Did you know that Asterisk has the ability to evaluate Regular Expressions, though not in the same way as Perl or FreeSWITCH?


This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

I happened to be searching the Asterisk issue tracker a few minutes ago (trying to figure out why the Asterisk Blacklist suddenly stopped working for no apparent reason on one of my systems) and happened to notice this issue which had just been posted today:

REGEX function ignores shorthand character starting with backslash

Wait, you mean Asterisk can evaluate Regular Expressions? I didn’t think it had that capability. So, working off the example shown in that issue report (the working expression, naturally) I tried putting this in the FreePBX extensions_custom.conf [macro-dialout-trunk-predial-hook] context (I had to uncomment some existing lines and add others). This is just example code and not meant to do anything useful. NOTE: Many of the lines in code blocks below won’t fit on the screen due to the way WordPress formats this blog, but if you copy and paste the lines into a text editor you should see them in their entirety:

; this macro intentially left blank so it may be safely overwritten for any custom
; requirements that an installation may have.
;                    if set to "BYPASS" then this trunk will be skipped
exten => s,1,NoOp(Trunk ${OUT_${DIAL_TRUNK}} selected)
exten => s,n,Set(tftest=^1?8(00|22|33|44|55|66|77|88)[2-9][0-9]{6}$)
exten => s,n,GotoIf($[${REGEX("${tftest}" ${OUTNUM})} = 1]?tollfree)
exten => s,n,NoOp(${CALLERID(num)} is calling ${OUTNUM} which is a NOT a toll free call)
exten => s,n,MacroExit()
exten => s,n(tollfree),NoOp(${CALLERID(num)} is calling ${OUTNUM} which is a toll free call)
exten => s,n,MacroExit()

If you place an outgoing call and watch the Asterisk CLI, you will see that if you place a call it knows what trunk was selected and what number the call came from, and prints that it is or is not a toll-free call. And I assume you could get other information about the call from other system variables. This could be handy for extended call routing, or for blocking of certain calls.

The thing to note here is that the dialplan only uses only one line to test for all the possible NANP toll-free area codes, both with and without a “1” prefix — you could do this without using a regular expression, but you’d need one line per area code to test. If you’ve ever looked at the FreePBX generated dialplan (in extensions_additional.conf) you know that much of the dialplan is lines upon lines of pattern specifications. I’ve mentioned in the past the problem of specifying every USA or Canadian area code in an outbound routes (so you can disallow calls to NANP points not covered by your calling plan) but it occurs to me that if FreePBX utilized regular expressions, it MIGHT be possible to condense many lines into one. Of course this would partly depend on whether there is a length limit on a regular expression, but in later testing I tried setting REGEX variables for the USA and Canada, like this:

This line that would create a regex that would test for USA calls (50 states + D.C.):

exten => s,n,Set(usatest=^1?(201|202|203|205|206|207|208|209|210|212|213|214|215|216|217|218|219|220|223|224|225|228|229|231|234|239|240|248|251|252|253|254|256|260|262|267|269|270|272|274|276|279|281|301|302|303|304|305|307|308|309|310|312|313|314|315|316|317|318|319|320|321|323|325|327|330|331|332|334|336|337|339|346|347|351|352|360|361|364|380|385|386|401|402|404|405|406|407|408|409|410|412|413|414|415|417|419|423|424|425|430|432|434|435|440|442|443|445|458|463|469|470|475|478|479|480|484|501|502|503|504|505|507|508|509|510|512|513|515|516|517|518|520|530|534|539|540|541|551|559|561|562|563|564|567|570|571|573|574|575|580|585|586|601|602|603|605|606|607|608|609|610|612|614|615|616|617|618|619|620|623|626|628|629|630|631|636|641|646|650|651|657|660|661|662|667|669|678|680|681|682|701|702|703|704|706|707|708|712|713|714|715|716|717|718|719|720|724|725|726|727|731|732|734|737|740|743|747|754|757|760|762|763|765|769|770|772|773|774|775|779|781|785|786|801|802|803|804|805|806|808|810|812|813|814|815|816|817|818|828|830|831|832|838|843|845|847|848|850|854|856|857|858|859|860|862|863|864|865|870|872|878|901|903|904|906|907|908|909|910|912|913|914|915|916|917|918|919|920|925|928|929|930|931|934|936|937|938|940|941|947|949|951|952|954|956|959|970|971|972|973|978|979|980|984|985|986|989)[2-9][0-9]{6}$)

Yes, that is all one single line (which you won’t see in its entirety if you don’t copy and paste the part you do see into a text editor, but it’s humongous)! But it seems to work if you use the ${usatest} variable instead of ${tftest} in the line containing the REGEX function! And here’s one for Canada that puts the expression into ${cdntest}:

exten => s,n,Set(cdntest=^1?(204|226|236|249|250|289|306|343|365|367|403|416|418|431|437|438|450|506|514|519|548|579|581|587|604|613|639|647|705|709|778|780|782|807|819|825|867|873|879|902|905)[2-9][0-9]{6}$)

Of course you could test for all three types of calls in the same block of code. Just remember that the code as shown above is handling calls destined for ALL your trunks, so if you only want it to operate on a single trunk you’ll have to test for that trunk only, and bail out if the call is headed for any other trunk.

For the moment all I will say is that this opens up interesting possibilities, including possibly new ways to get around some of the developer-imposed limitations of FreePBX, and also to streamline custom dialplan. Unfortunately it appears that Asterisk’s REGEX function support is not much used nor well documented, so you may have trouble finding other examples of working code that uses this function.

Also, Matt Jordan commented on the issue linked above, noting that “REGCOMP is built on the GNU extended regular expressions library (see regex.h). That library does not support the shorthand characters (see this comparison of regular expression libraries). As such, this is not a bug, but a limitation of the library that provides the regular expression functionality.” What this apparently means is that you cannot use something like d or [:digit:] to represent any digit, as you can do in other software that recognizes regular expressions, but [0-9] works just fine for that purpose. However, it would not be correct to say that backslashes can never be used, as I found these uses of REGEX in extensions_additional.conf:

exten => s-fixed,1,ExecIf($["${REGEX("^[+]?[0-9]+$" ${DB(RINGGROUP/${NODEST}/fixedcid)})}" = "1"]?Set(__TRUNKCIDOVERRIDE=${DB(RINGGROUP/${NODEST}/fixedcid)}))
exten => s-fixed,n,Return()
exten => s-extern,1,ExecIf($["${REGEX("^[+]?[0-9]+$" ${DB(RINGGROUP/${NODEST}/fixedcid)})}" == "1" & "${FROM_DID}" != ""]?Set(__TRUNKCIDOVERRIDE=${DB(RINGGROUP/${NODEST}/fixedcid)}))
exten => s-extern,n,Return()
exten => s-did,1,ExecIf($["${REGEX("^[+]?[0-9]+$" ${FROM_DID})}" = "1"]?Set(__REALCALLERIDNUM=${FROM_DID}))
exten => s-did,n,Return()
exten => s-forcedid,1,ExecIf($["${REGEX("^[+]?[0-9]+$" ${FROM_DID})}" = "1"]?Set(__TRUNKCIDOVERRIDE=${FROM_DID}))
exten => s-forcedid,n,Return()

Note the use of [+] in the REGEX expressions above. That “escapes” the + character, which otherwise would have a meaning in a regular expression, but for some reason the escaped character has to be enclosed in square brackets.  This can lead to some non-obvious regex constructions.  For example, look again at the line that creates a regex that would test for USA calls.  It begins like this:

exten => s,n,Set(usatest=^1?(201...

The question mark after the “1” means it’s optional. But what if the provider also accepts calls prefixed with *67 to block the Caller ID? You could allow for that possibility like this in most software that accepts regular expressions, but not in Asterisk…

exten => s,n,Set(usatest=^(*67)?1?(201...

The backslash would escape the * character, and therefore the string *67 would be considered optional. But in Asterisk, you have to enclose the * in square brackets to make this work, like so:

exten => s,n,Set(usatest=^([*]67)?1?(201...

Anyway, I just wanted to bring this to your attention, in case that you (like me) were thinking that Asterisk doesn’t interpret regular expressions. It DOES, but not in the same manner as Perl, nor FreeSWITCH for that matter. If anyone knows of an online reference or “cheat sheet” for this particular variety of regular expression library, I’d appreciate the link.

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