The circumflex and dollar metacharacters are zero-width assertions. That is, they test for a particular condition being true without consuming any characters from the subject string.
Outside a character class, in the default matching mode, the circumflex character is an assertion that is true only if the current matching point is at the start of the subject string. If the startoffset argument of pcre_exec() is non-zero, circumflex can never match if the PCRE_MULTILINE option is unset. Inside a character class, circumflex has an entirely different meaning (see below).
Circumflex need not be the first character of the pattern if a number of alternatives are involved, but it should be the first thing in each alternative in which it appears if the pattern is ever to match that branch. If all possible alternatives start with a circumflex, that is, if the pattern is constrained to match only at the start of the subject, it is said to be an "anchored" pattern. (There are also other constructs that can cause a pattern to be anchored.)
The dollar character is an assertion that is true only if the current matching point is at the end of the subject string, or immediately before a newline at the end of the string (by default). Note, however, that it does not actually match the newline. Dollar need not be the last character of the pattern if a number of alternatives are involved, but it should be the last item in any branch in which it appears. Dollar has no special meaning in a character class.
The meaning of dollar can be changed so that it matches only at the very end of the string, by setting the PCRE_DOLLAR_ENDONLY option at compile time. This does not affect the \Z assertion.
The meanings of the circumflex and dollar characters are changed if the PCRE_MULTILINE option is set. When this is the case, a circumflex matches immediately after internal newlines as well as at the start of the subject string. It does not match after a newline that ends the string. A dollar matches before any newlines in the string, as well as at the very end, when PCRE_MULTILINE is set. When newline is specified as the two-character sequence CRLF, isolated CR and LF characters do not indicate newlines.
For example, the pattern /^abc$/ matches the subject string "def\nabc" (where \n represents a newline) in multiline mode, but not otherwise. Consequently, patterns that are anchored in single line mode because all branches start with ^ are not anchored in multiline mode, and a match for circumflex is possible when the startoffset argument of pcre_exec() is non-zero. The PCRE_DOLLAR_ENDONLY option is ignored if PCRE_MULTILINE is set.
Note that the sequences \A, \Z, and \z can be used to match the start and end of the subject in both modes, and if all branches of a pattern start with \A it is always anchored, whether or not PCRE_MULTILINE is set.
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Last updated: 12 November 2013
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