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Universal Shortest Paths
(2010)

We introduce the universal shortest path problem (Univ-SPP) which generalizes both - classical and new - shortest path problems. Starting with the definition of the even more general universal combinatorial optimization problem (Univ-COP), we show that a variety of objective functions for general combinatorial problems can be modeled if all feasible solutions have the same cardinality. Since this assumption is, in general, not satisfied when considering shortest paths, we give two alternative definitions for Univ-SPP, one based on a sequence of cardinality contrained subproblems, the other using an auxiliary construction to establish uniform length for all paths between source and sink. Both alternatives are shown to be (strongly) NP-hard and they can be formulated as quadratic integer or mixed integer linear programs. On graphs with specific assumptions on edge costs and path lengths, the second version of Univ-SPP can be solved as classical sum shortest path problem.

It is well known that the greedy algorithm solves matroid base problems for all linear cost functions and is, in fact, correct if and only if the underlying combinatorial structure of the problem is a matroid. Moreover, the algorithm can be applied to problems with sum, bottleneck, algebraic sum or \(k\)-sum objective functions.

The shortest path problem in which the \((s,t)\)-paths \(P\) of a given digraph \(G =(V,E)\) are compared with respect to the sum of their edge costs is one of the best known problems in combinatorial optimization. The paper is concerned with a number of variations of this problem having different objective functions like bottleneck, balanced, minimum deviation, algebraic sum, \(k\)-sum and \(k\)-max objectives, \((k_1, k_2)-max, (k_1, k_2)\)-balanced and several types of trimmed-mean objectives. We give a survey on existing algorithms and propose a general model for those problems not yet treated in literature. The latter is based on the solution of resource constrained shortest path problems with equality constraints which can be solved in pseudo-polynomial time if the given graph is acyclic and the number of resources is fixed. In our setting, however, these problems can be solved in strongly polynomial time. Combining this with known results on \(k\)-sum and \(k\)-max optimization for general combinatorial problems, we obtain strongly polynomial algorithms for a variety of path problems on acyclic and general digraphs.