Daily Coding Problem 7 - Decoding a Message

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Daily Coding Problem 7 - Rust

Problem 7 - Decoding a Message

The problem statement is as follows:

Given the mapping a = 1, b = 2, ... z = 26, and an encoded message, count the number of ways it can be decoded. For example, the message '111' would give 3, since it could be decoded as 'aaa', 'ka', and 'ak'. You can assume that the messages are decodable. For example, '001' is not allowed.

NOTE: All the code in this post, including this write-up itself, can be found or generated from the GitHub repository.


This solution seems like a relatively straight-forward variation on a graph problem. It seemed to me that the easiest solution is along the lines of a depth- or breadth-first traversal through the tree. Implementation-wise, a recursive function can go through the possibilities without double-counting any combinations.

In this instance, I chose a depth-first search where each successful search that results in all valid combinations of characters counts as 1 valid decode combination. The following is pseudo code representing the high-level logic for the solution.

The first function is a simple check for whether an integer (encoded as a set of characters / a string) is valid or not.

let lower_limit = 1
let upper_limit = 26

let is_valid (s: string) : boolean ->
  let n = string_to_int(s)
  s.starts_with() != 0
    AND n >= lower_limit
    AND n <= upper_limit

The next function is the primary implementation to the problem.

let rec calc (s: string) : int ->
  if length(s) == 0 then 1
    let one_letter =
      if is_valid(s.[0]) then calc(s.[1..])
      else 0
    let two_letters =
      if is_valid(s.[0..1]) then calc(s.[2..])
      else 0
    one_letter + two_letters

Variation 1 - Memoization

One optimization on the above algorithm is to memoize the number of results produced by certain substrings. That way, the results do not have to be re-calculated for every permutation in the earlier part of the string. Memoization trades storage space for processing time and, with a large enough input string, the processing savings can be enormous.

The following is pseudo code representing the high-level logic for a memoization solution.

let rec calc_memo (s: string) : int ->
  if memo.has_key(s) then memo.get_value(s)
  elseif length(s) == 0 then 1
    let one_letter =
      if is_valid(s.[0]) then calc_memo(s.[1..])
      else 0
    let two_letters =
      if is_valid(s.[0..1]) then calc_memo(s.[2..])
      else 0
    memo.add(s, one_letter + two_letters)
    one_letter + two_letters

Variation 2 - Tail Recursion

A second idea is to create a tail recursive algorithm. Implementing a depth-first search using a tail-recursive algorithm requires two "manual" book-keeping activities:

  • Maintain the collection of yet-to-be investigated branches in a function parameter. This accomplishes two tasks:
    • The program does not have to maintain the call stack back to the root of the tree.
    • If the tree depth is very large, it (usually) mitigates this problem by maintaining the "stack" on the heap rather than within the call stack itself.
  • Maintain an on-going "answer" to the problem, so that it can be returned to the caller once the last entry in the stack has been investigated.

The following is pseudo code representing the high level logic for a tail recursive solution. This solution can use either a breadth-first or a depth-first approach, depending on whether new entries are added at the beginning or at the end of the list of uninvestigated branches.

let rec calc_tr (ls: list<string>, ans: int) : int ->
  if ls.length == 0 then ans
    let s = ls.head
    if length(s) == 0 then calc_tr(ls.tail, ans + 1)
      if is_valid(s.[0]) then ls.add(s.[1..])
      if is_valid(s.[0..1]) then ls.add(s.[2..])
      calc_tr(ls.tail, ans)

One concern I had for this implementation is the amount of memory used to maintain a manual stack.

Variable 2b - "Fake" Tail Recursion

I also implemented a "fake" version of tail recursion to see if that had any impact on performance or not. What I mean by "fake" is that I only maintain one of the "manual" book-keeping activities listed above:

  • Maintain an on-going "answer" to the problem, so that it can be returned to the caller once the last entry in the stack has been investigated.

This approach does not prevent "springing" or "bouncing" through the call stack. However, it does prevent having to return to the "top" once all branches have been investigated. I implemented this to compare performance against the primary implementation and the proper tail recursive solution. The follow pseudo code provides high level logic for this variation.

let rec cal_tri (s: string, ans: int) : int ->
  if length(s) == 0 then ans + 1
    let one_letter =
      if is_valid(s.[0]) then calc(s.[1..], ans)
      else ans
    let two_letters =
      if is_valid(s.[0..1]) then calc(s.[2..], one_letter)
      else one_letter


You can find the implementation of each of these methods in the GitHub repository.

  • Primary Solution = p7(input_str: &str) -> i32
  • Variation 1 (Memoized) = p7_memoized(input_str: &str) -> i32
  • Variation 2 (Tail Recursive) = p7_tail_recursive(input_str: &str) -> i32
  • Variation 2b (Fake Tail Recursion) = p7_tail_recursive_ish(input_str: &str) -> i32

Testing and Benchmarking

I think that Rust has truly made testing and benchmarking incredibly easy and convenient. Here was my approach to each.


I implemented property-based testing for every method and constant. The property-based tests for methods revealed a number of errors in my code, from panics to infinite loops. The property-based tests for constants were really there to ensure that if the constant is changed by mistake, the corresponding test will fail and alert the responsible party.

For testing, I used the proptest crate. I know that quickcheck is more popular on crates.io, but it was VERY easy to get started with proptest using the examples and by reading the proptest book.

The following is an example of one of the property-based tests I wrote that found errors (including a panic) with my initial implementation:

fn test_is_valid_pb_all() { 
  // Test for crashes
  proptest!(|(x in [0-9]*)| { 


For this problem, I ended up using the Criterion crate for benchmarking. I tried my best to use the Rust-provided benchmarking harness. However, both finding the latest documentation and trying to understand how it worked was next to impossible. All the online documentation I found differed not only from each other, but from what I was seeing in the IDE. I read some posts about how this feature should be removed if it's not going to be a first-class citizen. Based on my experience so far (admittedly very limited), I agree with that sentiment.

Criterion also made it extremely easy to run the benchmarks and do so in a comparative fashion. All the plots / charts and numbers you will see below were generated by Criterion, and re-running the benchmarks is as easy as executing cargo bench. The criterion.rs book was an excellent resource for getting started with this create.

When I think back to how difficult and complicated it was to get similar data from my previous F# solutions, I think the Rust and Criterion teams should be extremely proud of how easy they've made it to quickly execute micro-benchmarks without adding noise to the primary codebase.

The following is a simple benchmark function that I ran with Criterion, for illustration purposes. The remainder can be found in the GitHub repository.

fn bench_is_valid(c: &mut Criterion) {
  c.bench_function("is_valid", |b| {
    b.iter(|| {
      for i in 0..100 {
        is_valid(black_box(format!("{}", i).as_bytes()));


So, let's talk about the results.

First, given the nature of the problem, each additional character that is added to the input string results in exponentially longer running time for most of the algorithms (i.e. O(k^n) for some constant k). The only algorithm that did not exhibit this behavior is the Memoization variant. This makes sense because memoization is specifically designed to provide a space-time tradeoff, and I did not measure memory usage for these benchmarks (something for the next problem). heapsize seems like a crate that can help with such a measurement, if I can find some good (read: simple) examples for how it works.

I ran the benchmarks on 6 input strings, as shown below:

  • "1".repeat(20)
  • "2".repeat(20)
  • "12".repeat(10)
  • "123".repeat(10)
  • "124782193651078432562974".to_string() (result = 18)
  • "12131415161718191010918171615145141313121".to_string() (result = 245760)

I wanted a combination of repeating and non-repeating strings in the benchmark to compare their effect on the Memoization variant of the algorithm. Also, for the Memoization variant, I did not exclude "large drops" or other memory measurements from the benchmarks. I figure that part of memoization is dealing with the memory required to make it work, so it should remain part of the benchmark numbers.

Here are the results for these strings, by algorithm. All times in the below table are in ┬Ás (microseconds).

Primary Memoize TR Fake TR
1x20 365.60 5.44 421.45 444.28
2x20 363.65 5.40 427.29 444.94
12x10 361.92 5.40 422.68 445.25
123x10 2490.00 8.14 2827.10 2972.60
1247.. 4.58 4.50 5.02 5.23
1213.. 10546.00 9.94 10945.00 11909.00

As you can tell from the results, the Memoized variant of the algorithm was the fastest in all problems, including #5 where all the variants had relatively close runtimes.

Below youy can find some charts / plots to show how the different variants compare.

Line Chart

Comparison of time vs input

This chart shows the mean measured time for each function as the input (or the size of the input) increases.

As you can see, the Memoize variant is so fast that is barely registers on the graph (it's hugging the x-axis at the bottom of the graph). Surprisingly, the Primary solution is the next fastest. I was expecting the Fake Tail Recursion solution to be faster than the Primary Solution due to less movement along the call stack, but it turned out to be the slowest. The Tail Recursive solution is slower than the Primary solution, but that seems reasonable since that solution requires significant memory manipulation through the use of a secondary data structure.


This is my second Daily Coding Problem challenge in Rust, and I am really appreciating the language. I do wish that the story for things like full applications (desktop, mobile) was better, but with the evolution of web frameworks and WebAssembly, that may be a moot point.

See you in the next one!

Appendix: Additional Charts and Graphs

The following charts and graphs are courtesy of Criterion. I have organized them by problem / benchmark (rather than by algorithm), so it is easier to compare algorithms to each other.

I know these images are small, but they are all SVG files. So if you are interested in the details, you should be able to zoom in without any issues.


Tail Recursive
Fake Tail Recursive


Tail Recursive
Fake Tail Recursive


Tail Recursive
Fake Tail Recursive


Tail Recursive
Fake Tail Recursive


Tail Recursive
Fake Tail Recursive


Tail Recursive
Fake Tail Recursive