Knowing regexp is always a good tool. They can be useful for many tasks: from searching strings to manipulating texts. A fun way to learn regexp is by using this site; it basically is a crossword game where definitions are in facts regular expressions.

Once you have learn them, you can visualize and debug them with:


Another nice thing you can do with regexp is to generate code from text you already have. For example, you can take the description of a SQL table and write a migration that creates that table only by using regexp.

For this task sublime text is a mighty ally since it can highlight the matched pattern. Let’s see how to do this.

  • First copy the table definition from your preferred SQL editor. Here I used adminer (which I way recommend!).

Our starting table, straight copied from adminer

  • Then open the search/replace feature and start typing the regexp. Take advantage of sublime’s capacity to highlight matches, so you will not miss anything.

Highlighting in action

The complete regexp

  • Finally use the partial matches to build your migration code.

The complete regexp

In my example the starting code was:

id  int(11) Auto Increment   
user_id int(11) NULL     
client_id   varchar(255) NULL    
client_secret   varchar(255) NULL    
status  int(11) NULL     
created_at  timestamp [CURRENT_TIMESTAMP]    
last_use    timestamp [0000-00-00 00:00:00]

on which I used this regexp:

^([a-zA-Z_]*)\t([^\t]*)(\t )*$
     ^        ^    ^     
     |        |    |     
 field name   | field type
        adminer's separator

to achieve the final code:

$this->createTable('tbl_token', array(
    'id' => 'int(11) Auto Increment',
    'user_id' => 'int(11) NULL',
    'client_id' => 'varchar(255) NULL',
    'client_secret' => 'varchar(255) NULL',
    'status' => 'int(11) NULL',
    'created_at' => 'timestamp [CURRENT_TIMESTAMP]',
    'last_use' => 'timestamp [0000-00-00 00:00:00]',

Of course I had to manually add the first and the last line, but it’s not a big deal if you have to handle large tables and your little regexp will save you tens of manual line definition.

Note that the last (\t )* is not really necessary, but it allows us to be sure that we matched the whole line and that we didn’t miss anything.