Structure of Polynomial-Time Approximation
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Approximation schemes are commonly classified as being either a polynomial-time approximation scheme (ptas) or a fully polynomial-time approximation scheme (fptas). To properly differentiate between approximation schemes for concrete problems, several subclasses have been identified: (optimum-)asymptotic schemes (ptas∞, fptas∞), efficient schemes (eptas), and size-asymptotic schemes. We explore the structure of these subclasses, their mutual relationships, and their connection to the classic approximation classes. We prove that several of the classes are in fact equivalent. Furthermore, we prove the equivalence of eptas to so-called convergent polynomial-time approximation schemes. The results are used to refine the hierarchy of polynomial-time approximation schemes considerably and demonstrate the central position of eptas among approximation schemes. We also present two ways to bridge the hardness gap between asymptotic approximation schemes and classic approximation schemes. First, using notions from fixed-parameter complexity theory, we provide new characterizations of when problems have a ptas or fptas. Simultaneously, we prove that a large class of problems (including all MAX-SNP-complete problems) cannot have an optimum-asymptotic approximation scheme unless P=NP, thus strengthening results of Arora et al. (J. ACM 45(3):501–555, 1998). Secondly, we distinguish a new property exhibited by many optimization problems: pumpability. With this notion, we considerably generalize several problem-specific approaches to improve the effectiveness of approximation schemes with asymptotic behavior.