In computational complexity theory, Savitch's theorem, proved by Walter Savitch in 1970, gives a relationship between deterministic and non-deterministic space complexity. It states that for any function ƒ(n) ≥ log(n),
In other words, if a nondeterministic Turing machine can solve a problem using f(n) space, an ordinary deterministic Turing machine can solve the same problem in the square of that space bound. Although it seems that nondeterminism may produce exponential gains in time, this theorem shows that it has a markedly more limited effect on space requirements.
There is a proof of the theorem that is constructive: it demonstrates an algorithm for STCON, the problem of determining whether there is a path between two vertices in a directed graph, which runs in space for n vertices. The basic idea of the algorithm is to solve recursively a somewhat more general problem, testing the existence of a path from a vertex s to another vertex t that uses at most k edges, where k is a parameter that is given as input to the recursive algorithm; STCON may be solved from this problem by setting k to n. To test for a k-edge path from s to t, one may test whether each vertex u may be the midpoint of the path, by recursively searching for paths of half the length from s to u and u to t. In pseudocode:
def k_edge_path(s, t, k): if k == 0: return s == t else if k == 1: return s == t or (s, t) in edges else: for u in vertices: if k_edge_path(s, u, floor(k / 2)) and k_edge_path(u, t, ceil(k / 2)): return true return false
This search calls itself to a recursion depth of O(log n) levels, each of which requires O(log n) bits to store the function arguments and local variables at that level, so the total space used by the algorithm is . Although described above in the form of a program in a high-level language, the same algorithm may be implemented with the same asymptotic space bound on a Turing machine. As STCON is NL-complete, this demonstrates that all languages in NL are also in the complexity class , which is often abbreviated as L2.
Some important corollaries of the theorem include:
- PSPACE = NPSPACE
- NL ⊆ L2
- A direct result of the construction of the proof.
See also 
- Arora & Barak (2009) p.86
- Arora & Barak (2009) p.92
- Arora, Sanjeev; Barak, Boaz (2009), Computational complexity. A modern approach, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-42426-4, Zbl 1193.68112
- Papadimitriou, Christos (1993), "Section 7.3: The Reachability Method", Computational Complexity (1st ed.), Addison Wesley, pp. 149–150, ISBN 0-201-53082-1
- Savitch, Walter J. (1970), "Relationships between nondeterministic and deterministic tape complexities", Journal of Computer and System Sciences 4 (2): 177–192, doi:10.1016/S0022-0000(70)80006-X
- Sipser, Michael (1997), "Section 8.1: Savitch's Theorem", Introduction to the Theory of Computation, PWS Publishing, pp. 279–281, ISBN 0-534-94728-X
- Lance Fortnow, Foundations of Complexity, Lesson 18: Savitch's Theorem. Accessed 09/09/09.
- Richard J. Lipton, Savitch’s Theorem. Gives a historical account on how the proof was discovered.