Newick format

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Newick format
Initial release24 June 1986 (33 years ago) (1986-06-24)
Type of formatgraph-theoretical trees
Open format?Yes

In mathematics, Newick tree format (or Newick notation or New Hampshire tree format) is a way of representing graph-theoretical trees with edge lengths using parentheses and commas. It was adopted by James Archie, William H. E. Day, Joseph Felsenstein, Wayne Maddison, Christopher Meacham, F. James Rohlf, and David Swofford, at two meetings in 1986, the second of which was at Newick's restaurant in Dover, New Hampshire, US. The adopted format is a generalization of the format developed by Meacham in 1984 for the first tree-drawing programs in Felsenstein's PHYLIP package.[1]


The following tree:


could be represented in Newick format in several ways

(,,(,));                               no nodes are named
(A,B,(C,D));                           leaf nodes are named
(A,B,(C,D)E)F;                         all nodes are named
(:0.1,:0.2,(:0.3,:0.4):0.5);           all but root node have a distance to parent
(:0.1,:0.2,(:0.3,:0.4):0.5):0.0;       all have a distance to parent
(A:0.1,B:0.2,(C:0.3,D:0.4):0.5);       distances and leaf names (popular)
(A:0.1,B:0.2,(C:0.3,D:0.4)E:0.5)F;     distances and all names
((B:0.2,(C:0.3,D:0.4)E:0.5)A:0.1)F;    a tree rooted on a leaf node (rare)

Newick format is typically used for tools like PHYLIP and is a minimal definition for a phylogenetic tree.

Rooted, unrooted, and binary trees[edit]

When an unrooted tree is represented in Newick notation, an arbitrary node is chosen as its root. Whether rooted or unrooted, typically a tree's representation is rooted on an internal node and it is rare (but legal) to root a tree on a leaf node.

A rooted binary tree that is rooted on an internal node has exactly two immediate descendant nodes for each internal node. An unrooted binary tree that is rooted on an arbitrary internal node has exactly three immediate descendant nodes for the root node, and each other internal node has exactly two immediate descendant nodes. A binary tree rooted from a leaf has at most one immediate descendant node for the root node, and each internal node has exactly two immediate descendant nodes.


A grammar for parsing the Newick format:

The grammar nodes[edit]

   Tree: The full input Newick Format for a single tree
   Subtree: an internal node (and its descendants) or a leaf node
   Leaf: a node with no descendants
   Internal: a node and its one or more descendants
   BranchSet: a set of one or more Branches
   Branch: a tree edge and its descendant subtree.
   Name: the name of a node
   Length: the length of a tree edge.

The grammar rules[edit]

Note, "|" separates alternatives.

   TreeSubtree ";" | Branch ";"
   SubtreeLeaf | Internal
   Internal → "(" BranchSet ")" Name
   BranchSetBranch | Branch "," BranchSet
   BranchSubtree Length
   Nameempty | string
   Lengthempty | ":" number

Whitespace (spaces, tabs, carriage returns, and linefeeds) within number is prohibited. Whitespace within string is often prohibited. Whitespace elsewhere is ignored. Sometimes the Name string must be of a specified fixed length; otherwise the punctuation characters from the grammar (semicolon, parentheses, comma, and colon) are prohibited. The Tree --> Branch ";" production makes the entire tree descendant from nowhere, which can be nonsensical, and is sometimes prohibited.

Note that when a tree having more than one leaf is rooted from one of its leaves, a representation that is rarely seen in practice, the root leaf is characterized as an Internal node by the above grammar. Generally, a root node labeled as Internal should be construed as a leaf if and only if it has exactly one Branch in its BranchSet. One can make a grammar that formalizes this distinction by replacing the above Tree production rule with

   TreeRootLeaf ";" | RootInternal ";" | Branch ";"
   RootLeafName | "(" Branch ")" Name
   RootInternal → "(" Branch "," BranchSet ")" Name

The first RootLeaf production is for a tree with exactly one leaf. The second RootLeaf production is for rooting a tree from one of its two or more leaves.


Several tools have been published to visualize Newick tree data, such as the ETE toolkit ("Environment for Tree Exploration")[2] and T-REX.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Newick tree format.
  2. ^ Huerta-Cepas, Jaime; Serra, François; Bork, Peer (June 2016). "ETE 3: Reconstruction, Analysis, and Visualization of Phylogenomic Data". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 33 (6): 1635–1638. doi:10.1093/molbev/msw046. ISSN 0737-4038. PMC 4868116. PMID 26921390.
  3. ^ Boc, Alix; Diallo, Alpha Boubacar; Makarenkov, Vladimir (July 2012). "T-REX: a web server for inferring, validating and visualizing phylogenetic trees and networks". Nucleic Acids Research. 40 (Web Server issue): W573–579. doi:10.1093/nar/gks485. ISSN 1362-4962. PMC 3394261. PMID 22675075.

External links[edit]