What Is Suffix Tree in Data Structure?


Angela Bailey

A suffix tree is a fundamental data structure in computer science that is used to efficiently store and search for patterns within a given text. It has wide-ranging applications in areas such as string algorithms, bioinformatics, and data compression.

What is a Suffix Tree?
A suffix tree is a compressed trie data structure that represents all the suffixes of a given string. It provides efficient search and retrieval operations for finding substrings within the original text.

Construction of Suffix Trees
Constructing a suffix tree involves adding all the suffixes of a given string into the tree while maintaining certain properties. The construction process can be done using various algorithms such as Ukkonen’s algorithm or McCreight’s algorithm.

Properties of Suffix Trees

  • Compactness: Unlike other trie-like structures, suffix trees compress common prefixes into single edges. This results in reduced memory usage.
  • Efficient Pattern Searching: One of the main applications of suffix trees is pattern searching. By traversing the tree, we can quickly locate occurrences of a given pattern within the text.
  • Substring Retrieval: Suffix trees allow us to retrieve all occurrences of a substring efficiently.

    This is achieved by finding the lowest common ancestor of two leaf nodes representing the starting and ending positions of the substring.

  • Longest Repeated Substring: Suffix trees can be used to find the longest repeated substring in a text. This can be accomplished by identifying internal nodes with more than one child.
  • Suffix Sorting: Suffix trees also enable efficient sorting of all the suffixes present in a given string. By performing a depth-first traversal on the tree, we can obtain the sorted order of the suffixes.

Applications of Suffix Trees

Suffix trees have numerous practical applications in various domains. Here are some notable examples:

1. Text Mining and Information Retrieval

Suffix trees facilitate fast searching and indexing of large volumes of text. They are used in search engines, plagiarism detection systems, and document similarity analysis.

2. DNA Sequencing and Bioinformatics

In bioinformatics, suffix trees are extensively used for DNA sequencing and sequence alignment tasks. They help identify similarities between DNA sequences and aid in genome assembly.

3. Data Compression

Suffix trees play a crucial role in data compression algorithms such as Burrows-Wheeler Transform (BWT) and the Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) algorithm used in file compression formats like gzip.

4. Natural Language Processing

Suffix trees assist in tasks like spell checking, text completion, and text summarization by efficiently storing and retrieving word patterns within a corpus.


In summary, a suffix tree is a versatile data structure that offers efficient storage, retrieval, and searching capabilities for patterns within a given text. Its compactness, along with its various applications in fields like bioinformatics, data compression, and natural language processing, makes it an indispensable tool for many computational tasks.

By understanding the construction process and familiarizing ourselves with its properties and applications, we can leverage suffix trees to solve complex problems efficiently. So next time you encounter a task involving pattern matching or substring retrieval, consider utilizing the power of suffix trees!

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