Regular Expressions:

Regex flags/options

In the previous article, we had a quick look at how a regular expression can be used together with JavaScript to perform a simple string search. We used a very simple regular expression to demonstrate this, but regular expressions can be extremely complex.

As a result of this complexity, there are also a few options that can be changed when using regular expressions, which will affect how a specific regex is handled by the JavaScript interpreter. And while we usually refer to options as "settings" or "options", they are called flags when we deal with regular expressions.

Flags are basically just a set of options you can specify for your regular expression, which will control how it responds to various situations. I will quickly guide you through all of them, but first, let's have a look at how they are specified. Consider this example:

let regex = new RegExp("john");
let testString = "Hello, my name is John Doe!";
let hasMatch = regex.test(testString);
alert("Has match: " + hasMatch);

I specify a very simple regular expression (in fact, it's so simple that we could do it without the regex part, but don't worry about that for now!) which will look for the word "john". I then test this against a string which clearly includes this popular name, but the result might surprise you, because the message will be:

Has match: false

As we talked about previously, JavaScript is case-sensitive, and so are regular expressions, at least by default. So in this case, the match fails because we look for "john" but we only have a "John" - they are not the same words in a case-sensitive world. However, we can very easily change this behavior, because as the optional second parameter when creating the RegExp object, we can specify one or several options using flags.

Ignore case flag: i

With just a very small modification to the first line of the above example, we can make the regular expression completely ignore case, hence the name "ignore case", or simply just "i" when specified as a flag. Here's how it looks:

let regex = new RegExp("john", "i");
let testString = "Hello, my name is John Doe!";
let hasMatch = regex.test(testString);
alert("Has match: " + hasMatch);

Now the result will be much more positive:

Has match: true

List of flags

Here's a complete list of the flags available. Some of them are pretty self-explanatory, while others are a bit more complicated, especially if they refer directly to the behavior of various regular expression operators. For now, they are mostly for reference - come back to them when you have a better understanding of regular expressions, because you will definitely need them at some point.

  • g - Performs a global match - all matches will be found, instead of just the first.
  • i - Ignore case (discussed above)
  • m - Performs multiline matches. The behavior of the ^ and $ regex operators will change to reflect this.
  • s - Allows the regex . (period) operator to match even newline characters.
  • u - Enables Unicode support.
  • y - Matches will be sticky, looking only at exact position in the text.

Using multiple flags

You can very easily specify multiple flags, if needed. For instance, you may need to perform a case-insensitive, multiline, global search, and that's not a problem - simply combine all three flags as the parameter, like this:

let regex = new RegExp("john", "gim");

Notice I have "gim" as the flags paramter (global, ignore case, multiline). The order of the flags doesn't matter.

Flags with literal regex notation

Flags can be specified if you use the literal notation for regular expressions to - they simply go after the last forward slash, like this:

let regex = /john/gim;

This regex will, just like the one above, match the word "john", using the global, ignore case, multiline flags.


Flags are options you can specify for the methods in JavaScript which uses your regular expressions. You are free to specify one or several options. We will be using some of the flags in the following articles, where we dig deeper into how regular expressions can be used in JavaScript.

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