I'm writing a major mode for a language that uses (* ... *) as comments.

I'm trying to match multi-line comments. e.g.


I was initially doing "(\\*.*\\*)", however, . doesn't match newline.

I then tried what the wiki on multi-line regex said: "(\\*[\0-\377[:nonascii:]]*\\*)". However, this leads to matching that I wasn't expecting. For instance, if I have the following:

(* comment 1*)
code block 1

(* comment 2*)
code block 2

(* comment 3*)
code block 3

It highlights everything from comment 1 to comment 3 as a big comment, including code block 1 and code block 2.

How can I get it to match (* to the first closing *) rather than the last one?

  • . matches any character but a newline, you have to to use (.|\n). This however is inefficient when there are several newlines. Better match multiple lines with (.*\n?)* instead. The newline is optional so that the expression can end in the middle of a line.
    – mutbuerger
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 7:36
  • I think [\0-\377[:nonascii:]] is better than (.*\n?)*, which is so slow it crashes emacs on my computer. However, my problem isn't matching newline, but matching (* with the first *). As I explain in the question, it matches the last *), which is not good. I have tried matching everything but (* in the blocks, but it doesn't seem to match things character by character, rather, it matches the whole thing.
    – laifs
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 10:59
  • 2
    Typically, when you are matching comment using regexp:s, you are using the wrong tool. Instead, make sure your major mode set up the syntax table correctly and use functions like syntax-ppss to check if you are in a comment, forward-comment to move over comments etc. Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 12:41

2 Answers 2


You will have to change the wildcard match to a non-greedy version (+?,??,*?). Ref: Emacs Manual: Regexp

In this case:


That tells it to find the shortest full match, rather than the longest.

  • Note that "(\\*[\0-\377[:nonascii:]]*?\\*)toto" will still match the whole (*foo*)titi(*bar*)toto, so in some cases the non-greedy solution is not sufficient.
    – Stefan
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 13:56
  • Thanks, this works. I was not aware of the *? to match as little as possible.
    – laifs
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 0:34

See Jonathan's answer for the easy solution. The hard solution would look something like:

  • Just have to double up the \ to match his request (I'm assuming for use in elisp not just as a re-search). Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 15:26
  • That goes along with adding double quotes around it, yes.
    – Stefan
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:56
  • (\\*\\(?:[^*]\\|\\*+[^)*]\\)*\\*+) works too. I was also thinking of doing it this way (i.e. matching (* but not matching any (* ... *) in between), but it seemed awkward, like something the regexp should handle instead. *? does the job.
    – laifs
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 0:40
  • Don't think [^*]\|*+[^)*] makes sense here. Both parts are not sufficient, resp. not required. Would need a look-ahead assertion WRT "*" followed by a ")". Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 6:14

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