While working on tinyproxy I noticed that its config file parser got notoriously slow when processing big config files with several thousand lines (for example Allow/Deny directives).
For example, the regex for the "Allow" directive is
which consists of the more readable parts
"(" "(" IPMASK "|" IPV6MASK ")" "|" ALNUM ")"
as defined using some CPP macros in the source code.
So basically the regex matches either an ipv4 address with a netmask like 10.0.0.0/8, an ipv6 with a netmask, or an alphanumeric domain name.
Parsing 32K lines with
Allow statements using the libc's regexec function took
about 2.5 seconds, which made me wonder whether we could get this a little bit
POSIX regexec() has the following signature:
int regexec(const regex_t *restrict preg, const char *restrict string, size_t nmatch, regmatch_t pmatch[restrict], int eflags);
preg is the compiled regex,
string the string to match,
nmatch the maximum
number of matching groups, and
pmatch an array of end/start indices into the
string, corresponding to matching groups.
Matching groups are the parts enclosed inside parens in the regex.
This is a very practical feature as it allows to easily extract submatches.
My idea was to write a wrapper around re2c or ragel (both of which compile a fast finite state automaton), which automatically turns a POSIX-compatible ERE expression into the expected format and generates a regexec()-like wrapper function that provides the same convenient submatch array.
For evaluation, I first created a manual re2c conversion of (a predecessor of) the above "Allow" regex, however that resulted in almost 10K (!) lines of C code emitted. Re2c input
Next I tried the same thing with ragel, and to my pleasant surprise the resulting C code was only a little over 900 lines, i.e. 10% of re2c. Ragel input
This made it quite clear that ragel was the winner of the competition.
After spending some more effort, the product was named re2r (regex to ragel) and is available here.
re2r accepts input on stdin, a machine name followed by a space and a regex per line. For example (from tinyproxy):
logfile "([^"]+)" pidfile "([^"]+)" port ([0-9]+) maxclients ([0-9]+)
which generates the following code:
re2r helpfully prints the message:
diagnostics: maximum number of match groups: 2
more about that in a minute.
As a size optimization, for multiple identical regexes, the wrapper for that
machine simply calls the wrapper for the machine with the identical regex, e.g.
The prototype for our regexec()-like match functions looks like:
RE2R_EXPORT int re2r_match_logfile(const char *p, const char* pe, size_t nmatch, regmatch_t matches);
RE2R_EXPORT needs to be defined by the user to either "static" or "extern", depending on how he needs the visibility of the function. re2r_match_logfile is the function name generated for the named regex "logfile".
p is a pointer to the start of the string to be matched, and
pe to the end
(usually it can be defined as as
nmatches is just like in the POSIX regexec() signature the maximum number of
items that can be stored in the
matches array, which is optimally of the size
that our diagnostic line earlier notified us about (here: 2).
matches array is of type
regmatch_t (thus we need to include the header
regex.h to get the definition) and it must consist of
Now we only need to run ragel on the re2r output to get a heavily optimized
matcher function that returns almost identical results to using the same regex/
string with POSIX
regexec(), while having an almost identical function
signature, so it's straightforward to replace existing code.
As a trick, the plain output of re2r can be directly compiled using
gcc -include regex.h -DRE2R_EXPORT=extern -c foo.c after running ragel on it,
without having to embed/include it in other source files.
In the case of tinyproxy, parsing the 32K allow statements using the re2r/ragel reduced the runtime from 2.5 seconds to a mere 236 milliseconds.
re2r also ships a testing tool called
re2r_test which can be used as follows:
re2r_test -r "((foo)|bar(baz))"
which then waits for test input on stdin. upon entering "foo", we get the following output:
---------- RE2R ---------- 0: foo 1: foo 2: foo ((foo)|bar(baz)) 12 2 3 31 12 2 1 ---------- POSIX ---------- 0: foo 1: foo 2: foo ((foo)|bar(baz)) 12 2 3 31 12 2 1
The first block is the output from the re2r matcher function, the other from POSIX regexec(). The 0, 1, 2 positions show the extracted match groups, then the regex is displayed followed by 2 lines that show
1) the offsets of all possible matching groups, and 2) the matching groups that actually matched.
In this case only the matching group 1 (outer parens pair) and 2 (foo) matched.
Note that POSIX always makes a matching group 0 available, which has start and end offsets of the entire string if it was successfully matched.
If we now enter "barbaz", we get:
---------- RE2R ---------- 0: barbaz 1: barbaz 3: baz ((foo)|bar(baz)) 12 2 3 31 1 3 31 ---------- POSIX ---------- 0: barbaz 1: barbaz 3: baz ((foo)|bar(baz)) 12 2 3 31 1 3 31
In this case, we don't have a match for matching group 2, but one for 3. Group 1 matches again, as it surrounds the entire expression.
Note that while re2r itself is GPL licensed, the code it emits is public domain.
I hope that re2r will be helpful in the adoption of fast ragel parsers into C projects, and believe that re2r_test can be a generally useful tool to visualize regexes and matching groups on the terminal.
The result of the re2r/ragel work on tinyproxy can be evaluated in the ragel branch.