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Java String Between, Before, After

Between, before and after. Often we need to get a substring between two other substrings. The logic is simple, but a reusable method is helpful.


IndexOf and substring. These methods locate the position of strings within a source string. With additional logic, we can take substrings relative to indexes.


Methods. This program introduces the between, before and after methods. For the three methods, the first argument is the String we are operating upon.

Between: This returns a possible substring between the second and third arguments (a and b). On failure, it returns an empty string.

Before: This is a simple method that returns the part of the string that occurs before the first index of the substring.

After: This does the opposite of the before() method. It is also simple and requires minimal logic.

Based on:

Java 7

Java program that implements between, before, after

public class Program {

    static String between(String value, String a, String b) {
	// Return a substring between the two strings.
	int posA = value.indexOf(a);
	if (posA == -1) {
	    return "";
	}
	int posB = value.lastIndexOf(b);
	if (posB == -1) {
	    return "";
	}
	int adjustedPosA = posA + a.length();
	if (adjustedPosA >= posB) {
	    return "";
	}
	return value.substring(adjustedPosA, posB);
    }

    static String before(String value, String a) {
	// Return substring containing all characters before a string.
	int posA = value.indexOf(a);
	if (posA == -1) {
	    return "";
	}
	return value.substring(0, posA);
    }

    static String after(String value, String a) {
	// Returns a substring containing all characters after a string.
	int posA = value.lastIndexOf(a);
	if (posA == -1) {
	    return "";
	}
	int adjustedPosA = posA + a.length();
	if (adjustedPosA >= value.length()) {
	    return "";
	}
	return value.substring(adjustedPosA);
    }

    public static void main(String[] args) {

	// Test this string.
	final String test = "DEFINE:A=TWO";

	// Call between, before and after methods.
	System.out.println(between(test, "DEFINE:", "="));
	System.out.println(between(test, ":", "="));

	System.out.println(before(test, ":"));
	System.out.println(before(test, "="));

	System.out.println(after(test, ":"));
	System.out.println(after(test, "DEFINE:"));
	System.out.println(after(test, "="));
    }
}

Output

A
A
DEFINE
DEFINE:A
A=TWO
A=TWO
TWO

Tiny languages. With programs, domain-specific languages are often used for configuration files. With these methods, we can easily parse a DSL and extract parts from statements.

Define: In the main() method above, the string "DEFINE" could be used to set the variable A to the value TWO.

And: The between, before and after methods can be used to parse parts of this declarative statement.


In most tasks, performance is not the primary concern. For a configuration file language, one that is rarely run, correctness is more important.

And: These simple String methods help with writing correct code. The special value -1 is handled, avoiding possible exceptions.


One issue. These methods have a different behavior in a failure case. They will return an empty String, which may reduce exceptions but could cause incorrect behavior if not expected.