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Pattern Matching

There are four separate approaches to pattern matching provided by DuckDB: the traditional SQL LIKE operator, the more recent SIMILAR TO operator (added in SQL:1999), a GLOB operator, and POSIX-style regular expressions.

The RE2 Library

DuckDB uses the RE2 library as its regular expression engine. For the regular expression syntax, see the RE2 docs.


The LIKE expression returns true if the string matches the supplied pattern. (As expected, the NOT LIKE expression returns false if LIKE returns true, and vice versa. An equivalent expression is NOT (string LIKE pattern).)

If pattern does not contain percent signs or underscores, then the pattern only represents the string itself; in that case LIKE acts like the equals operator. An underscore (_) in pattern stands for (matches) any single character; a percent sign (%) matches any sequence of zero or more characters.

LIKE pattern matching always covers the entire string. Therefore, if it’s desired to match a sequence anywhere within a string, the pattern must start and end with a percent sign.

Some examples:

SELECT 'abc' LIKE 'abc'; -- true
SELECT 'abc' LIKE 'a%' ; -- true
SELECT 'abc' LIKE '_b_'; -- true
SELECT 'abc' LIKE 'c';   -- false
SELECT 'abc' LIKE 'c%' ; -- false
SELECT 'abc' LIKE '%c';  -- true
SELECT 'abc' NOT LIKE '%c'; -- false

The keyword ILIKE can be used instead of LIKE to make the match case-insensitive according to the active locale.

SELECT 'abc' ILIKE '%C'; -- true
SELECT 'abc' NOT ILIKE '%C'; -- false

To search within a string for a character that is a wildcard (% or _), the pattern must use an ESCAPE clause and an escape character to indicate the wildcard should be treated as a literal character instead of a wildcard. See an example below.

Additionally, the function like_escape has the same functionality as a LIKE expression with an ESCAPE clause, but using function syntax. See the Text Functions Docs for details.

-- Search for strings with 'a' then a literal percent sign then 'c'
SELECT 'a%c' LIKE 'a$%c' ESCAPE '$'; -- true
SELECT 'azc' LIKE 'a$%c' ESCAPE '$'; -- false

-- Case insensitive ILIKE with ESCAPE
SELECT 'A%c' ILIKE 'a$%c' ESCAPE '$'; -- true

There are also alternative characters that can be used as keywords in place of LIKE expressions. These enhance PostgreSQL compatibility.

LIKE-style PostgreSQL-style


The SIMILAR TO operator returns true or false depending on whether its pattern matches the given string. It is similar to LIKE, except that it interprets the pattern using a regular expression. Like LIKE, the SIMILAR TO operator succeeds only if its pattern matches the entire string; this is unlike common regular expression behavior where the pattern can match any part of the string.

A regular expression is a character sequence that is an abbreviated definition of a set of strings (a regular set). A string is said to match a regular expression if it is a member of the regular set described by the regular expression. As with LIKE, pattern characters match string characters exactly unless they are special characters in the regular expression language — but regular expressions use different special characters than LIKE does.

Some examples:

SELECT 'abc' SIMILAR TO 'abc';       -- true
SELECT 'abc' SIMILAR TO 'a';         -- false
SELECT 'abc' SIMILAR TO '.*(b|d).*'; -- true
SELECT 'abc' SIMILAR TO '(b|c).*';   -- false
SELECT 'abc' NOT SIMILAR TO 'abc';   -- false

There are also alternative characters that can be used as keywords in place of SIMILAR TO expressions. These follow POSIX syntax.

SIMILAR TO-style POSIX-style


The GLOB operator returns true or false if the string matches the GLOB pattern. The GLOB operator is most commonly used when searching for filenames that follow a specific pattern (for example a specific file extension). Use the question mark (?) wildcard to match any single character, and use the asterisk (*) to match zero or more characters. In addition, use bracket syntax ([ ]) to match any single character contained within the brackets, or within the character range specified by the brackets. An exclamation mark (!) may be used inside the first bracket to search for a character that is not contained within the brackets. To learn more, visit the Glob Programming Wikipedia page.

Some examples:

SELECT 'best.txt' GLOB '*.txt';            -- true
SELECT 'best.txt' GLOB '????.txt';         -- true
SELECT 'best.txt' GLOB '?.txt';            -- false
SELECT 'best.txt' GLOB '[abc]est.txt';     -- true
SELECT 'best.txt' GLOB '[a-z]est.txt';     -- true

-- The bracket syntax is case sensitive
SELECT 'Best.txt' GLOB '[a-z]est.txt';     -- false
SELECT 'Best.txt' GLOB '[a-zA-Z]est.txt';  -- true

-- The ! applies to all characters within the brackets
SELECT 'Best.txt' GLOB '[!a-zA-Z]est.txt'; -- false

-- To negate a GLOB operator, negate the entire expression 
-- (NOT GLOB is not valid syntax)
SELECT NOT 'best.txt' GLOB '*.txt';        -- false

Three tildes (~~~) may also be used in place of the GLOB keyword.

GLOB-style Symbolic-style
GLOB ~~~

Glob Function to Find Filenames

The glob pattern matching syntax can also be used to search for filenames using the glob table function. It accepts one parameter: the path to search (which may include glob patterns).

-- Search the current directory for all files
SELECT * FROM glob('*');

Regular Expressions

Function Description Example Result
regexp_extract_all(string, regex[, group = 0]) Split the string along the regex and extract all occurrences of group regexp_extract_all('hello_world', '([a-z ]+)_?', 1) [hello, world]
regexp_extract(string, pattern , name_list); If string contains the regexp pattern, returns the capturing groups as a struct with corresponding names from name_list regexp_extract('2023-04-15', '(\d+)-(\d+)-(\d+)', ['y', 'm', 'd']) {'y':'2023', 'm':'04', 'd':'15'}
regexp_extract(string, pattern [, idx]); If string contains the regexp pattern, returns the capturing group specified by optional parameter idx regexp_extract('hello_world', '([a-z ]+)_?', 1) hello
regexp_full_match(string, regex) Returns true if the entire string matches the regex regexp_full_match('anabanana', '(an)*') false
regexp_matches(string, pattern) Returns true if string contains the regexp pattern, false otherwise regexp_matches('anabanana', '(an)*') true
regexp_replace(string, pattern, replacement); If string contains the regexp pattern, replaces the matching part with replacement regexp_replace('hello', '[lo]', '-') he-lo
regexp_split_to_array(string, regex) Alias of string_split_regex. Splits the string along the regex regexp_split_to_array('hello␣world; 42', ';?␣') ['hello', 'world', '42']

The regexp_matches function is similar to the SIMILAR TO operator, however, it does not require the entire string to match. Instead, regexp_matches returns true if the string merely contains the pattern (unless the special tokens ^ and $ are used to anchor the regular expression to the start and end of the string). Below are some examples:

SELECT regexp_matches('abc', 'abc');       -- true
SELECT regexp_matches('abc', '^abc$');     -- true
SELECT regexp_matches('abc', 'a');         -- true
SELECT regexp_matches('abc', '^a$');       -- false
SELECT regexp_matches('abc', '.*(b|d).*'); -- true
SELECT regexp_matches('abc', '(b|c).*');   -- true
SELECT regexp_matches('abc', '^(b|c).*');  -- false
SELECT regexp_matches('abc', '(?i)A');     -- true

Options for Regular Expression Functions

The regexp_matches and regexp_replace functions also support the following options.

Option Description
'c' case-sensitive matching
'i' case-insensitive matching
'l' match literals instead of regular expression tokens
'm', 'n', 'p' newline sensitive matching
'g' global replace, only available for regexp_replace
's' non-newline sensitive matching
SELECT regexp_matches('abcd', 'ABC', 'c'); -- false
SELECT regexp_matches('abcd', 'ABC', 'i'); -- true
SELECT regexp_matches('ab^/$cd', '^/$', 'l'); -- true
SELECT regexp_matches(E'hello\nworld', '', 'p'); -- false
SELECT regexp_matches(E'hello\nworld', '', 's'); -- true

Using regexp_matches

The regexp_matches operator will be optimized to the LIKE operator when possible. To achieve best performance, the 'c' option (case-sensitive matching) should be passed if applicable. Note that by default the RE2 library doesn’t match the . character to newline.

Original Optimized equivalent
regexp_matches('hello world', '^hello', 'c') prefix('hello world', 'hello')
regexp_matches('hello world', 'world$', 'c') suffix('hello world', 'world')
regexp_matches('hello world', '', 'c') LIKE 'hello_world'
regexp_matches('hello world', 'he.*rld', 'c') LIKE '%he%rld'

Using regexp_replace

The regexp_replace function can be used to replace the part of a string that matches the regexp pattern with a replacement string. The notation \d (where d is a number indicating the group) can be used to refer to groups captured in the regular expression in the replacement string. Note that by default, regexp_replace only replaces the first occurrence of the regular expression. To replace all occurrences, use the global replace (g) flag.

Some examples for using regexp_replace:

SELECT regexp_replace('abc', '(b|c)', 'X');        -- aXc
SELECT regexp_replace('abc', '(b|c)', 'X', 'g');   -- aXX
SELECT regexp_replace('abc', '(b|c)', '\1\1\1\1'); -- abbbbc
SELECT regexp_replace('abc', '(.*)c', '\1e');      -- abe
SELECT regexp_replace('abc', '(a)(b)', '\2\1');    -- bac

Using regexp_extract

The regexp_extract function is used to extract a part of a string that matches the regexp pattern. A specific capturing group within the pattern can be extracted using the idx parameter. If idx is not specified, it defaults to 0, extracting the first match with the whole pattern.

SELECT regexp_extract('abc', '.b.');     -- abc
SELECT regexp_extract('abc', '.b.', 0);  -- abc
SELECT regexp_extract('abc', '.b.', 1);  -- (empty)
SELECT regexp_extract('abc', '([a-z])(b)', 1); -- a
SELECT regexp_extract('abc', '([a-z])(b)', 2); -- b

If ids is a LIST of strings, then regexp_extract will return the corresponding capture groups as fields of a STRUCT:

SELECT regexp_extract('2023-04-15', '(\d+)-(\d+)-(\d+)', ['y', 'm', 'd']);
-- {'y':'2023', 'm':'04', 'd':'15'}
SELECT regexp_extract('2023-04-15 07:59:56', '^(\d+)-(\d+)-(\d+) (\d+):(\d+):(\d+)', ['y', 'm', 'd']);
-- {'y':'2023', 'm':'04', 'd':'15'}
SELECT regexp_extract('duckdb_0_7_1', '^(\w+)_(\d+)_(\d+)', ['tool', 'major', 'minor', 'fix']);
-- error

If the number of column names is less than the number of capture groups, then only the first groups are returned. If the number of column names is greater, then an error is generated.

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Last modified: 2024-02-26