NDN Regular Expression

NDN regular expression is a kind of regular expression that can match NDN names. Matching is performed at two levels: the name level and the name component level.

A name component matcher, enclosed in < and >, specifies the pattern of a name component. The component pattern is expressed using the Modified ECMAScript Regular Expression Syntax. For example, <ab*c> matches the 1st, 3rd, and 4th components of /ac/dc/abc/abbc, but does not match the 2nd component. A special case is that <> denotes a wildcard matcher that can match ANY name component.

A component matcher can match only one name component. To match a name, you need to compose an NDN regular expression with zero or more name component matchers. For example, <ndn><edu><ucla> matches the name /ndn/edu/ucla. To describe a more complicated name pattern, we borrow some syntaxes from the standard regular expressions.

NDN Regex Syntax


The ^ character matches the start of a name. For example, ^<ndn> matches any name starting with the component ndn, but does not match a name like /local/broadcast.

The $ character matches the end of a name. For example, ^<ndn><edu>$ matches only one name: /ndn/edu.


A component matcher can be followed by a repeat quantifier to indicate how many times the preceding component may appear.

The * quantifier denotes “zero or more times”. For example, ^<A><B>*<C>$ matches /A/C, /A/B/C, /A/B/B/C, and so on.

The + quantifier denotes “one or more times”. For example, ^<A><B>+<C>$ matches /A/B/C, /A/B/B/C, and so on, but does not match /A/C.

The ? quantifier denotes “zero or one time”. For example, ^<A><B>?<C> matches /A/C and /A/B/C, but does not match /A/B/B/C.

A bounded quantifier specifies either a minimum or a maximum number of permitted matches, or both. {n} means “exactly n times”; {n,} means “at least n times”; {,n} means “at most n times”; {m,n} (with m n) means “between m and n times (inclusive)”. For example, ^<A><B>{2,4}<C>$ matches /A/B/B/C and /A/B/B/B/B/C.

Note that the quantifiers are greedy, meaning that they will consume as many matching components as possible. For example, for the name /A/B/C/C/C, ^<A><B><C>+ will match the entire name instead of only /A/B/C. NDN regular expressions do not currently support non-greedy quantifiers and possessive quantifiers.


A name component set, denoted by a bracket expression starting with [ and ending with ], defines a set of name components. It matches any single name component that is a member of that set.

Unlike standard regular expressions, NDN regular expressions support only single components sets, that is, you have to list all the set members one by one between the brackets. For example, ^[<ndn><localhost>] matches any names starting with either ndn or localhost component.

When a name component set starts with a '^', the set becomes a negation set. It matches the complement of the contained name components. For example, ^[^<ndn>] matches any non-empty name that does not start with /ndn.

Some other types of sets, such as range sets, will be supported later.

Note that component sets may be repeated in the same way as component matchers.

Sub-pattern and Back Reference

A section beginning ( and ending ) acts as a marked sub-pattern. Whatever matched the sub-pattern is split out in a separate field by the matching algorithm. For example ^<A>(<>{2})<B>(<>) matches the name /A/C/D/B/E, and the first sub-pattern captures C/D.

Marked sub-patterns can be referred to by a back-reference of the form \N, which references one or more capturing groups. In the example above, a back reference \1\2 extracts /C/D/E out of the name.

Marked sub-patterns can also be repeated. The regex engine does not permanently substitute back-references in a regular expression, but will use the last match saved into the back-reference. If a new match is found by capturing parentheses, the previous match is overwritten. For example, both ^([<A><B><C>]+)$ and ^([<A><B><C>])+$ match /C/A/B. However, the former regex stores C/A/B as the first back-reference, while the latter one stores B. That is because the + quantifier in the latter NDN regular expression causes the marked sub-pattern to be matched three times, and B is the last saved match.