Book review: Regular Expression Pocket Reference <i>by Tony Stubblebine</i>

This wonderful little book contains the most common and useful information on Regular Expressions you will need for Perl, C, PHP, Python, Java, .NET, vi Editor, and shell tools. The author, Tony Stubblebine, credits another O’Reilly book, Mastering Regular Expressions, as being the definitive work. Fortunately though, this book is sized a little smaller for quicker references. Sometimes you just need a quick reminder on syntax and don’t need a definitive work. Stubblebine has also written articles with titles such as: Five Habits for Successful Regular Expressions, Regexp Power, and Maintaining Regular Expressions.

The book’s cover

I’ve always felt that a useful book allowed you to find the information you wanted without wading through what the author thought you needed. This book provides that usefulness. Of course, there is a trade off—you have to get back to work quicker when you find the information you were looking for. It is sized just right to carry around in a lab or to have on your desk and thumb through when you need it. This book does not belong on a shelf. You could skim through it cover to cover and probably find what you were looking for without ever checking the table of contents. The information is grouped tightly to support speedy searches.

It is the perfect size for carrying

The contents

The book is a tidy 100 pages and—according to my faithful Ziggy™ ruler—only 4.25 inches wide by 7 inches tall. The layout of the book is what makes it so useful. You don’t have to wonder if the provided examples will work for Perl or the vi Editor. Each implementation has its own section. If you’re only working in Python, for example, then the book will seem to be eight pages long. The longest section is only eleven pages. Most readers will probably find themselves using more than just one section though. Regular expressions are used in a surprising number of different free software tools. Each section follows a consistent format and layout. Once you know how to find information in one section, finding the same information in another section is no trouble at all. The section will start with Supported Metacharacters and end with Other Resources. Depending on the implementation, additional information may be provided on Unicode Support, Pattern Matching, and Examples.

Who’s this book for?

Those individuals who already have an understanding of regular expressions will get the most out of this book. You don’t have to have them mastered, just familiar enough to recognize the answers when you find them. This book contains information to keep you working through problems without requiring you to actually stop working and switch to researching. If you are the type of person who creates their own cheat sheets, this book will be a perfect companion for you. I would expect page corners to be turned down and sticky notes to be pasted throughout the book in a very short time. Many workers use a wide variety of tools every day. You might not have even realized that your tools support regular expressions. This book covers so many implementations, chances are extremely high that it will cover yours.

Relevance to free software

By mastering regular expressions in any implementation, you have prepared yourself to use free software to the best advantage. Three of the P’s referred to in the LAMP acronym are represented: Perl, PHP, and Python. With this reference at your side, you can demonstrate the usefulness of free software by finding answers and solving problems quickly using regular expressions. Regular expressions are not unique to free software, but you will find them fully implemented in many free software tools. While not specifically promotional of proprietary software, .NET and C# are covered.

This book has all the information you need in a tiny little package


This book has all the information you need in a tiny little package. It is the book to use when you are working and need to solve a regular expression problem. You can save those larger, definitive works for when you are performing research and have more time.


It is a pocket reference. The information is presented in a quick and concise manner. To the beginner, it may seem a little blunt. Don’t be put off by this though, just recognize you need to pick up a “teaching” book on regular expressions and come back to this pocket reference later on.

Title Regular Expression Pocket Reference
Author Tony Stubblebine
Publisher O’Reilly
ISBN 059600415X
Year 2003
Pages 100
CD included No
FS Oriented 7
Over all score 9

In short


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.