Recipe 22.3. Finding the nth Occurrence of a Match

22.3.1. Problem

You want to find the nth word match instead of the first one.

22.3.2. Solution

Use preg_match_all( ) to pull all the matches into an array; then pick out the specific matches in which you're interested, as shown in Example 22-4.

Finding the nth match

<?php $todo = "1. Get Dressed 2. Eat Jelly 3. Squash every week into a day"; preg_match_all("/\d\. ([^\d]+)/", $todo, $matches); print "The second item on the todo list is: "; // $matches[1] is an array of each substring captured by ([^\d]+) print $matches[1][1]; print "The entire todo list is: "; foreach($matches[1] as $match) {     print "$match\n"; } ?>

22.3.3. Discussion

Because the preg_match( ) function stops after it finds one match, you need to use preg_match_all( ) instead if you're looking for additional matches. The preg_match_all( ) function returns the number of full pattern matches it finds. If it finds no matches, it returns 0. If it encounters an error, such as a syntax problem in the pattern, it returns false.

The third argument to preg_match_all( ) is populated with an array holding information about the various substrings that the pattern has matched. The first element holds an array of matches of the complete pattern. For Example 22-4, this means that $matches[0] holds the parts of $todo that match /\d\. ([^\d]+)/: 1. Get Dressed, 2. Eat Jelly, and 3. Squash every week into a day.

Subsequent elements of the $matches array hold arrays of text matched by each parenthesized subpattern. The pattern in Example 22-4 has just one subpattern ([^\d]+). So $matches[1] is an array of strings that match that subpattern: Get Dressed, Eat Jelly, and Squash every week into a day.

If there were a second subpattern, the substrings that it matched would be in $matches[2], a third subpattern's matches would be in $matches[3], and so on.

Instead of returning an array divided into full matches and then submatches, preg_match_all( ) can return an array divided by matches, with each submatch inside. To trigger this, pass PREG_SET_ORDER in as the fourth argument. This is particularly useful when you've got multiple captured subpatterns and you want to iterate through the subpattern groups one group at a time, as shown in Example 22-4.

Grouping captured subpatterns

<?php $todo = " first=Get Dressed next=Eat Jelly last=Squash every week into a day "; preg_match_all("/([a-zA-Z]+)=(.*)/", $todo, $matches, PREG_SET_ORDER); foreach ($matches as $match) {     print "The {$match[1]} action is {$match[2]} \n"; } ?>

Example 22-4 prints:

The first action is Get Dressed The next action is Eat Jelly The last action is Squash every week into a day

With PREG_SET_ORDER, each value of $match in the foreach loop contains all the subpatterns: $match[0] is the entire matched string, $match[1] the bit before the =, and $match[2] the bit after the =.

22.3.4. See Also

Documentation on preg_match_all( ) at

PHP Cookbook, 2nd Edition
PHP Cookbook: Solutions and Examples for PHP Programmers
ISBN: 0596101015
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 445

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