NSRegularExpression in Swift

Remarks

Special Characters

   *?+[(){}^$|\./

Basic Usage

There are several considerations when implementing Regular Expressions in Swift.

let letters = "abcdefg"
let pattern = "[a,b,c]"
let regEx = try NSRegularExpression(pattern: pattern, options: [])
let nsString = letters as NSString
let matches = regEx.matches(in: letters, options: [], range: NSMakeRange(0, nsString.length))
let output = matches.map {nsString.substring(with: $0.range)}
//output = ["a", "b", "c"]

In order to get an accurate range length that supports all character types the input string must be converted to a NSString.

For safety matching against a pattern should be enclosed in a do catch block to handle failure

let numbers = "121314"
let pattern = "1[2,3]"
do {
    let regEx = try NSRegularExpression(pattern: pattern, options: [])
    let nsString = numbers as NSString
    let matches = regEx.matches(in: numbers, options: [], range: NSMakeRange(0, nsString.length))
    let output = matches.map {nsString.substring(with: $0.range)}
    output
} catch let error as NSError {
    print("Matching failed")
}
//output = ["12", "13"]

Regular expression functionality is often put in an extension or helper to seperate concerns.

Extending String to do simple pattern matching

extension String {
    func matchesPattern(pattern: String) -> Bool {
        do {
            let regex = try NSRegularExpression(pattern: pattern,
                                                options: NSRegularExpressionOptions(rawValue: 0))
            let range: NSRange = NSMakeRange(0, self.characters.count)
            let matches = regex.matchesInString(self, options: NSMatchingOptions(), range: range)
            return matches.count > 0
        } catch _ {
            return false
        }
    }
}

// very basic examples - check for specific strings
dump("Pinkman".matchesPattern("(White|Pinkman|Goodman|Schrader|Fring)"))

// using character groups to check for similar-sounding impressionist painters
dump("Monet".matchesPattern("(M[oa]net)"))
dump("Manet".matchesPattern("(M[oa]net)"))
dump("Money".matchesPattern("(M[oa]net)"))     // false

// check surname is in list
dump("Skyler White".matchesPattern("\\w+ (White|Pinkman|Goodman|Schrader|Fring)"))

// check if string looks like a UK stock ticker
dump("VOD.L".matchesPattern("[A-Z]{2,3}\\.L"))
dump("BP.L".matchesPattern("[A-Z]{2,3}\\.L"))

// check entire string is printable ASCII characters
dump("tab\tformatted text".matchesPattern("^[\u{0020}-\u{007e}]*$"))

// Unicode example: check if string contains a playing card suit
dump("♠︎".matchesPattern("[\u{2660}-\u{2667}]"))
dump("♡".matchesPattern("[\u{2660}-\u{2667}]"))
dump("😂".matchesPattern("[\u{2660}-\u{2667}]"))    // false

// NOTE: regex needs Unicode-escaped characters
dump("♣︎".matchesPattern("♣︎"))           // does NOT work

Below is another example which builds on the above to do something useful, which can't easily be done by any other method and lends itself well to a regex solution.

// Pattern validation for a UK postcode.
// This simply checks that the format looks like a valid UK postcode and should not fail on false positives.
private func isPostcodeValid(postcode: String) -> Bool {
    return postcode.matchesPattern("^[A-Z]{1,2}([0-9][A-Z]|[0-9]{1,2})\\s[0-9][A-Z]{2}")
}

// valid patterns (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postcodes_in_the_United_Kingdom#Validation)
// will return true
dump(isPostcodeValid("EC1A 1BB"))
dump(isPostcodeValid("W1A 0AX"))
dump(isPostcodeValid("M1 1AE"))
dump(isPostcodeValid("B33 8TH"))
dump(isPostcodeValid("CR2 6XH"))
dump(isPostcodeValid("DN55 1PT"))

// some invalid patterns
// will return false
dump(isPostcodeValid("EC12A 1BB"))
dump(isPostcodeValid("CRB1 6XH"))
dump(isPostcodeValid("CR 6XH"))

NSRegularExpression for mail validation

func isValidEmail(email: String) -> Bool {

    let emailRegEx = "[A-Z0-9a-z._%+-]+@[A-Za-z0-9.-]+\\.[A-Za-z]{2,4}"
    
    let emailTest = NSPredicate(format:"SELF MATCHES %@", emailRegEx)
    return emailTest.evaluate(with: email)
}

or you could use String extension like this:

extension String
{
    func isValidEmail() -> Bool {

        let emailRegEx = "[A-Z0-9a-z._%+-]+@[A-Za-z0-9.-]+\\.[A-Za-z]{2,4}"
        
        let emailTest = NSPredicate(format:"SELF MATCHES %@", emailRegEx)
        return emailTest.evaluate(with: self)
    }
}

Replacing Substrings

Patterns can be used to replace part of an input string.

The example below replaces the cent symbol with the dollar symbol.

var money = "¢¥€£$¥€£¢"
let pattern = "¢"
do {
    let regEx = try NSRegularExpression (pattern: pattern, options: [])
    let nsString = money as NSString
    let range = NSMakeRange(0, nsString.length)
    let correct$ = regEx.stringByReplacingMatches(in: money, options: .withTransparentBounds, range: range, withTemplate: "$")
} catch let error as NSError {
    print("Matching failed")
}
//correct$ = "$¥€£$¥€£$"

Special Characters

To match special characters Double Backslash should be used \. becomes \\.

Characters you'll have to escape include

(){}[]/\+*$>.|^?

The below example get three kinds of opening brackets

let specials = "(){}[]"
let pattern = "(\\(|\\{|\\[)"
do {
    let regEx = try NSRegularExpression(pattern: pattern, options: [])
    let nsString = specials as NSString
    let matches = regEx.matches(in: specials, options: [], range: NSMakeRange(0, nsString.length))
    let output = matches.map {nsString.substring(with: $0.range)}
} catch let error as NSError {
    print("Matching failed")
}
//output = ["(", "{", "["]

Validation

Regular expressions can be used to validate inputs by counting the number of matches.

var validDate = false

let numbers = "35/12/2016"
let usPattern =  "^(0[1-9]|1[012])[-/.](0[1-9]|[12][0-9]|3[01])[-/.](19|20)\\d\\d$"
let ukPattern = "^(0[1-9]|[12][0-9]|3[01])[-/](0[1-9]|1[012])[-/](19|20)\\d\\d$"
do {
    let regEx = try NSRegularExpression(pattern: ukPattern, options: [])
    let nsString = numbers as NSString
    let matches = regEx.matches(in: numbers, options: [], range: NSMakeRange(0, nsString.length))
    
    if matches.count > 0 {
        validDate = true
    }
    
    validDate
    
} catch let error as NSError {
    print("Matching failed")
}
//output = false