# Lecture 2: Regular Languages [Fa 14]

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1 Caveat lector: This is the first edition of this lecture note. Please send bug reports and suggestions to But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. Genesis 11:6 7 (New International Version) Imagine a piano keyboard, eh, 88 keys, only 88 and yet, and yet, hundreds of new melodies, new tunes, new harmonies are being composed upon hundreds of different keyboards every day in Dorset alone. Our language, tiger, our language: hundreds of thousands of available words, frillions of legitimate new ideas, so that I can say the following sentence and be utterly sure that nobody has ever said it before in the history of human communication: Hold the newsreader s nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers. Perfectly ordinary words, but never before put in that precise order. A unique child delivered of a unique mother. Stephen Fry, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Series 1, Episode 3 (1989) 2 Regular Languages 2.1 Definitions A formal language (or just a language) is a set of strings over some finite alphabet Σ, or equivalently, an arbitrary subset of Σ. For example, each of the following sets is a language: The empty set. 1 The set {ɛ}. The set {0, 1}. The set {THE, OXFORD, ENGLISH, DICTIONARY}. The set of all subsequences of THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY. The set of all words in The Oxford English Dictionary. The set of all strings in {0, 1} with an odd number of 1s. The set of all strings in {0, 1} that represent a prime number in base 13. The set of all sequences of turns that solve the Rubik s cube (starting in some fixed configuration) The set of all python programs that print Hello World! As a notational convention, I will always use italic upper-case letters (usually L, but also A, B, C, and so on) to represent languages. Formal languages are not languages in the same sense that English, Klingon, and Python are languages. Strings in a formal language do not necessarily carry any meaning, nor are they necessarily assembled into larger units ( sentences or paragraphs or packages ) according to some grammar. It is very important to distinguish between three empty objects. Many beginning students have trouble keeping these straight. 1 The empty set symbol derives from the Norwegian letter Ø, pronounced like a sound of disgust or a German ö, and not from the Greek letter φ. Calling the empty set fie or fee makes the baby Jesus cry. Copyright 2014 Jeff Erickson. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License ( Free distribution is strongly encouraged; commercial distribution is expressly forbidden. See for the most recent revision. 1

2 is the empty language, which is a set containing zero strings. is not a string. {ɛ} is a language containing exactly one string, which has length zero. {ɛ} is not empty, and it is not a string. ɛ is the empty string, which is a sequence of length zero. ɛ is not a language. 2.2 Building Languages Languages can be combined and manipulated just like any other sets. Thus, if A and B are languages over Σ, then their union A B, intersection A B, difference A \ B, and symmetric difference A B are also languages over Σ, as is the complement A := Σ \ A. However, there are two more useful operators that are specific to sets of strings. The concatenation of two languages A and B, again denoted A B or just AB, is the set of all strings obtained by concatenating an arbitrary string in A with an arbitrary string in B: A B := {x y x A and y B}. For example, if A = {HOCUS, ABRACA} and B = {POCUS, DABRA}, then A B = {HOCUSPOCUS, ABRACAPOCUS, HOCUSDABRA, ABRACADABRA}. In particular, for every language A, we have A = A = and {ɛ} A = A {ɛ} = A. The Kleene closure or Kleene star 2 of a language L, denoted L, is the set of all strings obtained by concatenating a sequence of zero or more strings from L. For example, {0, 11} = {ɛ, 0, 00, 11, 000, 011, 110, 0000, 0011, 0110, 1100, 1111, 00000, 00011, 00110,..., ,...}. More formally, L is defined recursively as the set of all strings w such that either w = ɛ, or w = x y, for some strings x L and y L. This definition immediately implies that = {ɛ} = {ɛ}. For any other language L, the Kleene closure L is infinite and contains arbitrarily long (but finite!) strings. Equivalently, L can also be defined as the smallest superset of L that contains the empty string ɛ and is closed under concatenation (hence closure ). The set of all strings Σ is, just as the notation suggests, the Kleene closure of the alphabet Σ (where each symbol is viewed as a string of length 1). A useful variant of the Kleene closure operator is the Kleene plus, defined as L + := L L. Thus, L + is the set of all strings obtained by concatenating a sequence of one or more strings from L. 2.3 Regular Languages and Regular Expressions A language L is regular if and only if it satisfies one of the following (recursive) conditions: L is empty; L contains a single string (which could be the empty string ɛ); L is the union of two regular languages; 2 after Stephen Kleene, who pronounced his last name clay-knee, not clean or cleanie or claynuh or dimaggio. 2

3 L is the concatenation of two regular languages; or L is the Kleene closure of a regular language. Regular languages are normally described using a slightly more compact representation called regular expressions, which omit braces around one-string sets, use + to represent union instead of, and juxtapose subexpressions to represent concatenation instead of using an explicit operator. By convention, in the absence of parentheses, the operator has highest precedence, followed by the (implicit) concatenation operator, followed by +. Thus, for example, the regular expression 10 is shorthand for {1} {0}. As a larger example, the regular expression represents the language ( ) 10 {0} {0} {1} ({1} {0} {1}) ({0} {1} {0}) {1} {0}. Here are a few more examples of regular expressions and the languages they represent. 0 the set of all strings of 0s, including the empty string the set of all strings consisting of at least four 0s. (00000) the set of all strings of 0s whose length is a multiple of 5. (ɛ + 1)(01) (ɛ + 0) the set of all strings of alternating 0s and 1s, or equivalently, the set of all binary strings that do not contain the substrings 00 or 11. ((ɛ )1) (ɛ ) the set of all binary strings that do not contain the substring ((0 + 1)(0 + 1)) the set of all binary strings whose length is even. 1 (01 01 ) the set of all binary strings with an even number of 0s (0 + 1) 00 the set of all non-negative binary numerals divisible by 4 and with no redundant leading 0s ( ) 10 the set of all non-negative binary numerals divisible by 3, possibly with redundant leading 0s. The last example should not be obvious. It is straightforward, but rather tedious, to prove by induction that every string in ( ) 10 is the binary representation of a non-negative multiple of 3. It is similarly straightforward, and similarly tedious, to prove that the binary representation of every non-negative multiple of 3 matches this regular expression. In a later note, we will see a systematic method for deriving regular expressions for some languages that avoids (or more accurately, automates) this tedium. Most of the time we do not distinguish between regular expressions and the languages they represent, for the same reason that we do not normally distinguish between the arithmetic expression 2+2 and the integer 4, or the symbol π and the area of the unit circle. However, we sometimes need to refer to regular expressions themselves as strings. In those circumstances, we write L(R) to denote the language represented by the regular expression R. String w matches regular expression R if and only if w L(R). 3

4 Two regular expressions R and R are equivalent if they describe the same language; for example, the regular expressions (0 + 1) and (1 + 0) are equivalent, because the union operator is commutative. Almost every regular language can be represented by infinitely many distinct but equivalent regular expressions, even if we ignore ultimately trivial equivalences like L = (L ) Lɛ +. The following identities, which we state here without (easy) proofs, are useful for designing, simplifying, or understanding regular expressions. Lemma 2.1. The following identities hold for all languages A, B, and C: (a) A = A =. (b) ɛa = Aɛ = A. (c) A + B = B + A. (d) (A + B) + C = A + (B + C). (e) (AB)C = A(BC). (f) A(B + C) = AB + AC. Lemma 2.2. The following identities hold for every language L: (a) L = ɛ + L + = L L = (L + ɛ) = (L \ ɛ) = ɛ + L + L + L +. (b) L + = L \ ɛ = L L = L L = L + L = L L + = L + L + L +. (c) L + = L if and only if ɛ L. Lemma 2.3 (Arden s Rule). For any languages A, B, and L such that L = AL + B, we have A B L. Moreover, if A does not contain the empty string, then L = AL + B if and only if L = A B. 2.4 Things What Ain t Regular Expressions Many computing environments and programming languages support patterns called regexen (singular regex, pluralized like ox) that are considerably more general and powerful than regular expressions. Regexen include special symbols representing negation, character classes (for example, upper-case letters, or digits), contiguous ranges of characters, line and word boundaries, limited repetition (as opposed to the unlimited repetition allowed by ), back-references to earlier subexpressions, and even local variables. Despite its obvious etymology, a regex is not necessarily a regular expression, and it does not necessarily describe a regular language! 3 Another type of pattern that is often confused with regular expression are globs, which are patterns used in most Unix shells and some scripting languages to represent sets file names. Globs include symbols for arbitrary single characters (?), single characters from a specified range ([a-z]), arbitrary substrings ( * ), and substrings from a specified finite set ({foo,ba{r,z}}). Globs are significantly less powerful than regular expressions. 2.5 Not Every Language is Regular You may be tempted to conjecture that all languages are regular, but in fact, the following cardinality argument almost all languages are not regular. To make the argument concrete, let s consider languages over the single-symbol alphabet { }. Every regular expression over the one-symbol alphabet { } is itself a string over the 7-symbol alphabet {, +, (, ), *,, Ø}. By interpreting these symbols as the digits 1 through 7, we can interpret any string over this larger alphabet as the base-8 representation of some unique integer. Thus, the set of all regular expressions over { } is at most as large as the set of integers, and is therefore countably infinite. It follows that the set of all regular languages over { } is also countably infinite. 3 3 However, regexen are not all-powerful, either; see 4

5 On the other hand, for any real number 0 α < 1, we can define a corresponding language L α = n α2 n mod 1 1/2. In other words, L α contains the string n if and only if the (n + 1)th bit in the binary representation of α is equal to 1. For any distinct real numbers α β, the binary representations of α and β must differ in some bit, so L α L β. We conclude that the set of all languages over { } is at least as large as the set of real numbers between 0 and 1, and is therefore uncountably infinite. We will see several explicit examples of non-regular languages in future lectures. For example, the set of all regular expressions over {0, 1} is not itself a regular language! 2.6 Parsing Regular Expressions Most algorithms for regular expressions require them in the form of regular expression trees, rather than as raw strings. A regular expression tree is one of the following: A leaf node labeled. A leaf node labeled with a string in Σ. A node labeled + with two children, each the root of an expression tree. A node labeled with one child, which is the root of an expression tree. A node labeled with two children, each the root of an expression tree. In other words, a regular expression tree directly encodes a sequence of alternation, concatenation and Kleene closure operations that defines a regular language. Similarly, when we want to prove things about regular expressions or regular languages, it is more natural to think of subexpressions as subtrees rather than as substrings ( ) 10 0 * 0 1 * + 1 * 1 * * Given any regular expression of length n, we can parse it into an equivalent regular expression tree in O(n) time. Thus, when we see an algorithmic problem that starts Given a regular expression..., we can assume without loss of generality that we re actually given a regular expression tree. We ll see more on this topic later. Exercises 1. (a) Prove that {ɛ} L = L {ɛ} = L, for any language L. (b) Prove that L = L =, for any language L. (c) Prove that (A B) C = A (B C), for all languages A, B, and C. 5

6 (d) Prove that A B = A B, for all languages A and B. (The second is multiplication!) (e) Prove that L is finite if and only if L = or L = {ɛ}. (f) Prove that AB = BC implies A B = BC = A BC, for all languages A, B, and C. 2. Recall that the reversal w R of a string w is defined recursively as follows: w R ɛ if w = ɛ := x R a if w = a x The reversal L R of any language L is the set of reversals of all strings in L: L R := {w R w L}. (a) Prove that (AB) R = B R A R for all languages A and B. (b) Prove that (L R ) R = L for every language L. (c) Prove that (L ) R = (L R ) for every language L. 3. Prove that each of the following regular expressions is equivalent to (0 + 1). (a) ɛ + 0(0 + 1) + 1(1 + 0) (b) (0 + 1) (c) ((ɛ + 0)(ɛ + 1)) (d) 0 (10 ) (e) (1 0) (0 1) 4. For each of the following languages in {0, 1}, describe an equivalent regular expression. There are infinitely many correct answers for each language. (This problem will become significantly simpler after we ve seen finite-state machines, in the next lecture note.) (a) Strings that end with the suffix 0 9 = (b) All strings except 010. (c) Strings that contain the substring 010. (d) Strings that contain the subsequence 010. (e) Strings that do not contain the substring 010. (f) Strings that do not contain the subsequence 010. (g) Strings that contain an even number of occurrences of the substring 010. (h) Strings that contain an even number of occurrences of the substring 000. (i) Strings in which every occurrence of the substring 00 appears before every occurrence of the substring 11. (j) Strings w such that in every prefix of w, the number of 0s and the number of 1s differ by at most 1. 6

7 (k) Strings w such that in every prefix of w, the number of 0s and the number of 1s differ by at most 2. (l) Strings in which the number of 0s and the number of 1s differ by a multiple of 3. (m) Strings that contain an even number of 1s and an odd number of 0s. (n) Strings that represent a number divisible by 5 in binary. 5. Prove that for any regular expression R such that L(R) is nonempty, there is a regular expression equivalent to R that does not use the empty-set symbol. 6. Prove that if L is a regular language, then L R is also a regular language. [Hint: How do you reverse a regular expression?] 7. (a) Describe and analyze an efficient algorithm to determine, given a regular expression R, whether L(R) is empty. (b) Describe and analyze an efficient algorithm to determine, given a regular expression R, whether L(R) is infinite. In each problem, assume you are given R as a regular expression tree, not just a raw string. 7

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