Cycle (graph theory)
In graph theory, two types of object are commonly called cycles. One type of cycle, more commonly called a closed walk, consists of a sequence of vertices starting and ending at the same vertex, with each two consecutive vertices in the sequence adjacent to each other in the graph. The other type of cycle, sometimes called a simple cycle, circuit, circle, or polygon, is a closed walk with no repetitions of vertices or edges allowed, other than the repetition of the starting and ending vertex. Simple cycles may also be described by their sets of edges, unlike closed walks for which the multiset of edges does not unambiguously determine the vertex ordering. A directed cycle in a directed graph is a sequence of vertices starting and ending at the same vertex such that, for each two consecutive vertices of the cycle, there exists an edge directed from the earlier vertex to the later one; the same distinction between closed walks and simple cycles may be made in the directed case.
A chordless cycle in a graph, also called a hole or an induced cycle, is a cycle such that no two vertices of the cycle are connected by an edge that does not itself belong to the cycle. An antihole is the complement of a graph hole. Chordless cycles may be used to characterize perfect graphs: by the strong perfect graph theorem, a graph is perfect if and only if none of its holes or antiholes have an odd number of vertices that is greater than three. A chordal graph, a special type of perfect graph, has no holes of any size greater than three.
A peripheral cycle is a cycle in a graph with the property that every two edges not on the cycle can be connected by a path whose interior vertices avoid the cycle. In a graph that is not formed by adding one edge to a cycle, a peripheral cycle must be an induced cycle.
The term cycle may also refer to an element of the cycle space of a graph. This consists of the edge sets that have an even degree at every vertex; it forms a vector space over the two-element finite field. Using methods from algebraic topology, it may be generalized to vector spaces or modules over other rings such as the integers, real numbers, etc. By Veblen's theorem, every element of the cycle space may be formed by combining simple cycles; a cycle basis of the graph is a set of simple cycles that forms a basis of the cycle space.
An undirected graph has a cycle if and only if a depth-first search (DFS) finds an edge that points to an already-visited vertex (a back edge). Equivalently, all the back edges, which DFS skips over, are part of cycles. In the case of undirected graphs, only O(n) time is required to find a cycle in an n-vertex graph, since at most n − 1 edges can be tree edges.
A directed graph has a cycle if and only if a DFS finds a back edge. Forward and cross edges do not necessarily indicate cycles. Many topological sorting algorithms will detect cycles too, since those are obstacles for topological order to exist. Also, if a directed graph has been divided into strongly connected components, cycles only exist within the components and not between them, since cycles are strongly connected.
Covering graphs by cycles
In his 1736 paper on the Seven Bridges of Königsberg, widely considered to be the birth of graph theory, Leonhard Euler proved that, for a finite undirected graph to have a closed walk that visits each edge exactly once, it is necessary and sufficient that it be connected and have even degree at each vertex. The corresponding characterization for the existence of a closed walk visiting each edge exactly once in a directed graph is that the graph be strongly connected and have equal numbers of incoming and outgoing edges at each vertex. In either case, the resulting walk is known as an Euler cycle or Euler tour. If a finite undirected graph has even degree at each of its vertices, regardless of whether it is connected, then it is possible to find a set of simple cycles that together cover each edge exactly once: this is Veblen's theorem. When a connected graph does not meet the conditions of Euler's theorem, a closed walk of minimum length covering each edge at least once can nevertheless be found in polynomial time by solving the route inspection problem.
The problem of finding a single simple cycle that covers each vertex exactly once, rather than covering the edges, is much harder. Such a cycle is known as a Hamiltonian cycle, and determining whether it exists is NP-complete. Much research has been published concerning classes of graphs that can be guaranteed to contain Hamiltonian cycles; one example is Ore's theorem that a Hamiltonian cycle can always be found in a graph for which every non-adjacent pair of vertices have degrees summing to at least the total number of vertices in the graph.
The cycle double cover states that, for every bridgeless graph, there exists a multiset of simple cycles that covers each edge of the graph exactly twice. Proving that this is true (or finding a counterexample) remains an open problem.
Graph classes defined by cycles
Several important classes of graphs can be defined by or characterized by their cycles. These include:
- Bipartite graph, a graph without odd cycles.
- Cactus graph, a graph in which every nontrivial biconnected component is a cycle
- Cycle graph, a graph that consists of a single cycle.
- Chordal graph, a graph with no induced cycles of length greater than three
- Directed acyclic graph, a directed graph with no cycles
- Perfect graph, a graph with no induced cycles or their complements of odd length greater than three
- Pseudoforest, a graph in which each connected component has at most one cycle
- Strongly connected graph, a directed graph in which every edge is part of a cycle
- Triangle-free graph, a graph without three-vertex cycles
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