Aho-Corasick Algorithm: Efficient String Matching for Text Processing

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Aho-Corasick Algorithm: Efficient String Matching for Text Processing

In the realm of computer science and information retrieval, efficient string matching is a fundamental problem with numerous applications. The Aho-Corasick algorithm, named after its inventors Alfred V. Aho and Margaret J. Corasick, is a powerful and widely-used technique for finding multiple patterns in a given text simultaneously. By combining efficient trie data structures with pattern-matching techniques, the Aho-Corasick algorithm provides an elegant solution to this problem. In this article, we will delve into the workings of the Aho-Corasick algorithm, exploring its key components and providing detailed examples to illustrate its effectiveness

The Trie Data Structure

At the core of the Aho-Corasick algorithm lies the trie data structure, which efficiently stores a collection of strings. A trie, short for retrieval tree or prefix tree, is a tree-like data structure where each node represents a character and the edges denote the possible transitions to subsequent characters. By following a path from the root node to a leaf node, we can reconstruct a string.

Construction of the Trie

To begin, let's consider a set of patterns we want to search for within a given text. We construct a trie by inserting each pattern into the trie, one character at a time. The key feature of this process is that common prefixes among different patterns are shared in the trie, resulting in a compact representation.

Example: Suppose we have patterns ["he", "she", "his", "hers"]. Constructing the trie would result in the following structure:

         / | \
        e  i  s
       /     / \
      r     e   h
     /       \   \
    s         r   e

Failure Function

The next crucial step in the Aho-Corasick algorithm is computing the failure function for each node in the trie. The failure function allows us to efficiently redirect the search in case of a mismatch during the matching process. It essentially defines the longest proper suffix of the current string which is also a prefix of one of the patterns.

Example: Applying the failure function to our example trie, we obtain the following structure:

           h (Fail -> NULL)
         / | \
  e(1)   i(2)  s(4)
       /     / \
r(3)   e(1)   h (Fail -> NULL)
     /       \   \
s(4)   r(3)   e(1)

The numbers represent the corresponding patterns. For instance, at node "e", the failure function points to node "h" since "he" is the longest proper suffix that is also a prefix. Similarly, at node "s", the failure function points to node "i" as "his" is the longest proper suffix that matches a prefix.


Having constructed the trie and computed the failure function, we can now perform the string matching. Starting from the root node, we traverse the trie following the characters in the input text. If we reach a leaf node, it means we have found a match.

Example: Consider the input text "ushers." While traversing the trie, we encounter a match at node "s," indicating the presence of the pattern "she." This process continues until we have exhausted the entire text.

Output and Complexity

The Aho-Corasick algorithm not only identifies the patterns but also provides information about the matches, such as the positions and the patterns themselves. It achieves this by attaching a list of patterns to each node in the trie.

The time complexity of constructing the trie is O(m), where m is the total length of all patterns. The time complexity of matching the input text is O(n + z), where n is the length of the text and z is the number of matches found. The Aho-Corasick algorithm's efficiency lies in its ability to find all matches in a single pass through the input text, making it a highly efficient algorithm for string matching tasks.

Implementation in Python

Implementation in Go


The Aho-Corasick algorithm offers a powerful and efficient solution for multiple pattern-matching problems. By employing trie data structures and cleverly calculating the failure function, it enables the simultaneous matching of multiple patterns in a given text. The algorithm's versatility and ability to process vast amounts of data make it an indispensable tool in various domains, including natural language processing, network security, and data mining. Understanding the Aho-Corasick algorithm provides a solid foundation for tackling complex string-matching tasks efficiently.