This chapter is an introductory chapter to the book. It gives general notions, notation, and technical background. It covers, in a tutorial style, the main notions in use in algorithms on words. In this sense, it is a comprehensive exposition of basic elements concerning algorithms on words, automata and transducers, and probability on words.
The general goal of “stringology” we pursue here is to manipulate strings of symbols, to compare them, to count them, to check some properties, and perform simple transformations in an effective and efficient way.
A typical illustrative example of our approach is the action of circular permutations on words, because several of the aspects we mentioned above are present in this example. First, the operation of circular shift is a transduction which can be realized by a transducer. We include in this chapter a section (Section 1.5) on transducers. Transducers will be used in Chapter 3. The orbits of the transformation induced by the circular permutation are the so-called conjugacy classes. Conjugacy classes are a basic notion in combinatorics on words. The minimal element in a conjugacy class is a good representative of a class. It can be computed by an efficient algorithm (actually in linear time). This is one of the algorithms which appear in Section 1.2. Algorithms for conjugacy are again considered in Chapter 2. These words give rise to Lyndon words which have remarkable combinatorial properties already emphasized in Lothaire (1997). We describe in Section 1.2.5 the Lyndon factorization algorithm.