PCRESTACK(3)              Library Functions Manual              PCRESTACK(3)

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       PCRE - Perl-compatible regular expressions


       When you call pcre[16|32]_exec(), it makes use of an internal
       function called match(). This calls itself recursively at branch
       points in the pattern, in order to remember the state of the match so
       that it can back up and try a different alternative if the first one
       fails. As matching proceeds deeper and deeper into the tree of
       possibilities, the recursion depth increases. The match() function is
       also called in other circumstances, for example, whenever a
       parenthesized sub-pattern is entered, and in certain cases of

       Not all calls of match() increase the recursion depth; for an item
       such as a* it may be called several times at the same level, after
       matching different numbers of a's. Furthermore, in a number of cases
       where the result of the recursive call would immediately be passed
       back as the result of the current call (a "tail recursion"), the
       function is just restarted instead.

       The above comments apply when pcre[16|32]_exec() is run in its normal
       interpretive manner. If the pattern was studied with the
       PCRE_STUDY_JIT_COMPILE option, and just-in-time compiling was
       successful, and the options passed to pcre[16|32]_exec() were not
       incompatible, the matching process uses the JIT-compiled code instead
       of the match() function. In this case, the memory requirements are
       handled entirely differently. See the pcrejit documentation for

       The pcre[16|32]_dfa_exec() function operates in an entirely different
       way, and uses recursion only when there is a regular expression
       recursion or subroutine call in the pattern. This includes the
       processing of assertion and "once-only" subpatterns, which are
       handled like subroutine calls. Normally, these are never very deep,
       and the limit on the complexity of pcre[16|32]_dfa_exec() is
       controlled by the amount of workspace it is given.  However, it is
       possible to write patterns with runaway infinite recursions; such
       patterns will cause pcre[16|32]_dfa_exec() to run out of stack. At
       present, there is no protection against this.

       The comments that follow do NOT apply to pcre[16|32]_dfa_exec(); they
       are relevant only for pcre[16|32]_exec() without the JIT

   Reducing pcre[16|32]_exec()'s stack usage

       Each time that match() is actually called recursively, it uses memory
       from the process stack. For certain kinds of pattern and data, very
       large amounts of stack may be needed, despite the recognition of
       "tail recursion".  You can often reduce the amount of recursion, and
       therefore the amount of stack used, by modifying the pattern that is
       being matched. Consider, for example, this pattern:


       It matches from wherever it starts until it encounters "<inet" or the
       end of the data, and is the kind of pattern that might be used when
       processing an XML file. Each iteration of the outer parentheses
       matches either one character that is not "<" or a "<" that is not
       followed by "inet". However, each time a parenthesis is processed, a
       recursion occurs, so this formulation uses a stack frame for each
       matched character. For a long string, a lot of stack is required.
       Consider now this rewritten pattern, which matches exactly the same


       This uses very much less stack, because runs of characters that do
       not contain "<" are "swallowed" in one item inside the parentheses.
       Recursion happens only when a "<" character that is not followed by
       "inet" is encountered (and we assume this is relatively rare). A
       possessive quantifier is used to stop any backtracking into the runs
       of non-"<" characters, but that is not related to stack usage.

       This example shows that one way of avoiding stack problems when
       matching long subject strings is to write repeated parenthesized
       subpatterns to match more than one character whenever possible.

   Compiling PCRE to use heap instead of stack for pcre[16|32]_exec()

       In environments where stack memory is constrained, you might want to
       compile PCRE to use heap memory instead of stack for remembering
       back-up points when pcre[16|32]_exec() is running. This makes it run
       a lot more slowly, however.  Details of how to do this are given in
       the pcrebuild documentation. When built in this way, instead of using
       the stack, PCRE obtains and frees memory by calling the functions
       that are pointed to by the pcre[16|32]_stack_malloc and
       pcre[16|32]_stack_free variables. By default, these point to malloc()
       and free(), but you can replace the pointers to cause PCRE to use
       your own functions. Since the block sizes are always the same, and
       are always freed in reverse order, it may be possible to implement
       customized memory handlers that are more efficient than the standard

   Limiting pcre[16|32]_exec()'s stack usage

       You can set limits on the number of times that match() is called,
       both in total and recursively. If a limit is exceeded,
       pcre[16|32]_exec() returns an error code. Setting suitable limits
       should prevent it from running out of stack. The default values of
       the limits are very large, and unlikely ever to operate. They can be
       changed when PCRE is built, and they can also be set when
       pcre[16|32]_exec() is called. For details of these interfaces, see
       the pcrebuild documentation and the section on extra data for
       pcre[16|32]_exec() in the pcreapi documentation.

       As a very rough rule of thumb, you should reckon on about 500 bytes
       per recursion. Thus, if you want to limit your stack usage to 8Mb,
       you should set the limit at 16000 recursions. A 64Mb stack, on the
       other hand, can support around 128000 recursions.

       In Unix-like environments, the pcretest test program has a command
       line option (-S) that can be used to increase the size of its stack.
       As long as the stack is large enough, another option (-M) can be used
       to find the smallest limits that allow a particular pattern to match
       a given subject string. This is done by calling pcre[16|32]_exec()
       repeatedly with different limits.

   Obtaining an estimate of stack usage

       The actual amount of stack used per recursion can vary quite a lot,
       depending on the compiler that was used to build PCRE and the
       optimization or debugging options that were set for it. The rule of
       thumb value of 500 bytes mentioned above may be larger or smaller
       than what is actually needed. A better approximation can be obtained
       by running this command:

         pcretest -m -C

       The -C option causes pcretest to output information about the options
       with which PCRE was compiled. When -m is also given (before -C),
       information about stack use is given in a line like this:

         Match recursion uses stack: approximate frame size = 640 bytes

       The value is approximate because some recursions need a bit more (up
       to perhaps 16 more bytes).

       If the above command is given when PCRE is compiled to use the heap
       instead of the stack for recursion, the value that is output is the
       size of each block that is obtained from the heap.

   Changing stack size in Unix-like systems

       In Unix-like environments, there is not often a problem with the
       stack unless very long strings are involved, though the default limit
       on stack size varies from system to system. Values from 8Mb to 64Mb
       are common. You can find your default limit by running the command:

         ulimit -s

       Unfortunately, the effect of running out of stack is often SIGSEGV,
       though sometimes a more explicit error message is given. You can
       normally increase the limit on stack size by code such as this:

         struct rlimit rlim;
         getrlimit(RLIMIT_STACK, &rlim);
         rlim.rlim_cur = 100*1024*1024;
         setrlimit(RLIMIT_STACK, &rlim);

       This reads the current limits (soft and hard) using getrlimit(), then
       attempts to increase the soft limit to 100Mb using setrlimit(). You
       must do this before calling pcre[16|32]_exec().

   Changing stack size in Mac OS X

       Using setrlimit(), as described above, should also work on Mac OS X.
       It is also possible to set a stack size when linking a program. There
       is a discussion about stack sizes in Mac OS X at this web site:

AUTHOR         top

       Philip Hazel
       University Computing Service
       Cambridge CB2 3QH, England.

REVISION         top

       Last updated: 24 June 2012
       Copyright (c) 1997-2012 University of Cambridge.

COLOPHON         top

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PCRE 8.30                       24 June 2012                    PCRESTACK(3)

Pages that refer to this page: pcreapi(3)