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# Find the longest substring with k unique characters in a given string

• Difficulty Level : Hard
• Last Updated : 09 Sep, 2021

Given a string you need to print longest possible substring that has exactly M unique characters. If there are more than one substring of longest possible length, then print any one of them.

Examples:

```"aabbcc", k = 1
Max substring can be any one from {"aa" , "bb" , "cc"}.

"aabbcc", k = 2
Max substring can be any one from {"aabb" , "bbcc"}.

"aabbcc", k = 3
There are substrings with exactly 3 unique characters
{"aabbcc" , "abbcc" , "aabbc" , "abbc" }
Max is "aabbcc" with length 6.

"aaabbb", k = 3
There are only two unique characters, thus show error message. ```

Method 1 (Brute Force)
If the length of string is n, then there can be n*(n+1)/2 possible substrings. A simple way is to generate all the substring and check each one whether it has exactly k unique characters or not. If we apply this brute force, it would take O(n2) to generate all substrings and O(n) to do a check on each one. Thus overall it would go O(n3).
We can further improve this solution by creating a hash table and while generating the substrings, check the number of unique characters using that hash table. Thus it would improve up to O(n2).

Method 2 (Linear Time)
The problem can be solved in O(n). Idea is to maintain a window and add elements to the window till it contains less or equal k, update our result if required while doing so. If unique elements exceeds than required in window, start removing the elements from left side.
Below are the implementations of above. The implementations assume that the input string alphabet contains only 26 characters (from ‘a’ to ‘z’). The code can be easily extended to 256 characters.

## C++

 `// C++ program to find the longest substring with k unique``// characters in a given string``#include ``#include ``#define MAX_CHARS 26``using` `namespace` `std;` `// This function calculates number of unique characters``// using a associative array count[]. Returns true if``// no. of characters are less than required else returns``// false.``bool` `isValid(``int` `count[], ``int` `k)``{``    ``int` `val = 0;``    ``for` `(``int` `i=0; i 0)``            ``val++;` `    ``// Return true if k is greater than or equal to val``    ``return` `(k >= val);``}` `// Finds the maximum substring with exactly k unique chars``void` `kUniques(string s, ``int` `k)``{``    ``int` `u = 0; ``// number of unique characters``    ``int` `n = s.length();` `    ``// Associative array to store the count of characters``    ``int` `count[MAX_CHARS];``    ``memset``(count, 0, ``sizeof``(count));` `    ``// Traverse the string, Fills the associative array``    ``// count[] and count number of unique characters``    ``for` `(``int` `i=0; i max_window_size)``        ``{``            ``max_window_size = curr_end-curr_start+1;``            ``max_window_start = curr_start;``        ``}``    ``}` `    ``cout << ``"Max substring is : "``         ``<< s.substr(max_window_start, max_window_size)``         ``<< ``" with length "` `<< max_window_size << endl;``}` `// Driver function``int` `main()``{``    ``string s = ``"aabacbebebe"``;``    ``int` `k = 3;``    ``kUniques(s, k);``    ``return` `0;``}`

## Java

 `import` `java.util.Arrays;` `// Java program to find the longest substring with k unique``// characters in a given string``class` `GFG {` `    ``final` `static` `int` `MAX_CHARS = ``26``;` `   ``// This function calculates number``   ``// of unique characters``   ``// using a associative array``   ``// count[]. Returns true if``   ``// no. of characters are less``   ``// than required else returns``   ``// false.``    ``static` `boolean` `isValid(``int` `count[],``                                   ``int` `k)``    ``{``        ``int` `val = ``0``;``        ``for` `(``int` `i = ``0``; i < MAX_CHARS; i++)``        ``{``            ``if` `(count[i] > ``0``)``            ``{``                ``val++;``            ``}``        ``}` `        ``// Return true if k is greater``        ``// than or equal to val``        ``return` `(k >= val);``    ``}` `    ``// Finds the maximum substring``    ``// with exactly k unique chars``    ``static` `void` `kUniques(String s, ``int` `k)``    ``{``        ``int` `u = ``0``;``        ``int` `n = s.length();` `        ``// Associative array to store``        ``// the count of characters``        ``int` `count[] = ``new` `int``[MAX_CHARS];``        ``Arrays.fill(count, ``0``);``        ``// Traverse the string, Fills``        ``// the associative array``        ``// count[] and count number``        ``// of unique characters``        ``for` `(``int` `i = ``0``; i < n; i++)``        ``{``            ``if` `(count[s.charAt(i) - ``'a'``] == ``0``)``            ``{``                ``u++;``            ``}``            ``count[s.charAt(i) - ``'a'``]++;``        ``}` `        ``// If there are not enough``        ``// unique characters, show``        ``// an error message.``        ``if` `(u < k) {``            ``System.out.print(``"Not enough unique characters"``);``            ``return``;``        ``}` `        ``// Otherwise take a window with``        ``// first element in it.``        ``// start and end variables.``        ``int` `curr_start = ``0``, curr_end = ``0``;` `        ``// Also initialize values for``        ``// result longest window``        ``int` `max_window_size = ``1``;``        ``int` `max_window_start = ``0``;` `        ``// Initialize associative``        ``// array count[] with zero``        ``Arrays.fill(count, ``0``);``        ` `        ``// put the first character``        ``count[s.charAt(``0``) - ``'a'``]++;` `        ``// Start from the second character and add``        ``// characters in window according to above``        ``// explanation``        ``for` `(``int` `i = ``1``; i < n; i++) {``            ``// Add the character 's[i]'``            ``// to current window``            ``count[s.charAt(i) - ``'a'``]++;``            ``curr_end++;` `            ``// If there are more than k``            ``// unique characters in``            ``// current window, remove from left side``            ``while` `(!isValid(count, k)) {``                ``count[s.charAt(curr_start) - ``'a'``]--;``                ``curr_start++;``            ``}` `            ``// Update the max window size if required``            ``if` `(curr_end - curr_start + ``1` `> max_window_size)``            ``{``                ``max_window_size = curr_end - curr_start + ``1``;``                ``max_window_start = curr_start;``            ``}``        ``}` `        ``System.out.println(``"Max substring is : "``                ``+ s.substring(max_window_start,``                    ``max_window_start + max_window_size)``                ``+ ``" with length "` `+ max_window_size);``    ``}` `    ``// Driver Code``    ``static` `public` `void` `main(String[] args) {``        ``String s = ``"aabacbebebe"``;``        ``int` `k = ``3``;``        ``kUniques(s, k);``    ``}``}` `// This code is contributed by 29AjayKumar`

## Python3

 `# Python program to find the longest substring with k unique``# characters in a given string``MAX_CHARS ``=` `26` `# This function calculates number of unique characters``# using a associative array count[]. Returns true if``# no. of characters are less than required else returns``# false.``def` `isValid(count, k):``    ``val ``=` `0``    ``for` `i ``in` `range``(MAX_CHARS):``        ``if` `count[i] > ``0``:``            ``val ``+``=` `1` `    ``# Return true if k is greater than or equal to val``    ``return` `(k >``=` `val)` `# Finds the maximum substring with exactly k unique characters``def` `kUniques(s, k):``    ``u ``=` `0` `# number of unique characters``    ``n ``=` `len``(s)` `    ``# Associative array to store the count``    ``count ``=` `[``0``] ``*` `MAX_CHARS` `    ``# Tranverse the string, fills the associative array``    ``# count[] and count number of unique characters``    ``for` `i ``in` `range``(n):``        ``if` `count[``ord``(s[i])``-``ord``(``'a'``)] ``=``=` `0``:``            ``u ``+``=` `1``        ``count[``ord``(s[i])``-``ord``(``'a'``)] ``+``=` `1` `    ``# If there are not enough unique characters, show``    ``# an error message.``    ``if` `u < k:``        ``print` `(``"Not enough unique characters"``)``        ``return` `    ``# Otherwise take a window with first element in it.``    ``# start and end variables.``    ``curr_start ``=` `0``    ``curr_end ``=` `0` `    ``# Also initialize values for result longest window``    ``max_window_size ``=` `1``    ``max_window_start ``=` `0` `    ``# Initialize associative array count[] with zero``    ``count ``=` `[``0``] ``*` `len``(count)` `    ``count[``ord``(s[``0``])``-``ord``(``'a'``)] ``+``=` `1` `# put the first character` `    ``# Start from the second character and add``    ``# characters in window according to above``    ``# explanation``    ``for` `i ``in` `range``(``1``,n):` `        ``# Add the character 's[i]' to current window``        ``count[``ord``(s[i])``-``ord``(``'a'``)] ``+``=` `1``        ``curr_end``+``=``1` `        ``# If there are more than k unique characters in``        ``# current window, remove from left side``        ``while` `not` `isValid(count, k):``            ``count[``ord``(s[curr_start])``-``ord``(``'a'``)] ``-``=` `1``            ``curr_start ``+``=` `1` `        ``# Update the max window size if required``        ``if` `curr_end``-``curr_start``+``1` `> max_window_size:``            ``max_window_size ``=` `curr_end``-``curr_start``+``1``            ``max_window_start ``=` `curr_start` `    ``print` `(``"Max substring is : "` `+` `s[max_window_start:max_window_start  ``+` `max_window_size]``    ``+` `" with length "` `+` `str``(max_window_size))` `# Driver function``s ``=` `"aabacbebebe"``k ``=` `3``kUniques(s, k)` `# This code is contributed by BHAVYA JAIN`

## C#

 `// C# program to find the longest substring with k unique ``// characters in a given string ``using` `System;``public` `class` `GFG``{` `  ``static` `int` `MAX_CHARS = 26;` `  ``// This function calculates number ``  ``// of unique characters ``  ``// using a associative array ``  ``// count[]. Returns true if ``  ``// no. of characters are less ``  ``// than required else returns ``  ``// false. ``  ``static` `bool` `isValid(``int``[] count, ``                      ``int` `k) ``  ``{ ``    ``int` `val = 0; ``    ``for` `(``int` `i = 0; i < MAX_CHARS; i++) ``    ``{ ``      ``if` `(count[i] > 0) ``      ``{ ``        ``val++; ``      ``} ``    ``} ` `    ``// Return true if k is greater``    ``// than or equal to val ``    ``return` `(k >= val); ``  ``} ` `  ``// Finds the maximum substring ``  ``// with exactly k unique chars ``  ``static` `void` `kUniques(``string` `s, ``int` `k) ``  ``{ ``    ``int` `u = 0; ``    ``int` `n = s.Length; ` `    ``// Associative array to store ``    ``// the count of characters ``    ``int``[] count = ``new` `int``[MAX_CHARS]; ``    ``Array.Fill(count, 0);` `    ``// Traverse the string, Fills ``    ``// the associative array ``    ``// count[] and count number ``    ``// of unique characters ``    ``for` `(``int` `i = 0; i < n; i++) ``    ``{ ``      ``if` `(count[s[i] - ``'a'``] == 0) ``      ``{ ``        ``u++; ``      ``} ``      ``count[s[i] - ``'a'``]++; ``    ``} ` `    ``// If there are not enough ``    ``// unique characters, show ``    ``// an error message. ``    ``if` `(u < k) { ``      ``Console.Write(``"Not enough unique characters"``); ``      ``return``; ``    ``} ` `    ``// Otherwise take a window with``    ``// first element in it. ``    ``// start and end variables. ``    ``int` `curr_start = 0, curr_end = 0; ` `    ``// Also initialize values for``    ``// result longest window ``    ``int` `max_window_size = 1;``    ``int` `max_window_start = 0; ` `    ``// Initialize associative ``    ``// array count[] with zero ``    ``Array.Fill(count, 0); ` `    ``// put the first character ``    ``count[s - ``'a'``]++; ` `    ``// Start from the second character and add ``    ``// characters in window according to above ``    ``// explanation ``    ``for` `(``int` `i = 1; i < n; i++)``    ``{``      ` `      ``// Add the character 's[i]' ``      ``// to current window ``      ``count[s[i] - ``'a'``]++; ``      ``curr_end++; ` `      ``// If there are more than k ``      ``// unique characters in ``      ``// current window, remove from left side ``      ``while` `(!isValid(count, k)) { ``        ``count[s[curr_start] - ``'a'``]--; ``        ``curr_start++; ``      ``} ` `      ``// Update the max window size if required ``      ``if` `(curr_end - curr_start + 1 > max_window_size) ``      ``{ ``        ``max_window_size = curr_end - curr_start + 1; ``        ``max_window_start = curr_start; ``      ``} ``    ``} ` `    ``Console.WriteLine(``"Max substring is : "``+``                      ``s.Substring(max_window_start, max_window_size) +``                      ``" with length "` `+ max_window_size); ``  ``} ` `  ``// Driver code``  ``static` `public` `void` `Main (){``    ``string` `s = ``"aabacbebebe"``; ``    ``int` `k = 3; ``    ``kUniques(s, k); ``  ``}``}` `// This code is contributed by avanitrachhadiya2155`

## Javascript

 ``

Output:

`Max substring is : cbebebe with length 7`

Time Complexity: Considering function “isValid()” takes constant time, time complexity of above solution is O(n).