I was reading this paper, about the complexity of decision problems for reversal bounded counter machines. I got to Theorem 1 on Page 6. The theorem shows that there's a log-space NTM which can determine if a non deterministic reversal-bounded counter machine is empty or not. (A log-space NTM can be converted into a polynomial time DTM).

The proof shows that, for input machine represented as a string of length $n$, with $m$ counters, that $O(m\log n)$ space is required.

Here's where I get lost. The paper says that, since $m$ is fixed, we can consider the machine to take $O(\log n)$ space.

Does this mean that the algorithm is only uses log-space if $m$ is fixed? Would the corresponding deterministic algorithm then be exponential in terms of $m$?

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    $\begingroup$ It is not necessarily the case that the best algorithm is to determinize the NDTM, but certainly this approach may be exponential in $m$. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ The problem given in Theorem 1 is NCM(m,r). So, both $ m $ and $ r $ are fixed. When you design an algorithm for this problem, you can embed the values of $ m $ and $ r $ into the finite state set. Moreover, you can squeeze the work tape to $O(\log n)$ space by using more tape symbols (depending the value of $ m $). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 8:22

1 Answer 1


If the number of counters or the number of reversals (or both) is part of the input, the problem becomes coNP-complete (unless there is exactly one counter):

The upper bound was shown by Hague and Lin, using a reduction to existential Presburger arithmetic: Hague and Lin, "Model Checking Recursive Programs with Numeric Data Types", CAV 2011, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-22110-1_60.

  • If the number of counters is part of the input and one has exactly one reversal, it is not hard to reduce the knapsack problem: Given binary representations of $x_1,\ldots,x_k,y$, each containing at most $n$ bits, one can easily construct a $(k+1)n$-counter automaton $A$ that can nondeterministically pick a subset $S\subseteq \{1,\ldots,k\}$ and produce $\sum_{i\in S} x_i$ on the first counter and then subtracts $y$ from the first counter. Then the language of $A$ is non-empty if and only if there is a subset $S\subseteq \{1,\ldots,k\}$ with $\sum_{i\in S} x_i=y$.

  • If the number of reversals is part of the input and one has exactly two counters, coNP-hardness was already shown in Gurari and Ibarra, "The complexity of decision problems for finite-turn multicounter machines", http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0022-0000(81)90028-3 . This seems to be the journal version of the paper linked in the question.

  • If the number of reversals is part of the input and one has exactly one counter, however, then the problem is NL-complete. This is a well-known result on one-counter automata.


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