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Software Technology: Recursion with String data

Assumed Knowledge:
Learning Outcomes:
  • Be able to trace recursive functions in the context of String data.
  • Be able to write recursive functions in the context of String data.

Useful String methods

To use recursion on Strings, following methods are very useful:

  1. str.charAt(int): returns character at given index, raises StringIndexOutOfBoundsException if index invalid. Note: first character is at index 0, last character at index str.length()-1.
  2. str.substring(int): returns String object starting at given index (inclusive) to the end of the String, raises StringIndexOutOfBoundsException if index invalid.
  3. str.substring(int, int): returns String object starting at first index (inclusive) to the second index (exclusive), raises StringIndexOutOfBoundsException if indices or range invalid.
  4. str.indexOf(char/String): returns the index of the first occurrence (if any) of the passed character or String, -1 if not found.
  5. str.indexOf(char/String, int): returns the index of the first occurrence (if any) of the passed character or String, starting the search at passed index (second parameter), -1 if not found.
  6. str.equals(String): returns true if the two Strings are identical (case sensitive).
  7. str.equalsIgnoreCase(String): returns true if the two Strings are identical (case insensitive).

Examples of these methods in action:

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String a = "Super Nintendo Chalmers is in?";
String b = "Me fail English!? That's unpossible!";

char ch1 = a.charAt(2); //'p'
char ch2 = b.charAt(2); //' ' (space)
char ch3 = a.charAt(-1); //INVALID - StringIndexOutOfBoundsException
char ch4 = b.charAt(1000); //INVALID - StringIndexOutOfBoundsException

int idx1 = a.indexOf('e'); //3
int idx2 = b.indexOf('e'); //1
int idx3 = a.indexOf('x'); //-1
int idx4 = b.indexOf('$'); //-1

int idx1 = a.indexOf('e'); //3
int idx2 = b.indexOf('e'); //1
int idx3 = a.indexOf('x'); //-1
int idx4 = b.indexOf('$'); //-1

int idx5 = a.indexOf("in"); //7
int idx6 = a.indexOf("in", 10); //27

String sub1 = a.substring(1); //"uper Nintendo Chalmers is in?"
String sub2 = b.substring(3,7); //"fail"
String sub3 = a.substring(5, 1); //INVALID RANGE - StringIndexOutOfBoundsException
String sub4 = b.substring(-5, 10); //INVALID STARTING INDEX - StringIndexOutOfBoundsException

Basic strategy

When designing and implementing recursive solutions in the context of String data, the key strategy is to

  1. slice a String,
  2. operate on the immediate portion, and,
  3. call the recursive method on the remaining String

Example 1: count the number of vowels in a String

PROCESS: countVowels(String)

  1. If String is null or empty, return 0.
  2. Extract the first character.
  3. Store 1 into variable contri if first character is a vowel, 0 otherwise.
  4. Extract the String without the first character (remaining).
  5. Return contri + countVowels(remaining)

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public static int countVowels(String str) {
	if(str == null || str.isEmpty()) {
		return 0;
	}
	char first = str.charAt(0);
	String vowels = "aeiouAEIOU";
	int countFirstVowel = 0;
	if(vowels.indexOf(first) >= 0) {
		countFirstVowel = 1;
	}
	String remaining = str.substring(1);
	return countFirstVowel + countVowels(remaining);
}

Sample call chain:

countVowels("Aliens") returns 1 + countVowels("liens")

countVowels("liens") returns 0 + countVowels("iens")

countVowels("iens") returns 1 + countVowels("ens")

countVowels("ens") returns 1 + countVowels("ns")

countVowels("ns") returns 0 + countVowels("s")

countVowels("s") returns 0 + countVowels("")

countVowels("") returns 0

countVowels("s") returns 0 + 0 = 0

countVowels("ns") returns 0 + 0 = 0

countVowels("ens") returns 1 + 0 = 1

countVowels("iens") returns 1 + 1 = 2

countVowels("liens") returns 0 + 2 = 2

countVowels("Aliens") returns 1 + 2 = 3

Example 2: check two Strings are reverse of each other

PROCESS: areMutuallyReverse(String, String)

  1. If either of the two Strings is null or if Strings are of different lengths, return false.
  2. If both Strings are empty, return true.
  3. Extract the first character of the first String (a).
  4. Extract the last character of the second String (b).
  5. If a != b, return false.
  6. Extract the first String without the first character (remaining1).
  7. Extract the second String without the last character (remaining2).
  8. Return areMutuallyReverse(remaining1, remaining2)

Sample call chain 1:

areMutuallyReverse("super", "reap") returns false (as the two Strings are of different lengths)

Sample call chain 1:

areMutuallyReverse("super", "reap") returns false (as the two Strings are of different lengths)

Sample call chain 2:

areMutuallyReverse("super", "reads") returns areMutuallyReverse("uper", "read")

areMutuallyReverse("uper", "rope") returns false

areMutuallyReverse("super", "reads") returns false

Sample call chain 3:

areMutuallyReverse("pat", "tap") returns areMutuallyReverse("at", "ta")

areMutuallyReverse("at", "ta") returns areMutuallyReverse("t", "t")

areMutuallyReverse("t", "t") returns areMutuallyReverse("", "")

areMutuallyReverse("", "") returns true

areMutuallyReverse("t", "t") returns true

areMutuallyReverse("at", "ta") returns true

areMutuallyReverse("pat", "tap") returns true

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public static boolean areMutuallyReverse(String str1, String str2) {
	if(str1 == null || str2 == null) {
		return false;
	}
	if(str1.length() != str2.length()) {
		return false;
	}
	char a = str1.charAt(0);
	char b = str2.charAt(str2.length()-1);
	if(a != b) {
		return false;
	}
	String remaining1 = str1.substring(1);
	String remaining2 = str2.substring(0, str2.length()-1);
	return areMutuallyReverse(remaining1, remaining2);
}

Example 3: Remove consecutive occurrences of any character with a unique instance

Example: keepUnique("aaaaaaabbbbbcccccddd") returns "abcd"

PROCESS: keepUnique(String)

  1. If String is null or has less than 2 characters, return the String itself.
  2. Extract the first character in a variable first.
  3. Extract the second character in a variable second.
  4. Extract the String without the first two characters (withoutFirstTwo).
  5. If first == second, return keepUnique(first + withoutFirstTwo) (since it’s still possible that first and third might are the same)
  6. Extract the String without the first character (withoutFirst).
  7. Return first + keepUnique(withoutFirst)

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public static String keepUnique(String str) {
	if(str == null || str.length() < 2) {
		return str;
	}
	char first = str.charAt(0);
	char second = str.charAt(1);
	String withoutFirstTwo = str.substring(2);
	if(first == second) {
		return keepUnique(first + withoutFirstTwo);
	}
	String withoutFirst = str.substring(1);
	return first + keepUnique(withoutFirst);
}