1-Hydroxybenzotriazole (1) and several of its derivatives (2-5) demonstrate potent esterolytic activity toward activated esters such as p-nitrophenyl diphenyl phosphate (PNPDPP) and p-nitrophenyl hexanoate (PNPH) in cationic micelles at pH 8.2 and 25 degrees C. The deprotonated anionic forms of such reagents act as reactive species in the hydrolysis of ester. To rationalize the origin of their nucleophilic character, a detailed ab initio/DFT computational study has been performed on 1-5 along with additional hydroxybenzotriazole derivatives (6-13). The geometries of 1-hydroxybenzotriazoles (1-13) and their corresponding bases are discussed in detail. All calculations were carried out using different methods, i.e., restricted Hartree-Fock (RHF) and hybrid ab initio/DFT (B3LYP) using 6-31G and 6-31+G basis sets. Free energy of protonation ("fep") of the 1-hydroxybenzotriazoles (1-13), free energy of solvation DeltaG(aq), and the corresponding pK(a) values have been calculated. Solvation-free energies were calculated using density functional theory and the polarizable continuum model. In addition, to examine the reliability of calculated fep, benzaldehyde oxime (14) and 2-methyl propionaldehyde oxime (15) have been computed as reference systems using different methods and basis sets, the experimental feps of which are known. Our experimental finding shows that the compound 4 is the most effective catalyst for the hydrolytic cleavages of PNPDPP and PNPH. This has been predicted from our calculated fep, pK(a), and natural charge analysis results as well. In general, the introduction of electron-withdrawing substituents on 1-hydroxybenzotriazoles facilitates the lowering of pK(a) and fep. As the pK(a) values are lowered, a greater percentage of such hydroxybenzotriazoles remain in their deprotonated, anionic forms at pH 8.2. Since the anionic forms are nucleophilic, pK(a) lowering should enhance their ester cleaving capacity. However, such substitution also decreases the charge density on the catalytically active oxido atom (O(7)). Taking these two factors together, the derivatives are only modestly better nucleophiles in comparison to the parent 1-hydroxybenzotriazole. Interestingly, the introduction of electron-donating groups does not significantly enhance the charge accumulation on the oxido atom (O(7)) of 1-hydroxybenzotriazoles.