Sam Snelling

The John Wick of PHP Software Development

Pattern Parser

Recently, I published a pattern parsing library which you can find on Github (

Originally built as a way to start testing NLP phrases, it offers a lot of power without the complexity of regular expressions.

Say you wanted to build a slash command to /estimate how long a particular task would take in hours and minutes, rounded to the nearest 15 minutes.

How would you parse this?

/estimate 3 hrs 20 minutes

vs this

/estimate 3hours 20m

vs this

/estimate 3 h 20 min

Using the pattern parsing library, we can just make a simple parsing rule like so:

$string       = '3h 20m';
$patternParser = new OnROI\PatternParser\PatternParser();

// You can match any pattern you want!
$parsed_hours_minutes = $patternParser->process($string, '{hours}h {minutes}m');
$parsed_hours         = $patternParser->process($string, '{hours}h');
$parsed_minutes       = $patternParser->process($string, '{minutes}m');

Let's put it together to fit the original business goal. Instead of writing a complex regular expression, let's just normalize the string, pattern parse, and do some math.

$comment       = '/estimate 3 h 20 min';
$patternParser = new OnROI\PatternParser\PatternParser();

// Remove forward slash if someone is using /estimate
if (strpos($comment, '/') === 0) {
    $comment = substr($comment, 1);

// Skip comment if it doesn't have estimate starting it out
if (strpos(strtolower($comment), 'estimate') !== 0) {
    return false;

$clean_comment = trim(str_replace(['estimate', ':', '-', 'our', 'r', 'in', 'ute', 's'], '', strtolower($comment)));

// Parse two different scenarios, hours, and hours and minutes
$parsed_hours_minutes = $patternParser->process($clean_comment, '{hours}h {minutes}m');
$parsed_hours         = $patternParser->process($clean_comment, '{hours}h');
$parsed_minutes       = $patternParser->process($clean_comment, '{minutes}m');

// We could not parse hours, ruh roh. This should always be parsed at a minimum.
if (empty($parsed_hours) && empty($parsed_minutes)) {
    return false;

$hours   = 0;
$minutes = 0;

// Set estimate to parsed hours
if (!empty($parsed_hours)) {
    // Parse & filter hours
    $hours = (float) filter_var($parsed_hours['hours'], FILTER_SANITIZE_NUMBER_FLOAT, FILTER_FLAG_ALLOW_FRACTION);

if (!empty($parsed_minutes)) {
    // Parse & filter minutes
    $minutes = (float) filter_var($parsed_minutes['minutes'], FILTER_SANITIZE_NUMBER_INT);

if (!empty($parsed_hours_minutes)) {
    // Parse & filter hours and minutes
    $hours   = (float) filter_var($parsed_hours_minutes['hours'], FILTER_SANITIZE_NUMBER_FLOAT, FILTER_FLAG_ALLOW_FRACTION);
    $minutes = (int) filter_var($parsed_hours_minutes['minutes'], FILTER_SANITIZE_NUMBER_INT);

// Parse in 15 minute increments
$minutes_to_hours = ceil($minutes / 15) * .25;

// Set the time
$estimate = $hours + $minutes_to_hours;

Easy peasy.