I was attempting to use the following regexp in less yesterday: ^\+1[[:space:]]*$, which worked for me in grep. This didn't work in less, so I checked the manpage to see what it does support, and found this:

    Search forward in the file for the N-th line containing the pattern. N defaults to 1. The pattern is a regular expression, as recognized by the regular expression library supplied by your system. 
    The search starts at the first line displayed (but see the -a and -j options, which change this).

I asked this question in /dev/chat, and there wasn't much of a consensus (to me) on what library is used, or even the priority in choosing a library, let alone a way to actually check what is currently used. I currently use Fedora 30, but hopefully the answers are Linux-agnostic.

So, the questions are:

  1. How do I determine what regexp library is supplied by my system that less would use?
  2. What does it mean for a regexp library to be supplied by my system?
  3. What other utilities and programs does this supplied regexp library affect?
  4. If you mention any specific regexp libraries that could be/are used by the system, please provide a link to a page on that regexp library, if possible.

ldd shows

[unge@localhost ~]$ ldd "$(command -v less)"
    linux-vdso.so.1 (0x00007fff040e0000)
    libtinfo.so.6 => /lib64/libtinfo.so.6 (0x00007f6733339000)
    libc.so.6 => /lib64/libc.so.6 (0x00007f6733173000)
    /lib64/ld-linux-x86-64.so.2 (0x00007f67333be000)
  • So it seems as if it is not dynamically linked against something like a PCRE library at least. Not having a Fedora system at hand, I would therefore guess that this means it would at least support POSIX extended regular expressions (provided via the C library).
    – Kusalananda
    Sep 8, 2019 at 15:57
  • @Kusalananda So it could still be statically linked then? How do you know it's not linked against a PCRE library? It would have said as much in the output? Is there a way to do better than a guess?
    – Ungeheuer
    Sep 8, 2019 at 16:25
  • 1
    tl;dr; write your regexp as ^\+1\s*$.
    – user313992
    Sep 9, 2019 at 3:06

1 Answer 1

  1. If you’re referring to a less binary, less --version will tell you which regex implementation it’s using; for example

    $ less --version
    less 487 (GNU regular expressions)
    Copyright (C) 1984-2016  Mark Nudelman
    less comes with NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.
    For information about the terms of redistribution,
    see the file named README in the less distribution.
    Homepage: http://www.greenwoodsoftware.com/less

    At build time, the library is determined by the --with-regex given to ./configure:

    --with-regex=LIB        select regular expression library (LIB is one of auto,none,gnu,pcre,posix,regcmp,re_comp,regcomp,regcomp-local) [auto]

    and traced in the build logs.

    Some of the implementations are available as separate libraries (pcre for example), others are included in the C library (gnu for example), one of them is included in the less source code (regcomp-local).

  2. I think the expression refers to whichever library was available on the system less was built on, in the context of the auto option at least. Once built, a given less binary won’t change its regex implementation.

  3. None.

The supported libraries are:

  • POSIX regcomp (identified as “POSIX” in the version string);
  • PCRE (“PCRE”);
  • the GNU C library’s re_compile_pattern (“GNU”);
  • regcmp (“V8”);
  • Unix V8 regcomp, either provided by the system or less’ own copy (Henry Spencer’s implementation; “Spencer V8”);
  • re_comp (“BSD”).
  • 1
    Next issue is to unpack what "GNU regular expressions" actually means.
    – Kusalananda
    Sep 8, 2019 at 18:29
  • 1
    @Kusalananda it means gnu in ./configure, i.e. re_compile_pattern in the GNU C library. Sep 8, 2019 at 20:05

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