The unweighted maximum coverage problem is defined as follows:

Instance: A set $E = \{e_1,...,e_n\}$ and $m$ subsets of $E$, $S = \{S_1,...,S_m\}$.

Objective: find a subset $S' \subseteq S$ such that $|S'| = k $ and the number of covered elements is maximized.

The problem is NP-hard, but a simple greedy algorithm (at each stage, choose a set which contains the largest number of uncovered elements) achieves an approximation ratio of $1-\frac{1}{e}$.

In the following post, there is an example of when the greedy algorithm fails.

Tight instance for unweighted maximum coverage problem?

I wish to prove that the approximation ration for the greedy algorithm is tight. That is, the greedy algorithm is not an $\alpha-$approximation ratio for any $\alpha > 1-\frac{1}{e}$.

I think that if I will find, for any $k$, (or for an ascending series of $k's$), an instance where the number of elements covered by greedy algorithm is $1-(1- \frac{1}{k})^k$ times the number of elements covered by the optimal solution, the tightness of the ratio will be proved.

Can someone give a clue for such instances?

I thought of an initial idea: let $E = \{ a_1 ,...a_n,b_1,...,b_n,...,k_1,...,k_n\}$, a set with $n\cdot k$ elements. Let $S$ include $k$ sets of $n$ elements each, $A = \{ a_1 ,...a_n\},...,K= \{k_1,...,k_n\}$. The optimal solution will select these $k$ sets and cover all the elements in $E$. Now I want to add $k$ sets to $S$, that will be the solution the greedy algorithm will find, and will cover $1-(1- \frac{1}{k})^k$ of the elements in $E$. The first such set, of size $n$: $S_1 = \{a_1,...a_\frac{n}{k},b_1,...b_\frac{n}{k},...,k_1,...k_\frac{n}{k} \}$ ($\frac{n}{k}$ elements from each of the first $k$ sets). The second such set, of size $n - \frac{n}{k}$: $S_2 = \{a_\frac{n}{k},...a_{\frac{n}{k}+ (n - \frac{n}{k})\cdot\frac{1}{k}},b_\frac{n}{k},...,b_{\frac{n}{k}+ (n - \frac{n}{k})\cdot\frac{1}{k}},...,k_\frac{n}{k},...,k_{\frac{n}{k}+ (n - \frac{n}{k})\cdot\frac{1}{k}} \}$ , (that is, $(n - \frac{n}{k})\cdot\frac{1}{k}$ elements from each of the first $k$ sets) and so on till we have $k$ additional such sets.

I don't think this idea works for every $k$ and $n$, and I'm not sure it's the right approach.


  • $\begingroup$ See Section 3.1 here for a weighted instance. You can get arbitrarily close to it using an unweighted instance by duplicating elements. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2019 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ Your "objective" depends on a variable "k", but this variable is not part of the "instance"? $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Feb 20, 2023 at 12:26

1 Answer 1


Your approach is mostly correct. The coverage of $S_i$ is $n ( 1 - 1 /k)^{i-1}$ and the sets $S_1, \ldots, S_k$ are disjoint, so the total coverage is $$ \sum_{i=1}^{k} n (1 - 1 / k)^{i-1} = n \left( \frac{1 - (1 - 1/k)^k}{1 - (1-1/k)} \right) = kn \left( 1 - (1 - 1/k)^k \right) = \mathrm{OPT} \cdot \left( 1 - (1 - 1/k)^k \right) $$ as required, where OPT is the optimal value ($nk = |E|$ in this case). The above sum is a simple Geometric series.

There are two small problems. Firstly, the sizes of the $S_i$s may not be integral. You can fix this by setting $n=k^{k-1}$ so that $$ |S_i| = k^{k-1} \left( \frac{k - 1}{k} \right)^{i-1} = k^{k-i}(k-1). $$

The second problem is that the algorithm will not necessarily select set $S_1$ over all of $A, B, \ldots, K$ as they are all provide $n$ additional coverage. You will have the same problem with all subsequent sets. You could reasonably just declare that the $S_i$s appear before $A, \ldots, K$ in the collection of sets, and that this is how the greedy algorithm tie-breaks. To be more thorough, you could add $k$ new elements to $E$, and add a unique new element to each of $S_1, \ldots, S_k$. The greedy algorithm is now obliged to choose $S_1, \ldots, S_k$ and achieves a coverage of $$ kn \left(1 - (1 - 1/k)^k) \right) + k = kn \left( 1 - (1 - 1/k)^k + 1 / k^{k-1} \right). $$ The new term $1 / k^{k-1}$ obviously goes to zero and the $1-1/e$ upper bound on the approximation factor is still proved.


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