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Say you have a number of sets of integers ($S_1, S_2 ... S_n$), and you want to calculate intersections of some of them ($\cap S_1, S_3, S_7$ might be a query, but you want to support many such queries, or maybe even all possible queries)

There is an obvious way to do this in linear time. Are there data-structures that allow for sub-linear time ? (of course, that is not be possible in general: the answer itself might have linear size. But an algorithm might have some other useful properties, like being linear on the answer size, or running on sub-linear time and giving just part of the intersection)

In general, what is the state of the problem? What approaches are known, and what is known to be hard ?

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When you want to know about a specific problem, it is always good to start with reading a recent paper. I recommend you to read this paper and the references therein.

Bolin Ding, Arnd Christian König: Fast Set Intersection in Memory. PVLDB 4(4): 255-266 (2011)

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    $\begingroup$ I think it would help improve the answer to make it a bit more self-contained by briefly saying what they do in the paper. $\endgroup$ – usul Aug 6 '14 at 21:09

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