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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 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:

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

DuckDB's regex support is documented on the Regular Expressions page.

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Last modified: 2024-07-22