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When called up, with M-x re-builder RET, re-builder attaches itself to the current buffer which becomes its target buffer, where all the matching is done. The active window is split so you have a view on the data while authoring the RE. If the edited expression is valid the matches in the target buffer are marked automatically with colored overlays (for non-color displays see below) giving you feedback over the extents of the matched (sub) expressions. The (non-)validity is shown only in the modeline without throwing the errors at you. If you want to know the reason why RE Builder considers it as invalid call reb-force-update (C-c C-u) which should reveal the error.
The target buffer can be changed with
(C-c C-b). Changing the target buffer automatically removes
the overlays from the old buffer and displays the new one in the
re-builder keeps the focus while updating the matches in the target
buffer so corrections are easily incorporated. If you are satisfied
with the result you can paste the RE to the kill-ring with
reb-copy (C-c C-w) (the copied RE and current syntax is
displayed in the echo area), quit re-builder (C-c C-q) and use
it wherever you need it.
As the automatic updates can take some time on large buffers, they can
be limited by
reb-auto-match-limit so that they should not have a
negative impact on the editing. Setting it to nil makes even the auto
updates go all the way. Forcing an update overrides this limit allowing
an easy way to see all matches.
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