This is a "historical question" more than it is a research question, but was the classical reduction to order-finding in Shor's algorithm for factorization initially discovered by Peter Shor, or was it previously known? Is there a paper that describes the reduction that pre-dates Shor, or is it simply a so-called "folk result?" Or was it simply another breakthrough in the same paper?


2 Answers 2


I have to admit (surprising as it sounds) that I don't know really the answer. I either discovered or rediscovered this reduction myself.

I discovered the discrete log algorithm first, and the factoring algorithm second, so I knew from discrete log that periodicity was useful. I knew that factoring was equivalent to finding two unequal numbers with equal squares (mod N) — this is the basis for the quadratic sieve algorithm. I had also seen the reduction of factoring to finding the Euler $\phi$ function, which is quite similar.

While I came up with the reduction of this question to order-finding, it's not hard, so I wouldn't be surprised if there was another paper describing this reduction that predates mine. However, I don't think this could be a widely known "folk result". Even if somebody had discovered it, before quantum computing why would anybody care about reducing factoring to the question of order-finding (provably exponential on a classical computer)?

EDIT: Note that order-finding is provably exponential only in an oracle setting; order finding modulo $N$ is equivalent to factoring $N$, and this had been proved earlier by Heather Woll, as the other answer points out.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, I'm not sure if this is authoritative enough $\endgroup$
    – chbaker0
    Aug 15, 2014 at 3:51
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    $\begingroup$ @mebob: Makes for a good Skeptics.SE post =P $\endgroup$
    – user541686
    Aug 17, 2014 at 5:08
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    $\begingroup$ So... Shor's not sure? $\endgroup$
    – OrangeDog
    Aug 18, 2014 at 8:38
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, your original 1994 paper pdf contains the sentence “There is a randomized reduction from factoring to the order of an element [23]” where [23] is again a reference to Miller 1976 pdf. However, a quick glance at this paper didn’t allow me to find the corresponding reduction, but the reduction to φ. $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2017 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Frédéric Grosshans: Actually, I think it's quite likely that Andrew Odlyzko pointed that reference out to me. $\endgroup$ Feb 16, 2017 at 13:47

The random reduction from factorization to order-finding (mod N) was very well known to people working in number theory algorithms in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Indeed, it appears in a paper of Heather Woll, Reductions among number theoretic problems, Information and Computation 72 (1987) 167-179, and Eric Bach and I knew it before then.

I am mystified why Peter Shor says that order-finding is "provably exponential on a classical computer". If one knows the factorization of N and also $\varphi(N)$ (both computable in sub exponential time) and one works modulo each prime power, one can find orders.

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    $\begingroup$ Order-finding for an oracle function for which all you can do is: given $k, n$, find $f^k(n)$ is provably exponential. This is all you need to use on a quantum computer. $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2014 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ I suspected you had a much more restricted model of computation in mind. But -- as I'm sure you know -- the particular problem of order-finding mod N is quite different. So in fact, it's quite plausible people would have been thinking about the reduction of this specific problem to and from factoring. $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2014 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ Heather Woll cites [1] as source for the reduction from factorization to order finding, but neither the Princeton engineering library nor Princeton Computer Science departement has a copy. (I’d be interested to find one, btw) [1] LONG. D. (1981) “Random Equivalence of Factorization and Computation of Orders,” Technical Report 284, Princeton University, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, April. $\endgroup$ Sep 18, 2015 at 9:25
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    $\begingroup$ I have a copy and can send it to you if you send me your e-mail address. $\endgroup$ Sep 19, 2015 at 9:47

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