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Your Best (Regex) Buddy

Name: RegexBuddy
Version Reviewed: 3.4.1
Operating System: Windows XP, Vista, 7
Price: 39.95 single user license.
Site: http://www.regexbuddy.com/
Good: Decodes regular expressions.
Contextual assist allows building expressions without knowing any syntax.
Supplies access to help forums directly through a tab.

Allows debugging of expressions.
Provides a library of pre-made expressions for all types of data.
Bad: No free trial.

No More Loosing Your Mind

Regular expressions.  The term should fill you with both a magical wonder of one of the most powerful languages in all of code-dom, and an overpowering frost-fingered fear of one of the most complex languages on Earth.  Next to a Hopi Code Talker, a Wizened Old Unix Guru that can spout regex like it was his first languages is one of the most rare (and probably well-paid) individuals in the world.  For us developers that need to use them once in a while, though, winding our way through the syntax is time-consuming and confusing and sometimes doesn’t end well.

I’ve seen several tools over the years to help with the regex syntax, but about a year ago, a friend of mine turned me on to RegexBuddy.  Three seconds later, I owned a license.   It’s that good.   Take a look at this screen here:

What you are looking at is the holy grail of regular expression development.  There are plenty of IDE’s out there that can parse and debug everything from Java to C++ to Assembly, but regular expressions can get so complex that writing a parser for the language is akin to trying to decipher the United States Tax Code.  You know it can be done, but probably not in your lifetime.  Well, JGSoft did.  That top panel there?  That’s where you write the expression.  The “create” tab panel below is where, magically, the expression is decoded and explained to you.  It’s like someone cast a wish spell in Dungeons and Dragons and the dungeon master forgot to twist it into a horrible death for you. (Please for give the RPG references – I’m writing this article while on vacation at TotalCon between games).
I’ll tell you now to just buy it if you have to do any regular expressions at any point in your life.  If you only need to write one expression your entire life, this app will save you two hours.  If you need more convincing, then how about we go through the features:

Feature 1: Explains Expressions

Like I said above, the “create” tab panel spells out exactly what the expression is trying to do.  Even if the result is “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that.”, then you’ve save a bunch of time trying to figure out that what what you’ve written actually launches the US’s nuclear stockpile rather than validate an email address.

Feature 2: Contextual Help

What – you thought you’d have to write your entire expression freehand?!?  Look at this:

What you are looking at is a contextual menu that you can use to walk through putting together an expression even if you have no knowledge of regex at all.  That right there is worth the price of admission, but then there’s…

Feature 3: Test and Debug

Here’s another screen shot:

In the top panel is a quick and dirty regular expression to check for the syntax of a normal USA phone number.  Below are some examples of phone numbers.  Notice that the second number isn’t highlighted?  That’s because it has an “A” character in it and therefor doesn’t meet the criteria of the regular expression, which is expressly looking for all numbers.  That screen updates in real time, so you can change your expression while watching to see if it matches the examples you’ve set out for it.  That’s pretty awesome right there.
Debugging allows your to run through the expression and see exactly what the regular expression parser is thinking as it contemplates each character of the input.  This allows you to see just where you told the compiler to crack the NSA ice and steal their happy hour menu.  (No sir – I was only trying to validate a three digit age field, honest!)

Feature 4: The Library

If you are too lazy, or too confused to write an expression yourself, RegexBuddy has a library of pre-made expressions for you.  Again, this is more than worth the price of the license.

Feature 5: The Forum

I haven’t seen this anywhere else, but inside the application is a panel that acts like a client for the RegexBuddy forums.  You never have to switch to a browser and navigate to the forums yourself – access to them is right there.  The login to the forums is your registration and license email address, and really all you have to do to get in and start using them is to set your alias once on the first access.  After that, you see this:

There’s a lot of “how-tos” in there, and if you ever get stuck, help is just a tab panel away.

And more…

There’s more that RegexBuddy can do, but it has to be mentioned that you can also switch between different regular expression engines, which means you will know if your effort will work in both a PERL compliant parser and .NET’s quirky implementation.  Beyond that, you will have to explore the app yourself.

Unfortunately, there is no free evaluation version or time-limited download.  That’s one of the reasons I’m writing about it, as otherwise you might miss out on one of the best development tools I’ve ever seen.   If you have any other questions, there are more screen shots, self-running demonstrations, and if you Google the name, I’m sure I’m not the only dev extolling the virtues of the application.  Final verdict – buy it and add it to your toolbox.  You’ll thank me later.

  1. newbie girl
    March 8th, 2010 at 22:17 | #1

    Dear favorite blogger,

    I need to know why my fiery front page of my website is splitting the screen into chunks. I would just like a a bit of help because I am a DIYer, and I’d rather learn than have someone do it for me.

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