Solaris  - PCRECALLOUT (3)


PCRE - Perl-compatible regular expressions




int (*pcre_callout)(pcre_callout_block *);

PCRE provides a feature called "callout", which is a means of temporarily passing control to the caller of PCRE in the middle of pattern matching. The caller of PCRE provides an external function by putting its entry point in the global variable pcre_callout. By default, this variable contains NULL, which disables all calling out.

Within a regular expression, (?C) indicates the points at which the external function is to be called. Different callout points can be identified by putting a number less than 256 after the letter C. The default value is zero. For example, this pattern has two callout points:


If the PCRE_AUTO_CALLOUT option bit is set when pcre_compile() is called, PCRE automatically inserts callouts, all with number 255, before each item in the pattern. For example, if PCRE_AUTO_CALLOUT is used with the pattern


it is processed as if it were


Notice that there is a callout before and after each parenthesis and alternation bar. Automatic callouts can be used for tracking the progress of pattern matching. The pcretest command has an option that sets automatic callouts; when it is used, the output indicates how the pattern is matched. This is useful information when you are trying to optimize the performance of a particular pattern.


You should be aware that, because of optimizations in the way PCRE matches patterns, callouts sometimes do not happen. For example, if the pattern is


PCRE knows that any matching string must contain the letter "d". If the subject string is "abyz", the lack of "d" means that matching doesn’t ever start, and the callout is never reached. However, with "abyd", though the result is still no match, the callout is obeyed.


During matching, when PCRE reaches a callout point, the external function defined by pcre_callout is called (if it is set). This applies to both the pcre_exec() and the pcre_dfa_exec() matching functions. The only argument to the callout function is a pointer to a pcre_callout block. This structure contains the following fields:

int version;
int callout_number;
int *offset_vector;
const char *subject;
int subject_length;
int start_match;
int current_position;
int capture_top;
int capture_last;
void *callout_data;
int pattern_position;
int next_item_length;

The version field is an integer containing the version number of the block format. The initial version was 0; the current version is 1. The version number will change again in future if additional fields are added, but the intention is never to remove any of the existing fields.

The callout_number field contains the number of the callout, as compiled into the pattern (that is, the number after ?C for manual callouts, and 255 for automatically generated callouts).

The offset_vector field is a pointer to the vector of offsets that was passed by the caller to pcre_exec() or pcre_dfa_exec(). When pcre_exec() is used, the contents can be inspected in order to extract substrings that have been matched so far, in the same way as for extracting substrings after a match has completed. For pcre_dfa_exec() this field is not useful.

The subject and subject_length fields contain copies of the values that were passed to pcre_exec().

The start_match field normally contains the offset within the subject at which the current match attempt started. However, if the escape sequence \K has been encountered, this value is changed to reflect the modified starting point. If the pattern is not anchored, the callout function may be called several times from the same point in the pattern for different starting points in the subject.

The current_position field contains the offset within the subject of the current match pointer.

When the pcre_exec() function is used, the capture_top field contains one more than the number of the highest numbered captured substring so far. If no substrings have been captured, the value of capture_top is one. This is always the case when pcre_dfa_exec() is used, because it does not support captured substrings.

The capture_last field contains the number of the most recently captured substring. If no substrings have been captured, its value is -1. This is always the case when pcre_dfa_exec() is used.

The callout_data field contains a value that is passed to pcre_exec() or pcre_dfa_exec() specifically so that it can be passed back in callouts. It is passed in the pcre_callout field of the pcre_extra data structure. If no such data was passed, the value of callout_data in a pcre_callout block is NULL. There is a description of the pcre_extra structure in the pcreapi documentation.

The pattern_position field is present from version 1 of the pcre_callout structure. It contains the offset to the next item to be matched in the pattern string.

The next_item_length field is present from version 1 of the pcre_callout structure. It contains the length of the next item to be matched in the pattern string. When the callout immediately precedes an alternation bar, a closing parenthesis, or the end of the pattern, the length is zero. When the callout precedes an opening parenthesis, the length is that of the entire subpattern.

The pattern_position and next_item_length fields are intended to help in distinguishing between different automatic callouts, which all have the same callout number. However, they are set for all callouts.


The external callout function returns an integer to PCRE. If the value is zero, matching proceeds as normal. If the value is greater than zero, matching fails at the current point, but the testing of other matching possibilities goes ahead, just as if a lookahead assertion had failed. If the value is less than zero, the match is abandoned, and pcre_exec() (or pcre_dfa_exec()) returns the negative value.

Negative values should normally be chosen from the set of PCRE_ERROR_xxx values. In particular, PCRE_ERROR_NOMATCH forces a standard "no match" failure. The error number PCRE_ERROR_CALLOUT is reserved for use by callout functions; it will never be used by PCRE itself.


Philip Hazel
University Computing Service
Cambridge CB2 3QH, England.


Last updated: 29 May 2007
Copyright (c) 1997-2007 University of Cambridge.


See attributes(5) for descriptions of the following attributes:

Interface StabilityUncommitted


Source for PCRE is available on
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