Regex – Regular expression that matches between quotes, containing escaped quotes


This was originally a question I wanted to ask, but while researching the details for the question I found the solution and thought it may be of interest to others.

In Apache, the full request is in double quotes and any quotes inside are always escaped with a backslash: - - [15/Apr/2005:20:35:37 +0200] "GET /\" foo=bat\" HTTP/1.0" 400 299 "-" "-" "-"

I'm trying to construct a regex which matches all distinct fields. My current solution always stops on the first quote after the GET/POST (actually I only need all the values including the size transferred):


I guess I'll also provide my solution from my PHP source with comments and better formatting:

$sPattern = ';^' .
    # ip address: 1
    '(\d+\.\d+\.\d+\.\d+)' .
    # ident and user id
    '\s+[^\s]+\s+[^\s]+\s+' .
    # 2 day/3 month/4 year:5 hh:6 mm:7 ss +timezone
    '\[(\d+)/([A-Za-z]+)/(\d+):(\d+):(\d+):(\d+)\s+\+\d+\]' .
    # whitespace
    '\s+' .
    # request uri
    '"[^"]+"' .
    # whitespace
    '\s+' .
    # 8 status code
    '(\d+)' .
    # whitespace
    '\s+' .
    # 9 bytes sent
    '(\d+|-)' .
    # end of regex

Using this with a simple case where the URL doesn't contain other quotes works fine: - - [15/Apr/2005:20:35:37 +0200] "GET /\ foo=bat\ HTTP/1.0" 400 299 "-" "-" "-"

Now I'm trying to get support for none, one or more occurrences of \" into it, but can't find a solution. Using I've came up with this so far:


Here's only the changed part:

    # request uri
    '"(.|\\(?="))*"' .

However, it's too greedy. It eats everything until the last ", when it should only eat until the first " not preceded by a \. I also tried introducing the requirement that there's no \ before the " I want, but it still eats to the end of the string (Note: I had to add extraneous \ characters to make this work in PHP):

    # request uri
    '"(.|\\(?="))*[^\\\\]"' .

But then it hit me: *?: If used immediately after any of the quantifiers , +, ?, or {}, makes the quantifier non-greedy (matching the minimum number of times)

    # request uri
    '"(.|\\(?="))*?[^\\\\]"' .

The full regex:


Update 5th May 2009:

I discovered a small flaw in the regexp due parsing millions of lines: it breaks on lines which contain the backslash character right before the double quote. In other words:


will break the regex. Apache will not log ...\" but will always escape the backslash to \\, so it's safe to assume that when there're two backslash characters before the double quote.

Anyone has an idea how to fix this with the the regex?

Helpful resources: the JavaScript Regexp documentation at and

Best Solution

Try this:


This regular expression matches a double quote character followed by a sequence of either any character other than \ and " or an escaped sequence \α (where α can be any character) followed by the final double quote character. The (?:expr) syntax is just a non-capturing group.