It is widely known that emptiness of counter automata is undecidable since two counters are enough to simulate a Turing machine (see the classic book from Hopcroft and Ullman, for example).

However, what happens if we put a bound $k$ on the values stored by the counters? In this restricted model, the counters cannot be incremented more than $k$.

I think this makes the problem decidable, is this correct? And in this case, which is the complexity? Is there any reference about this problem?

  • $\begingroup$ If the counters are bounded, you can get rid of them by including them as part of the set of states. $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2021 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, this makes it easy to prove membership in PSPACE, I suppose. But what about the hardness? $\endgroup$
    – gigabytes
    Sep 23, 2021 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ Can you define the model more precisely? $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2021 at 20:41

1 Answer 1


If the counters are bounded by $k$, then the number of possible states is finite, so this is a finite-state machine, and emptiness for finite-state machines is decidable. In particular, if there are $c$ counters, each bounded by $k$, then there are $O(k^c)$ states, so emptiness can be tested in $O(k^c)$ time.

Assuming the automaton allows nondeterminism, it is easy to prove that the problem is NP-hard, by a reduction from 3SAT. (Store the value of $x_i$ in the $i$th counter, selecting its value nondeterministically, then scan over the formula, checking each clause to see if it holds.)


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