# Why does the Huffman coding algorithm produce a valid tree?

I am not asking about the Huffman Code, but the most widely described algorithm for generating one, also described on the english wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huffman_coding#Compression

Now, I am not really concerned with the code being optimal or not, because many proofs for this can be found, but there is one thing that bothers me - why can I be sure, that for any path on the Huffman Code tree, no string constructed from labels is a prefix of another string in the tree?

Considering a simple tree (source: http://homes.sice.indiana.edu/yye/lab/teaching/spring2014-C343/huffman.php): It has these codes: E - 0 U - 10 D - 01 L - 110 C - 1110 M - 11111 Z - 11110 K - 11111,
and it is obvious, that none of these codes is a prefix of another. However, I am looking for a general proof that this is true for any Huffman tree, which for some reason I am unable to find. I would be grateful for any sources.

• For some reason I had to look up what a prefix was. For those like me, it means substring. Apr 15 at 11:02

Let $$v$$ be a vertex of the tree. If $$\pi_v$$ is the path from the root of the tree to $$v$$, then the string $$s(v)$$ constructed from the labels of $$\pi_v$$ is unique (if you really want, you can prove this by induction on the depth of $$v$$).
If $$s'$$ is a proper prefix of $$s(v)$$ then there is a node $$u$$ in $$\pi_v$$ such that $$s(u)=s'$$ and, by the above observation, this node is unique. Moreover, $$u$$ cannot be a leaf (since it precedes $$v$$ in $$\pi_v$$).
This means that, for each leaf $$v$$ there is no prefix of $$s(v)$$ that matches the code $$s(v')$$ of another leaf $$v'$$. Since the symbols only appear as leaves of the tree, this means that the code is not ambiguous.