Are there interesting instances of algorithms that have been published with proven bounds, and where strictly better bounds have later been published? Not better algorithms with better bounds - obviously that's happened! But better analysis leading to a better bound on an existing algorithm

I thought matrix multiplication was an example of this, but I have talked myself out of it (perhaps incorrectly!) after trying to understand Coppersmith–Winograd and its friends better.

  • $\begingroup$ An ideal example is Matrix Multiplication. Recent improvements are all in fact better analysis (Le Gall, Williams, etc.). $\endgroup$ – Lwins Aug 7 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ Lwins - I suspected that might be the case, but skimming some of the papers made me think they were slightly varying both the algorithm and the analysis. I may need to look deeper. $\endgroup$ – Rob Simmons Aug 7 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ This is a half-answer, since it's 2nd hand hearsay: when working on determinization of Buechi automata (dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1398627), Safra originally analyzed his construction to have a quadratic exponent. Then, after writing the construction down, and due to some misunderstanding, he ended up with the better (optimal) $n\log n$ exponent. $\endgroup$ – Shaull Aug 8 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ I would suggest looking into motion planning problems - I feel like there have been several cases there. Also, IIRC the precise complexity of the simplex algorithm(s?) was a matter of study for quite a while. $\endgroup$ – Steven Stadnicki Aug 8 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ Slightly different, but the existence proof of an input satisfying $7m/8$ of the clauses in a 3SAT instance was improved to an explicit algorithm by more careful analysis. $\endgroup$ – Stella Biderman Aug 13 at 19:32

The Union-Find algorithm, which Tarjan1 showed had complexity $n \alpha(n)$, where $\alpha(n)$ is the inverse Ackermann function, had been analyzed previously by several people. According to Wikipedia, it was invented by Galler and Fisher2, but this seems to be incorrect, as they did not have all the components of the algorithm needed to make it run that quickly.

Based on brief scans of the papers, it appears that the algorithm was invented by Hopcroft and Ullman3, who gave an (incorrect) $O(n)$ time bound. Fischer4 then found the mistake in the proof and gave an $O(n \log\log n)$ time bound. Next, Hopcroft and Ullman5 gave an $O(n \log ^*n)$ time bound, after which Tarjan1 found the (optimal) $O(n \alpha(n))$ time bound.

1 R.E. Tarjan, "Efficiency of a good but not linear set union algorithm" (1975).
2 B.S. Galler and M.J. Fischer, "An improved equivalence algorithm" (1964).
3 J.E. Hopcroft and J.D. Ullman, "A linear list merging algorithm" (1971).
4 M.J. Fischer, "Efficiency of equivalence algorithms" (1972).
5 J.E. Hopcroft and J.D. Ullman, "Set-merging algorithms" (1973).

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The history of this data structure is a little unclear to me and it would be nice to investigate it. I skimmed the Galler and Fischer article, and it seems to describe the Disjoint Sets Forest (DSF) data structure but without the crucial path compression (PC) and weighted union (WU) heuristics. Hopcroft and Ullman attribute DSF with PC and without WU to Tritter, citing Knuth. I am not sure if DSF with both PC and WU was proposed in a published paper prior to Hopcroft and Ullman's paper, although I wouldn't be surprised if it was. $\endgroup$ – Sasho Nikolov Aug 13 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Sasho: This should all be checked, as it's based on brief scans of the papers. Tarjan attributes DSF with both PC and WU to Michael Fischer, in "Efficiency of equivalence algorithms" (1972), which gives an $O(n \log\log n)$ running time for it. Scanning Fischer's paper, he seems to attribute the algorithm to Hopcroft and Ullman in "A linear list merging algorithm", but they give an $\Theta(n)$ running time for it, the proof of which Fischer shows is incorrect. Tarjan says that Hopcroft and Ullman, in "Set-merging algorithms" redeem themselves by giving an $O(n \log^* n)$ bound. $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor Aug 13 at 17:21

The algorithm of Paturi, Pudlák, Saks and Zane (PPSZ) for $k\text{-} \mathrm{SAT}$ had been known to have a running time of $O(1.364^n)$ for $3\text{-}\mathrm{SAT}$, with a better bound of $O(1.308^n)$ for formulas guaranteed to have a unique satisfying assignment. Later Hertli gave an improved analysis showing that this improved run-time bound also holds for the general case, thus showing PPSZ to be the best algorithm for $3\text{-}\mathrm{SAT}$ known at the time.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a really satisfying answer! I think it and the Union Find examples are the best examples of what I was hoping for. $\endgroup$ – Rob Simmons Aug 26 at 2:25

The Logjam Attack mentions that analysis of the general number field sieve (as applied to computing discrete logarithms over $\mathbb{F}_p$) descent step was tightend, see top left of the 3rd page. As this is the only step that can't be pre-computed (if $\mathbb{F}_p$ is fixed), its efficiency was instrumental to their attack.

The initial analysis appears to be in Gordon 92, where descent was costed similarly to precomputation, at $L_p(1/3, 3^{2/3})$. The tighter analysis seems to be from Barbulescu's thesis, where descent is costed at $L_p(1/3, 1.232)$, where: $$L_p(v, c) = \exp((c+o(1))(\log p)^v (\log \log p)^{1-v})$$ It's worth mentioning that this is technically an expected cost, and not an upper bound. This still seems in the spirit of the question to me, but I'll remove it if it's not what you're looking for.

  • $\begingroup$ Very much in the spirit, thank you! $\endgroup$ – Rob Simmons Aug 26 at 2:24

The $3$-Hitting Set problem had a few iterations of "better analysis" (see Fernau's papers [1] [2]) The algorithm before these paper had some arbitrary choices (like 'choose an edge'...), but when the choices are specifically-chosen in a certain way, it allows for a more refined analysis, that is where the improvement comes in. And I think his Appendices in 1 give a more refined analysis (counting subproblems/substructures) leading to better recurrences and so better runtimes. I think there are a number of such examples in the parameterized complexity literature, where adding another variable to the analysis can lead to improved runtimes, but I have been out of that game for several years now and I can't think of specific ones at the moment. There are a number of papers in FPT and PTAS areas that come up when looking for "improved analysis" in the paper titles.

If specifying choices counts as the same algorithm (like union-find's depth-rank heuristic), then the Edmonds-Karp algorithm is an 'improved analysis' of Ford-Fulkerson, and I'd imagine there are plenty of other problems that have algorithms that have seen runtime improvements from new choice rules.

Then there are a whole bunch of amortized analysis of existing algorithms (I think union-find fits under this description, here is another one https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00453-004-1145-7 )

  • $\begingroup$ Making new choices feels close to what I was looking for, but isn't quite there - in a sense, a more-specified algorithm is a "different algorithm" - but these are still very interesting examples! $\endgroup$ – Rob Simmons Aug 26 at 2:28

The work function algorithm for $k$-server was shown to be $(2k-1)$-competitive by Koutsipias and Papadimitrou - the algorithm was known previously and analyzed only in special cases. It is conjectured to be $k$-competitive.


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