Regex Guru

Monday, 2 February 2009

From Regex Newbie to Regex Guru

Filed under: About Regex Guru — Jan Goyvaerts @ 11:28

One of my last tasks for the Regular Expressions Cookbook was to write the preface, including my author bio. I told the story of how I went from my first real encounter with regular expressions in 2000, to the expert I am almost a decade later.

My first attempt at writing the bio came out way too long compared with the other sections in the preface. The final bio is only half as long. Rather than let the long bio go to waste, I’m publishing it here, with added links.

In 1996, fresh out of high school, Jan Goyvaerts started a hobby project publishing his own software on his own website. It was less than a year before that Internet access had become available at local call rates to his Belgian hometown. In 1999, he decided that a university degree was only a ticket to joining the rat race, and focused on his ever more successful software development venture. He set up the business that would eventually become Just Great Software in 2000.

At that time, Jan had no idea he would ever become an expert on regular expressions. One of his early successes was a postcardware text editor called EditPad. Since postcards don’t pay the bills, he developed a commercial text editor called EditPad Pro. EditPad Pro, released mid-2000, needed regular expression support to compete. Only the best regex engine would do for “Just Great Software”. Jan decided to go with PCRE.

The regular expression features in EditPad Pro proved quite popular, particularly because PCRE offered a regex syntax compatible with Perl, which was all the rage. Most other text editors, even the big IDEs from Microsoft and Borland, had much simpler regular expression support. (In 2009, Visual Studio and Delphi still use those same old regex flavors. This frustrates Jan, because old and limited regex flavors don’t make good book material, and both IDEs are built on .NET, which provides a very rich regex flavor fully covered in this book.)

Sensing a need for more powerful tools for working with regular expressions on text files, Jan developed PowerGREP. PowerGREP took a slow start in late 2002. Today, it is clearly the most powerful tool on the Microsoft Windows platform for doing anything with regular expressions. One of the differentiating features early on was the inclusion of a detailed regular expression tutorial in the help file. Most other grep tools had only help topic listing all the syntax features that you could print on a single sheet of paper. PowerGREP had a separate detailed help topic for every feature in PCRE.

Jan didn’t have a big budget to advertise his software. With many internet marketers preaching that content is king on the search engines, Jan set up with the text from tutorial he had already written for PowerGREP. As he watched the site’s traffic and Google rank rise, ultimately beating the Wikipedia entry at the top, Jan started getting the idea that maybe this could become his area of expertise. Writing his own regular expression engine was still a scary thought.

Regular expressions hit the mainstream development community when .NET was released including a set of powerful regex classes. Not much later the Java platform added the same with the JDK 1.4 release. Seeing lots of Windows developers using regular expressions, and a customer base of EditPad Pro and PowerGREP users needing to test their regular expressions, Jan felt there was a need for a comprehensive tool to create, test, and edit regular expressions. RegexBuddy was released in 2004.

The PCRE engine which had been such a blessing in 2000 was now seriously limiting both PowerGREP and RegexBuddy. PowerGREP needed to search files larger than 2 GB, and RegexBuddy needed to be compatible with all major regex flavors, not just PCRE. Jan bit the bullet and sweat several months implementing a brand new regular expression engine. The result was a fusion regex flavor that supports almost all the features found in all the regex flavors discussed in this book, and that was fast and flexible enough to meet the needs of PowerGREP’s customers. The new regex engine made the 2005 releases of PowerGREP and RegexBuddy very successful.

By this time, Jan had become very aware of the differences between all the regular expression flavors. While RegexBuddy could now emulate nearly all the abilities of the popular regular expression flavors, it could not emulate their deficiencies. After much research and testing, Jan released RegexBuddy 3 in 2007 which can emulate the features, and lack thereof, of 15 different regular expression flavors.

Having spent so much time researching regular expressions, Jan felt he was ready to write the book on regular expressions. But he didn’t actually set out to do it. It was Steven Levithan, a very enthusiastic RegexBuddy user, who asked him early 2008 if he wanted to co-write a book on regular expressions. Jan hesitated at first, books being much less profitable than software. After some reflection, he decided he would realize his childhood dream of seeing his name in print, before the printed book becomes obsolete.

The result will be published in May 2009. Enjoy.

Meanwhile, Jan has left cloudy Belgium for tropical Thailand. He now lives with his wife in Phuket, where he enjoys pretending to be a tourist, even though in reality he still spends far too much time flipping the switches on his DataHand.


  1. […] Blog entry: […]

    Pingback by [译]正则表达式:从菜鸟到大师 | 我爱正则表达式 — Tuesday, 3 February 2009 @ 9:06

  2. Do you really use a datahand?

    Comment by Zee — Thursday, 29 October 2009 @ 22:27

  3. Yes, I really use a DataHand. Typing this comment with it now.

    Comment by Jan Goyvaerts — Friday, 30 October 2009 @ 11:12

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.