Friday, September 12, 2014

Backtracking

Backtracking is a general algorithm for finding all (or some) solutions to some computational problem, that incrementally builds candidates to the solutions, and abandons each partial candidate c ("backtracks") as soon as it determines that c cannot possibly be completed to a valid solution.

The classic textbook example of the use of backtracking is the eight queens puzzle, that asks for all arrangements of eight queens on a standard chessboard so that no queen attacks any other. In the common backtracking approach, the partial candidates are arrangements of k queens in the first k rows of the board, all in different rows and columns. Any partial solution that contains two mutually attacking queens can be abandoned, since it cannot possibly be completed to a valid solution.

Backtracking can be applied only for problems which admit the concept of a "partial candidate solution" and a relatively quick test of whether it can possibly be completed to a valid solution. It is useless, for example, for locating a given value in an unordered table. When it is applicable, however, backtracking is often much faster than brute force enumeration of all complete candidates, since it can eliminate a large number of candidates with a single test.

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