Regex Syntax

Kakoune regex syntax is based on the ECMAScript syntax, as defined by
the ECMA-262 standard (see ???).

Kakoune’s regex always run on Unicode codepoint sequences, not on bytes.


Every character except the syntax characters \^$.*+?[]{}|(). match
themselves. Syntax characters can be escaped with a backspace so \$
will match a literal $ and \\ will match a literal \.

Some literals are available as escape sequences:

  • \f matches the form feed character.

  • \n matches the line feed character.

  • \r matches the carriage return character.

  • \t matches the tabulation character.

  • \v matches the vertical tabulation character.

  • \0 matches the null character.

  • \cX matches the control-X character (X can be in [A-Za-z]).

  • \xXX matches the character whose codepoint is XX (in hexadecimal).

  • \uXXXX matches the character whose codepoint is XXXX (in

Character classes

The [ character introduces a character class, matching one character
from a set of characters.

A character class contains a list of literals, character ranges, and
character class escapes surrounded by [ and ].

If the first character inside a character class is ^, then the
character class is negated, meaning that it matches every character not
specified in the character class.

Literals match themselves, including syntax characters, so ^ does not
need to be escaped in a character class. [*+] matches both the *
character and the + character. Literal escape sequences are supported,
so [\n\r] matches both the line feed and carriage return characters.

The ] character needs to be escaped for it to match a literal ]
instead of closing the character class.

Character ranges are written as <start character>-<end character>, so
[A-Z] matches all upper case basic letters. [A-Z0-9] will match all
upper cases basic letters and all basic digits.

The - characters in a character class that are not specifying a range
are treated as literal -, so [A-Z-+] matches all upper case
characters, the - character, and the + character.

Supported character class escapes are:

  • \d which matches all digits.

  • \w which matches all word characters.

  • \s which matches all whitespace characters.

  • \h which matches all horizontal whitespace characters.

Using an upper case letter instead of a lower case one will negate the
character class, meaning for example that \D will match every
non-digit character.

Character class escapes can be used outside of a character class, \d
is equivalent to [\d].

Any character

. matches any character, including new lines.


Regex atoms can be grouped using ( and ) or (?: and ). If ( is
used, the group will be a capturing group, which means the positions
from the subject strings that matched between ( and ) will be

Capture groups are numbered starting at 1. They are numbered in the
order of appearance of their ( in the regex. A special capture group 0
is for the whole sequence that matched.

  • (?: introduces a non capturing group, which will not record the
    matching positions.

  • (?<name> introduces a named capturing group, which, in addition to
    being referred by number, can be, in certain contexts, referred by
    the given name.


The | character introduces an alternation, which will either match its
left-hand side, or its right-hand side (preferring the left-hand side)

For example, foo|bar matches either foo or bar, foo(bar|baz|qux)
matches foo followed by either bar, baz or qux.


Literals, Character classes, Any characters and groups can be followed
by a quantifier, which specifies the number of times they can match.

  • ? matches zero or one times.

  • * matches zero or more times.

  • + matches one or more times.

  • {n} matches exactly n times.

  • {n,} matches n or more times.

  • {n,m} matches n to m times.

  • {,m} matches zero to m times.

By default, quantifiers are greedy, which means they will prefer to
match more characters if possible. Suffixing a quantifier with ? will
make it non-greedy, meaning it will prefer to match as few characters as

Zero width assertions

Assertions do not consume any character, but will prevent the regex from
matching if they are not fulfilled.

  • ^ matches at the start of a line, that is just after a new line
    character, or at the subject begin (except if specified that the
    subject begin is not a start of line).

  • $ matches at the end of a line, that is just before a new line, or
    at the subject end (except if specified that the subject’s end is
    not an end of line).

  • \b matches at a word boundary, when one of the previous character
    and current character is a word character, and the other is not.

  • \B matches at a non word boundary, when both the previous
    character and the current character are word, or are not.

  • \A matches at the subject string begin.

  • \z matches at the subject string end.

  • \K matches anything, and resets the start position of the capture
    group 0 to the current position.

More complex assertions can be expressed with lookarounds:

  • (?=...) is a lookahead, it will match if its content matches the
    text following the current position

  • (?!...) is a negative lookahead, it will match if its content does
    not match the text following the current position

  • (?<=...) is a lookbehind, it will match if its content matches the
    text preceding the current position

  • (?<!...) is a negative lookbehind, it will match if its content
    does not match the text preceding the current position

For performance reasons lookaround contents must be sequence of
literals, character classes or any-character (.); The use of
quantifiers are not supported.

For example, (?<!bar)(?=foo). will match any character which is not
preceded by bar and where foo matches from the current position
(which means the character has to be an f).


Some modifiers can control the matching behavior of the atoms following

  • (?i) enables case-insensitive matching

  • (?I) disables case-insensitive matching (default)

  • (?s) enables dot-matches-newline (default)

  • (?S) disables dot-matches-newline


\Q will start a quoted sequence, where every character is treated as a
literal. That quoted sequence will continue until either the end of the
regex, or the appearance of \E.

For example .\Q.^$\E$ will match any character followed by the literal
string .^$ followed by an end of line.


The syntax tries to follow the ECMAScript regex syntax as defined by some divergences
exists for ease of use or performance reasons:

  • lookarounds are not arbitrary, but lookbehind are supported.

  • \K, \Q..\E, \A, \h and \z are added.

  • Stricter handling of escaping, as we introduce additional escapes,
    identity escapes like \X with X a non-special character are not
    accepted, to avoid confusions between \h meaning literal h in
    ECMAScript, and horizontal blank in Kakoune.