For a polynomial local search problem, we know that at least one solution (local optimum) must exist. However, many more solutions could exist, how hard is it to count the number of solutions for a PLS-complete problem? I am particularly interested in the decision problem: does this PLS-complete problem's instance have two or more solutions?

Does the complexity depend on which PLS-complete problem we choose? If so then I would be particularly interested in weighted 2SAT (as defined in [SY91] and [Rou10]). I know that counting the number of satisfying solutions for 2SAT is #P-complete, but at first glance it seems like local optima of weighted 2SAT and solutions for 2SAT don't have all that much in common.

I also know that for PLS's cousin PPAD, [CS02] shows that counting the number of Nash equilibria is #P-hard. This suggests that similar PLS problems like counting the number of pure-strategy equilibria in congestion games, would also be hard.


[CS02] Conitzer, V., and Sandholm, T. (2002). Complexity results about Nash equilibria. IJCAI-03. cs/0205074.

[Rou10] T. Roughgarden. (2010). Computing equilibria: A computational complexity perspective. Economic Theory, 42:193-236.

[SY91] A.A. Schaeffer and M. Yannakakis. (1991). Simple local search problems that are hard to solve. SIAM Journal on Computing, 20(1):56-87.


2 Answers 2


I can partially answer your question: counting the local optima of a PLS-complete search problem can indeed be #P-hard.

First, as Yoshio points out, there is a search problem $P_1$ in PLS whose associated counting problem is #P-complete. (We don't know if $P_1$ is PLS-complete, however.) Let $P_2$ be some PLS-complete problem. Then define $P'$ which, on input $(x, i)$ for $i \in \{1, 2\}$, asks for a local optimum for input $x$ with respect to $P_i$. This problem inherits the PLS membership of $P_1, P_2$, inherits the PLS-completeness of $P_2$, and for the counting problem inherits the #P-completeness of $P_1$.

Similarly, one can construct an (artificial) PLS-complete problem for which it is NP-complete to decide if there is more than one local optimum. As in the previous argument, one "staples together" a PLS-complete problem $P_1$ as before, with a PLS problem $P_2$ which, on input a Boolean formula $\psi$, has more than one associated local optimum iff $\psi$ is satisfiable.

These sorts of constructions are somewhat unsatisfying because we're trying to build a search problem $Q$ that has two hardness properties, but the domain of $Q$ "splits" into two pieces, each of which may have only one of the two properties. Below I'll show how, given a search problem $P_1$ in PLS whose associated counting problem is #P-complete, and given a PLS-complete problem $P_2$, one can define a PLS problem $Q$ which is as hard as both counting for $P_1$ and search for $P_2$ in an "instance-by-instance" fashion.

Namely, we'll exhibit $Q$ such that solving the counting problem for $P_1$ on input $x$ efficiently reduces to solving the counting problem for $Q$ on input $x$, and the search problem for $P_2$ on input $x$ reduces to the search problem for $Q$ on input $x$.

For simplicity of presentation, we assume $P_1, P_2$ are such that on any input $x$ of length $n$, the candidate-solution space associated with $x$ is over bitstrings $y$ of length $n^c$ for some $c$ (but with different neighborhood structures for $P_1, P_2$). Let $F_i(x, y)$ be the fitness function associated with $P_i$.

On input $x \in \{0, 1\}^n$, the search space for $Q$ is over tuples $(y^1, y^2, z, b)$ where each $y^i$ is in $\{0, 1\}^{n^c}$, $z \in \{0, 1\}^{n^c + 1}$, and $b \in \{0, 1\}$. As the fitness function $F(x, (y^1, y^2, z, b))$ for $Q$, we define

$F(x, (y^1, y^2, z, b)) := F_1(x, y^1) + F_2(x, y^2)$ if $b = 1$,

$F(x, (y^1, y^2, z, b)) := ||y^1|| + ||z|| + F_2(x, y^2)$ if $b = 0$.

(That's Hamming weight above.)

For the neighborhood structure of $Q$, we connect each tuple $(x, (y^1, y^2, z, 1))$ (with $b = 1$) to all tuples $(x, ((y')^1, (y')^2, z', 1))$ such that

(A) $(x, y^i)$ is connected to $(x, (y')^i)$ according to $P_i$ for $i = 1, 2$, AND

(B) $z, z'$ differ in at most 1 coordinate.

For tuples with $b = 0$, we connect $(x, (y^1, y^2, z, 0))$ to all tuples $(x, ((y')^1, (y')^2, z', 0))$ such that

(A') $(x, y^2)$ is connected to $(x, (y')^2)$ according to $P_2$, AND

(B') $z, z'$ differ in at most 1 coordinate, as do $y^1, (y')^1$.

(Note, tuples with $b = 0$ are disconnected from those with $b = 1$.)

That's the definition of $Q$. The neighborhoods are of polynomial size as required, so $Q$ is in PLS.

Claim: The local optima for length-$n$ input $x$ according to $Q$ are exactly the following two disjoint sets:

(1) all tuples $(x, (y^1, y^2, z,1))$, where $(x, y^i)$ is a local optimum of $P_i$ for each of $i = 1, 2$ (and $z$ is arbitrary, and $b = 1$); and,

(2) all tuples $(x, 1^{n^c}, y^2, 1^n, 0))$, where $(x, y^2)$ is a local optimum of $P_2$, and where $z, y^1$ are both all-1s, and $b = 0$.

If you agree, then the PLS-hardness of $Q$ is immediate, since any local optimum $(x, (y^1, y^2, z,b))$ of $Q$ for input $x$ gives a local optimum $(x, y^2)$ of $P_2$ (for the same input $x$), and $P_2$ is PLS-hard.

Also, it follows from our Claim that the number $N(x)$ of local optima for $x$ under $Q$ equals $(2^{n^c + 1} N_1(x) + 1) \cdot N_2(x)$, where $N_i(x)$ is the number of local optima for $x$ under $P_i$. Now $N_2(x)$ is in the range $[1, 2^{n^c}]$, so we have

$N_2(x) = N_2(x)$ mod $2^{n^c + 1} = (2^{n^c + 1} N_1(x) + 1) \cdot N_2(x)$ mod $2^{n^c + 1} = N(x)$ mod $2^{n^c + 1}$.

So we can obtain $N_2(x)$ given $N(x)$. Then we can also obtain $N_1(x)$, by simple algebra: $N_1(x) = \left(\frac{N(x)}{N_2(x)} - 1\right)/2^{n^c + 1}$. As $N_1(x)$ is #P-complete to compute, so is $N(x)$. Thus it's #P-complete to count local optima for $Q$ (and counting for $P_1$ reduces to counting for $Q$ on the same instance).

I don't know how to give such a reduction for combining PLS-hardness with NP-hardness of deciding uniqueness of local optima in an "instance-by-instance" fashion.

As for whether every PLS-complete search problem yields a #P-complete counting problem, I don't know this either. It seems related to the question of whether, for every NP-complete decision problem L and every polytime verifier $V(x, y)$ for $L$, the associated witness-counting problem is #P-complete. #P-completeness holds in all specific cases people have considered, and under some reasonably mild conditions, but is open in general. See this discussion.

For a specific, more natural problem $Q$ known to be PLS-complete, one might be able to establish #P-completeness for counting local optima by giving a PLS-reduction from say Matching to $Q$ that has some special properties appropriate for counting. Maybe the existing techniques are sufficient; I haven't tried to ascertain.

  • $\begingroup$ Than you, Andy! This is very useful. I will have to read through it a couple of more times to make sure I follow everything. $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2013 at 20:44

Consider the maximum matching problem in bipartite graphs. The family of feasible solutions consists of all matchings, and local search is performed via finding augmenting paths. The problem belongs to PLS since an augmenting path can be found in polynomial time if a current matching is not maximum, and maximality can be checked in polynomial time. Any local optimum is a maximum matching (i.e., global optimum). However, it is #P-hard to compute the number of maximum matchings in a bipartite graph.

Since a local optimum can be found in polynomial time, the problem is unlikely to be PLS-complete. So, I'm afraid this is not an intended answer (your question restricts to PLS-complete problems). However, I should point out that counting the number of local optima can be hard even though one local optimum can be found efficiently.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! This is a good general point to know about #P-hardness in general (and why I mentioned 2SAT). I will keep the question open in hopes of getting some responses for PLS-complete problems, and will also put more emphasis on the distinguishing a single solution existing from two or more solutions existing (that is the case I am actually most interested in). $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2013 at 5:58
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    $\begingroup$ Since the uniqueness of a maximum matching can be checked efficiently, my answer isn't satisfactory for the question you're most interested in. Thank you. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2013 at 8:46

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