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So i'm currently reading a lot of things about graph NP-complete problems, and it seems that the goal of a lot of researchers is to find new results about their complexity, results like "independent set is 1.593 approximable for graphs which doesn't contains K4 K5 P3 as a minor" (this is probably a wrong result i just invented something which looks like a result we could find in a paper), approximation algorithms, parameterized complexity etc ...

But i'm wondering : what really is the goal to study independent set, vertex cover, hamiltonian circuit etc ... ? Do they have real case application ? Is there any software that uses independent set algorithms ?

Or is it only for the theory ? To discover something new in the P vs NP problems ?

To sum up : are NP-complete problems (and i'm particularly interested in NP-complete graph problems) useful in the reality ?

PS : sorry if the title may seem offensive, it is not, i know a lot of searchers study things which does not have much applications in reality, i want to know if it is the case for np-complete problems

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No one are offended by that question, and it's an important question to ask.

When working in graph theory, we don't believe that proving hardness results for independent set on $\{K_4, K_5, P_3\}$-minor-free graphs are "important". However, it is interesting to see why a certain forbidden minor puts a problem from being, e.g. polynomial time solvable, to NP-complete. It is then important that that is the focus.

Here is an interesting problem:

Does edge deletion to claw-free graphs admit a polynomial kernel?

Why is it interesting? Because we know almost everything else about kernels and edge deletion to $H$-free graphs. This one is interesting because it is notoriously hard. And hopefully, once this is solved, we will understand more about the interplay between $H$-free graphs, edge deletion, and polynomial kernels.

But I want to also mention that, yes, there are indeed applications that use algorithms for independent set, vertex cover, travelling salesman, etc. See for example Dependency hell is NP-complete.


Fast forward to industry. After quitting academia and joining industry as a developer, I have more than once been able to tell people that what they are working on is NP-complete, and to provide insight into a problem that I got from studying these problems in a theoretic setting.

I have written and published my share of "unusable" algorithms, but it's not expected that people can take algorithms and plug-and-play them into their system. What they can take is the insight we provide in structures, heuristics, as well as hardness. Sometimes a problem is only hard on graphs that have large grids as minors, and if you suddenly see that your data is "tree-like", then you might have some tricks to share with your future industry-colleagues.

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