# Checking for uniqueness within a string

I saw this interview question in the book Cracking the Coding Interview:

Implement an algorithm to determine if a string has all unique characters

The authors solution uses bit-shifting for a pretty efficient solution.

I wanted to give it a shot to discover some new things and practice some. I'd like for this to be a discussion of how I can improve my programming and also, what the correct answer may be. Did I leave out any edge-cases? Is there a more efficient way of doing this?

#include <iostream>
#include <string>
#include <map>

using namespace std;

// Uses an iterator to display the map.
void displayMap(map<char, int> displayCharacters)
{
for (map<char, int>::iterator itr = displayCharacters.begin(), end = displayCharacters.end(); itr != end; ++itr)
{
cout << itr->first << " --> " << itr->second << endl;
}
}

// Checks for uniqueness for a given string and returns a boolean.
bool isUnique(int stringLength, string alphabet, map<char, int> uniqueCharacters)
{
for (int i = 0; i < stringLength; i++)
{
if (uniqueCharacters[alphabet[i]] == 1)
{
return false;
}

uniqueCharacters[alphabet[i]]++;
}

return true;
}

// Maps individual characters found in stringRead and sets a value to them.
// Returns the mapped map.
{
for (int i = 0, strLen = stringRead.length(); i < strLen; i++)
{
}

return uniqueCharacters;
}

int main()
{
// Create a map to store a key character and value int.
// Create a string to hold a variable string to test.
map<char, int> uniqueCharacters;
string testString = "aaabbbccc";
int stringLength = testString.length();

// uniqueCharacters is mapped to the above string and the displayed using displayMap.
displayMap(uniqueCharacters);

if (isUnique(stringLength, testString, uniqueCharacters))
{
cout << "Unique string!\n";
}
else
{
cout << "Not unique!\n";
}

cin.ignore();
cin.get();
}

• @rafa you can use a bool array of uniqueCharacters instead of integer since you are not keeping any record of frequency of letters. Jul 25, 2015 at 16:25
• @aa1992 I was thinking of doing that as well. In any case, in an interview setting, if asked, 'how would you improve this?', that would be a good answer :)
– rafa
Jul 25, 2015 at 16:27
• Knowing whether the requirements need to handle otherwise-trivial character sets makes a big difference. For a simple ascii string, a lookup table like this would probably be sufficient and near-optimal. Jul 25, 2015 at 16:33

This solution is inefficient:

1. There is no point counting the characters in the entire string: once you found a duplicate, you can stop counting, because you know the result is false
• This also implies that the map of counts is wasted space
2. Iterating over the alphabet to check character counts is inefficient: it would be better to iterate over the map values

Instead of a map, it would be more efficient to use a set.

Instead of a set, you could also consider a boolean array of the size of the alphabet, values initialized to false, and use that to track characters seen so far. The disadvantage of this approach over a set is that it might use more space.

You are also violating some good practices:

• using namespace std is considered bad practice
• readString is poorly named: it doesn't "read a string", it initializes a map of character counts to all zero values
• No need to pass stringLength together with testString. You can derive that value from testString