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Let $G=(V, E)$ be an unweighted and undirected graph, and $s, t \in E$.

The problems starts with $n$ tokens on $s$.

The goal is to move theses tokens to $t$ in a minimum of rounds with these rules :

  • Each token can be moved up to once per round (a movement being when you transfer the token from $v$ the vertex that holds it, to $w \in N_G(v)$).
  • Each vertex $v \in V\backslash \left\{s, t\right\}$ can hold at most one token ($s$ and $t$ are unconstrained).

So far, what I've thought to is :

  • If $N_G(s)=0$ or $N_G(t)=0$, it is not possible.
  • If $N_G(s)=1$ or $N_G(t)=1$, you can just apply a BFS from $s$ to find the shortest path, then transfer every token one by one trough this path.
  • If $N_G(s) \geq 2$ and $N_G(t) \geq 2$ you can apply a maximum flow algorithm on $G$ with $1$ as capacity for every edge. If the maximum flow is $1$ then you can apply a BFS and transfer every token through this path again. However if the maximum flow is $\geq 2$, then I don't really see what to do (having a maximum flow $\geq 2$ doesn't even guarantee there are multiple paths as nodes can hold at most $1$ token, while max flow tests only for edges, and even if there are multiple paths in some cases it can be better to use only the shortest path - e. g. for $2$ tokens if you have to paths but one is at least to edges longer -).

Does this problem have a name? What topic of graph theory does it belongs to? Are there efficient algorithms to solve it?

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  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael : Well I know basics but I'm not so familiar. And I don't see how to modelise this 'round by round' thing with network flows $\endgroup$ – servabat Aug 19 '15 at 12:14
  • $\begingroup$ First of all, there are flow problems/models with vertex capacities. Another thought is to look at disjoint paths, see e.g. here or here. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Aug 19 '15 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael : so after reading the resources you linked my impression is I should : 1. Split each node $v \in V\backslash \left\{s, t\right\}$ into two vertices $v_{\text{in}}$ and $v_{\text{out}}$ linked by a unitary capacity edge (possibly on a "working copy") 2. Apply a min vertex cut (i. e. max flow with vertex capacity) to get $m$, the maximum number of vertex-disjoint paths 3. Apply a min cost flow for each $k\in 1..m$ 4. Route the token trough the found paths (using some modular arithmetic I guess). Is that right? Or is it an unefficient approach ? $\endgroup$ – servabat Aug 22 '15 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ That's seems to be essentially what Yuval proposes, yes. I don't know if it's optimal (as Yuval claims to prove) but it's definitely a reasonable approach. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Aug 22 '15 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael : Ok, thanks, I actually didn't understood Yuval answer but I guess I'm just not advanced enough in cs for that. $\endgroup$ – servabat Aug 22 '15 at 12:00
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Menger's theorem states that the maximum number of $s$-$t$ (internally) vertex-disjoint paths is equal to the minimum size of an $s$-$t$ vertex cut. Let the common value be $m$. Then it can be shown that the asymptotic number of rounds required is $n/m + O(1)$.

Using the vertex disjoint paths, we can route $n$ tokens in $n/m + O(1)$ rounds, where the constant depends on the graph $G$ (but not on $n$). This gives an upper bound.

On the other hand, every token must pass through the vertex cut, and at most $m$ can do so at any given round, so routing $n$ tokens takes at least $n/m$ rounds. (For each token, there must be a first time at which it reaches a vertex in the cut. Each such time can repeat at most $m$ times, since at most $m$ vertices of the cut can be occupied at any given time. So the number of rounds is at least $n/m$.) This gives a matching lower bound.

From these two bounds, we deduce that the asymptotic number of rounds required is $n/m + O(1)$.

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  • $\begingroup$ Since these paths can have different lengths, I don't see how these "rounds" give a lower bounds on total runtime. We may be able to route faster than send $n/m$ tokens via each path. Also, saying $d(s,t) \in O(1)$ is stretching the meaning of asymptotic notation (too far, imho). Or am I missing something? $\endgroup$ – Raphael Aug 19 '15 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael You may be assuming that $n$ is the number of vertices, but this is not mentioned anywhere. The argument shows that as a function of $n$, the number of rounds is asymptotic to $n/m$. Regarding the lower bound, for each token there must be a first time at which it reaches a vertex in the cut. Each such time can repeat at most $m$ times, since at most $m$ vertices of the cut can be occupied at any given time. So the number of rounds is at least $n/m$. $\endgroup$ – Yuval Filmus Aug 19 '15 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean with "common value"? $\endgroup$ – servabat Aug 22 '15 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ The common value is the maximum number of $s$-$t$ internally vertex-disjoint paths, which equals the minimum size of an $s$-$t$ vertex cut. $\endgroup$ – Yuval Filmus Aug 22 '15 at 11:30

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