# Longest common subsequence of 3+ strings

### Question

I am trying to find the longest common subsequence of 3 or more strings. The Wikipedia article has a great description of how to do this for 2 strings, but I'm a little unsure of how to extend this to 3 or more strings.

There are plenty of libraries for finding the LCS of 2 strings, so I'd like to use one of them if possible. If I have 3 strings A, B and C, is it valid to find the LCS of A and B as X, and then find the LCS of X and C, or is this the wrong way to do it?

I've implemented it in Python as follows:

``````import difflib

def lcs(str1, str2):
sm = difflib.SequenceMatcher()
sm.set_seqs(str1, str2)
matching_blocks = [str1[m.a:m.a+m.size] for m in sm.get_matching_blocks()]
return "".join(matching_blocks)

print reduce(lcs, ['abacbdab', 'bdcaba', 'cbacaa'])
``````

This outputs "ba", however it should be "baa".

1
15
2/20/2011 1:16:54 PM

Just generalize the recurrence relation.

For three strings:

``````dp[i, j, k] = 1 + dp[i - 1, j - 1, k - 1] if A[i] = B[j] = C[k]
max(dp[i - 1, j, k], dp[i, j - 1, k], dp[i, j, k - 1]) otherwise
``````

Should be easy to generalize to more strings from this.

23
2/20/2011 1:41:55 PM

To find the Longest Common Subsequence (LCS) of 2 strings A and B, you can traverse a 2-dimensional array diagonally like shown in the Link you posted. Every element in the array corresponds to the problem of finding the LCS of the substrings A' and B' (A cut by its row number, B cut by its column number). This problem can be solved by calculating the value of all elements in the array. You must be certain that when you calculate the value of an array element, all sub-problems required to calculate that given value has already been solved. That is why you traverse the 2-dimensional array diagonally.

This solution can be scaled to finding the longest common subsequence between N strings, but this requires a general way to iterate an array of N dimensions such that any element is reached only when all sub-problems the element requires a solution to has been solved.

Instead of iterating the N-dimensional array in a special order, you can also solve the problem recursively. With recursion it is important to save the intermediate solutions, since many branches will require the same intermediate solutions. I have written a small example in C# that does this:

``````string lcs(string[] strings)
{
if (strings.Length == 0)
return "";
if (strings.Length == 1)
return strings;
int max = -1;
int cacheSize = 1;
for (int i = 0; i < strings.Length; i++)
{
cacheSize *= strings[i].Length;
if (strings[i].Length > max)
max = strings[i].Length;
}
string[] cache = new string[cacheSize];
int[] indexes = new int[strings.Length];
for (int i = 0; i < indexes.Length; i++)
indexes[i] = strings[i].Length - 1;
return lcsBack(strings, indexes, cache);
}
string lcsBack(string[] strings, int[] indexes, string[] cache)
{
for (int i = 0; i < indexes.Length; i++ )
if (indexes[i] == -1)
return "";
bool match = true;
for (int i = 1; i < indexes.Length; i++)
{
if (strings[indexes] != strings[i][indexes[i]])
{
match = false;
break;
}
}
if (match)
{
int[] newIndexes = new int[indexes.Length];
for (int i = 0; i < indexes.Length; i++)
newIndexes[i] = indexes[i] - 1;
string result = lcsBack(strings, newIndexes, cache) + strings[indexes];
cache[calcCachePos(indexes, strings)] = result;
return result;
}
else
{
string[] subStrings = new string[strings.Length];
for (int i = 0; i < strings.Length; i++)
{
if (indexes[i] <= 0)
subStrings[i] = "";
else
{
int[] newIndexes = new int[indexes.Length];
for (int j = 0; j < indexes.Length; j++)
newIndexes[j] = indexes[j];
newIndexes[i]--;
int cachePos = calcCachePos(newIndexes, strings);
if (cache[cachePos] == null)
subStrings[i] = lcsBack(strings, newIndexes, cache);
else
subStrings[i] = cache[cachePos];
}
}
string longestString = "";
int longestLength = 0;
for (int i = 0; i < subStrings.Length; i++)
{
if (subStrings[i].Length > longestLength)
{
longestString = subStrings[i];
longestLength = longestString.Length;
}
}
cache[calcCachePos(indexes, strings)] = longestString;
return longestString;
}
}
int calcCachePos(int[] indexes, string[] strings)
{
int factor = 1;
int pos = 0;
for (int i = 0; i < indexes.Length; i++)
{
pos += indexes[i] * factor;
factor *= strings[i].Length;
}
return pos;
}
``````

My code example can be optimized further. Many of the strings being cached are duplicates, and some are duplicates with just one additional character added. This uses more space than necessary when the input strings become large.

On input: "666222054263314443712", "5432127413542377777", "6664664565464057425"

The LCS returned is "54442"