Why does Javascript’s regex.exec() not always return the same value? [duplicate]

Why does Javascript’s regex.exec() not always return the same value? [duplicate]

This question already has an answer here:

Why does a RegExp with global flag give wrong results?

6 answers

In the Chrome or Firebug console:
reg = /ab/g
str = “abc”
reg.exec(str)
==> [“ab”]
reg.exec(str)
==> null
reg.exec(str)
==> [“ab”]
reg.exec(str)
==> null

Is exec somehow stateful and depends on what it returned the previous time? Or is this just a bug? I can’t get it to happen all the time. For example, if ‘str’ above were “abc abc” it doesn’t happen.

Solutions/Answers:

Solution 1:

A JavaScript RegExp object is stateful.

When the regex is global, if you call a method on the same regex object, it will start from the index past the end of the last match.

When no more matches are found, the index is reset to 0 automatically.


To reset it manually, set the lastIndex property.

reg.lastIndex = 0;

This can be a very useful feature. You can start the evaluation at any point in the string if desired, or if in a loop, you can stop it after a desired number of matches.


Here’s a demonstration of a typical approach to using the regex in a loop. It takes advantage of the fact that exec returns null when there are no more matches by performing the assignment as the loop condition.

var re = /foo_(\d+)/g,
    str = "text foo_123 more text foo_456 foo_789 end text",
    match,
    results = [];

while (match = re.exec(str))
    results.push(+match[1]);

DEMO: http://jsfiddle.net/pPW8Y/


If you don’t like the placement of the assignment, the loop can be reworked, like this for example…

var re = /foo_(\d+)/g,
    str = "text foo_123 more text foo_456 foo_789 end text",
    match,
    results = [];

do {
    match = re.exec(str);
    if (match)
        results.push(+match[1]);
} while (match);

DEMO: http://jsfiddle.net/pPW8Y/1/

Solution 2:

From MDN docs:

If your regular expression uses the “g” flag, you can use the exec method multiple times to find successive matches in the same string. When you do so, the search starts at the substring of str specified by the regular expression’s lastIndex property (test will also advance the lastIndex property).

Since you are using the g flag, exec continues from the last matched string until it gets to the end (returns null), then starts over.


Personally, I prefer to go the other way around with str.match(reg)

Solution 3:

Multiple Matches

If your regex need the g flag (global match), you will need to reset the index (position of the last match) by using the lastIndex property.

reg.lastIndex = 0;

This is due to the fact that exec() will stop on each occurence so you can run again on the remaining part. This behavior also exists with test()) :

If your regular expression uses the “g” flag, you can use the exec
method multiple times to find successive matches in the same string.
When you do so, the search starts at the substring of str specified by
the regular expression’s lastIndex property (test will also advance
the lastIndex property)

Single Match

When there is only one possible match, you can simply rewrite you regex by omitting the g flag, as the index will be automatically reset to 0.