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quotemeta EXPR

Returns the value of EXPR with all the ASCII non-"word" characters backslashed. (That is, all ASCII characters not matching /[A-Za-z_0-9]/ will be preceded by a backslash in the returned string, regardless of any locale settings.) This is the internal function implementing the \Q escape in double-quoted strings. (See below for the behavior on non-ASCII code points.)

If EXPR is omitted, uses $_.

quotemeta (and \Q ... \E) are useful when interpolating strings into regular expressions, because by default an interpolated variable will be considered a mini-regular expression. For example:

my $sentence = 'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog';
my $substring = 'quick.*?fox';
$sentence =~ s{$substring}{big bad wolf};

Will cause $sentence to become 'The big bad wolf jumped over...'.

On the other hand:

my $sentence = 'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog';
my $substring = 'quick.*?fox';
$sentence =~ s{\Q$substring\E}{big bad wolf};


my $sentence = 'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog';
my $substring = 'quick.*?fox';
my $quoted_substring = quotemeta($substring);
$sentence =~ s{$quoted_substring}{big bad wolf};

Will both leave the sentence as is. Normally, when accepting literal string input from the user, quotemeta or \Q must be used.

In Perl v5.14, all non-ASCII characters are quoted in non-UTF-8-encoded strings, but not quoted in UTF-8 strings.

Starting in Perl v5.16, Perl adopted a Unicode-defined strategy for quoting non-ASCII characters; the quoting of ASCII characters is unchanged.

Also unchanged is the quoting of non-UTF-8 strings when outside the scope of a use feature 'unicode_strings', which is to quote all characters in the upper Latin1 range. This provides complete backwards compatibility for old programs which do not use Unicode. (Note that unicode_strings is automatically enabled within the scope of a use v5.12 or greater.)

Within the scope of use locale, all non-ASCII Latin1 code points are quoted whether the string is encoded as UTF-8 or not. As mentioned above, locale does not affect the quoting of ASCII-range characters. This protects against those locales where characters such as "|" are considered to be word characters.

Otherwise, Perl quotes non-ASCII characters using an adaptation from Unicode (see The only code points that are quoted are those that have any of the Unicode properties: Pattern_Syntax, Pattern_White_Space, White_Space, Default_Ignorable_Code_Point, or General_Category=Control.

Of these properties, the two important ones are Pattern_Syntax and Pattern_White_Space. They have been set up by Unicode for exactly this purpose of deciding which characters in a regular expression pattern should be quoted. No character that can be in an identifier has these properties.

Perl promises, that if we ever add regular expression pattern metacharacters to the dozen already defined (\ | ( ) [ { ^ $ * + ? .), that we will only use ones that have the Pattern_Syntax property. Perl also promises, that if we ever add characters that are considered to be white space in regular expressions (currently mostly affected by /x), they will all have the Pattern_White_Space property.

Unicode promises that the set of code points that have these two properties will never change, so something that is not quoted in v5.16 will never need to be quoted in any future Perl release. (Not all the code points that match Pattern_Syntax have actually had characters assigned to them; so there is room to grow, but they are quoted whether assigned or not. Perl, of course, would never use an unassigned code point as an actual metacharacter.)

Quoting characters that have the other 3 properties is done to enhance the readability of the regular expression and not because they actually need to be quoted for regular expression purposes (characters with the White_Space property are likely to be indistinguishable on the page or screen from those with the Pattern_White_Space property; and the other two properties contain non-printing characters).