Go to the first, previous, next, last section, table of contents.


Regular Expression Searches

Regular expression searches are used extensively in GNU Emacs. The two functions, forward-sentence and forward-paragraph illustrate these searches well.

Regular expression searches are described in section `Regular Expression Search' in The GNU Emacs Manual, as well as in section `Regular Expressions' in The GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual. In writing this chapter, I am presuming that you have at least a mild acquaintance with them. The major point to remember is that regular expressions permit you to search for patterns as well as for literal strings of characters. For example, the code in forward-sentence searches for the pattern of possible characters that could mark the end of a sentence, and moves point to that spot.

Before looking at the code for the forward-sentence function, it is worth considering what the pattern that marks the end of a sentence must be. The pattern is discussed in the next section; following that is a description of the regular expression search function, re-search-forward. The forward-sentence function is described in the section following. Finally, the forward-paragraph function is described in the last section of this chapter. forward-paragraph is a complex function that introduces several new features.

The Regular Expression for sentence-end

The symbol sentence-end is bound to the pattern that marks the end of a sentence. What should this regular expression be?

Clearly, a sentence may be ended by a period, a question mark, or an exclamation mark. Indeed, only clauses that end with one of those three characters should be considered the end of a sentence. This means that the pattern should include the character set:

[.?!]

However, we do not want forward-sentence merely to jump to a period, a question mark, or an exclamation mark, because such a character might be used in the middle of a sentence. A period, for example, is used after abbreviations. So other information is needed.

According to convention, you type two spaces after every sentence, but only one space after a period, a question mark, or an exclamation mark in the body of a sentence. So a period, a question mark, or an exclamation mark followed by two spaces is a good indicator of an end of sentence. However, in a file, the two spaces may instead be a tab or the end of a line. This means that the regular expression should include these three items as alternatives. This group of alternatives will look like this:

\\($\\| \\|  \\)
       ^   ^^
      TAB  SPC

Here, `$' indicates the end of the line, and I have pointed out where the tab and two spaces are inserted in the expression. Both are inserted by putting the actual characters into the expression.

Two backslashes, `\\', are required before the parentheses and vertical bars: the first backslash to quote the following backslash in Emacs; and the second to indicate that the following character, the parenthesis or the vertical bar, is special.

Also, a sentence may be followed by one or more carriage returns, like this:

[
]*

Like tabs and spaces, a carriage return is inserted into a regular expression by inserting it literally. The asterisk indicates that the RET is repeated zero or more times.

But a sentence end does not consist only of a period, a question mark or an exclamation mark followed by appropriate space: a closing quotation mark or a closing brace of some kind may precede the space. Indeed more than one such mark or brace may precede the space. These require a expression that looks like this:

[]\"')}]*

In this expression, the first `]' is the first character in the expression; the second character is `"', which is preceded by a `\' to tell Emacs the `"' is not special. The last three characters are `'', `)', and `}'.

All this suggests what the regular expression pattern for matching the end of a sentence should be; and, indeed, if we evaluate sentence-end we find that it returns the following value:

sentence-end
     => "[.?!][]\"')}]*\\($\\|     \\|  \\)[       
]*"

The re-search-forward Function

The re-search-forward function is very like the search-forward function. (See section The search-forward Function.)

re-search-forward searches for a regular expression. If the search is successful, it leaves point immediately after the last character in the target. If the search is backwards, it leaves point just before the first character in the target. You may tell re-search-forward to return t for true. (Moving point is therefore a `side effect'.)

Like search-forward, the re-search-forward function takes four arguments:

  1. The first argument is the regular expression that the function searches for. The regular expression will be a string between quotations marks.
  2. The optional second argument limits how far the function will search; it is a bound, specified as a position in the buffer.
  3. The optional third argument specifies how the function responds to failure: nil as the third argument causes the function to signal an error (and print a message) when the search fails; any other value causes it to return nil if the search fails and t if the search succeeds.
  4. The optional fourth argument is the repeat count. A negative repeat count causes re-search-forward to search backwards.

The template for re-search-forward looks like this:

(re-search-forward "regular-expression"
                limit-of-search
                what-to-do-if-search-fails
                repeat-count)

The second, third, and fourth arguments are optional. However, if you want to pass a value to either or both of the last two arguments, you must also pass a value to all the preceding arguments. Otherwise, the Lisp interpreter will mistake which argument you are passing the value to.

In the forward-sentence function, the regular expression will be the value of the variable sentence-end, namely:

"[.?!][]\"')}]*\\($\\|  \\|  \\)[       
]*"

The limit of the search will be the end of the paragraph (since a sentence cannot go beyond a paragraph). If the search fails, the function will return nil; and the repeat count will be provided by the argument to the forward-sentence function.

forward-sentence

The command to move the cursor forward a sentence is a straightforward illustration of how to use regular expression searches in Emacs Lisp. Indeed, the function looks longer and more complicated than it is; this is because the function is designed to go backwards as well as forwards; and, optionally, over more than one sentence. The function is usually bound to the key command M-e.

Here is the code for forward-sentence:

(defun forward-sentence (&optional arg)
  "Move forward to next sentence-end.  With argument, repeat.
With negative argument, move backward repeatedly to sentence-beginning.
Sentence ends are identified by the value of sentence-end
treated as a regular expression.  Also, every paragraph boundary
terminates sentences as well."
  (interactive "p")
  (or arg (setq arg 1))
  (while (< arg 0)
    (let ((par-beg
           (save-excursion (start-of-paragraph-text) (point))))
      (if (re-search-backward
           (concat sentence-end "[^ \t\n]") par-beg t)
          (goto-char (1- (match-end 0)))
        (goto-char par-beg)))
    (setq arg (1+ arg)))
  (while (> arg 0)
    (let ((par-end
           (save-excursion (end-of-paragraph-text) (point))))
      (if (re-search-forward sentence-end par-end t)
          (skip-chars-backward " \t\n")
        (goto-char par-end)))
    (setq arg (1- arg))))

The function looks long at first sight and it is best to look at its skeleton first, and then its muscle. The way to see the skeleton is to look at the expressions that start in the left-most columns:

(defun forward-sentence (&optional arg)
  "documentation..."
  (interactive "p")
  (or arg (setq arg 1))
  (while (< arg 0)
    body-of-while-loop
  (while (> arg 0)
    body-of-while-loop

This looks much simpler! The function definition consists of documentation, an interactive expression, an or expression, and while loops.

Let's look at each of these parts in turn.

We note that the documentation is thorough and understandable.

The function has an interactive "p" declaration. This means that the processed prefix argument, if any, is passed to the function as its argument. (This will be a number.) If the function is not passed an argument (it is optional) then the argument arg will be bound to 1. When forward-sentence is called non-interactively without an argument, arg is bound to nil.

The or expression handles the prefix argument. What it does is either leave the value of arg as it is, but only if arg is bound to a value; or it sets the value of arg to 1, in the case when arg is bound to nil.

The while loops

Two while loops follow the or expression. The first while has a true-or-false-test that tests true if the prefix argument for forward-sentence is a negative number. This is for going backwards. The body of this loop is similar to the body of the second while clause, but it is not exactly the same. We will skip this while loop and concentrate on the second while loop.

The second while loop is for moving point forward. Its skeleton looks like this:

(while (> arg 0)            ; true-or-false-test
  (let varlist
    (if (true-or-false-test)
        then-part
      else-part
  (setq arg (1- arg))))     ; while loop decrementer

The while loop is of the decrementing kind. (See section Loop with a Decrementing Counter.) It has a true-or-false-test that tests true so long as the counter (in this case, the variable arg) is greater than zero; and it has a decrementer that subtracts 1 from the value of the counter every time the loop repeats.

If no prefix argument is given to forward-sentence, which is the most common way the command is used, this while loop will run once, since the value of arg will be 1.

The body of the while loop consists of a let expression, which creates and binds a local variable, and has, as its body, an if expression.

The body of the while loop looks like this:

(let ((par-end
       (save-excursion (end-of-paragraph-text) (point))))
  (if (re-search-forward sentence-end par-end t)
      (skip-chars-backward " \t\n")
    (goto-char par-end)))

The let expression creates and binds the local variable par-end. As we shall see, this local variable is designed to provide a bound or limit to the regular expression search. If the search fails to find a proper sentence ending in the paragraph, it will stop on reaching the end of the paragraph.

But first, let us examine how par-end is bound to the value of the end of the paragraph. What happens is that the let sets the value of par-end to the value returned when the Lisp interpreter evaluates the expression

(save-excursion (end-of-paragraph-text) (point))

In this expression, (end-of-paragraph-text) moves point to the end of the paragraph, (point) returns the value of point, and then save-excursion restores point to its original position. Thus, the let binds par-end to the value returned by the save-excursion expression, which is the position of the end of the paragraph. (The (end-of-paragraph-text) function uses forward-paragraph, which we will discuss shortly.)

Emacs next evaluates the body of the let, which is an if expression that looks like this:

(if (re-search-forward sentence-end par-end t) ; if-part
    (skip-chars-backward " \t\n")              ; then-part
  (goto-char par-end)))                        ; else-part

The if tests whether its first argument is true and if so, evaluates its then-part; otherwise, the Emacs Lisp interpreter evaluates the else-part. The true-or-false-test of the if expression is the regular expression search.

It may seem odd to have what looks like the `real work' of the forward-sentence function buried here, but this is a common way this kind of operation is carried out in Lisp.

The regular expression search

The re-search-forward function searches for the end of the sentence, that is, for the pattern defined by the sentence-end regular expression. If the pattern is found--if the end of the sentence is found--then the re-search-forward function does two things:

  1. The re-search-forward function carries out a side effect, which is to move point to the end of the occurrence found.
  2. The re-search-forward function returns a value of true. This is the value received by the if, and means that the search was successful.

The side effect, the movement of point, is completed before the if function is handed the value returned by the successful conclusion of the search.

When the if function receives the value of true from a successful call to re-search-forward, the if evaluates the then-part, which is the expression (skip-chars-backward " \t\n"). This expression moves backwards over any blank spaces, tabs or carriage returns until a printed character is found and then leaves point after the character. Since point has already been moved to the end of the pattern that marks the end of the sentence, this action leaves point right after the closing printed character of the sentence, which is usually a period.

On the other hand, if the re-search-forward function fails to find a pattern marking the end of the sentence, the function returns false. The false then causes the if to evaluate its third argument, which is (goto-char par-end): it moves point to the end of the paragraph.

Regular expression searches are exceptionally useful and the pattern illustrated by re-search-forward, in which the search is the test of an if expression, is handy. You will see or write code incorporating this pattern often.

forward-paragraph: a Goldmine of Functions

The forward-paragraph function moves point forward to the end of the paragraph. It is usually bound to M-} and makes use of a number of functions that are important in themselves, including let*, match-beginning, and looking-at.

The function definition for forward-paragraph is considerably longer than the function definition for forward-sentence because it works with a paragraph, each line of which may begin with a fill prefix.

A fill prefix consists of a string of characters that are repeated at the beginning of each line. For example, in Lisp code, it is a convention to start each line of a paragraph-long comment with `;;; '. In Text mode, four blank spaces make up another common fill prefix, creating an indented paragraph. (See section `Fill Prefix' in The GNU Emacs Manual, for more information about fill prefixes.)

The existence of a fill prefix means that in addition to being able to find the end of a paragraph whose lines begin on the left-most column, the forward-paragraph function must be able to find the end of a paragraph when all or many of the lines in the buffer begin with the fill prefix.

Moreover, it is sometimes practical to ignore a fill prefix that exists, especially when blank lines separate paragraphs. This is an added complication.

Rather than print all of the forward-paragraph function, we will only print parts of it. Read without preparation, the function can be daunting!

In outline, the function looks like this:

(defun forward-paragraph (&optional arg)
  "documentation..."
  (interactive "p")
  (or arg (setq arg 1))
  (let*
      varlist
    (while (< arg 0)        ; backward-moving-code
      ...
      (setq arg (1+ arg)))
    (while (> arg 0)        ; forward-moving-code
      ...
      (setq arg (1- arg)))))

The first parts of the function are routine: the function's argument list consists of one optional argument. Documentation follows.

The lower case `p' in the interactive declaration means that the processed prefix argument, if any, is passed to the function. This will be a number, and is the repeat count of how many paragraphs point will move. The or expression in the next line handles the common case when no argument is passed to the function, which occurs if the function is called from other code rather than interactively. This case was described earlier. (See section forward-sentence.) Now we reach the end of the familiar part of this function.

The let* expression

The next line of the forward-paragraph function begins a let* expression. This is a different kind of expression than we have seen so far. The symbol is let* not let.

The let* special form is like let except that Emacs sets each variable in sequence, one after another, and variables in the latter part of the varlist can make use of the values to which Emacs set variables in the earlier part of the varlist.

In the let* expression in this function, Emacs binds two variables: fill-prefix-regexp and paragraph-separate. The value to which paragraph-separate is bound depends on the value of fill-prefix-regexp.

Let's look at each in turn. The symbol fill-prefix-regexp is set to the value returned by evaluating the following list:

(and fill-prefix 
     (not (equal fill-prefix ""))
     (not paragraph-ignore-fill-prefix)
     (regexp-quote fill-prefix))

This is an expression whose first element is the function and.

The and function evaluates each of its arguments until one of the arguments returns a value of nil, in which case the and expression returns nil; however, if none of the arguments returns a value of nil, the value resulting from evaluating the last argument is returned. (Since such a value is not nil, it is considered true in Lisp.) In other words, an and expression returns a true value only if all its arguments are true.

In this case, the variable fill-prefix-regexp is bound to a non-nil value only if the following four expressions produce a true (i.e., a non-nil) value when they are evaluated; otherwise, fill-prefix-regexp is bound to nil.

fill-prefix
When this variable is evaluated, the value of the fill prefix, if any, is returned. If there is no fill prefix, this variable returns nil.
(not (equal fill-prefix "")
This expression checks whether an existing fill prefix is an empty string, that is, a string with no characters in it. An empty string is not a useful fill prefix.
(not paragraph-ignore-fill-prefix)
This expression returns nil if the variable paragraph-ignore-fill-prefix has been turned on by being set to a true value such as t.
(regexp-quote fill-prefix)
This is the last argument to the and function. If all the arguments to the and are true, the value resulting from evaluating this expression will be returned by the and expression and bound to the variable fill-prefix-regexp,

The result of evaluating this and expression successfully is that fill-prefix-regexp will be bound to the value of fill-prefix as modified by the regexp-quote function. What regexp-quote does is read a string and return a regular expression that will exactly match the string and match nothing else. This means that fill-prefix-regexp will be set to a value that will exactly match the fill prefix if the fill prefix exists. Otherwise, the variable will be set to nil.

The second local variable in the let* expression is paragraph-separate. It is bound to the value returned by evaluating the expression:

(if fill-prefix-regexp
    (concat paragraph-separate 
            "\\|^" fill-prefix-regexp "[ \t]*$")
  paragraph-separate)))

This expression shows why let* rather than let was used. The true-or-false-test for the if depends on whether the variable fill-prefix-regexp evaluates to nil or some other value.

If fill-prefix-regexp does not have a value, Emacs evaluates the else-part of the if expression and binds paragraph-separate to its local value. (paragraph-separate is a regular expression that matches what separates paragraphs.)

But if fill-prefix-regexp does have a value, Emacs evaluates the then-part of the if expression and binds paragraph-separate to a regular expression that includes the fill-prefix-regexp as part of the pattern.

Specifically, paragraph-separate is set to the original value of the paragraph separate regular expression concatenated with an alternative expression that consists of the fill-prefix-regexp followed by a blank line. The `^' indicates that the fill-prefix-regexp must begin a line, and the optional whitespace to the end of the line is defined by "[ \t]*$".) The `\\|' defines this portion of the regexp as an alternative to paragraph-separate.

Now we get into the body of the let*. The first part of the body of the let* deals with the case when the function is given a negative argument and is therefore moving backwards. We will skip this section.

The forward motion while loop

The second part of the body of the let* deals with forward motion. It is a while loop that repeats itself so long as the value of arg is greater than zero. In the most common use of the function, the value of the argument is 1, so the body of the while loop is evaluated exactly once, and the cursor moves forward one paragraph.

This part handles three situations: when point is between paragraphs, when point is within a paragraph and there is a fill prefix, and when point is within a paragraph and there is no fill prefix.

The while loop looks like this:

(while (> arg 0)
  (beginning-of-line)

  ;; between paragraphs 
  (while (prog1 (and (not (eobp))
                     (looking-at paragraph-separate))
           (forward-line 1)))

  ;; within paragraphs, with a fill prefix
  (if fill-prefix-regexp
      ;; There is a fill prefix; it overrides paragraph-start.
      (while (and (not (eobp))
                  (not (looking-at paragraph-separate))
                  (looking-at fill-prefix-regexp))
        (forward-line 1))

    ;; within paragraphs, no fill prefix
    (if (re-search-forward paragraph-start nil t)
        (goto-char (match-beginning 0))
      (goto-char (point-max))))

  (setq arg (1- arg)))

We can see immediately that this is a decrementing counter while loop, using the expression (setq (1- arg)) as the decrementer. The body of the loop consists of three expressions:

;; between paragraphs 
(beginning-of-line)       
(while 
    body-of-while)

;; within paragraphs, with fill prefix
(if true-or-false-test    
    then-part             

;; within paragraphs, no fill prefix
  else-part               

When the Emacs Lisp interpreter evaluates the body of the while loop, the first thing it does is evaluate the (beginning-of-line) expression and move point to the beginning of the line. Then there is an inner while loop. This while loop is designed to move the cursor out of the blank space between paragraphs, if it should happen to be there. Finally there is an if expression that actually moves point to the end of the paragraph.

Between paragraphs

First, let us look at the inner while loop. This loop handles the case when point is between paragraphs; it uses three functions that are new to us: prog1, eobp and looking-at.

The while loop we are studying looks like this:

(while (prog1 (and (not (eobp))
                   (looking-at paragraph-separate))
              (forward-line 1)))

This is a while loop with no body! The true-or-false-test of the loop is the expression:

(prog1 (and (not (eobp))
            (looking-at paragraph-separate))
       (forward-line 1)))

The first argument to the prog1 is the and expression. It has within in it a test of whether point is at the end of the buffer and also a test of whether the pattern following point matches the regular expression for separating paragraphs.

If the cursor is not at the end of the buffer and if the characters following the cursor mark the separation between two paragraphs, then the and expression is true. After evaluating the and expression, the Lisp interpreter evaluates the second argument to prog1, which is forward-line. This moves point forward one line. The value returned by the prog1 however, is the value of its first argument, so the while loop continues so long as point is not at the end of the buffer and is between paragraphs. When, finally, point is moved to a paragraph, the and expression tests false. Note however, that the forward-line command is carried out anyhow. This means that when point is moved from between paragraphs to a paragraph, it is left at the beginning of the second line of the paragraph.

Within paragraphs

The next expression in the outer while loop is an if expression. The Lisp interpreter evaluates the then-part of the if when the fill-prefix-regexp variable has a value other than nil, and it evaluates the else-part when the value of if fill-prefix-regexp is nil, that is, when there is no fill prefix.

No fill prefix

It is simplest to look at the code for the case when there is no fill prefix first. This code consists of yet another inner if expression, and reads as follows:

(if (re-search-forward paragraph-start nil t)
    (goto-char (match-beginning 0))
  (goto-char (point-max)))

This expression actually does the work that most people think of as the primary purpose of the forward-paragraph command: it causes a regular expression search to occur that searches forward to the start of the next paragraph and if it is found, moves point there; but if the start of another paragraph if not found, it moves point to the end of the accessible region of the buffer.

The only unfamiliar part of this is the use of match-beginning. This is another function that is new to us. The match-beginning function returns a number specifying the location of the start of the text that was matched by the last regular expression search.

The match-beginning function is used here because of a characteristic of a forward search: a successful forward search, regardless of whether it is a plain search or a regular expression search, will move point to the end of the text that is found. In this case, a successful search will move point to the end of the pattern for paragraph-start, which will be the beginning of the next paragraph rather than the end of the current one.

However, we want to put point at the end of the current paragraph, not at the beginning of the next one. The two positions may be different, because there may be several blank lines between paragraphs.

When given an argument of 0, match-beginning returns the position that is the start of the text that the most recent regular expression search matched. In this case, the most recent regular expression search is the one looking for paragraph-start, so match-beginning returns the beginning position of the pattern, rather than the end of the pattern. The beginning position is the end of the paragraph.

(Incidentally, when passed a positive number as an argument, the match-beginning function will place point at that parenthesized expression in the last regular expression. It is a useful function.)

With a fill prefix

The inner if expression just discussed is the else-part of an enclosing if expression which tests whether there is a fill prefix. If there is a fill prefix, the then-part of this if is evaluated. It looks like this:

(while (and (not (eobp))
            (not (looking-at paragraph-separate))
            (looking-at fill-prefix-regexp))
  (forward-line 1))

What this expression does is move point forward line by line so long as three conditions are true:

  1. Point is not at the end of the buffer.
  2. The text following point does not separate paragraphs.
  3. The pattern following point is the fill prefix regular expression.

The last condition may be puzzling, until you remember that point was moved to the beginning of the line early in the forward-paragraph function. This means that if the text has a fill prefix, the looking-at function will see it.

Summary

In summary, when moving forward, the forward-paragraph function does the following:

For review, here is the code we have just been discussing, formatted for clarity:

(interactive "p")
(or arg (setq arg 1))
(let* (
       (fill-prefix-regexp
        (and fill-prefix (not (equal fill-prefix ""))
             (not paragraph-ignore-fill-prefix)
             (regexp-quote fill-prefix)))

       (paragraph-separate
        (if fill-prefix-regexp
            (concat paragraph-separate
                    "\\|^"
                    fill-prefix-regexp
                    "[ \t]*$")
          paragraph-separate)))

  backward-moving-code (omitted) ...

  (while (> arg 0)                ; forward-moving-code
    (beginning-of-line)

    (while (prog1 (and (not (eobp))
                       (looking-at paragraph-separate))
             (forward-line 1)))

    (if fill-prefix-regexp
        (while (and (not (eobp))  ; then-part
                    (not (looking-at paragraph-separate))
                    (looking-at fill-prefix-regexp))
          (forward-line 1))
                                  ; else-part: the inner-if
      (if (re-search-forward paragraph-start nil t)
          (goto-char (match-beginning 0))
        (goto-char (point-max))))

    (setq arg (1- arg)))))        ; decrementer

The full definition for the forward-paragraph function not only includes this code for going forwards, but also code for going backwards.

If you are reading this inside of GNU Emacs and you want to see the whole function, you can type M-. (find-tag) and the name of the function when prompted for it. If the find-tag function first asks you for the name of a `TAGS' table, give it the name of the `TAGS' file in your `emacs/src' directory, which will have a pathname such as `/usr/local/lib/emacs/19.23/src/TAGS'. (The exact path to the `emacs/src' directory depends on how your copy of Emacs was installed. If you don't know the path, you can sometimes find out by typing C-h i to enter Info and then typing C-x C-f to see the path to the `emacs/info' directory. The path to the `TAGS' file is often the corresponding `emacs/src' path; sometimes, however, Info files are stored elsewhere.)

You can also create your own `TAGS' file for directories that lack one.

Create Your Own `TAGS' File

You can create your own `TAGS' file to help you jump to sources. For example, if you have a large number of files in your `~/emacs' directory, as I do--I have 137 `.el' files in it, of which I load 17-- you will find it easier to jump to specific functions if you create a `TAGS' file for that directory than if you search for the function name with grep or some other tool.

You can create a `TAGS' file by calling the etags program that comes as a part of the Emacs distribution. Usually, etags is compiled and installed when Emacs is built. (etags is not an Emacs Lisp function or a part of Emacs; it is a C program.)

To create a `TAGS' file, first switch to the directory in which you want to create the file. In Emacs you can do this with the M-x cd command, or by visiting a file in the directory, or by listing the directory with C-x d (dired). Then type

M-! etags *.el

to create a `TAGS' file. The etags program takes all the usual shell `wildcards'. For example, if you have two directories for which you want a single `TAGS file', type the command like this, where `../elisp/' is the second directory:

M-! etags  *.el ../elisp/*.el

Type

M-! etags --help

to see a list of the options accepted by etags.

The etags program handles Emacs Lisp, Common Lisp, Scheme, C, Fortran, Pascal, LaTeX, and most assemblers. The program has no switches for specifying the language; it recognizes the language in an input file according to its file name and contents.

Also, `etags' is very helpful when you are writing code yourself and want to refer back to functions you have already written. Just run etags again at intervals as you write new functions, so they become part of the `TAGS' file.

Review

Here is a brief summary of some recently introduced functions.

while
Repeatedly evaluate the body of the expression so long as the first element of the body tests true. Then return nil. (The expression is evaluated only for its side effects.) For example:
(let ((foo 2))
  (while (> foo 0)
    (insert (format "foo is %d.\n" foo))
    (setq foo (1- foo))))

     =>       foo is 2.
             foo is 1.
             nil
(The insert function inserts its arguments at point; the format function returns a string formatted from its arguments the way message formats its arguments; \n produces a new line.)
re-search-forward
Search for a pattern, and if the pattern is found, move point to rest just after it. Takes four arguments, like search-forward:
  1. A regular expression that specifies the pattern to search for.
  2. Optionally, the limit of the search.
  3. Optionally, what to do if the search fails, return nil or an error message.
  4. Optionally, how many times to repeat the search; if negative, the search goes backwards.
let*
Bind some variables locally to particular values, and then evaluate the remaining arguments, returning the value of the last one. While binding the local variables, use the local values of variables bound earlier, if any. For example:
(let* ((foo 7)
      (bar (* 3 foo)))
  (message "`bar' is %d." bar))
     => `bar' is 21.
match-beginning
Return the position of the start of the text found by the last regular expression search.
looking-at
Return t for true if the text after point matches the argument, which should be a regular expression.
eobp
Return t for true if point is at the end of the accessible part of a buffer. The end of the accessible part is the end of the buffer if the buffer is not narrowed; it is the end of the narrowed part if the buffer is narrowed.
prog1
Evaluate each argument in sequence and then return the value of the first. For example:
(prog1 1 2 3 4)
     => 1

Exercises with re-search-forward


Go to the first, previous, next, last section, table of contents.