Vital Edges for (s,t)-Mincut: Efficient Algorithms, Compact Structures, & Optimal Sensitivity Oracles

Authors Surender Baswana , Koustav Bhanja

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Surender Baswana
  • Department of Computer Science & Engineering, IIT Kanpur, India
Koustav Bhanja
  • Department of Computer Science & Engineering, IIT Kanpur, India


We thank Keerti Choudhary for her valuable feedback on this article.

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Surender Baswana and Koustav Bhanja. Vital Edges for (s,t)-Mincut: Efficient Algorithms, Compact Structures, & Optimal Sensitivity Oracles. In 51st International Colloquium on Automata, Languages, and Programming (ICALP 2024). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 297, pp. 17:1-17:20, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2024)


Let G be a directed weighted graph on n vertices and m edges with designated source and sink vertices s and t. An edge in G is vital if its removal reduces the capacity of (s,t)-mincut. Since the seminal work of Ford and Fulkerson [CJM 1956], a long line of work has been done on computing the most vital edge and all vital edges of G. However, even after 60 years, the existing results are for either undirected or unweighted graphs. We present the following result for directed weighted graphs that also solves an open problem by Ausiello, Franciosa, Lari, and Ribichini [NETWORKS 2019]. 1. Algorithmic Results: There is an algorithm that computes all vital edges as well as the most vital edge of G using {O}(n) maximum (s,t)-flow computations. Vital edges play a crucial role in the design of sensitivity oracle for (s,t)-mincut - a compact data structure for reporting (s,t)-mincut after insertion/failure of any edge. For directed graphs, the only existing sensitivity oracle is for unweighted graphs by Picard and Queyranne [MPS 1982]. We present the first and optimal sensitivity oracle for directed weighted graphs as follows. 2. Sensitivity Oracles: a) There is an optimal O(n²) space data structure that can report an (s,t)-mincut C in O(|C|) time after the failure/insertion of any edge. b) There is an O(n) space data structure that can report the capacity of (s,t)-mincut after failure or insertion of any edge e in O(1) time if the capacity of edge e is known. A mincut for a vital edge e is an (s,t)-cut of the least capacity in which edge e is outgoing. For unweighted graphs, in a classical work, Picard and Queyranne [MPS 1982] designed an O(m) space directed acyclic graph (DAG) that stores and characterizes all mincuts for all vital edges. Conversely, there is a set containing at most n-1 (s,t)-cuts such that at least one mincut for every vital edge belongs to the set. We generalize these results for directed weighted graphs as follows. 3. Structural & Combinatorial Results: a) There is a set M containing at most n-1 (s,t)-cuts such that at least one mincut for every vital edge belongs to the set. This bound is tight as well. We also show that set M can be computed using O(n) maximum (s,t)-flow computations. b) We design two compact structures for storing and characterizing all mincuts for all vital edges - (i) an O(m) space DAG for partial and (ii) an O(mn) space structure for complete characterization. To arrive at our results, we develop new techniques, especially a generalization of maxflow-mincut Theorem by Ford and Fulkerson [CJM 1956], which might be of independent interest.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Network flows
  • Theory of computation → Data structures design and analysis
  • Mathematics of computing → Graph algorithms
  • maxflow
  • vital edges
  • graph algorithms
  • structures
  • st-cuts
  • sensitivity oracle


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