Java – Similarity String Comparison in Java

javastring-comparison

I want to compare several strings to each other, and find the ones that are the most similar. I was wondering if there is any library, method or best practice that would return me which strings are more similar to other strings. For example:

  • "The quick fox jumped" -> "The fox jumped"
  • "The quick fox jumped" -> "The fox"

This comparison would return that the first is more similar than the second.

I guess I need some method such as:

double similarityIndex(String s1, String s2)

Is there such a thing somewhere?

EDIT: Why am I doing this? I am writing a script that compares the output of a MS Project file to the output of some legacy system that handles tasks. Because the legacy system has a very limited field width, when the values are added the descriptions are abbreviated. I want some semi-automated way to find which entries from MS Project are similar to the entries on the system so I can get the generated keys. It has drawbacks, as it has to be still manually checked, but it would save a lot of work

Best Solution

The common way of calculating the similarity between two strings in a 0%-100% fashion, as used in many libraries, is to measure how much (in %) you'd have to change the longer string to turn it into the shorter:

/**
 * Calculates the similarity (a number within 0 and 1) between two strings.
 */
public static double similarity(String s1, String s2) {
  String longer = s1, shorter = s2;
  if (s1.length() < s2.length()) { // longer should always have greater length
    longer = s2; shorter = s1;
  }
  int longerLength = longer.length();
  if (longerLength == 0) { return 1.0; /* both strings are zero length */ }
  return (longerLength - editDistance(longer, shorter)) / (double) longerLength;
}
// you can use StringUtils.getLevenshteinDistance() as the editDistance() function
// full copy-paste working code is below


Computing the editDistance():

The editDistance() function above is expected to calculate the edit distance between the two strings. There are several implementations to this step, each may suit a specific scenario better. The most common is the Levenshtein distance algorithm and we'll use it in our example below (for very large strings, other algorithms are likely to perform better).

Here's two options to calculate the edit distance:


Working example:

See online demo here.

public class StringSimilarity {

  /**
   * Calculates the similarity (a number within 0 and 1) between two strings.
   */
  public static double similarity(String s1, String s2) {
    String longer = s1, shorter = s2;
    if (s1.length() < s2.length()) { // longer should always have greater length
      longer = s2; shorter = s1;
    }
    int longerLength = longer.length();
    if (longerLength == 0) { return 1.0; /* both strings are zero length */ }
    /* // If you have Apache Commons Text, you can use it to calculate the edit distance:
    LevenshteinDistance levenshteinDistance = new LevenshteinDistance();
    return (longerLength - levenshteinDistance.apply(longer, shorter)) / (double) longerLength; */
    return (longerLength - editDistance(longer, shorter)) / (double) longerLength;

  }

  // Example implementation of the Levenshtein Edit Distance
  // See http://rosettacode.org/wiki/Levenshtein_distance#Java
  public static int editDistance(String s1, String s2) {
    s1 = s1.toLowerCase();
    s2 = s2.toLowerCase();

    int[] costs = new int[s2.length() + 1];
    for (int i = 0; i <= s1.length(); i++) {
      int lastValue = i;
      for (int j = 0; j <= s2.length(); j++) {
        if (i == 0)
          costs[j] = j;
        else {
          if (j > 0) {
            int newValue = costs[j - 1];
            if (s1.charAt(i - 1) != s2.charAt(j - 1))
              newValue = Math.min(Math.min(newValue, lastValue),
                  costs[j]) + 1;
            costs[j - 1] = lastValue;
            lastValue = newValue;
          }
        }
      }
      if (i > 0)
        costs[s2.length()] = lastValue;
    }
    return costs[s2.length()];
  }

  public static void printSimilarity(String s, String t) {
    System.out.println(String.format(
      "%.3f is the similarity between \"%s\" and \"%s\"", similarity(s, t), s, t));
  }

  public static void main(String[] args) {
    printSimilarity("", "");
    printSimilarity("1234567890", "1");
    printSimilarity("1234567890", "123");
    printSimilarity("1234567890", "1234567");
    printSimilarity("1234567890", "1234567890");
    printSimilarity("1234567890", "1234567980");
    printSimilarity("47/2010", "472010");
    printSimilarity("47/2010", "472011");
    printSimilarity("47/2010", "AB.CDEF");
    printSimilarity("47/2010", "4B.CDEFG");
    printSimilarity("47/2010", "AB.CDEFG");
    printSimilarity("The quick fox jumped", "The fox jumped");
    printSimilarity("The quick fox jumped", "The fox");
    printSimilarity("kitten", "sitting");
  }

}

Output:

1.000 is the similarity between "" and ""
0.100 is the similarity between "1234567890" and "1"
0.300 is the similarity between "1234567890" and "123"
0.700 is the similarity between "1234567890" and "1234567"
1.000 is the similarity between "1234567890" and "1234567890"
0.800 is the similarity between "1234567890" and "1234567980"
0.857 is the similarity between "47/2010" and "472010"
0.714 is the similarity between "47/2010" and "472011"
0.000 is the similarity between "47/2010" and "AB.CDEF"
0.125 is the similarity between "47/2010" and "4B.CDEFG"
0.000 is the similarity between "47/2010" and "AB.CDEFG"
0.700 is the similarity between "The quick fox jumped" and "The fox jumped"
0.350 is the similarity between "The quick fox jumped" and "The fox"
0.571 is the similarity between "kitten" and "sitting"