Levenshtein distance in mySQL


According to Wikipedia, the Levenshtein distance is a string metric for measuring the difference between two sequences. Informally, the Levenshtein distance between two words is the minimum number of single-character edits (insertions, deletions or substitutions) required to change one word into the other. This distance can be used to find a row in a SQL database where the keyword does not match exactly the fields. By computing the distance between the keywords and the candidates, it becomes possible to find the closest (in term of Levenshtein distance) row in the database. It can be usefull for example for finding a nickname, a username or a city even if the keywords does not match exactly.

Let's take an example. In the following, we'll assume the database contains a row containing the field "New-York". The user was asked for a city and input the following:

User input Database Distance Comment
New-York New-York 0 The words match perfectly, the distance is 0.
New York New-York 1 One substitution.
NewYork New-York 1 One insertion.
New-Yorke New-York 1 One deletion.
NewYorke New-York 2 One insertion and one deletion.
Paris New-York 8 Five substitutions and three deletions.

The following implementation has been tested with these versions:

Implementation of the function

The first step is to implement the levenshtein function in mySQL. Select the table where the distance between words is required and copy the following SQL code (from http://www.artfulsoftware.com):

CREATE FUNCTION levenshtein( s1 VARCHAR(255), s2 VARCHAR(255) )
        DECLARE s1_len, s2_len, i, j, c, c_temp, cost INT;
        DECLARE s1_char CHAR;
        -- max strlen=255
        DECLARE cv0, cv1 VARBINARY(256);

        SET s1_len = CHAR_LENGTH(s1), s2_len = CHAR_LENGTH(s2), cv1 = 0x00, j = 1, i = 1, c = 0;

        IF s1 = s2 THEN
            RETURN 0;
        ELSEIF s1_len = 0 THEN
            RETURN s2_len;
        ELSEIF s2_len = 0 THEN
            RETURN s1_len;
            WHILE j <= s2_len DO
                SET cv1 = CONCAT(cv1, UNHEX(HEX(j))), j = j + 1;
            END WHILE;
            WHILE i <= s1_len DO
                SET s1_char = SUBSTRING(s1, i, 1), c = i, cv0 = UNHEX(HEX(i)), j = 1;
                WHILE j <= s2_len DO
                    SET c = c + 1;
                    IF s1_char = SUBSTRING(s2, j, 1) THEN
                        SET cost = 0; ELSE SET cost = 1;
                    END IF;
                    SET c_temp = CONV(HEX(SUBSTRING(cv1, j, 1)), 16, 10) + cost;
                    IF c > c_temp THEN SET c = c_temp; END IF;
                    SET c_temp = CONV(HEX(SUBSTRING(cv1, j+1, 1)), 16, 10) + 1;
                    IF c > c_temp THEN
                        SET c = c_temp;
                    END IF;
                    SET cv0 = CONCAT(cv0, UNHEX(HEX(c))), j = j + 1;
                END WHILE;
                SET cv1 = cv0, i = i + 1;
            END WHILE;
        END IF;
        RETURN c;

Run the query on your server.

Implement the Levenshtein function in mySQL

Result must be OK before continuing:

Query for adding the Levenshtein function succeeds

The function must appear in your current table. It may need few minutes to be refreshed, depending on your version. Refresh the whole page if needed.

The function is added in the current table

Call the function

Before performing complex queries, let's check that the function works properly. Run the following query:

SELECT levenshtein('New-York', 'Paris')

It should return a distance of 8:

Compute the Levenshtein distance between Paris and New-York

The Levenshtein function can now be used in a SQL query:

SELECT * FROM `cities` WHERE levenshtein('$keyword', `name`) BETWEEN 0 AND 4

The previous query returns the rows of table cities where the distance between the string keyword and the field name is less than 5. Let's try with the word newyorke:

Example of a SQL query with the Levenshtein distance

That's all folks !

See also

Last update : 11/23/2021