I need to do a RegExp pattern test on a certain bit of user input. This is the pattern I need to test the value against.


An example match would be: na-examplename-01

The shell I have available is BusyBox a.k.a ash, so I don't have full bash functionality.

What are my options for RegExp pattern tests when using BusyBox?

Note: I cannot use expr, as it is not available in my install.

I have the following functions available:

arp, ash, awk, basename, bash, bunzip2, bzcat, bzip2, cat, chmod,
chown, chvt, clear, cp, crond, crontab, cryptpw, cut, date, dd,
deallocvt, df, dirname, dmesg, dnsdomainname, dos2unix, du, egrep,
eject, env, fbset, fgconsole, fgrep, find, findfs, flock, free, fstrim,
ftpget, ftpput, fuser, getopt, grep, groups, gunzip, gzip, head,
hostname, httpd, hwclock, id, ifconfig, ifdown, ifplugd, ifup, install,
ionice, iostat, ip, kill, killall, killall5, less, ln, loadkmap,
logger, login, ls, lsof, md5sum, mkdir, mkdosfs, mkfifo, mkfs.vfat,
mknod, mkpasswd, mkswap, mktemp, more, mount, mountpoint, mpstat, mv,
nbd-client, nc, netstat, nice, nohup, nslookup, ntpd, od, pgrep, pidof,
ping, ping6, pmap, printenv, ps, pstree, pwd, pwdx, rdate, readlink,
realpath, renice, reset, rm, rmdir, route, sed, seq, setconsole,
setserial, sh, sleep, smemcap, sort, stat, su, switch_root, sync,
sysctl, tail, tar, tee, telnet, time, top, touch, tr, traceroute,
traceroute6, true, ttysize, umount, uname, uniq, unix2dos, unxz,
uptime, usleep, vconfig, vi, watch, wc, wget, which, whoami, whois,
xargs, xz, xzcat, zcat
  • Do you need to extract those 3 groups or just check that the pattern matches? May 18, 2015 at 11:30
  • Just that the given input matches the format the RegExp pattern is May 18, 2015 at 11:32
  • Yes, but what exactly is that format? Are the parentheses capture groups or are they part of the pattern? It looks like you want to match 2 or 3 lower case letters, followed by a -, then 2 or more lower case letters followed by 0 or more numbers, a - and one or more numbers until the end of the line. Is that what you need?
    – terdon
    May 18, 2015 at 11:34
  • Sorry. I've added an example of what the pattern would/should match. The hyphens are part of the pattern. Your break down of the pattern is correct. May 18, 2015 at 11:36
  • 1
    @James [a-z][a-z]* is the same as [a-z]+
    – K1773R
    May 18, 2015 at 12:02

3 Answers 3


You have three tools that can do regular expressions. These all assume that $in contains na-examplename-01.

  1. grep

    $ printf "%s\n" "$in" | ./grep -E '^[a-z]{2,3}-[a-z]+[0-9]*-[0-9]+$'
  2. sed

    $ printf "%s\n" "$in" | ./sed -n '/^[a-z]\{2,3\}-[a-z]\+[0-9]*-[0-9]\+$/p'
  3. awk

    $ printf "%s\n" "$in" | ./awk '/^[a-z]{2,3}-[a-z]+[0-9]*-[0-9]+$/'

Note that those match on each line inside $in as opposed to the content of $in as a whole. For instance, they would match on the second and third line of a $in defined as


As Stéphane pointed out in his answer, it's a good idea to prepend these commands with LC_ALL=C to ensure that your locale does not confuse the character ranges.

  • Just for completeness, he actually has more than three tools than can do things with regexes; you've just given the most applicable ones. (vi, less and more can all handle regexes also.)
    – Wildcard
    Dec 2, 2016 at 20:51

awk sounds like a good candidate:

even spaces
and newlines
xxx-blah12-0' # should not match

input='na-examplename-01' # should match

  LC_ALL=C awk '
      exit(!(ARGV[1] ~ /^[a-z]{2,3}-[a-z]+[0-9]*-[0-9]+$/))
    }' "$input"
  echo it matches
  echo >&2 it does not match
  • Good point about the locale with LC_ALL=C May 18, 2015 at 11:44

You could use grep in extended regex mode like this:

echo na-examplename-01 | grep -E '^[a-z]{2,3}-[a-z]+[0-9]*-[0-9]+$'

You should use the interval parameter to make this more easy to read. [a-z][a-z]|[a-z][a-z][a-z] would be [a-z]{2,3}.

[a-z]+ is the same as [a-z][a-z]*

For the grep snytax, take a look at https://www.gnu.org/software/findutils/manual/html_node/find_html/grep-regular-expression-syntax.html

  • or grep -xE '[a-z]{2,3}-[a-z]+[0-9]*-[0-9]+' May 18, 2015 at 11:55
  • @StéphaneChazelas good one ;)
    – K1773R
    May 18, 2015 at 11:56

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