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The Linux Command Line by William E. Shotts Jr.

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Quantifiers

Extended regular expressions support several ways to specify the number of times an element is matched.

?—Match an Element Zero Times or One Time

This quantifier means, in effect, “Make the preceding element optional.” Let’s say we wanted to check a phone number for validity and we considered a phone number to be valid if it matched either of these two forms, (nnn) nnn-nnnn or nnn nnn-nnnn, where n is a numeral. We could construct a regular expression like this:

^\(?[0-9][0-9][0-9]\)?  [0-9][0-9][0-9]-[0-9][0-9][0-9][0-9]$

In this expression, we follow the parentheses characters with question marks to indicate that they are to be matched zero or one time. Again, since the parentheses are normally metacharacters (in ERE), we precede them ...

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