Ruby Regular Expressions: The Complete Tutorial

Ruby Regular Expressions: The Complete Tutorial

Ruby regular expressions (ruby regex for short) help you find specific patterns inside strings, with the intent of extracting data for further processing.

Ruby regular expressions (ruby regex for short) help you find specific patterns inside strings, with the intent of extracting data for further processing.

Two common use cases for regular expressions include validation & parsing.

For example:

Think about an email address, with a ruby regex you can define what a valid email address looks like. In other words, your program will be able to tell the difference between a valid & invalid email address.

ruby regex

Ruby regular expressions are defined between two forward slashes to differentiate them from other language syntax. The most simple expressions match a word or even a single letter.

For example:

  1. Find the word 'like'

  2. "Do you like cats?" =~ /like/

This returns the index of the first occurrence of the word if it was found or nil otherwise. If we don’t care about the index we could use the String#include? method.

Another way to check if a string matches a regex is to use the match method:

if "Do you like cats?".match(/like/)
  puts "Match found!"

Now you are going to learn how to build more advanced patterns so you can match, capture & replace things like dates, phones numbers, URLs, etc.

Character Classes

A character class lets you define a range or a list of characters to match. For example, [aeiou] matches any vowel.

Example: Does the string contain a vowel?

def contains_vowel(str)
  str =~ /[aeiou]/

contains_vowel("test") ## returns 1
contains_vowel("sky")  ## returns nil

This will not take into account the amount of characters, we will see how to do that soon.


We can use ranges to match multiple letters or numbers without having to type them all out. In other words, a range like [2-5] is the same as [2345].

Some useful ranges:

  • [0-9] matches any number from 0 to 9
  • [a-z] matches any letter from a to z (no caps)
  • [^a-z] negated range

Example: Does this string contain any numbers?

def contains_number(str)
  str =~ /[0-9]/

contains_number("The year is 2015")  ## returns 12
contains_number("The cat is black")  ## returns nil

Remember: the return value when using =~ is either the string index or nil

There is a nice shorthand syntax for specifying character ranges:

  • \w is equivalent to [0-9a-zA-Z_]
  • \d is the same as [0-9]
  • \s matches white space (tabs, regular space, newline)

There is also the negative form of these:

  • \W anything that’s not in [0-9a-zA-Z_]
  • \D anything that’s not a number
  • \S anything that’s not a space

The dot character . matches everything but new lines. If you need to use a literal . then you will have to escape it.

Example: Escaping special characters

## If we don't escape, the letter will match

## In this case only the literal dot matches
"5a5".match(/\d\.\d/) ## nil
"5.5".match(/\d\.\d/) ## match

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