Polynomial-time approximation scheme
A PTAS is an algorithm which takes an instance of an optimization problem and a parameter ε > 0 and, in polynomial time, produces a solution that is within a factor 1 + ε of being optimal (or 1 - ε for maximization problems). For example, for the Euclidean traveling salesman problem, a PTAS would produce a tour with length at most (1 + ε)L, with L being the length of the shortest tour.
The running time of a PTAS is required to be polynomial in n for every fixed ε but can be different for different ε. Thus an algorithm running in time O(n1/ε) or even O(nexp(1/ε)) counts as a PTAS.
A practical problem with PTAS algorithms is that the exponent of the polynomial could increase dramatically as ε shrinks, for example if the runtime is O(n(1/ε)!). One way of addressing this is to define the efficient polynomial-time approximation scheme or EPTAS, in which the running time is required to be O(nc) for a constant c independent of ε. This ensures that an increase in problem size has the same relative effect on runtime regardless of what ε is being used; however, the constant under the big-O can still depend on ε arbitrarily. Even more restrictive, and useful in practice, is the fully polynomial-time approximation scheme or FPTAS, which requires the algorithm to be polynomial in both the problem size n and 1/ε. All problems in FPTAS are fixed-parameter tractable. An example of a problem that has an FPTAS is the knapsack problem.
Any strongly NP-hard optimization problem with a polynomially bounded objective function cannot have an FPTAS unless P=NP. However, the converse fails: e.g. if P does not equal NP, knapsack with two constraints is not strongly NP-hard, but has no FPTAS even when the optimal objective is polynomially bounded.
Another deterministic variant of the PTAS is the quasi-polynomial-time approximation scheme or QPTAS. A QPTAS has time complexity for each fixed .
Some problems which do not have a PTAS may admit a randomized algorithm with similar properties, a polynomial-time randomized approximation scheme or PRAS. A PRAS is an algorithm which takes an instance of an optimization or counting problem and a parameter ε > 0 and, in polynomial time, produces a solution that has a high probability of being within a factor ε of optimal. Conventionally, "high probability" means probability greater than 3/4, though as with most probabilistic complexity classes the definition is robust to variations in this exact value (the bare minimum requirement is generally greater than 1/2). Like a PTAS, a PRAS must have running time polynomial in n, but not necessarily in ε; with further restrictions on the running time in ε, one can define an efficient polynomial-time randomized approximation scheme or EPRAS similar to the EPTAS, and a fully polynomial-time randomized approximation scheme or FPRAS similar to the FPTAS.
As a complexity class
Membership in PTAS can be shown using a PTAS reduction, L-reduction, or P-reduction, all of which preserve PTAS membership, and these may also be used to demonstrate PTAS-completeness. On the other hand, showing non-membership in PTAS (namely, the nonexistence of a PTAS), may be done by showing that the problem is APX-hard, after which the existence of a PTAS would show P = NP. APX-hardness is commonly shown via PTAS reduction or AP-reduction.
- Sanjeev Arora, Polynomial-time Approximation Schemes for Euclidean TSP and other Geometric Problems, Journal of the ACM 45(5) 753–782, 1998.
- Vazirani, Vijay V. (2003). Approximation Algorithms. Berlin: Springer. pp. 294–295. ISBN 3-540-65367-8.
- H. Kellerer and U. Pferschy and D. Pisinger (2004). Knapsack Problems. Springer.
- Jansen, Thomas (1998), "Introduction to the Theory of Complexity and Approximation Algorithms", in Mayr, Ernst W.; Prömel, Hans Jürgen; Steger, Angelika, Lectures on Proof Verification and Approximation Algorithms, Springer, pp. 5–28, doi:10.1007/BFb0053011, ISBN 9783540642015. See discussion following Definition 1.30 on p. 20.