Branch and prune interface for Julia
Author Kolaru
8 Stars
Updated Last
4 Months Ago
Started In
June 2019


This package aims at providing an interface for branch and prune search in Julia.

Branch and prune

A branch and prune algorithm has the following general structure:

  1. Consider one region of the search space.
  2. Determine status of this search region, with three possible outcomes:
    1. The region does not contain anything of interest. In this case discard the region (prune it).
    2. The region is in a state that does not require further processing (for example a given tolerance has been met). In this case it is stored.
    3. None of the above. In this case, the region is bisected (or multisected) and each of the subregions created is added to the pool of regions to be considered (creating new branches for the search).
  3. Go back to 1.

Some examples, like a naive implementation of the bisection method for zero finding, can be found in the example folder.

Also this was developped to meet the need of the IntervalRootFinding.jl package, and as such it constitutes a more complex and concrete example of possible usage.


Subtyping searches with concrete strategy

The package defines three search strategies: breadth first, depth first and key search (i.e. a key is computed for each region and the region with the smallest key is processed first). These only determine in which order search regions are considered, but nothing more. In consequence, concrete search types must implement two things:

  1. BranchAndPrune.process that determines the status of a search region, and
  2. BranchAndPrune.bisect that bisect a search region.

To make things a bit clearer, we now show how to implement a simple bisection search for the zero of a continuous monotonic function (full implementation is available in example/monotonic_zero.jl).

First to be able to store search region we define an interval type

struct Interval

Then we need to create our own search type. Our search type contains the function whose zero is searched, an initial search region and an absolute tolerance to be used as stopping criterion.

struct ZeroSearch <: AbstractDepthFirstSearch{Interval}

We have subtyped the AbstractDepthFirstSearch which means that the first regions created will be considered first (first in first out). Also the abstract type takes the type of the search region as type parameter for efficiency reasons.

Note that by default, the initial search region is assumed to be the field initial of the type. This can however be customized by redifining the function BranchAndPrune.root_element.

To be able to perform the search, as mentioned above, we need to implement how search regions are handled. The process function should determine the status of an interval as follows:

  1. If both bounds of the interval have the same sign, then the interval cannot contain zero and should be discarded.
  2. If the radius of the interval is smaller than the tolerance, the interval should not be processed further, but instead stored.
  3. Otherwise, we bisect the interval.

Concretely this reads

function BranchAndPrune.process(search::ZeroSearch, interval)
    ylo = search.f(interval.lo)
    yhi = search.f(interval.hi)

    if ylo*yhi > 0
        return :discard, interval
    elseif interval.hi - interval.lo < search.tol
        return :store, interval
        return :bisect, interval

Note the use of the symbols :discard, :store and :bisect. They determine the status of the search region and are the three only possible ones. There is also a second returned value, here always the interval considered without modification. In principle it could be a refinement of the search region as it replaces the initial one in the search.

Then we need to be able to bisect an interval, this can be done as follows

function BranchAndPrune.bisect(::ZeroSearch, interval)
    m = (interval.hi + interval.lo)/2
    return Interval(interval.lo, m), Interval(m, interval.hi)

We can now write a function to run the search given a function f and an initial interval

function run_search(f, interval)
    search = ZeroSearch(f, interval, 1e-10)

    local endtree = nothing

    for working_tree in search
        endtree = working_tree

    return endtree

Several things are important here. First the search object is an iterator, to get the result it is thus necessary to iterate over it, for example with the for loop presented here. This means that some operations, like printing debug info, can be done at each iterations.

This also explains the need for the local keyword when initializing endtree this allows to extract the state from the for loop. Otherwise, the variable endtree would be shadowed inside the loop and the internal state could not be retrieved.

Finally the states of the search during the iteration, as well as the final state, are represented as a tree (of type BPTree). This closely matches the structure of the search as each bisection can be seen as creating a new branch in a binary tree.

Finally, the data function allows to get a list of all surviving search regions at the end of the search

tree = run_search(x -> (x - 4)^3 - 8, Interval(-20, 20))
d = data(tree)

Here d contains only one element, an interval that indeed well approximates the exact solution which is 6. If the function had no zero, d would be empty.

Search with custom strategy

The order in which search regions are considered can be customized by subtyping AbstractSearch directly and defining BranchAndPrune.get_leaf_id! and BranchAndPrune.insert_leaf! for the new type. This however requires some unerstanding of the internal tree structure.

Please refer to the docstrings and source code for more information, and don't hesitate to open an issue for information or clarifications.