5 Best Ways to Check Whether a Second String Can Be Formed from Characters of the First String in Python

Rate this post

πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: In Python programming, a common problem is determining if all characters of one string (the second string) can be formed using characters from another string (the first string). For example, inputting first_string = "abctrace" and second_string = "cat", the desired output would be True since ‘cat’ can be formed from the characters in ‘abctrace’.

Method 1: Counting with Dictionary

This method involves counting the occurrence of each character in both strings using dictionaries. The keys are the characters, and the values are the counts. If the second string can be formed from the first string, the count for each character in the second string should not exceed that of the first string.

Here’s an example:

from collections import Counter

def can_form(first_string, second_string):
    first_count = Counter(first_string)
    second_count = Counter(second_string)
    return all(second_count[char] <= first_count[char] for char in second_count)

# Example usage
print(can_form("abctrace", "cat"))

Output: True

This code defines a function can_form() that uses the collections.Counter class to create frequency dictionaries for both strings and checks if the counts for all characters in the second string are less than or equal to those in the first string.

Method 2: Sorting and Comparing

By sorting both strings and then iterating through them, you can compare the characters of the second string to those of the first string, ensuring they all match accordingly.

Here’s an example:

def can_form_by_sorting(first_string, second_string):
    sorted_first = sorted(first_string)
    sorted_second = sorted(second_string)
    return all(char in sorted_first for char in sorted_second)

# Example usage
print(can_form_by_sorting("abctrace", "cat"))

Output: True

The function can_form_by_sorting() sorts both strings and then iterates over the sorted second string characters to check if they exist in the sorted first string, using the all() function to ensure all characters match.

Method 3: Using Set and Difference

By utilizing set difference, if all characters of the second string can be removed from the first string without any leftovers, the second string can be formed from the characters of the first string.

Here’s an example:

def can_form_with_set(first_string, second_string):
    return not set(second_string).difference(first_string)

# Example usage
print(can_form_with_set("abctrace", "cat"))

Output: True

The function can_form_with_set() creates sets from both strings and uses the difference() method to test if the second string’s set is entirely contained in the first string’s set, resulting in an empty set if true.

Method 4: Using itertools.permutations

This method generates all possible permutations of the first string and checks if the second string is one of those permutations. It is an exhaustive method and not recommended for long strings due to its high time complexity.

Here’s an example:

from itertools import permutations

def can_form_with_permutation(first_string, second_string):
    return second_string in [''.join(p) for p in permutations(first_string, len(second_string))]

# Example usage
print(can_form_with_permutation("abctrace", "cat"))

Output: True

The function can_form_with_permutation() uses itertools.permutations to create all possible permutations of the first string’s characters that are the length of the second string and checks if the second string is amongst these permutations.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using List Comprehension and any()

A compact one-liner solution that iterates through the first string list and reduces it every time a character from the second string is encountered. Note: this mutates the first string list.

Here’s an example:

def can_form_oneliner(first_string, second_string):
    return not any(second_string.count(char) > first_string.count(char) for char in set(second_string))

# Example usage
print(can_form_oneliner("abctrace", "cat"))

Output: True

The one-liner checks the count of each character in the second string against the first string and returns False if any character count in the second string is greater.


  • Method 1: Counting with Dictionary. Efficient for longer strings with repeated characters. Won’t require sorting and works with large character sets.
  • Method 2: Sorting and Comparing. Simple but not the most efficient due to sorting, which can lead to a higher time complexity, especially when dealing with large strings.
  • Method 3: Using Set and Difference. Very efficient for strings with unique characters but does not account for character counts.
  • Method 4: Using itertools.permutations. Theoretically correct but practically inefficient for longer strings, as it generates all permutations which grow factorially with string length.
  • Bonus Method 5: One-Liner. Concise and pythonic, but iterates multiple times over the strings to count characters which is not efficient for large strings with many repeated characters.