special if it would be the start of an invalid interval specification. For example, the command grep -E '{1' searches for the two-character string {1 instead of reporting a syntax error in the regular expression. POSIX.2 allows this behavior as an extension, but portable scripts should avoid it.

So although grep strives to be as close to POSIX as possible there are still some flaws in it.

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Yeah, I rad that but it doesn't say which standard is actually used, and if it's a mix of stuff then there's no referance to the mixed standart. So basically we know that it works with something but don't know with what exactly. :D – Denys S. Apr 12 '11 at 12:08
@den: POSIX regular expressions are explained in regex(7), Perl's - perlre. – grawity Apr 12 '11 at 12:09
This is about Linux, but the "-P" option is not available under MinGW ("grep: Support for the -P option is not compiled into this --disable-perl-regexp binary"), at least not by default. – Peter Mortensen May 1 '12 at 11:02
Different greps understand (slightly) different REs (and flags, and...) – vonbrand Feb 11 '13 at 2:37
@PeterMortensen, GnuWin32 does support grep -P, I'm not sure if that helps. Cygwins grep does so as well, afaik – Sebastian Godelet Jul 3 '14 at 22:00

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