Gecode: Publications

Techniques for Efficient Constraint Propagation

Mikael Z. Lagerkvist

This thesis explores three new techniques for increasing the efficiency of constraint propagation: support for incremental propagation, improved representation of constraints, and abstractions to simplify propagation.

Support for incremental propagation is added to a propagator-centered propagation system by adding a new intermediate layer of abstraction, advisors, that capture the essential aspects of a variable- centered system. Advisors are used to give propagators a detailed view of the dynamic changes between propagator runs. Advisors enable the implementation of optimal algorithms for important constraints such as extensional constraints and Boolean linear in-equations, which is not possible in a propagator-centered system lacking advisors.

Using Multivalued Decision Diagrams (MDD) as the representation for extensional constraints is shown to be useful for several reasons. Classical operations on MDDs can be used to optimize the representation, and thus speeding up the propagation. In particular, the reduction operation is stronger than the use of DFA minimization for the regular constraint. The use of MDDs is contrasted and compared to a recent proposal where tables are compressed.

Abstractions for constraint programs try to capture small and essential features of a model. These features may be much cheaper to propagate than the unabstracted program. The potential for abstraction is explored using several examples.

These three techniques work on different levels. Support for incremental propagation is essential for the efficient implementation of some constraints, so that the algorithms have the right complexity. On a higher level, the question of representation looks at what a propagator should use for propagation. Finally, the question of abstraction can potentially look at several propagators, to find cases where abstractions might be fruitful.

An essential feature of this thesis is an novel model for general placement constraints that uses regular expressions. The model is very versatile and can be used for several different kinds of placement problems. The model applied to the classic pentominoes puzzle will be used through-out the thesis as an example and for experiments.

Licentiate dissertation, Royal Institute of Technology, 2008.