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Re: Problem with re-search-backward and "\\="

From: Alan Mackenzie
Subject: Re: Problem with re-search-backward and "\\="
Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2003 08:13:55 +0000
User-agent: tin/1.4.5-20010409 ("One More Nightmare") (UNIX) (Linux/2.0.35 (i686))

Greg Hill <address@hidden> wrote on Tue, 16 Sep 2003 11:57:03
>>GNU Emacs 21.1

>>Suppose I have this in a buffer:

>>foo     bar

>>With point immediately before bar (re-search-backward " *\\=") fails.
>>I would have expected this search to have succeeded, leaving point just
>>after foo.

>>Is this a bug, or have I misunderstood something?

> Alan,

> You have misunderstood the nature of the "greediness" of the '*' -- 
> and probably also the '+' -- postfix operator when applied to 
> backward searches.  It is not "symmetrical" with its effect on 
> forward searches.  I suggest you do some experimentation with these 
> operators, never minding the "\\=" for the moment, to better 
> understand the way these postfix operators work.

OK, I think I've got it now.  It finds the _minimum_ match it can.  With
my expression, it matches on zero spaces.  It's even documented in the
elisp info pages:  "A true mirror-image of `re-search-forward' would
require a special feature for matching regular expressions from end to
beginning.  It's not worth the trouble of implementing that."  ;-(

> I may not have this completely right, but this is the way I 
> conceptualize it.  When searching forward, the match-beginning 
> advances forward from point until the first possible match is found; 
> then match-beginning is fixed and match-end advances until going any 
> farther would break the rule or exceed the specified limit.  In 
> searching backward, the match-beginning moves backward until the 
> first possible match is found; then match-beginning is fixed and the 
> match-end advances forward until going any farther would break the 
> rule, using the initial value of point as the limit to how far the 
> match-end is allowed to advance.

> I have never experimented with the "non-greedy" postfix operators 
> '*?' '+?' and '??', so I can't tell you how using them effects the 
> conceptualization described above.

I wasn't aware these existed.  Thanks for the tip!

> I hope this helps.

Very much so.  For what I actually need to do (moving back any
combination of whitespace and a few things like "//." as the first
non-space stuff on a line), I can do it easily enough by hand.

Many thanks.

> --Greg

Alan Mackenzie (Munich, Germany)
Email: address@hidden; to decode, wherever there is a repeated letter
(like "aa"), remove half of them (leaving, say, "a").

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