Approximation and Hardness of Token Swapping

Authors Tillmann Miltzow, Lothar Narins, Yoshio Okamoto, Günter Rote, Antonis Thomas, Takeaki Uno

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Tillmann Miltzow
Lothar Narins
Yoshio Okamoto
Günter Rote
Antonis Thomas
Takeaki Uno

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Tillmann Miltzow, Lothar Narins, Yoshio Okamoto, Günter Rote, Antonis Thomas, and Takeaki Uno. Approximation and Hardness of Token Swapping. In 24th Annual European Symposium on Algorithms (ESA 2016). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 57, pp. 66:1-66:15, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2016)


Given a graph G=(V,E) with V={1,...,n}, we place on every vertex a token T_1,...,T_n. A swap is an exchange of tokens on adjacent vertices. We consider the algorithmic question of finding a shortest sequence of swaps such that token T_i is on vertex i. We are able to achieve essentially matching upper and lower bounds, for exact algorithms and approximation algorithms. For exact algorithms, we rule out any 2^{o(n)} algorithm under the ETH. This is matched with a simple 2^{O(n*log(n))} algorithm based on a breadth-first search in an auxiliary graph. We show one general 4-approximation and show APX-hardness. Thus, there is a small constant delta > 1 such that every polynomial time approximation algorithm has approximation factor at least delta. Our results also hold for a generalized version, where tokens and vertices are colored. In this generalized version each token must go to a vertex with the same color.
  • token swapping
  • minimum generator sequence
  • graph theory
  • NP-hardness
  • approximation algorithms


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