Copyright © 2007 Eric Niebler
Distributed under the Boost Software License, Version 1.0. (See accompanying file LICENSE_1_0.txt or copy at http://www.boost.org/LICENSE_1_0.txt)
Table of Contents
Wife: New Shimmer is a floor wax!
Husband: No, new Shimmer is a dessert topping!
Wife: It's a floor wax!
Husband: It's a dessert topping!
Wife: It's a floor wax, I'm telling you!
Husband: It's a dessert topping, you cow!
Announcer: Hey, hey, hey, calm down, you two. New Shimmer is both a floor wax and a dessert topping!
-- Saturday Night Live
xpressive is an advanced, object-oriented regular expression template library for C++. Regular expressions can be written as strings that are parsed at run-time, or as expression templates that are parsed at compile-time. Regular expressions can refer to each other and to themselves recursively, allowing you to build arbitrarily complicated grammars out of them.
If you need to manipulate text in C++, you have typically had two disjoint options: a regular expression engine or a parser generator. Regular expression engines (like Boost.Regex) are powerful and flexible; patterns are represented as strings which can be specified at runtime. However, that means that syntax errors are likewise not detected until runtime. Also, regular expressions are ill-suited to advanced text processing tasks such as matching balanced, nested tags. Those tasks have traditionally been handled by parser generators (like the Spirit Parser Framework). These beasts are more powerful but less flexible. They generally don't allow you to arbitrarily modify your grammar rules on the fly. In addition, they don't have the exhaustive backtracking semantics of regular expressions, which can make it more challenging to author some types of patterns.
xpressive brings these two approaches seamlessly together and occupies a unique niche in the world of C++ text processing. With xpressive, you can choose to use it much as you would use Boost.Regex, representing regular expressions as strings. Or you can use it as you would use Spirit, writing your regexes as C++ expressions, enjoying all the benefits of an embedded language dedicated to text manipulation. What's more, you can mix the two to get the benefits of both, writing regular expression grammars in which some of the regular expressions are statically bound -- hard-coded and syntax-checked by the compiler -- and others are dynamically bound and specified at runtime. These regular expressions can refer to each other recursively, matching patterns in strings that ordinary regular expressions cannot.
The design of xpressive's interface has been strongly influenced by John Maddock's Boost.Regex library and his proposal to add regular expressions to the Standard Library. I also drew a great deal of inspiration from Joel de Guzman's Spirit Parser Framework, which served as the model for static xpressive. Other sources of inspiration are the Perl 6 redesign and GRETA. (You can read a summary of the changes Perl 6 will bring to regex culture here.)