How to match any Unicode letter with Regex in Elixir

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Written by Percy Grunwald

— Last Updated February 25, 2019

If you need to match letters in a multilingual application /[a-zA-Z]/ simply won’t cut it for you:

iex> String.match?("å", ~r/^[a-zA-Z]$/)

Assuming that your regular expression library supports Unicode matching, you can match a Unicode grapheme in the “letter” category with \p{L}. This will match letters of all languages, cases and types covered by Unicode: a, å, B, ß, β, ӝ, , , etc.

This regular expression is very useful if you need to enforce presence of letters in any language or absence of special characters in a string that could potentially be in any of the world’s written languages.

Unicode Regex in Elixir

Luckily for us Alchemists, Elixir’s Regex module supports Unicode matching and we simply need to supply the u option to ~r (sigil_r) to release its awesome power.

Basic Latin characters from English work, as you might expect:

iex> String.match?("a", ~r/^\p{L}$/u)
iex> String.match?("A", ~r/^\p{L}$/u)

Latin character variants with umlauts and acute accents are no problem either:

iex> String.match?("ö", ~r/^\p{L}$/u)
iex> String.match?("Á", ~r/^\p{L}$/u)

Let’s make sure it’s not just returning a match for any character, so how about some characters that look like letters but aren’t:

iex> String.match?("$", ~r/^\p{L}$/u)
iex> String.match?("@", ~r/^\p{L}$/u)

Be careful to remember the u option, or the Regex will not return the expected results:

iex> String.match?("å", ~r/^\p{L}$/)

More cool stuff you can match with Unicode

The power to do Unicode matching gives you some pretty enormous power, since you can match on any of the Unicode categories.

For instance, you could match only lowercase letters with \p{Ll}:

iex> String.match?("a", ~r/^\p{Ll}$/u)

iex> String.match?("A", ~r/^\p{Ll}$/u)

iex> String.match?("å", ~r/^\p{Ll}$/u)

iex> String.match?("Å", ~r/^\p{Ll}$/u)

Or match only currency symbols with \p{Sc}:

iex> String.match?("$", ~r/^\p{Sc}$/u)

iex> String.match?("€", ~r/^\p{Sc}$/u)

iex> String.match?("#", ~r/^\p{Sc}$/u)

You could use this to determine whether an input string is a valid currency string without needing to manually list all possible currency symbols:

iex> currency_string_regex = ~r/\p{Sc}\d+\.\d{2}/u

iex> ["$1.00", "£1.00", "¥1.00", "€1.00", "&1.00"] \
...> |> Enum.filter(&String.match?(&1, currency_string_regex))
["$1.00", "£1.00", "¥1.00", "€1.00"]

Got any examples of where Unicode matching is used in your applications? Please hit me up in the comments! 😃

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