Nov 282009

A Liberal, Accurate Regex Pattern for Matching URLs
Friday, 27 November 2009

A common programming problem: identify the URLs in an arbitrary string of text, where by “arbitrary” let’s agree we mean something unstructured such as an email message or a tweet. I offer a solution, in the form of the following regex pattern:


This pattern should work in most modern regex implementations. I can vouch for it working in Perl, Ruby, and with the PCRE regex library (which in turn means it works in PHP and BBEdit, both of which use PCRE).

This pattern attempts to be practical. It makes no attempt to parse URLs according to any official specification. It isn’t limited to predefined URL protocols. It should be clever about things like parentheses and trailing punctuation. For example, it will correctly match the URL in the following example lines:
(Something like
(Something like,
message://%[email protected]%3e
Just a link.

It attempts to be particularly clever with regard to parentheses, which, in my experience, only ever seem to occur in the wild in Wikipedia URLs, and which many URL matching patterns seem to botch. The pattern looks for balanced parentheses within the URL, which is how it correctly omits the trailing parenthesis in the following line:

(Something like

The pattern is also liberal about Unicode glyphs within the URL, which allows it, among other things, to match IDN domain names.

 Posted by at 2:43 am

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