Longest Common Subsequence

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November 1, 2022

Coding & Algorithm Interview  Data Structures & Algorithms 


Sequence comparison is a common problem in computer science and has applications in various fields such as DNA sequencing, text analysis, and version control. One powerful algorithm for solving this problem is the Longest Common Subsequence (LCS) algorithm, which finds the longest subsequence that two or more sequences have in common. In this tech blog, we will explore the LCS algorithm, its applications, and how it can be implemented using dynamic programming for efficient sequence comparison.

What is Longest Common Subsequence (LCS)?

The Longest Common Subsequence (LCS) is a dynamic programming algorithm that finds the longest subsequence shared by two or more sequences, which can be strings, arrays, or any other ordered collection of elements. A subsequence is a sequence of elements that appears in the same order in both sequences, but not necessarily consecutively. The LCS algorithm returns the longest such subsequence, which may not be unique.

How Does LCS Work?

The LCS algorithm uses a dynamic programming approach to find the longest common subsequence. It involves constructing a two-dimensional table, also known as a memoization table, to store the intermediate results of the subproblems. The rows and columns of the table correspond to the elements of the two sequences being compared, and the entries in the table represent the length of the longest common subsequence up to that point.

The algorithm proceeds in a bottom-up manner, starting from the smallest subproblems and gradually building up to the final solution. It uses a combination of three possible operations: insertion, deletion, and matching. The entries in the memoization table are filled based on the outcomes of these operations, and the final entry in the bottom-right corner of the table represents the length of the longest common subsequence.

Once the memoization table is filled, the actual longest common subsequence can be reconstructed by tracing back through the table, following the path of the maximum lengths. This can be done in linear time, resulting in an overall time complexity of O(mn), where m and n are the lengths of the two sequences being compared.

Applications of LCS

The LCS algorithm has wide applications in various fields, including:

  1. DNA Sequencing: LCS is used in bioinformatics for comparing DNA sequences to identify common subsequences and infer genetic relationships.
  2. Text Analysis: LCS can be used for plagiarism detection, document similarity analysis, and version control in software development.
  3. Speech Recognition: LCS can be used to compare speech signals for speech recognition tasks, where finding common subsequences can help identify common phonemes or words.
  4. Image Recognition: LCS can be used for comparing image feature vectors, which can be useful in image recognition tasks.

Implementation in Code

Here’s a simple implementation of the LCS algorithm using dynamic programming in Python:

def longest_common_subsequence(str1, str2):
    m = len(str1)
    n = len(str2)
    dp = [[0] * (n + 1) for _ in range(m + 1)]

    for i in range(1, m + 1):
        for j in range(1, n + 1):
            if str1[i - 1] == str2[j - 1]:
                dp[i][j] = dp[i - 1][j - 1] + 1
                dp[i][j] = max(dp[i - 1][j], dp[i][j - 1])

    i = m
    j = n
    lcs = []
    while i > 0 and j > 0:
        if str1[i - 1] == str2[j - 1]:
            lcs.append(str1[i - 1])
            i -= 1
            j -= 1
        elif dp[i - 1][j] > dp[i][j - 1]:
            i -= 1
            j -= 1

    return ''.join(lcs)


The Longest Common Subsequence (LCS) algorithm is a powerful tool for solving sequence comparison problems. Its dynamic programming approach allows for efficient computation of the longest common subsequence in O(mn) time complexity. The applications of LCS span across various domains, including bioinformatics, text analysis, speech recognition, and image recognition. Implementing the LCS algorithm in your code can provide valuable insights and solutions for problems that involve comparing sequences. I hope this tech blog has provided you with a thorough understanding of LCS and its potential applications in the field of computer science. Happy coding!

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