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Applied Combinatorics

Section 5.7 A Digression into Complexity Theory

We have already introduced in Chapter 4 a few notions about efficient algorithms. We also discussed the difficulty of determining a graph’s chromatic number and clique number earlier in this chapter. We conclude with a brief discussion of some issues involving computational complexity for other problems discussed in this chapter.
Let’s begin with some problems for which there are polynomial-time algorithms. Suppose you are given a graph on \(n\) vertices and asked whether or not the graph is connected. Here a positive answer can be justified by providing a spanning tree. On the other hand, a negative answer can be justified by providing a partition of the vertex sets \(V=V_1\cup V_2\) with \(V_1\) and \(V_2\) non-empty subsets and having no edges with one end-point in \(V_1\) and the other in \(V_2\text{.}\) In Chapter 12 we will discuss two efficient algorithms that find spanning trees in connected graphs. They can easily be modified to produce a partition showing the graph is disconnected.
If you are asked whether a connected graph is eulerian, then a positive answer can be justified by producing the appropriate sequence. We gave an algorithm to do this earlier in the chapter. A negative answer can be justified by producing a vertex of odd degree, and our algorithm will identify such a vertex if it exists. (Depending on the data structures used to represent the graph, it may be most efficient to simply look for vertices of odd degree without using the algorithm to find an eulerian circuit.)
On the surface, the problem of determining if a graph is hamiltonian looks similar to that of determining if the graph is eulerian. Both call for a sequence of vertices in which each pair of consecutive vertices is joined by an edge. Of course, each problem has an additional requirement on yes certificates. However, justifying a negative answer to the question of whether a graph is hamiltonian is not straightforward. Theorem 5.18 only gives a way to confirm that a graph is hamiltonian; there are many nonhamiltonian graphs that do not satisfy its hypothesis. At this time, no one knows how to efficiently justify a negative answer—at least not in the general case.