Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Enhancements to Unicode Regular Expressions

Regex image A Proposed Update UTS #18, Unicode Regular Expressions is now available for review and feedback.

Regular expressions are a key tool in software development. Back in 2000, few regular expression engines supported Unicode, even at a basic level. UTS #18 set out to raise the bar, describing how regular expression engines could be adapted to deal with Unicode correctly and completely. Since that time, major programming languages and libraries have adopted level 1 features (supporting all Unicode literals, basic character properties, subtraction, intersection, ...), and some also adopted some level 2 features (full character properties, grapheme clusters, ...).

A major enhancement to UTS #18 in 2020 focused on the addition of Character Classes with strings. The initial impetus for this was to handle emoji effectively in browsers, as most emoji consist of more than one code point. Supporting strings directly in character classes frees up programs from having to download large amounts of data or handle complicated syntax. Using a property like RGI_Emoji allows a regular expression to match both individual codes such as "😁" and multi-codepoint strings such as "🇫🇷". This extension to strings is also important for internationalization. For example, the alphabets used by many languages contain multi-code-point strings, so this extension allows them to be handled easily.

Additional enhancements are in progress this year, based on working with members of the ECMAScript committee, including more clarifications, better guidance on implementation, and addressing some tricky issues dealing with complementing (inverting) Character Classes. The end goal of all of these enhancements in 2020 and 2021 is to significantly raise the level of Unicode support in programming languages and libraries.

For more information, see

Over 140,000 characters are available for adoption to help the Unicode Consortium’s work on digitally disadvantaged languages