5 Best Ways to Find the Lowest Index of a Substring in a String in Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: In Python programming, one common task is to locate the start index of a substring within a larger string. This index is the lowest position at which the substring can be found. For instance, if the input string is "Looking for where this occurs in this sentence", and the substring is "this", the desired output is 12, as that’s the lowest index where "this" begins.

Method 1: Using the string find() Method

This method utilizes Python’s built-in string method find(), which returns the lowest index where the substring is found. If the substring is not found, it returns -1. This method is straightforward and does not require importing any additional modules.

Here’s an example:

s = "Search this string for a substring."
sub = "this"
index = s.find(sub)

Output: 7

The code snippet utilizes the string method find() which scans the string s for the first occurrence of the substring sub and returns its index. The result indicates that ‘this’ starts at index 7 in the provided string.

Method 2: Using the string index() Method

Similar to find(), the string method index() returns the lowest index where the substring is found but raises a ValueError if the substring is not present. This behavior can be useful for control flow and error handling.

Here’s an example:

s = "Find the position of 'this' in this example."
sub = "this"
    index = s.index(sub)
except ValueError:
    print("Substring not found.")

Output: 20

The sample code attempts to locate the substring sub within the string s using the method index(). If found, it prints the index, otherwise, it catches a ValueError and notifies that the substring was not found.

Method 3: Using Regular Expressions with re.search()

The re.search() method from the re module is used when pattern matching is more complex than a direct substring. This method returns a Match object from which you can retrieve the starting index of the first occurrence of the pattern.

Here’s an example:

import re
s = "Complex pattern matching starts here: pattern"
pattern = "pattern"
match = re.search(pattern, s)
if match:
    print("Pattern not found.")

Output: 35

This snippet imports the re module and uses re.search() to find the first match of the regex pattern within the string s. The start() method of the Match object returns the starting index of the match.

Method 4: Using List Comprehension and find()

This method combines list comprehensions with find() to locate the lowest index of a substring in each element of an iterable, like a list of strings. This approach is useful for processing multiple strings in one go.

Here’s an example:

strings = ["where is this?", "here is this!", "not here"]
sub = "this"
indices = [s.find(sub) for s in strings]

Output: [8, 8, -1]

The example code uses list comprehension to iterate over each string in the strings list and applies the find() method to each one. The resulting list indices contains the first index of the substring in each string or -1 if it’s not found.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using the next() Function with Iterators

This one-liner method leverages Python’s next() function with an iterator to quickly return the lowest index of a substring in a string, or a default value if the substring is not found.

Here’s an example:

s = "Quick search with next()"
sub = "search"
index = next((i for i in range(len(s)) if s.startswith(sub, i)), -1)

Output: 6

The code creates a generator expression to iterate through indices where the string could start with the substring. The next() function returns the first occurrence where the condition is true, hence finding the lowest index of the substring.


  • Method 1: Using find(): Simple and robust for direct substring search. Does not throw an error if substring is not found, which can be beneficial for certain applications.
  • Method 2: Using index(): Functions almost identically to find() but raises an error when the substring is absent, making it useful for error checking.
  • Method 3: Using Regular Expressions with re.search(): Versatile for complex pattern searches. However, it is more resource-intensive and may be overkill for simple tasks.
  • Method 4: Using List Comprehension and find(): Ideal for finding indices in multiple strings simultaneously, but returns -1 for no match, which might require additional handling.
  • Bonus Method 5: Using next() and Iterators: Elegant one-liner suitable for finding a substring’s index with a default value if not found. May be less readable for beginners.