Exploiting Reduction Rules and Data Structures:
Local Search for Minimum Vertex Cover in Massive Graphs
Abstract
The Minimum Vertex Cover (MinVC) problem is a wellknown NPhard problem. Recently there has been great interest in solving this problem on realworld massive graphs. For such graphs, local search is a promising approach to finding optimal or nearoptimal solutions. In this paper we propose a local search algorithm that exploits reduction rules and data structures to solve the MinVC problem in such graphs. Experimental results on a wide range of realword massive graphs show that our algorithm finds better covers than stateoftheart local search algorithms for MinVC. Also we present interesting results about the complexities of some wellknown heuristics.
Exploiting Reduction Rules and Data Structures:
Local Search for Minimum Vertex Cover in Massive Graphs
Copyright © 2015, Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (www.aaai.org). All rights reserved.
Introduction
The Minimum Vertex Cover (MinVC) problem is a wellknown NPhard problem (?) with many realworld applications (?). Given a simple undirected graph where is the vertex set and is the edge set. An edge is a set s.t. , and we say that and are endpoints of . A vertex cover of a graph is a subset s.t. for each , at least one of ’s endpoints is in . The size of a vertex cover is the number of vertices in it. The MinVC problem is to find a vertex cover of minimum size.
With growing interest in social networks, scientific computation networks and wireless sensor networks, etc., the MinVC problem has reemerged even with greater significance and complexity, so solving this problem in massive graphs has become an active research agenda. In this paper we are concerned in finding a vertex cover whose size is as small as possible.
It is hard to approximate MinVC within any factor smaller than 1.3606 (?). During last decades there were many works in local search for MinVC like (?; ?). Recently FastVC (?) makes a breakthrough in massive graphs. It makes a balance between the time efficiency and the guidance effectiveness of heuristics. However, we realize that FastVC exploits very little about the structural information. Also in order to achieve satisfactory time efficiency, it sacrifices the guidance effectiveness.
The aim of this work is to develop a local search MinVC solver to deal with massive graphs with strong structures. The basic framework is this. Firstly, we exploit reduction rules to construct good starting vertex covers. Then we use local search to find better covers. In both the construction stage and the local search stage, we exploit a novel data structure called alternative partitions to pursue time efficiency, without sacrificing the quality of heuristics. Since we are now focusing on the impacts of the reduction rules and the data structures, we use naive local search strategies, so our solver may be too greedy. For future works, we will exploit some strategies to diversify our local search.
Our solver constructs starting vertex covers by incorporating reduction rules. In our experiments, our construction heuristic performs close to or even better than FastVC, on a large portion of the graphs. Moreover, it outputs a cover typically within 10 seconds. Hence, it provides a good starting point for later search. Furthermore, for a small portion of the graphs, our heuristic guarantees that it has found an optimal cover, due to the power of reduction rules. So far as we know, this is the first time reduction rules are applied in a local search MinVC solver, although they have been widely discussed in the community of theoretical computer science.
We also propose a brand new data structure to achieve time efficiency. The main idea is to partition the vertices wrt. their scores, i.e., two vertices are in the same partition if they have the same score, otherwise they are in different partitions. Thanks to this data structure, (1) as to the construction stage, the complexity of two important construction heuristics has been lowered, from to ; (2) as to the local search stage, the complexity of the bestpicking heuristic has also been lowered, from to where is the set of vertices to be selected in local search, and is the average degree. Later in this paper we will prove these results rigorously. We applied these theoretical results in our solver, so we call our solver LinCom (LinearComplexityHeuristic Solver).
We tested LinCom and FastVC on the standard benchmark of massive graphs from the Network Data Repository^{1}^{1}1http://www.graphrepository.com./networks.php (?). Our experiments show that among all the 12 classes of instances in this benchmark, LinCom falls behind FastVC in only one class. Moreover LinCom finds smaller covers for a considerable portion of the graphs. This improvement is big, since it rarely happens in the literature (?).
Preliminaries
Basic Notations
If is an edge of , we say that and are neighbors. We define as . The degree of a vertex , denoted by , is defined as . We use and to denote the average degree and the maximum degree of graph respectively, suppressing if understood from the context. An edge is covered by a vertex set if one of its endpoints is in , i.e., or (or both). Otherwise it is uncovered by .
Local Search for MinVC
Most local search algorithms solve the MinVC problem by iteratively solving its decision versiongiven a positive integer , searching for a sized vertex cover. A general framework is Algorithm 1. We denote the current candidate solution as , which is a set of vertices selected for covering.
Algorithm 1 consists of two stages: the construction stage (Line 1) and the local search stage (Line 1 to 1). At the beginning, an initial vertex cover is constructed by the procedure. Throughout this paper, this initial cover is called the starting vertex cover. Besides returns another parameter, i.e., which takes the value optimalguaranteed or optimalnotguaranteed (See Algorithm 2).
In the local search stage, each time a sized cover is found (Line 1), the algorithm removes a vertex from (Line 1) and begins to search for a sized cover, until some termination condition is reached (Line 1). The move to a neighboring candidate solution consists of exchanging a pair of vertices (Line 1): a vertex is removed from , and a vertex is added into . Such an exchanging procedure is also called a step by convention. Thus the local search moves step by step in the search space to find a better vertex cover. When the algorithm terminates, it outputs the smallest vertex cover that has been found.
For a vertex , the loss of , denoted as , is defined as the number of covered edges that will become uncovered by removing from . For a vertex , the gain of , denoted as , is defined as the number of uncovered edges that will become covered by adding into . Both loss and gain are scoring properties of vertices. In any step, a vertex has two possible states: inside and outside , and we use to denote the number of steps that have been performed since last time ’s state was changed.
The Construction Stage
Previous procedures construct a starting vertex cover from an empty set mainly as below:

Maxgain: select a vertex with the maximum and add into , breaking ties randomly. Repeat this procedure until becomes a cover. (?)

Mingain: Select a vertex with the minimum positive and add all ’s neighbors into , breaking ties randomly. Repeat this procedure until becomes a cover. Redundant vertices (vertices whose is 0) in are then removed. (?; ?)

Edgegreedy: Select an uncovered edge , add the endpoint with higher degree into . Repeat this procedure until becomes a cover. Redundant vertices in are then removed by a readone procedure. (?)
Reduction Rules for MinVC
Our solver will incorporate the following reduction rules in the procedure to handle vertices of small degrees.
Degree1 Rule: If contains a vertex s.t. , then there is a minimum vertex cover of that contains .
The two rules below are from (?).
Degree2 with Triangle Rule: If contains a vertex s.t. and , then there is a minimum vertex cover of that contains both and .
Degree2 with Quadrilateral Rule: If contains two vertices and s.t. and , then there is a minimum vertex cover of that contains both and .
Since we are to develop a local search solver, we now rewrite them in the terminologies of local search.
Degree1 Rule: If and is a neighbor of s.t. , then put into the .
Degree2 with Triangle Rule: If , and are both ’s neighbors s.t. and , then put both and into the .
Degree2 with Quadrilateral Rule: If = = , and both are neighbors shared by s.t. and , then put both and into the .
Incorporating Reduction Rules
We incorporate reduction rules in order to: (1) construct smaller starting vertex covers; (2) help confirm optimality.
Constructing A Vertex Cover with Reductions
Like (?), our procedure also consists of an extending phase (Lines 2 to 2) and a shrinking phase (Line 2). Notice that if we construct a cover by only using reduction rules, then it must be optimal. So we employ a predicate max_gain_used s.t. max_gain_used = true if Line 2 has been executed, and max_gain_used = false otherwise.
In Line 2, we initialize to be an empty set. Then we extend to be a vertex cover of , by iteratively adding a vertex into . Lines 2 to 2 apply reduction rules to put vertices into . Line 2 ensures that no reduction rules are applicable before making use of the maxgain heuristic. After the extending phase (Lines 2 to 2), Line 2 removes the redundant vertices from just as what (?) did.
Fixing Vertices in the Starting Vertex Cover
When Algorithm 2 constructs a starting vertex cover, we realize that some of the vertices are put into based on pure reductions. That is, they were put into when max_gain_used = false. Hence, there exist a minimum vertex cover which contains all of such vertices, and we call them inferred vertices. In local search we can fix the inferred vertices in s.t. they are never allowed to be removed from . It seems that such a procedure are able to reduce the search space and speed up the search.
So we employ an array , whose element is an indicator for a vertex. During the execution of Algorithm 2, we maintain the array as below:

Rule 1: Before the extending phase, for each vertex , is set to false.

Rule 2: When putting a vertex into , we check whether max_gain_used = false. If so, is set to true.
Thus when Algorithm 2 is completed, = true if is an inferred vertex, and = false otherwise. So later when we are doing local search, we can forbid from being removed from if = true, as is shown in Line 3 and 3 in Algorithm 3.
A Local Search MinVC Solver
Our solver LinCom is outlined in Algorithm 3. At first a vertex cover is constructed. If the returned cover is guaranteed to be optimal, the algorithm will immediately return.
Then at each step, the algorithm first chooses a vertex s.t. is not an inferred vertex (i.e., = false) with the minimum , breaking ties randomly. Then the algorithm picks a random uncovered edge , chooses one of ’s endpoints with the greater and adds it, breaking ties in favor of the older one.
Data Structures
In order to lower the complexities, we exploited an efficient data structure named alternative partitions (See Figure 1).
Alternative Partitions
We use loss (resp. gain) partition to denote the partition that contains vertices in (resp. outside ) whose loss (resp. gain) is (Figure 1). All the loss partitions are shown as dark regions, and all the gain partitions are shown as light ones. Since the dark and the light regions are distributed alternatively, we call them alternative partitions. Obviously we have
Proposition 1

where .

where .
Then we use Algorithm 4 to find those vertices in with the minimum loss.
In this algorithm we first check whether there are any vertices whose loss is 0. If so, we randomly return one of them. Otherwise, we go on to check whether there are any vertices whose loss is 1, 2, until we find a nonempty partition. Then we randomly return one in that partition. So we have,
Proposition 2
The complexity of Algorithm 4 is .
Similarly we have
Proposition 3
The complexity of finding the partition with the maximum/minimum gain is .
Implementations
Given a graph and a candidate solution , we implement the alternative partitions on an array where each position holds a vertex (See Figure 1). Besides, we maintain two additional arrays of pointers, each of which points to the beginning of a specific partition. Imagine the array as a book of vertices and the pointer arrays as the indexes of the book.
Initializing the Partitions
At first when is empty, there are no dark regions in our data structure, so initializing the partitions is equivalent to sorting the vertices into a monotonic nondecreasing order, based on their gain. Notice that at this time, the gain of any vertex is equal to its degree, so we now need to sort vertices by degrees. By Proposition 1, this satisfies the assumption of counting sort which runs in linear time (?). Thus we have,
Proposition 4
Initializating the partitions is .
Maintaining the Partitions
After initializations, there are two cases in which a particular vertex, say , has to be moved from one partition to another: (1) adding (resp. removing) into (resp. from) ; (2) increasing/decreasing / by 1. Thus the core operation is to move a vertex to an adjacent partition.
Now we show how to do this with an example (See Figure 1 to 3). In this example, we are to add into . Initially and are in the gain52 partition and thus their gain is 52 (Figure 1). Notice that after being added, ’s loss will become 52, i.e., it should be in the loss52 partition. Thus the operation is performed like this: (1) is swapped with (Figure 2); (2) P is moved (Figure 3).
We define placeVertexIntoC() as the procedure that moves from certain gain partition to the respective loss partition, puts it into and updates its score. And we define gainMinusMinus() as the procedure that moves from certain gain partition to the respective gain partition and updates its score. Analogously we define placeVertexOutfromC(), lossMinusMinus(), gainPlusPlus(), and lossPlusPlus(). Then we have
Proposition 5
All the procedures are of complexities.
Complexity Analysis
In this section, we evaluate the complexities of the bestpicking and the vertex cover construction heuristics.
Complexity of The Bestpicking Heuristic
Along with adding/removing a vertex , we have to move this vertex and all its neighbors to other partitions. Thus by Proposition 5, maintaining the partitions will take time plus an amount of time proportional to . Thus,
Proposition 6
When a vertex is added/removed, the complexity of maintaining the partitions at each step is .
Proposition 7
The bestpicking heuristic in Algorithm 3 can be done in complexity.
In the local search stage, by Proposition 1, we have
Theorem 8
Suppose that each vertex has equal probability to be added or removed, then the average complexity of the bestpicking heuristic in Algorithm 3 is .
It is nice because (?) stated that the bestpicking heuristic was of complexity. Since most realworld graphs are sparse (?; ?; ?), we have .
Complexity of The Maxgain/Mingain Heuristics
(?) formally proved that the maxgain heuristic had a worstcase complexity of . Moreover, both (?) and (?) proved rigorously that the worstcase complexity of the mingain heuristic was . Yet with the alternative partitions, we have
Theorem 9
The mingain/maxgain heuristic constructs a vertex cover in complexity, where is the starting vertex cover.
Proof: We use to denote the set of uncovered edges.

In any cycle of the outer whileloop, if the condition in Line 5 is tested for times, then , and thus neighbors of will be put into . That is, in any cycle, the number of tests done in Line 5 is equal to the number of vertices that will be put. So that condition will be tested for exactly times during the algorithm.
Given in Line 5, the algorithm tests each of its neighbors whether they are in in Line 5. Considering the case that we have to test every neighbor of every vertex, the total number of tests done is . Thus the condition in Line 5 will be tested for at most times.
After putting a vertex into in Line 5, we have to update the information about its neighbors (Line 55). Again considering the extreme case above, the total number of updates (gainMinusMinus or lossMinusMinus) will be at most . By Proposition 5, the time spent in Line 55 during the algorithm is . To conclude, the overall complexity is .

We prove the case for maxgain by Algorithm 6.
In Line 6, we initialize to be which is equal to the maximum gain at this time. Notice that the value of the maximum gain never increases in the construction stage. So during the execution, whenever we find that there are no vertices whose gain is , we go on to check whether there are any vertices whose gain is . Thus, during the execution, is always the value of the maximum gain.
Besides, we compared Algorithm 6 with the traditional one (?) through experiments. Moreover, as to the mingain heuristic, we program it ourselves in two ways: Algorithm 5 and the previous way. It shows that our methods are faster than the traditional ones by orders of magnitude on large instances. So our experimental results were completely consistent with the theoretical expectations. So far we have not derived the complexity of Algorithm 2 yet, but we believe that it is also linear, because our procedure outputs a vertex cover typically within 10 seconds.
Because the maxgain heuristic was proposed about three decades ago (?), and (?) still proved the complexity, our result is surprising. Note that partitioning is a general method and can also be applied to solve huge instances for other problems.
Experimental Evaluation
In this section, we carry out extensive experiments to evaluate LinCom on massive graphs, compared against the stateoftheart local search MinVC algorithm FastVC. To show the individual impacts, we also present the performances of our procedure (named as InitVC in the tables).
Benchmarks
We downloaded all 139 instances^{2}^{2}2http://lcs.ios.ac.cn/c̃aisw/Resource/realworld%20graphs.tar.gz. They were originally online,^{3}^{3}3http://www.graphrepository.com./networks.php and then transformed to DIMACS graph format. But we excluded three extremely large ones, since they are out of memory for all the algorithms here. Thus we tested all the solvers on the remaining 136 instances. Some of them have recently been used in testing parallel algorithms for Maximum Clique and Coloring problems (?; ?).
Experiment Setup
All the solvers were compiled by g++ 4.6.3 with the ’O3’ option. For FastVC^{4}^{4}4http://lcs.ios.ac.cn/ caisw/Code/FastVC.zip, we adopt the parameter setting reported in (?). The experiments were conducted on a cluster equipped with a number of Intel(R) Xeon(R) CPUs X5650 @2.67GHz with 8GB RAM, running Red Hat Santiago OS.
All the algorithms are executed on each instance with a time limit of 1000 seconds, with seeds from 1 to 100. For each algorithm on each instance, we report the minimum size (””) and averaged size (””) of vertex covers found by the algorithm. To make the comparisons clearer, we also report the difference (””) between the minimum size of vertex cover found by FastVC and that found by LinCom. A positive means that LinCom finds a smaller vertex cover, while a negative means that FastVC finds a smaller vertex cover. The numbers of vertices of these graphs lie between to . We omit them and readers may refer to (?) or the download website.
Experimental Results
We show the main experimental results in Tables 1 and 2. For the sake of space, we do not report the results on graphs with less than 1000 vertices. Furthermore, we do not report the results on graphs where LinCom and FastVC precisely return both the same minimum size and average size.
Graph  FastVC  InitVC  LinCom  
caAstroPh  11483 (11483)  11483 (11483.36)  11483 (11483.01)  0 
caciteseer  129193 (129193)  129193 (129193.82)  129193 (129193.36)  0 
cacoauthorsdblp  472179 (472179)  472234 (472242.19)  472179 (472179.02)  0 
caCondMat  12480 (12480)  12481 (12481.25)  12480 (12480.06)  0 
cadblp2010  121969 (121969)  121970 (121971.02)  121969 (121969.64)  0 
cadblp2012  164949 (164949)  164949 (164950.88)  164949 (164950.35)  0 
cahollywood2009  864052 (864052)  864052 (864053.9)  864052 (864052.01)  0 
caMathSciNet  139951 (139951)  139951 (139952.45)  139951 (139952.23)  0 
socfbAanon  375231 (375232.94)  375230 (375230.82)  375230 (375230.82)  1 
socfbBanon  303048 (303048.93)  303048 (303048)  303048 (303048)  0 
socfbBerkeley13  17209 (17212.18)  17280 (17290.32 )  17210 (17215.93)  1 
socfbCMU  4986 (4986.72)  5002 (5007.41)  4986 (4987.24)  0 
socfbDuke14  7683 (7683.05)  7707 (7712.34)  7683 (7684.98)  0 
socfbIndiana  23313 (23317.19)  23426 (23439.12)  23319 (23323.79)  6 
socfbMIT  4657 (4657)  4663 (4669.13)  4657 (4657.56)  0 
socfbOR  36547 (36549.44 )  36586 (36594.26)  36548 (36549.50)  1 
socfbPenn94  31161 (31164.95)  31299 (31313.34)  31165 (31170.78)  4 
socfbStanford3  8517 (8517.89)  8534 (8540.01)  8518 (8518.35)  1 
socfbTexas84  28166 (28171.54)  28306 (28317.76)  28169 (28178.98)  3 
socfbUCLA  15222 (15224.41)  15279 (15294.25)  15224 (15228.85)  2 
socfbUConn  13230 (13231.60)  13287 (13300.16)  13232 (13235.99)  2 
socfbUCSB37  11261 (11262.88)  11310 (11316.65)  11262 (11265.54)  1 
socfbUF  27305 (27309.04)  27440 (27453.23)  27310 (27316.25)  5 
socfbUIllinois  24090 (24093.97)  24209 (24222.07)  24095 (24101.18)  5 
socfbWisconsin87  18383 (18385.46)  18468 (18483.70)  18384 (18390.13)  1 
iaenronlarge  12781 (12781)  12781 (12781.2)  12781 (12781.2)  0 
infpower  2203 (2203)  2203 (2203.01)  2203 (2203.01)  0 
infroadNetCA  1001254 (1001325.29)  1007098 (1007362.34)  1001058 (1001139.61)  196 
infroadNetPA  555203 (555248.74)  558206 (558343.72)  555035 (555107.22)  168 
recamazon  47606(47606.01)  47605 (47611.64)  47605 (47605.62)  1 
rtretweetcrawl  81044 (81047.81)  81040 (81040)  81040 (81040)  4 
Graph  FastVC  InitVC  LinCom  

scldoor  856754 (856757.36)  858142 (858173.08)  856755 (856757.18)  1 
scmsdoor  381558 (381559.23)  382102 (382120.66)  381559 (381559.86)  1 
scnasasrb  51242 (51247.27)  51575 (51605.64)  51243 (51249.23)  1 
scpkustk11  83911 (83912.97)  84124 (84146.02)  83911 (83913.52)  0 
scpkustk13  89217 (89220.46)  89625 (89652.49)  89219 (89222.95)  2 
scpwtk  207711 (207720.22)  208713 (208760.96)  207698 (207711.11)  13 
scshipsec1  117305 (117338.65)  118727 (118788.57)  117278 (117319.88 )  27 
scshipsec5  147140 (147179.12)  147656 (147710.75)  146991 (147022.95)  149 
socBlogCatalog  20752 (20752)  20752 (20752.01)  20752 (20752.01)  0 
socbrightkite  21190 (21190)  21190 (21190.09)  21190 (21190.09)  0 
socbuzznet  30625 (30625)  30613 (30613)  30613 (30613)  12 
socdelicious  85660 (85696.77)  85343 (85364.83)  85319 (85333.75)  341 
socdigg  103243 (103244.72)  103234 (103234.01)  103234 (103234.01)  9 
socepinions  9757 (9757)  9757 (9757.02)  9757 (9757.02)  0 
socflickr  153272 (153272.03)  153271 (153274.09)  153271 (153271.45)  1 
socflixster  96317 (96317)  96317 (96317.02)  96317 (96317.02)  0 
socFourSquare  90108 (90109.09)  90108 (90108.13)  90108 (90108.13)  0 
socgowalla  84222 (84222.36)  84222 (84224.28)  84222 (84222.07)  0 
soclivejournal  1869044 (1869054.64)  1868997(1869010.13)  1868924 (1868932.92)  120 
socpokec  843419 (843432.58)  843768 (843783.01)  843344 (843347.38)  75 
socyoutube  146376 (146376.13)  146376 (146376.35)  146376 (146376.1)  0 
socyoutubesnap  276945 (276945)  276945 (276945.21)  276945 (276945.21)  0 
techasskitter  527161 (527204.59)  525132 (525149.68)  525086 (525099.14)  2075 
techRLcaida  74924 (74940.83 )  74618 (74625.67)  74607 (74615.25)  317 
scc_infectdublin  9104 (9104)  9110 (9112.56 )  9103 (9103)  1 
scc_retweetcrawl  8419 (8419)  8419 (8419.02)  8419 (8419.02)  0 
webarabic2005  114425 (114427.28)  114431 (114435.40)  114420 (114420.67)  5 
webBerkStan  5384 (5384)  5388 (5388.13)  5384 (5384.13)  0 
webit2004  414671 (414675.12)  414854 (414874.98)  414646 (414649)  25 
webspam  2298 (2298.01)  2297 (2298.07)  2297 (2297.26)  1 
webwikipedia2009  648315 (648321.83)  648385 (648401.24)  648300 (648312.39)  15 
1) LinCom attains the best known solutions for most instances, and makes a significant progress. In Fact, among all the 136 tested instances LinCom has found covers with 26 less vertices on average. This improvement is big, since it rarely happens to find a better solution (?).
2) LinCom is more robust. Actually out of 12 classes, LinCom outperforms FastVC over 7 classes, while FastVC outperforms LinCom over 1 class (e.g., facebook networks). It seems that our local search is too greedy and not as effective as FastVC for facebook networks.
3) There are quite a few instances (e.g., socdelicious) where InitVC outperforms FastVC. This illustrates that our procedure generates desired starting vertex covers.
Furthermore, the solutions to the following 9 instances are guaranteed to be optimal: caCSphd, caErdos992, iaemailEU, iareality, iawikiTalk, socdouban, socLiveMocha, soctwitterfollows, techinternetas. So our procedure is sometimes complete in practice.
Conclusions and Future Work
In this paper, we have developed a local search algorithm for MinVC called LinCom, based on reduction rules and data structures. The reduction rules help generate a better quality starting vertex cover, while the data structures lower the complexities of the heuristics.
The main contributions are two folds: (1) we have lowered the complexity of two vertex cover construction heuristics and the bestpicking heuristic based on the scorebased alternative partitions at the theoretical level; (2) we apply these results and some reduction rules to develop a local search solver which outperforms the stateoftheart.
As for future works we will utilize various diversification strategies to in our solver. Also, we will apply reduction rules to select vertices for exchanging in local search.
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