Suppose I want to prove that $NP \cap coNP = P$. Since clearly $P\subseteq NP \cap coNP$, I need to prove the opposite direction, i.e., every problem in $NP \cap coNP$ has a polynomial-time algorithm. Is there a shorter way to prove this equality than arguing about all problems in $NP \cap coNP$?

One obvious way would be to find a polynomial-time algorithm for SAT, since this would imply $P=NP$ and therefore also $NP \cap coNP = P$. But I am looking for an easier way.

In particular, is there a problem $X$ that is not NP-complete, but complete for $NP \cap coNP$? If such a problem exists, then an algorithm for $X$ would imply $P\subseteq NP \cap coNP$.

  • $\begingroup$ Given that $\textit{NP}=\textit{coNP}$ is still an open problem, and given that that would imply $\textit{NP}\cap\textit{coNP}=\textit{NP}$, contradicting your proposition unless $\textit P=\textit{NP}$, I would not expect a simple proof for your proposition to exist; it may likely even be false. $\endgroup$
    – fuz
    Commented Feb 8 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ @fuz Sure. I am not claiming that $NP\cap coNP=P$ necessarily holds. I just want to understand what would constitute a valid proof for this. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ Meanwhile, I assume a satisfability problem with the promise "$\varphi$ is satisfiable or has a polynomial time verifiable refutation" would be complete for promise-$NP\cap coNP$. $\endgroup$
    – rus9384
    Commented Feb 9 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ Basically, as I see it, $P=NP\cap coNP$ would also imply $P=NP$, as for both an algorithm that works in polynomial time only on satisfiable instances would suffice. And a similar logic goes for any other complexity class that is closed under complement, not just $P$. $\endgroup$
    – rus9384
    Commented Feb 9 at 12:58

2 Answers 2


As mentioned by D.W., asking for a complete problem for $\mathrm{NP} \cap \mathrm{coNP}$ is going to be messy. However, for the purpose of "Can I work on a polytime algorithm for this concrete problem in an attempt to prove $\mathrm{NP} \cap \mathrm{coNP} = \mathrm{P}$?", we do have options available to us. We just need to look beyond total decision problems.

For example, consider the following computational problem $A$: Given two $\mathrm{SAT}$-instances $\phi_0,\phi_1$ subject to the promise that exactly one of them is satisfiable, decide which one is.

Or, if you prefer multivaluedness over partiality, we can consider the problem $B$ defined as: Given two $\mathrm{SAT}$-instances $\phi_0,\phi_1$, compute some $i \in \{0,1\}$ such that if $\phi_{1-i}$ is satisfiable, then so is $\phi_i$.

Claim: A total decision problem is polytime many-one reducible to $A$ if and only if it is polytime many-one reducible to $B$ if and only if it belongs to $\mathrm{NP} \cap \mathrm{coNP}$.

So, a polytime algorithm for $A$ (or equivalently, $B$) implies $\mathrm{NP} \cap \mathrm{coNP} = \mathrm{P}$, and in some sense, is not much stronger than it.

  • $\begingroup$ So why are problems A and B not called "complete for $NP\cap coNP$"? Is it just because they are formally not total decision problems? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 10 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ @ErelSegal-Halevi Exactly. $\endgroup$
    – Arno
    Commented Feb 10 at 18:54

So far we don't know of any problem that can be proven to be complete for $NP \cap coNP$. See https://cstheory.stackexchange.com/q/49/5038 and https://mathoverflow.net/q/34889/37212 for extended discussion of some of the challenges, related results, and a few entry points into the literature.

Related: What do we know about $NP \cap co-NP$?, Complete problems in NP∩coNP.


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