In a strongly connected graph G = (V,E), a cut arc (also called strong bridge) is an arc e ∈ E whose removal makes the graph no longer strongly connected. Equivalently, there exist u,v ∈ V, such that all u-v walks contain e. Cut arcs are a fundamental graph-theoretic notion, with countless applications, especially in reachability problems.

In this paper we initiate the study of cut paths, as a generalisation of cut arcs, which we naturally define as those paths P for which there exist u,v ∈ V, such that all u-v walks contain P as subwalk. We first prove various properties of cut paths and define their remainder structures, which we use to present a simple O(m)-time verification algorithm for a cut path (|V| = n, |E| = m).

Secondly, we apply cut paths and their remainder structures to improve several reachability problems from bioinformatics, as follows. A walk is called safe if it is a subwalk of every node-covering closed walk of a strongly connected graph. Multi-safety is defined analogously, by considering node-covering sets of closed walks instead. We show that cut paths provide simple O(m)-time algorithms verifying if a walk is safe or multi-safe. For multi-safety, we present the first linear time algorithm, while for safety, we present a simple algorithm where the state-of-the-art employed complex data structures. Finally we show that the simultaneous computation of remainder structures of all subwalks of a cut path can be performed in linear time, since they are related in a structured way. These properties yield an O(mn)-time algorithm outputting all maximal multi-safe walks, improving over the state-of-the-art algorithm running in time O(m²+n³).

The results of this paper only scratch the surface in the study of cut paths, and we believe a rich structure of a graph can be revealed, considering the perspective of a path, instead of just an arc.