In this short tutorial, we are going to shed light on how to match any character using regex in Java.

First, we will explain how to use a regular expression to match any single character. Then, we are going to showcase how to find multiple matches.

Finally, we will illustrate how to exclude and escape specific characters.

Regex to Match Any Character

Typically, we can use the dot/period pattern “.” to match a single character once.

In Java, the matched character can be any char except line terminators. However, we can address this limitation using the Pattern.DOTALL flag.

Regex to match any character

The default behavior of the dot changes depending on whether we combine it with other patterns.

For example, we used the dot pattern with the end pattern to remove the last character in a string.

Pattern Example Description
. single char except a line terminator
.? matches zero or once any character except a line terminator
.+ matches any char that is not a line terminator once or more times
.* any character (zero or more times) except a line terminator
\. matches the dot character itself
A.B a string starting with A, followed by any char, and ending with B

Basically, Java provides the Pattern class to denote a compiled regular expression.

So, let’s see how we can use it to compile a regex that matches any single character:

    
        @Test
        public void matchAnyCharacterUsingRegex() {
            assertTrue(Pattern.matches(".", "A"));
            // any char except new line
            assertFalse(Pattern.matches(".", "\n"));
            // using Pattern.DOTALL to match new line
            assertTrue(Pattern.compile(".", Pattern.DOTALL)
                .matcher("\n")
                .matches());

            assertTrue(Pattern.matches(".?", "C"));
            assertFalse(Pattern.matches(".?", "CD"));

            assertTrue(Pattern.matches(".+", "ABC"));

            assertTrue(Pattern.matches(".*", "Z"));

            assertTrue(Pattern.matches("A.Z", "AYZ"));
            assertFalse(Pattern.matches("A.F", "AGH"));
        }
    

Match Multiple Characters

The wild card character “*“, called also asterisk, provides the easiest way to match any number of characters that are not line terminators.

For instance, we can use it with the dot ”.”, or the class “[]” patterns:

Pattern Example Description
B.*Y finds a string that starts with B, followed by any number of chars, and ends with Y
[0-9]* multiple digits only
[a-z]* matches zero or multiple lowercase alphabets
[A-Z]* only zero or multiple uppercase alphabets
[a-zA-Z]* matches any number of alphabets

Now, let’s create a test case to exemplify how to use the asterisk symbol to find any number of chars:

    
        @Test
        public void matchMultipleCharacterUsingRegex() {
            assertTrue(Pattern.matches("[0-9]*", "12345"));
            assertFalse(Pattern.matches("[0-9]*", "123ABC"));

            assertTrue(Pattern.matches("[a-z]*", "abcd"));
            assertTrue(Pattern.matches("[A-Z]*", "XYZ"));

            assertTrue(Pattern.matches("[a-zA-Z]*", "yzAB"));
        }
    

Match Range of Characters

Furthermore, we can use the square brackets with a hyphen to match a range of characters.

The hyphen acts as a range delimiter as it separates the starting char and the ending char.

For instance, we can use a regex with the [0-9] pattern to match only numbers.

Pattern Example Description
[0-4][6-8] matches a number between 0 and 4, followed by a number ranging from 6 to 8
[a-z][1-6] finds a lowercase character followed a number between 1 and 6
[c-d][1-5][A-N] matches a char ranging between c and d, a number between 1 and 5, and an uppercase alphabet ranging from A to N

Now, let’s demonstrate how to find a set of chars ranging between two given characters:

    
        @Test
        public void matchRangeOfCharacterUsingRegex() {
            assertTrue(Pattern.matches("[0-4][6-8]", "17"));
            assertFalse(Pattern.matches("[2-7][8-9]", "19"));

            assertTrue(Pattern.matches("[a-z]zhwani[1-6]", "azhwani5"));

            assertTrue(Pattern.matches("[a-z][A-Z]", "iN"));
        }
    

Excluding Specific Characters

We can put the excluded characters inside the square bracket prefixed by a caret [^..]. However, specifying the caret outside the brackets will mean the start of a string.

For example, [^abc] will match all chars except a, b, and c.

Please note that the caret must be inside the square brackets. Otherwise, the pattern will have another meaning.

Pattern Example Description
[^A] the character A will be excluded from the matching character
[^0-9] matches a character that is not a digit
[^A-Z] Excludes uppercase alphabets

Finally, we are going to see how to exclude characters using a regular expression in Java:

    
        @Test
        public void ExcludeCharactersUsingRegex() {
            assertTrue(Pattern.matches("[^a-z]", "A"));
            assertFalse(Pattern.matches("[^0-1]", "1"));
            assertTrue(Pattern.matches("[^A-Z]", "z"));
        }
    

Escaping Special Characters

Sometimes, we want to match a character that has a special meaning in regular expressions such as dot, backslash, or caret.

To achieve this, we need to prefix the matched char with a backslash. For instance, to match a dot, we need to use the pattern “\.”.

Regex Special Characters List

Conclusion

To sum it up, in this tutorial we explained how to match any character using regex in Java.

Along the way, we have seen how to use regular expressions to match multiple chars.

Lastly, we showcased how to exclude and escape specific characters.