# Karger's algorithm

A graph with two cuts. The dotted line in red is a cut with three crossing edges. The dashed line in green is a min-cut of this graph, crossing only two edges.

In computer science and graph theory, Karger's algorithm is a randomized algorithm to compute a minimum cut of a connected graph. It was invented by David Karger and first published in 1993.[1]

The idea of the algorithm is based on the concept of contraction of an edge $(u, v)$ in an undirected graph $G = (V, E)$. Informally speaking, the contraction of an edge merges the nodes $u$ and $v$ into one, reducing the total number of nodes of the graph by one. All other edges connecting either $u$ or $v$ are "reattached" to the merged node, effectively producing a multigraph. Karger's basic algorithm iteratively contracts randomly chosen edges until only two nodes remain; those nodes represent a cut in the original graph. By iterating this basic algorithm a sufficient number of times, a minimum cut can be found with high probability.

## The global minimum cut problem

Main article: Minimum cut

A cut $(S,T)$ in an undirected graph $G = (V, E)$ is a partition of the vertices $V$ into two non-empty, disjoint sets $S\cup T= V$. The cutset of a cut consists of the edges $\{\, uv \in E \colon u\in S, v\in T\,\}$ between the two parts. The size (or weight) of a cut in an unweighted graph is the cardinality of the cutset, i.e., the number of edges between the two parts,

$w(S,T) = |\{\, uv \in E \colon u\in S, v\in T\,\}|\,.$

There are $2^{|V|}$ ways of choosing for each vertex whether it belongs to $S$ or to $T$, but two of these choices make $S$ or $T$ empty and do not give rise to cuts. Among the remaining choices, swapping the roles of $S$ and $T$ does not change the cut, so each cut is counted twice; therefore, there are $2^{|V|-1}-1$ distinct cuts. The minimum cut problem is to find a cut of smallest size among these cuts.

For weighted graphs with positive edge weights $w\colon E\rightarrow \mathbf R^+$ the weight of the cut is the sum of the weights of edges between vertices in each part

$w(S,T) = \sum_{uv\in E\colon u\in S, v\in T} w(uv)\,,$

which agrees with the unweighted definition for $w=1$.

A cut is sometimes called a “global cut” to distinguish it from an “$s$-$t$ cut” for a given pair of vertices, which has the additional requirement that $s\in S$ and $t\in T$. Every global cut is an $s$-$t$ cut for some $s,t\in V$. Thus, the minimum cut problem can be solved in polynomial time by iterating over all choices of $s,t\in V$ and solving the resulting minimum $s$-$t$ cut problem using the max-flow min-cut theorem and a polynomial time algorithm for maximum flow, such as the Ford–Fulkerson algorithm, though this approach is not optimal. There is a deterministic algorithm for the global minimum cut problem with running time $O(mn+n^2\log n)$.[2]

## Contraction algorithm

The fundamental operation of Karger’s algorithm is a form of edge contraction. The result of contracting the edge $e=\{u,v\}$ is new node $uv$. Every edge $\{w,u\}$ or $\{w,v\}$ for $w\notin\{u,v\}$ to the endpoints of the contracted edge is replaced by an edge $\{w,uv\}$ to the new node. Finally, the contracted nodes $u$ and $v$ with all their incident edges are removed. In particular, the resulting graph contains no self-loops. The result of contracting edge $e$ is denoted $G/e$.

The contraction algorithm repeatedly contracts random edges in the graph, until only two nodes remain, at which point there is only a single cut.

Successful run of Karger’s algorithm on a 10-vertex graph. The minimum cut has size 3.
   procedure contract($G=(V,E)$):
while $|V| > 2$
choose $e\in E$ uniformly at random
$G \leftarrow G/e$
return the only cut in $G$


When the graph is represented using adjacency lists or an adjacency matrix, a single edge contraction operation can be implemented with a linear number of updates to the data structure, for a total running time of $O(|V|^2)$. Alternatively, the procedure can be viewed as an execution of Kruskal’s algorithm for constructing the minimum spanning tree in a graph where the edges have weights $w(e_i)=\pi(i)$ according to a random permutation $\pi$. Removing the heaviest edge of this tree results in two components that describe a cut. In this way, the contraction procedure can be implemented like Kruskal’s algorithm in time $O(|E|\log |E|)$.

The random edge choices in Karger’s algorithm correspond to an execution of Kruskal’s algorithm on a graph with random edge ranks until only two components remain.

The best known implementations use $O(|E|)$ time and space, or $O(|E|\log |E|)$ time and $O(|V|)$ space, respectively.[1]

### Success probability of the contraction algorithm

In a graph $G=(V,E)$ with $n=|V|$ vertices, the contraction algorithm returns a minimum cut with polynomially small probability $\binom{n}{2}^{-1}$. Every graph has $2^{n-1} -1$ cuts,[3] among which at most $\tbinom{n}{2}$ can be minimum cuts. Therefore, the success probability for this algorithm is much better than the probability for picking a cut at random, which is at most $\tbinom{n}{2}/( 2^{n-1} -1 )$

For instance, the cycle graph on $n$ vertices has exactly $\binom{n}{2}$ minimum cuts, given by every choice of 2 edges. The contraction procedure finds each of these with equal probability.

To establish the bound on the success probability in general, let $C$ denote the edges of a specific minimum cut of size $k$. The contraction algorithm returns $C$ if none of the random edges belongs to the cutset of $C$. In particular, the first edge contraction avoids $C$, which happens with probability $1-k/|E|$. The minimum degree of $G$ is at least $k$ (otherwise a minimum degree vertex would induce a smaller cut), so $|E|\geq nk/2$. Thus, the probability that the contraction algorithm picks an edge from $C$ is

$\frac{k}{|E|} \leq \frac{k}{nk/2} = \frac{2}{n}.$

The probability $p_n$ that the contraction algorithm on an $n$-vertex graph avoids $C$ satisfies the recurrence $p_n \geq \bigl(1- \frac{2}{n}\bigr) p_{n-1}$, with $p_2 = 1$, which can be expanded as

$p_n \geq \prod_{i=0}^{n-3} \Bigl(1-\frac{2}{n-i}\Bigr) = \prod_{i=0}^{n-3} {\frac{n-i-2}{n-i}} = \frac{n-2}{n}\cdot \frac{n-3}{n-1} \cdot \frac{n-4}{n-2}\cdots \frac{3}{5}\cdot \frac{2}{4} \cdot \frac{1}{3} = \binom{n}{2}^{-1}\,.$

### Repeating the contraction algorithm

10 repetitions of the contraction procedure. The 5th repetition finds the minimum cut of size 3.

By repeating the contraction algorithm $T = \binom{n}{2}\ln n$ times with independent random choices and returning the smallest cut, the probability of not finding a minimum cut is

$\Bigl[1-\binom{n}{2}^{-1}\Bigr]^T \leq \frac{1}{e^{\ln n}} = \frac{1}{n}\,.$

The total running time for $T$ repetitions for a graph with $n$ vertices and $m$ edges is $O(Tm) = O(n^2 m \log n)$.

## Karger–Stein algorithm

An extension of Karger’s algorithm due to David Karger and Clifford Stein achieves an order of magnitude improvement.[4]

The basic idea is to perform the contraction procedure until the graph reaches $t$ vertices.

   procedure contract($G=(V,E)$, $t$):
while $|V| > t$
choose $e\in E$ uniformly at random
$G \leftarrow G/e$
return $G$


The probability $p_{n,t}$ that this contraction procedure avoids a specific cut $C$ in an $n$-vertex graph is

$p_{n,t} \ge \prod_{i=0}^{n-t-1} \Bigl(1-\frac{2}{n-i}\Bigr) = \binom{t}{2}\Bigg/\binom{n}{2}\,.$

This expression is $\Omega(t^2/n^2)$ becomes less than $\frac{1}{2}$ around $t= \lceil 1 + n/\sqrt 2\rceil$. In particular, the probability that an edge from $C$ is contracted grows towards the end. This motivates the idea of switching to a slower algorithm after a certain number of contraction steps.

   procedure fastmincut($G= (V,E)$):
if $|V| < 6$:
return mincut($V$)
else:
$t\leftarrow \lceil 1 + |V|/\sqrt 2\rceil$
$G_1 \leftarrow$ contract($G$, $t$)
$G_2 \leftarrow$ contract($G$, $t$)
return min {fastmincut($G_1$), fastmincut($G_2$)}


### Analysis

The probability $P(n)$ the algorithm finds a specific cutset $C$ is given by the recurrence relation

$P(n)= 1-\left(1-\frac{1}{2} P\left(\Bigl\lceil 1 + \frac{n}{\sqrt{2}}\Bigr\rceil \right)\right)^2$

with solution $P(n) = O\left(\frac{1}{\log n}\right)$. The running time of fastmincut satisfies

$T(n)= 2T\left(\Bigl\lceil 1+\frac{n}{\sqrt{2}}\Bigr\rceil\right)+O(n^2)$

with solution $T(n)=O(n^2\log n)$. To achieve error probability $O(1/n)$, the algorithm can be repeated $O(\log n/P(n))$ times, for an overall running time of $T(n) \cdot \frac{\log n}{P(n)} = O(n^2\log ^3 n)$. This is an order of magnitude improvement over Karger’s original algorithm.

### Finding all min-cuts

Theorem: With high probability we can find all min cuts in the running time of $O(n^2\ln ^3 n)$.

Proof: Since we know that $P(n) = O\left(\frac{1}{\ln n}\right)$, therefore after running this algorithm $O(\ln ^2 n)$ times The probability of missing a specific min-cut is

$\Pr[\text{miss a specific min-cut}] = (1-P(n))^{O(\ln ^2 n)} \le \left(1-\frac{c}{\ln n}\right)^{\frac{3\ln ^2 n}{c}} \le e^{-3\ln n} = \frac{1}{n^3}$.

And there are at most $\binom{n}{2}$ min-cuts, hence the probability of missing any min-cut is

$\Pr[\text{miss any min-cut}] \le \binom{n}{2} \cdot \frac{1}{n^3} = O\left(\frac{1}{n}\right).$

The probability of failures is considerably small when n is large enough.∎

### Improvement bound

To determine a min-cut, one has to touch every edge in the graph at least once, which is $O(n^2)$ time in a dense graph. The Karger–Stein's min-cut algorithm takes the running time of $O(n^2\ln ^{O(1)} n)$, which is very close to that.

## References

1. ^ a b Karger, David (1993). "Global Min-cuts in RNC and Other Ramifications of a Simple Mincut Algorithm". Proc. 4th Annual ACM-SIAM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms.
2. ^ Stoer, M.; Wagner, F. (1997). "A simple min-cut algorithm". Journal of the ACM 44 (4): 585. doi:10.1145/263867.263872. edit
3. ^ Patrignani, Maurizio; Pizzonia, Maurizio (2001), "The complexity of the matching-cut problem", in Brandstädt, Andreas; Le, Van Bang, Graph-Theoretic Concepts in Computer Science: 27th International Workshop, WG 2001, Boltenhagen, Germany, June 14ÔÇô16, 2001, Proceedings, Lecture Notes in Computer Science 2204, Berlin: Springer, pp. 284–295, doi:10.1007/3-540-45477-2_26, MR 1905640.
4. ^ Karger, David R.; Stein, Clifford (1996). "A new approach to the minimum cut problem" (PDF). Journal of the ACM 43 (4): 601. doi:10.1145/234533.234534. edit