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Certain items that may appear in patterns are more efficient than others. It is more efficient to use a character class like [aeiou] than a set of alternatives such as (a|e|i|o|u). In general, the simplest construction that provides the required behaviour is usually the most efficient. Jeffrey Friedl's book contains a lot of discussion about optimizing regular expressions for efficient performance.
When a pattern begins with .* and the PCRE_DOTALL option is set, the pattern is implicitly anchored by PCRE, since it can match only at the start of a subject string. However, if PCRE_DOTALL is not set, PCRE cannot make this optimization, because the . metacharacter does not then match a newline, and if the subject string contains newlines, the pattern may match from the character immediately following one of them instead of from the very start. For example, the pattern
matches the subject "first\nand second" (where \n stands for a newline character) with the first captured substring being "and". In order to do this, PCRE has to retry the match starting after every newline in the subject.
If you are using such a pattern with subject strings that do not contain newlines, the best performance is obtained by setting PCRE_DOTALL, or starting the pattern with ^.* to indicate explicit anchoring. That saves PCRE from having to scan along the subject looking for a newline to restart at.
Note: This topic was taken from the PCRE library manual. The PCRE library is open source software, written by Philip Hazel <email@example.com>, and copyright by the University of Cambridge, England.