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Perl index and rindex built-in functions

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The index() function is used to determine the position of a letter or a substring in a string.   Depending on what you are trying to achieve, the index() function may be faster or more easy to understand than using a regular expression (especially on string of one or several megabytes. It also may be simpler for splitting the string into just two parts then split function.

In perl index function has two forms index and rindex. The letter search from the end of the string. both return index of the first letter of match or -1 if no match available.

Let's quote Perl man page for a more precise definition:

index STR,SUBSTR,POSITION  -- Extended form !!! many people forget or just do not know about this option If POSITION is specified, returns the last occurrence at or before that position.
index STR,SUBSTR  -- classic PL/1 form
The index function searches for one string within another, but without the wildcard-like behavior of a full regular-expression pattern match. It returns the position of the first occurrence of SUBSTR in STR at or after POSITION. If POSITION is omitted, starts searching from the beginning of the string. The return value is based at 0  (or whatever you've set the $[  variable to--but don't do that). If the substring is not found, returns one less than the base, ordinarily -1.

The index function search its first operand (string) in the second operand (substring) and return the offset of the first substring found. The rindex function returns the offset of the last substring found. 

Let's assume the variable $string contains the value abracadabra. Here are some examples: 

print index ($string, "ab")."\n";     # will print 0 (the 1st letter has index 0)
print index ($string, "abc")."\n";    # will print -1
print index ($string, "ab", 2)."\n";  # will print 7 (staring pos is 2)
print index ($string, "ra", 3)."\n";  # will print 9
print rindex ($string, "ab");         # will print 7 (last "ab" in the string)
print index($string, 'rb', 3);        # will print -1 as there is no such string from the third position

Perl index function  returns -1 if the string is not found, which looks logical as it is the index of the last character of the string and that's where unsuccessful matching stops. But this is not true if the third augment is used in the loop.  Here things became tricky. Somebody decided to optimize the behaviour of this function in loops. As the result you enter the minefield. In this case index do not return -1. It just does not change the value of the variable, if function fails to find  the string.  In other words, in some circumstances,  index behaves like regular expression, which does not change the value of $1, $2, etc, if match failed. I observed this behaviour  in Perl v5.10 (RHEL 6, CentOs 6) and Perl 5.22.

index always return offset counted from the beginning of the string even if the third argument is present if it have found the string in question.

If the string is not found the result is -1 (zero corresponds to the first letter of the string)

As one can see index function is not greedy -- it finds the first substring in the string that matches the argument and stops at this point. 

 Therefore if you need to find position of a given substring in the larger string  it can be used instead of using regular expressions.

If the  source string is very long you can use some optimizations.  See Knuth–Morris–Pratt algorithm - Wikipedia (with code avaible at Knuth-Morris-Pratt Algorithm

In general the more you know about the search string and the text in which you search, the faster you can search. If some/most of the symbols in text you search do not occur in the search string and you are simply interested in if  (or how many times) the search string occurs in the target string all those "missing" symbols can be translated to a single "non-occurring" symbol and string them can be compressed with  tr by removing all consecutive "non-occurring symbols".  For example

$text='We search for word abba in this string';
print "text='$text'\n";
As you see from the result of execution of this fragment in this case we would compress the search string to

Searching for string that contains double quotes

If you have a string that contain double quotes and want to interpolate variable in this string instead of double quotes it's more convenient to use function qq like in

$a=qq(<font face="$font" color="$color">);

This is the best way to avoid errors connected with forgetting to escape all double quotes in such strings. Compare example above with much less intuitive variant using escape symbol:

$a="&pce=\"$font\" color=\"$color\">"

Also please  remember that a double backslash in double quoted literals represents just one backslash.

if ( index($path,"\\SFU\\") >-1 ) {
   print "The directory belongs to Microsoft Services for Unix\n";

Often one needs to extract the file name at the end of the path. You might do this by searching for the last backslash using the rindex function and then using substr to return the sub-string. For example:

$fullname = qq(C:/WINDOWS/TEMP/SOME.DAT);
$d=index($fullname,':'); #
$drive=substr($fullname, 0, $d);
$p = rindex($fullname, '/') + 1; # index of the first letter after
$fname = substr($fullname,$p); # note that we use 2 arguments

print("File $fileName is on the drive $d\n");

Note that in the example above we used a special form of substr invocation -- if the third parameter(the length) is not supplied to substr, it simply returns the sub-string that starts at the position specified by the second parameter until the end of the string. By omitting the third argument we can avoid errors when we miscalculate the length of the substring

Here is relevant part of manpage:


The ability to specify starting position

The important innovation of Perl implementation of index function in comparison with PL/1 and REXX is that you can specify the starting position of the search.

Like in substr in case it is negative it will be counted from the end of the string.

Another important difference is that in case the string is not found index will return -1 not 0. This is pretty logical design decision as it is corresponds to the index of the last element of the string.

Extracting part of the string before and after match

If you have found some string then the most typical next step is extracting part of the string before or after the match. using index and substr if often more flexible option the non-greedy regex matching, especially due to case that sometimes non greedy matching in perl works not as you expect:

# processomg h4 header]
   $h4=substr($news_item,0,$h4_end); #full h4 header
   $h4_bracket=index($h4,'>'); # end bracket of h4
   ($debug) && logme("h4=^$h4^\n");
   $chunk_new_fname=parse_h4($h4); #produces timestamp for the file name and correct file name extracted from the title
   return if (length($chunk_new_fname)<10);
   if (index($h4,'|')>-1) {
      # false TOC entries for <h6>  [Apr 05, 2014] 
      logme(" h4 is structured like h6 whith '|' delimiter\n");
      `mv $chunk_fqn $chunk_dir/$chunk_fname`;
   $chunk_body=substr($news_item,$h4_end+5);  # body of the news item with H4 block stripped
# process h5 if it is exists. 
# the problem here is that there can be multiple <h5> tags
   $h5_start=index(substr($chunk_body,0,80),'<h5'); # can be comment after <h4, althouth this not normal
   while($h5_start > -1) {
      $chunk_body=substr($chunk_body,$h5_end+5);  # body of the news item with H% stripped
# process <h6 with bibliodata
   # NOTE: -s --treat string a single lime . matches "\n". 
   if ($bk_start==-1) {
      # no opening blockquote  [Feb 27, 2015] 
      logme("???????????????????????????????????????????????? No openning blockquote found\n");
      `mv $chunk_fqn $chunk_dir/$chunk_fname`;

The usage of rindex function

Classic use of rindex function is splitting fully qualified name into directory part and file name part.

$chunk_dir=substr($chunk_fqn,0, $last_slash);

You can also search closing tags from the end of the document. This way you can imitate nesting

$tags_start=rindex($news_item,'<!--TAGS:'); # tag list should be comment 
if ($tags_start==-1) { 
# false TOC entries for <h6> [Apr 05, 2014]  
logme("No Tags found in the news item. News chunk was just properly renamed\n");  

Achieving case insensitive matching

You can achieve case insensitive matching by using lc function for both SRT and SUBSTR arguments.


Limiting search to a part of the string

to limit serach to a part of the string use substr function



when trying to get a part of the  string that are limited by two strings it is easy to commit "plus one" error extracting  one symbol more or one symbol less. Always check your code on the case when the second string directly follow next. for example


Here we assume that both search substrings are present in the string. If this is unknown, then the code will be substantially more complex but the key idea is the same (we also provide testing routine as an example how generally such things are done):

use strict;
my $prefix='start';
my $suffix='end';
my ($a,$delta,$result);
my $errors=0;
# Simple sest of extraction substring between two given strings
   for( my $i=0;$i<3;$i++ ){
       $delta='?' x $i;
       print "Test $i: Expected string returned should be '$delta'";
       if( $result ne $delta ){
          print "\nTest $i failed: after extracting substrenf between '$prefix' and '$suffix' in  '$a' the result is '$result' instead of '$delta'\n";
       } else {
          print "\t[OK]\n";
   if( $errors==0 ){
      print "Test was successful\n";
   } else {
      print "ATTENTION: Some tests failed, see above\n";
package mylib;
# Extracts substring between two given strings. Does not share any variables with main namespace
sub between
my ($source,$from,$to)=@_;
my ($k,$m,$len);
   if ($k>-1) {
      if ($m>-1 && $m>$k) {
         return substr($source,$k,$len); # sucess
   return ''; # unsuccessful execution returns zero length string

Please note that even such a simple test requires program that is longer then the subroutine we are testing ;-). After execution you will see something like:

[0] # perl
Test 0: expected string returned should be ''   [OK]
Test 1: expected string returned should be '?'  [OK]
Test 2: expected string returned should be '??' [OK]
Test was successful

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Old News ;-)

Using the Perl index() function

regex - Regular expression in index function - Stack Overflow


I am looking for occurrence of "CCGTCAATTC(A|C)TTT(A|G)AGT" in a text file.

$text = 'CCGTCAATTC(A|C)TTT(A|G)AGT'; if ($line=~/$text/){ chomp($line); $pos=index($line,$text); }

Searching is working, but I am not able to get the position of "text" in line. It seems index does not accepts a regular expression as substring.

How can I make this work. Thanks


The @- array holds the offsets of the starting positions of the last successful match. The first element is the offset of the whole matching pattern, and subsequent elements are offsets of parenthesized subpatterns. So, if you know there was a match, you can get its offset as $-[0].

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