Implementing a Trie in JavaScript Part 2

Last week I wrote part one of this series of blogs. We learned how to insert a word into a trie, as well as determine whether or not the trie contains a given word. In this blog I’m going to look at removing a word from a trie, as well as getting a list of words from a trie that begin with a given prefix.


Words With Prefix

Trie example #1

Given the above trie, how would we return all of the words that begin with ‘B’?

First Step
Similar to how we determine if a trie contains a certain word, first we would need to traverse it to make sure it contains nodes with all of the letters of our prefix. As we’re traversing the trie if we come across a letter that isn’t a child of the previous node, we know that it can’t contain any words that begin with that prefix. For example if we were looking for words that begin with the prefix ‘BU’, once we got to ‘B’, we would see it doesn’t have any children ‘U’ and therefor can’t have any words that begin with ‘BU’.

We will need an array to store the words that contain the given prefix. Once we’ve gotten to the last node of our prefix, we will check if it is the end of a word. If it is, our prefix itself is a word and we will push it into our return array.

In this case, we are at node ‘B’, and it is not the end of a word.

Second Step
Now we need to traverse the children of this node, adding letters to our prefix as we go to sort of ‘build’ the words that need to be pushed into our return array.

The children of ‘B’ are ‘E’ and ‘A’. ‘E’ is the end of a word, so we will push ‘B’ + ‘E’ into our return array.

Now we need to recursively follow this step for each child. Passing in the old prefix plus the current value of the child, as the new prefix. We will be checking ‘E’ with the prefix ‘BE’, and ‘A’, with the prefix ‘BA’.

Third Step
Let’s check ‘E’ now. There is only one child, ‘T’, and it is the end of a word. Our prefix is currently ‘BE’, so we will push ‘BE’ + ‘T’, into our results array. ‘T’ does not have any children

Final Step
Now we are on ‘A’, which also only has one child. So we push ‘BA’ + ‘T’, into our results array. This ‘T’ also doesn’t have any children. We have no more nodes to check.

Our results looks like [‘BE’, ‘BET’, ‘BAT’]. Which is every word in our trie beginning with ‘B’.

Removing a Word

Trie example #2

Removing a word from a trie can be a little tricky. Take the above trie for example. If we wanted to remove ‘ASK’ from our trie, we would merely need to remove the end of word flag from ‘K’ and leave the rest of the nodes in tact. However, if we wanted to remove ‘ASKED’ we would need to remove the nodes ‘E’ and ‘D’ from the trie; stopping once we got to ‘K’ since it has children that belong to other words. Let’s remove ‘ASKED’ from our trie.

First Step
We will follow the same steps as we did for determining if the trie contains a word. However, as we go we will push each node into a stack, except for the last node. This is because we need to work backwards from the end when we are removing nodes. We still need to keep track of the last node in the word, we just don’t want to push it into our stack.

Once we have our last node, we set its end of word flag to false. Now we need to start working through our stack.

Second Step
While our stack is not empty and as long as our current node isn’t the end of a word, we will first reassign our current node to be the previous node. The node we pop off the stack will be our new current node. (‘D’ was our current node before we started this step.)

previous node = ‘D’
current node = ‘E’

As long as ‘D’ doesn’t have any children, we can delete it. If it does have children then we need to break out of our loop (the parents of ‘D’ are required to form the word that ‘D’ is a part of).

‘D’ doesn’t have any children so we delete it.

Last Step
previous node = ‘E’
current node = ‘K’

Since we removed ‘D’, ‘E’ doesn’t have any children. Therefor we will remove ‘E’.

Now since ‘K’ is the end of a word, we will break out of our loop. We have removed ‘E’ and ‘D’, so now ‘ASKED’ is not part of our trie.


All of the methods here will go inside of the Trie class that we made in my last blog post.

Words With Prefix

Seeing as I needed to use the same method of traversing the trie when determining if a trie contained a word, as well as finding all of the words with a given prefix, I created a helper method.

I changed my hasWord method from my last blog to use getLastNode as well. I’ll post a link to the full GitHub repository at the end so you can check that out if you want.

This method just takes a series of letters, and either returns false if the trie doesn’t contain them, or returns the node of the last letter in the series. These letters could either be for a full word, or a prefix.

Now that we have our helper method, let’s make our method to get all words with a given prefix.

We take in a prefix, and a starting node. We have our words array that will contain all of the words. We use getLastNode to get the last node of the prefix. currNode will either be the last node, or it will be false if the trie doesn’t have that prefix. If currNode is false, we skip our if block and return an empty array.

Inside the if block. If prefix is a word, we will push it to our words array. From there, we need to get the words from each child of currNode. Let’s see what our getWordsFrom method looks like.

getWordsFrom takes a node, a string, and an array. It adds the value of node to the string. If node is the end of a word, it pushes string into the array. For each child of the node, it gets called recursively. Passing in the new string.

We use this in our findAllWithPrefix method to start from the last node of a prefix and gather all of the words.

Removing a Word

There are no helper methods in our removeWord method but it takes a similar approach to traversing the trie.

It starts out similarly to our getLastNode method. We always start from the root. We also need a stack.

Iterating through each letter of our word, if it is not a child of our currNode we return false. This means that word is not in our trie. If it does have the letter we reassign currNode to that child. On line 9 we are just saying, if it is not the last letter of the word, push that node into the stack.

At the end of the for...of loop currNode is the last letter of word. We set its endOfWord flag to false. Our while loop runs while there are still nodes in the stack and while the currNode isn’t the end of another word.

Just like our step by step example, once in the while loop, we assign prevNode to our old currNode, and now currNode will get popped off the stack. If the prevNode has any children, we need to break out of the loop. Think of our example with ‘ASK’. prevNode would be ‘K’, we would have set its endOfWord flag to be false, but since it has children we would just want to break out of our loop.

Otherwise, we delete prevNode by removing it from the children of currNode.

We continue this process until either the stack is empty, we’ve broken out of our loop, or one of the nodes is the end of another word in our trie.

It’s worth mentioning, rather than using a stack we could alter our Node class to have a parent attribute that points to its parent node. We could then use that attribute to traverse backwards through our trie.

In Conclusion…

A trie is a useful data structure. They can be used for auto complete, spell check, and routing. I’m sure that my implementation of a trie isn’t the most optimal, however I learned a lot while coding it. For now this is all I can think to write about tries, but I’m open to suggestions for a part 3! All of the code in this blog can be found in this GitHub repository.

Aspiring Software Engineer

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