Latest 2.0
License Apache License, Version 2.0
Platforms ios 8.0

Aho-Corasick in Swift

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Nowadays most free-text searching is based on Lucene-like approaches, where the search text is parsed into its
various components. For every keyword a lookup is done to see where it occurs. When looking for a couple of keywords
this approach is great. But what about it if you are not looking for just a couple of keywords, but a 100,000 of
them? Like, for example, checking against a dictionary?

This is where the Aho-Corasick algorithm shines. Instead of chopping up the search text, it uses all the keywords
to build up a construct called a Trie. There are three crucial components
to Aho-Corasick:

  • goto
  • fail
  • output

Every character encountered is presented to a state object within the goto structure. If there is a matching state,
that will be elevated to the new current state.

However, if there is no matching state, the algorithm will signal a fail and fall back to states with less depth
(ie, a match less long) and proceed from there, until it found a matching state, or it has reached the root state.

Whenever a state is reached that matches an entire keyword, it is emitted to an output set which can be read after
the entire scan has completed.

The beauty of the algorithm is that it is O(n). No matter how many keywords you have, or how big the search text is,
the performance will decline in a linear way.

Some examples you could use the Aho-Corasick algorithm for:

  • looking for certain words in texts in order to URL link or emphasize them
  • adding semantics to plain text
  • checking against a dictionary to see if syntactic errors were made

This library is the Swift implementation of the afore-mentioned Aho-Corasick algorithm for efficient string matching.
The algorithm is explained in great detail in the white paper written by
Aho and Corasick:


Setting up the Trie is a piece of cake:

    let trie = Trie.builder()
        .add(keyword: "hers")
        .add(keyword: "his")
        .add(keyword: "she")
        .add(keyword: "he")

    let emits = trie.parse(text: "ushers")

You can now read the set. In this case it will find the following:

  • "she" starting at position 1, ending at position 3
  • "he" starting at position 2, ending at position 3
  • "hers" starting at position 2, ending at position 5

In normal situations you probably want to remove overlapping instances, retaining the longest and left-most

    let trie = Trie.builder()
        .add(keyword: "hot")
        .add(keyword: "hot chocolate")
    let emits = trie.parse(text: "hot chocolate")

The removeOverlaps method tells the Trie to remove all overlapping matches. For this it relies on the following
conflict resolution rules: 1) longer matches prevail over shorter matches, 2) left-most prevails over right-most.
There is only one result now:

  • "hot chocolate" starting at position 0, ending at position 12

If you want the algorithm to only check for delimited(whole) words, you can tell the Trie to do so:

    let trie = Trie.builder()
        .add(keyword: "sugar")
    let emits = trie.parse(text: "sugarcane sugarcane sugar canesugar")

In this case, it will only find one match, whereas it would normally find four. The sugarcane/canesugar words
are discarded because they are partial matches. onlyDelimited() uses the TR#29 definition of word boundaries.

Some text is WrItTeN in a combination of lowercase and uppercase and therefore hard to identify. You can instruct
the Trie to lowercase the entire searchText to ease the matching process. The lower-casing extends to keywords as well.

    let trie = Trie.builder()
        .add(keyword: "casing")
    let emits = trie.parse(text: "CaSiNg")

Normally, this match would not be found. With the caseInsensitive settings the entire search text is lowercased
before the matching begins. Therefore it will find exactly one match. Since you still have control of the original
search text and you will know exactly where the match was, you can still utilize the original casing.

There’s also the option to ignore diacritics when searching. This is useful when dealing with languages that have diacritics such as French, Portguese, Spanish, German, Czech, Italian, among others:

    let trie = Trie.builder()
        .add(keyword: "café")
    let matches = trie.containsMatch(text: "je bois du cafe tous les matins")

It is also possible to just ask whether the text matches any of the keywords, or just to return the first match it

     let trie = Trie.builder()
            .add(keyword: "ab")
            .add(keyword: "cba")
            .add(keyword: "ababc")
    let firstMatch = trie.firstMatch(text: "ababcbab")

The firstMatch will now be "ababc" found at position 0. containsMatch just checks if there is a firstMatch and
returns true if that is the case.

In many cases you may want to do useful stuff with both the non-matching and the matching text. In this case, you
might be better served by using the Trie.tokenize(). It allows you to loop over the entire text and deal with
matches as soon as you encounter them. Let’s look at an example where we want to highlight words from HGttG in HTML:

    let speech = "The Answer to the Great Question... Of Life, " +
            "the Universe and Everything... Is... Forty-two,' said " +
            "Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm."
    let trie = Trie.builder()
        .add(keyword: "great question")
        .add(keyword: "forty-two")
        .add(keyword: "deep thought")
    let tokens = trie.tokenize(text: speech)
    var html = ""
    for token in tokens {
        if token.isMatch {
        if token.isMatch {


Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License");
you may not use this file except in compliance with the License.
You may obtain a copy of the License at

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software
distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS,
See the License for the specific language governing permissions and
limitations under the License.


Inspired on robert-bor/aho-corasick

Latest podspec

    "name": "Aho-Corasick",
    "version": "2.0",
    "summary": "ud83dudd0d Swift implementation of the Aho-Corasick algorithm for efficient String matching",
    "license": {
        "type": "Apache License, Version 2.0",
        "file": "LICENSE"
    "description": "This library is the Swift implementation of the afore-mentioned Aho-Corasick algorithm for efficient string matching. The algorithm is explained in great detail in the white paper written by Aho and Corasick. It supports matching several patterns at once, unicode word boundaris, case insensitive and diacritic insensitive searches.",
    "homepage": "",
    "authors": {
        "Francesco Perrotti-Garcia": "[email protected]"
    "source": {
        "git": "",
        "tag": "2.0"
    "platforms": {
        "ios": "8.0"
    "source_files": "Source/**/*.swift"

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