JavaScript: RegExp object and literal regular expressions

The RegExp object is the base object used in the JavaScript's implementation of regular expressions, more specifically of the Perl-compatible regular expressions (with some differences). This object differs from the literal version of regular expressions in two points: it accepts user input and its special modifiers are double-escaped. The first point is very useful, because we can dynamically build a regular expression using the user input retrieved for example from a form field. An example of this feature is the following:

var userInput = document.getElementById('query').value;
var pattern = new RegExp(userInput, 'g');

var content = element.innerHTML;

if(pattern.test(content)) {

The general syntax of this object constructor is:

RegExp(pattern, flags)

All the flags used in the literal version also apply here.

The above example uses the test() function to check whether an element's HTML content contains a given pattern. Another example is mostly used by many JavaScript libraries to test whether an element contains a given attribute, for example a CSS class:

HTMLElement.prototype.hasClass = function(name) {

  var cssClass = this.className;
  var pattern = new RegExp('^\\b' + name + '\\b$');
  if(pattern.test(cssClass)) {
    return true;
  } else {
    return false;


Note how the special word boundary modifier (\b) has been written in the code above:


with a double backslash. Note also how the function parameter has been inserted into the RegExp constructor using the + operator:

'^\\b' + name + '\\b$'

These are the main differences between the RegExp constructor and the literal version of JavaScript regular expressions.

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