Problem: Write a function that takes a String document and a String[] keywords and returns the smallest substring of document that contains all of the strings in keywords.


  • document will contain at least 1 word
  • document will separate words by a single space
  • A word can only contain [a-z] and can appear multiple times in the document
  • keywords will be a distinct list of words
  • Matches must be perfect (ie bat and batman do not match)
  • If there are multiple shortest substrings, pick the first one
  • keywords can appear in the substring in any order
  • The substring length is counted in words, not characters
  • Must be written in Java 7 and provide a class called Solution with a method solution



document: "a b c d a"
keywords: ["a", "c", "d"]

Output: "c d a"


document: "world there hello hello where world"
keywords: ["hello", "world"]

Output: "world there hello"

My attempt:

import java.util.Collections;
import java.util.HashMap;
import java.util.Map;

//Time Complexity: O(w + ws)
//Space Complexity: O(s)
//Where w is the number of words in the document, and s is the number of search terms
public class Solution {
    private Map<String, Integer> snippetDataPoints = new HashMap<String, Integer>();
    private String[] words, searchTerms;
    private int shortestSnippetStart = 0, shortestSnippetEnd, currentSnippetStart = 0;

    public static String solution(String document, String[] searchTerms) {
        Solution solution = new Solution (document.split(" "), searchTerms);//document.split isnt the most efficient, but we are already over O(n), and this keeps it simple
        return solution.solve();

    private Solution(String[] words, String[] searchTerms){
        this.words = words;
        this.searchTerms = searchTerms;

    private String solve(){
        for(int i=0;i<words.length;i++){
                addToSnippet(words[i], i);
        StringBuilder snippet = new StringBuilder();
        for(int i = shortestSnippetStart; i<=shortestSnippetEnd; i++){
            snippet.append(words[i] + " ");
        return snippet.toString();

    private void addToSnippet(String word, int position) {
        Integer previousPosition = snippetDataPoints.put(word, position);
        if(previousPosition == null || previousPosition <= currentSnippetStart){
            currentSnippetStart = Collections.min(snippetDataPoints.values());
        if(snippetDataPoints.size() == searchTerms.length){

    private void determineShortestSnippet(int currentPositionEnd) { 
        if(shortestSnippetEnd - shortestSnippetStart > currentPositionEnd - currentSnippetStart ){
            shortestSnippetStart = currentSnippetStart;
            shortestSnippetEnd = currentPositionEnd;

    private boolean searchTermsContains(String word) {
        for(String searchTerm : searchTerms){
            if(searchTerm.equals(word)) return true;
        return false;

My Analysis: This was written with a time constraint, so it manages to keep simplicity without losing too much efficiency. The document.split() is unnecessary - I could have done the parsing on the fly, but it would have been more complicated. Similarly, I could have created a better implementation of searchTermsContains, perhaps using a tree of character nodes to minimize search time. However, it would be really great if I could significantly reduce the usage of searchTermsContains altogether since its adding a wsto my time complexity, but I cant think of anyway.

I also could have used a more efficient data structure for the snippetDataPoints. I think a parallel array would have worked just as well and used significantly less memory (though still technically O(s)?). And finally, a lot of my code runs under the assumption that all input is perfectly valid - something Im willing to accept given time constraints and the nature of the problem.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Was this, by any chance, an interview-question, like this one? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 6:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @200_success not an interview question, but basically just a java variant of the problem \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


Problems / Bugs

  • The following calls will all throw an ArrayIndexOutOfBoundsException

    String document = "a b c d";
    System.out.println(Solution.solution(document, new String[]{"g"}));
    System.out.println(Solution.solution(document, new String[]{"g", "a", "s", "s"}));
    System.out.println(Solution.solution(document, new String[]{"a", "b" ,"c", "d"}));

    because of

    for (int i = shortestSnippetStart; i <= shortestSnippetEnd; i++) {

    Assuming you have fixed the above by changing to

    for (int i = shortestSnippetStart; i < shortestSnippetEnd; i++) {

    The above calls will return

    a b c d
    a b c d
    a b c

  • The following will throw an exception if snippet.length==0



  • you shouldn't do string concatenation inside StringBuilder.append() method. The append() method returns a StringBuilderso you should just stack the calls like

           .append(" ");
  • you shouldn't declare multiple variables in a single line, because this removes readability of the code.

  • give your conditions/variables the possibility to breathe

    for(int i = shortestSnippetStart; i<=shortestSnippetEnd; i++){  

    should be

    for(int i = shortestSnippetStart; i <= shortestSnippetEnd; i++) {  
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I should have been more clear by adding it in the notes, but my last line about perfect inputs implies that all keywords will be in the doc, and keywords and doc have at least size 1 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 17:21

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