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Vertex cover is one of the best known NP-hard combinatorial optimization problems. Experimental work has claimed that evolutionary algorithms (EAs) perform fairly well for the problem and can compete with problem-specific ones. A theoretical analysis that explains these empirical results is presented concerning the random local search algorithm and the (1+1)-EA. Since it is not expected that an algorithm can solve the vertex cover problem in polynomial time, a worst case approximation analysis is carried out for the two considered algorithms and comparisons with the best known problem-specific ones are presented. By studying instance classes of the problem, general results are derived. Although arbitrarily bad approximation ratios of the (1+1)-EA can be proved for a bipartite instance class, the same algorithm can quickly find the minimum cover of the graph when a restart strategy is used. Instance classes where multiple runs cannot considerably improve the performance of the (1+1)-EA are considered and the characteristics of the graphs that make the optimization task hard for the algorithm are investigated and highlighted. An instance class is designed to prove that the (1+1)-EA cannot guarantee better solutions than the state-of-the-art algorithm for vertex cover if worst cases are considered. In particular, a lower bound for the worst case approximation ratio, slightly less than two, is proved. Nevertheless, there are subclasses of the vertex cover problem for which the (1+1)-EA is efficient. It is proved that if the vertex degree is at most two, then the algorithm can solve the problem in polynomial time.
Date of Publication: Oct. 2009