# How to Calculate Levenshtein Distance in R

In data science, particularly in areas like natural language processing and bioinformatics, it’s often necessary to measure the similarity or difference between sequences. One of the most commonly used metrics for this purpose is the Levenshtein distance, also known as the “edit distance”. Named after Vladimir Levenshtein, who introduced this measure in 1965, it quantifies the minimum number of edits (insertions, deletions, or substitutions) required to change one sequence into another.

In this article, we will delve into the concept of Levenshtein distance and how you can compute it using the R programming language.

## Understanding Levenshtein Distance

The Levenshtein distance between two strings is defined as the minimum number of edits needed to transform one string into the other, with the allowable edit operations being insertion, deletion, or substitution of a single character. The distance is named after Vladimir Levenshtein, who considered this distance in 1965.

For example, the Levenshtein distance between “kitten” and “sitting” is 3, since the following three edits change one into the other, and there is no way to do it with fewer than three edits:

• kitten → sitten (substitute “s” for “k”)
• sitten → sittin (substitute “i” for “e”)
• sittin → sitting (insert “g” at the end)

## Calculating Levenshtein Distance Using stringdist Package

The stringdist package in R provides a straightforward and efficient way to compute the Levenshtein distance between strings. The function stringdist::stringdist can be used with the argument method = "lv" for Levenshtein distance.

First, install and load the stringdist package, then use the stringdist function to calculate the Levenshtein distance:

# Install the stringdist package
if (!"stringdist" %in% rownames(installed.packages())) {install.packages("stringdist")}

library(stringdist)

# Define strings
string1 <- "kitten"
string2 <- "sitting"

# Calculate Levenshtein distance
distance <- stringdist::stringdist(string1, string2, method = "lv")
print(distance)

This code computes and prints the Levenshtein distance between string1 and string2.

## Calculating Levenshtein Distance Using RecordLinkage Package

Another package that provides a way to calculate Levenshtein distance is RecordLinkage. This package is typically used for record linkage and deduplication, but it includes a function for computing Levenshtein distance called levenshteinSim.

Here’s how to use it:

# Install the RecordLinkage package

# Define strings
string1 <- "kitten"
string2 <- "sitting"

# Calculate Levenshtein distance
distance <- levenshteinDist(string1, string2)
print(distance)

This code computes and prints the Levenshtein distance between string1 and string2. It’s important to note that the levenshteinDist function actually calculates the distance, not similarity.

## Conclusion

The Levenshtein distance is a measure of the difference between two strings, which is given by the minimum number of operations needed to transform one string into the other. The operations include insertion, deletion, or substitution of a single character.

This article has introduced you to the Levenshtein distance and guided you through several methods of calculating it using R.

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