# P and NP Completeness - Understanding the Complexity of Algorithms

24 Nov 2022 Share on:

When it comes to understanding the complexity of algorithms, the terms “P” and “NP” often come up in discussions. These terms are used to describe the complexity of problems and their corresponding algorithms in terms of time and space complexity. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what P and NP completeness mean and how they relate to the complexity of algorithms.

First, let’s define what we mean by “complexity of a problem”. In computer science, the complexity of a problem refers to how difficult it is to solve that problem, measured in terms of the amount of time or space required. This is determined by the algorithm used to solve the problem.

One way to classify the complexity of problems is by dividing them into three categories: P, NP, and NP-hard.

A problem is considered to be in the class P if there is a known algorithm that can solve it in polynomial time, where the time complexity is a polynomial function of the size of the input. In other words, the running time of the algorithm increases at most as a polynomial function of the size of the input. Algorithms that are known to have polynomial time complexity include sorting algorithms such as quicksort and mergesort, as well as many graph algorithms such as Dijkstra’s shortest path algorithm.

A problem is considered to be in the class NP if there is a known algorithm that can verify its solution in polynomial time. NP stands for “nondeterministic polynomial time”. This means that while we don’t know of any algorithm that can solve the problem in polynomial time, we do know of an algorithm that can verify a solution to the problem in polynomial time. Examples of NP problems include the traveling salesman problem, the knapsack problem, and the graph coloring problem.

A problem is considered NP-hard if any problem in NP can be reduced to it in polynomial time. Essentially, an NP-hard problem is at least as hard as the hardest problem in NP. These problems do not have known polynomial time algorithms, and solving them may require exponential time. Examples of NP-hard problems include the satisfiability problem and the clique problem.

One of the most important open problems in theoretical computer science is whether P = NP. If P = NP, it would mean that any problem whose solution can be verified in polynomial time can also be solved in polynomial time. This would have major implications for the field of algorithms and complexity theory, as it would mean that many problems thought to be computationally infeasible could be solved in polynomial time. However, if P ≠ NP, it would mean that there are problems for which no polynomial time algorithm exists.

In conclusion, P and NP completeness are important concepts in the field of algorithms and complexity theory. Understanding the complexity of a problem and its corresponding algorithm is essential for determining the feasibility of a solution and for comparing the relative difficulty of different problems. The question of whether P = NP is a major open problem in the field and its resolution could have far-reaching implications for the field of algorithms and complexity theory.

Keep in mind that P and NP completeness are concepts that apply to decision problems, problems that return “yes” or “no” as solutions or search problems, problems that return a solution if one exists otherwise return “no” and doesn’t necessarily apply to optimization problems which have solutions such as the shortest path in a graph, the best chess move, the least costly schedule.