Alfred Aho

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Alfred Aho
Born (1941-08-09) August 9, 1941 (age 76)
Timmins, Ontario
Residence United States
Nationality Canadian
Alma mater
Known for
Scientific career
Fields Computer Science
Institutions Columbia University
Thesis Indexed Grammars: An Extension of Context Free Grammars (1968)
Doctoral advisor John Hopcroft[1]
Doctoral students
  • Marcio Buss
  • Marc Eaddy
  • Gaurav Kc
  • Krysta Svore[1]

Alfred Vaino Aho (born August 9, 1941) is a Canadian computer scientist best known for his work on programming languages, compilers, and related algorithms, and his textbooks on the art and science of computer programming.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11]


Aho received a B.A.Sc. in Engineering Physics from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science from Princeton University. He conducted research at Bell Labs from 1967 to 1991, and again from 1997 to 2002 as Vice President of the Computing Sciences Research Center. As of 2011 he holds the Lawrence Gussman Chair of Computer Science at Columbia University. He served as chair of the department from 1995 to 1997, and again in the spring of 2003.

In his PhD thesis Aho created indexed grammars and the nested-stack automaton as vehicles for extending the power of context-free languages, but retaining many of their decidability and closure properties. Indexed grammars have been used[by whom?] to model parallel rewriting systems, particularly in biological applications.

After graduating from Princeton, Aho joined the Computing Sciences Research Center at Bell Labs where he devised efficient regular expression and string-pattern matching algorithms that he implemented in the first versions of the Unix tools egrep and fgrep. The fgrep algorithm has become known as the Aho-Corasick algorithm; it is used by several bibliographic search-systems, including the one developed by Margaret J. Corasick, and by other string-searching applications.

At Bell Labs, Aho worked closely with Steve Johnson and Jeffrey Ullman to develop efficient algorithms for analyzing and translating programming languages. Steve Johnson used the bottom-up LALR parsing algorithms to create the syntax-analyzer generator yacc, and Michael E. Lesk and Eric Schmidt used Aho's regular-expression pattern-matching algorithms to create the lexical-analyzer generator lex. The lex and yacc tools and their derivatives have been used to develop the front ends of many of today's programming language compilers.

Aho and Ullman wrote a series of textbooks on compiling techniques that codified the theory relevant to compiler design. Their 1977 textbook Principles of Compiler Design had a green dragon on the front cover and became known as "the green dragon book". In 1986 Aho and Ullman were joined by Ravi Sethi to create a new edition, "the red dragon book" (which was briefly shown in the 1995 movie "Hackers"), and in 2007 also by Monica Lam to create "the purple dragon book". The dragon books have been the most widely used compiler textbooks throughout the world.[citation needed]

In 1974, Aho, John Hopcroft, and Ullman wrote the Design and Analysis of Computer Algorithms, codifying some of their early research on algorithms. This book became one of the most highly cited books in computer science for several decades and helped to stimulate the creation of algorithms and data structures as a central course in the computer science curriculum.

Aho is also widely known for his co-authorship of the AWK programming language with Peter J. Weinberger and Brian Kernighan (the "A" stands for "Aho"). As of 2010 Aho's research interests include programming languages, compilers, algorithms, and quantum computing. He is part of the Language and Compilers research-group at Columbia University.[12]

Overall, his works have been cited 51,583 times and he has an h-index of 62, as of November 10, 2015.[13]

Aho has received many prestigious honors, including the IEEE's John von Neumann Medal and membership in the National Academy of Engineering. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003.[14] He holds honorary doctorates from the University of Waterloo, from the University of Helsinki, from the University of Toronto, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, ACM, Bell Labs, and IEEE.

Aho has twice served as chair of the Advisory Committee for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation. He is a past president of the ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computability Theory.[15]


Aho has taught at Columbia University in the City of New York since 1995. He won the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates in 2003.



  1. ^ a b Alfred Vaino Aho at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. ^ Aho, A. V. (1968). "Indexed Grammars---An Extension of Context-Free Grammars". Journal of the ACM. 15 (4): 647. doi:10.1145/321479.321488. 
  3. '^ Aho, A.; Gottlob, G. (2014). "A front row seat to Communications editorial transformation". Communications of the ACM. 57 (4): 5. doi:10.1145/2582611. 
  4. ^ Aho, A. V. (1969). "Nested Stack Automata". Journal of the ACM. 16 (3): 383. doi:10.1145/321526.321529. 
  5. ^ Aho, Alfred V.; Corasick, Margaret J. (Jun 1975). "Efficient String Matching: An Aid to Bibliographic Search" (PDF). Communications of the ACM. 18 (6): 333–340. doi:10.1145/360825.360855. [permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Aho, A. V.; Johnson, S. C.; Ullman, J. D. (1977). "Code Generation for Expressions with Common Subexpressions". Journal of the ACM. 24: 146. doi:10.1145/321992.322001. 
  7. ^ Aho, A. V.; Kernighan, B. W.; Weinberger, P. J. (1979). "Awk — a pattern scanning and processing language". Software: Practice and Experience. 9 (4): 267. doi:10.1002/spe.4380090403. 
  8. ^ — (1990). "Algorithms for Finding Patterns in Strings". Handbook of Theoretical Computer Science. MIT Press. pp. 255–300. 
  9. ^ Alfred Aho author profile page at the ACM Digital Library
  10. ^ Computerworld Interview with Alfred V. Aho Archived 2008-05-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Creating Reliable Programs from Unreliable Programmers [PDF], Excellentia
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Google Scholar Record for Alfred Aho". 
  14. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 May 2011. Retrieved 6 April 2011. 
  15. ^ "Brief U.S. Suppression of Proof Stirs Anger". The New York Times. February 17, 1987. Retrieved November 10, 2015 – via Safari. 

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