Can we always build and certify at the same time? (Introduction)
01 Oct 2020It is common for a network selfstabilizing algorithm to have the following shape: it starts from an arbitrary configuration, ends up with a correct solution, and during this computation some key pieces of information are kept in memory. This information is useful to ensure that once the algorithm has stabilized, if there is a new fault, then the nodes can catch it. In general, without this “trace” of the computation, the nodes are not able to detect such faults.
Having some certification of the solution at the end of the computation is known to be necessary (for the classic stabilization). Something that is unclear is whether this certification can always be computed at the same time as the solution itself, in particular if we have strong time and memory restrictions. This is what this couple of posts is about. In particular the second post will contain arguments indicating that for minimum spanning tree, if the one aims for the optimal memory and fast stabilization, then one might have to first build the solution, and then certify it.
Selfstabilization in the state model (in a nutshell)
I won’t go in too much details here, but hopefully it will make sense even for readers who are not very familiar with selfstabilization on networks.
The classic model for such stabilization is the state model, where each node has a “public” state, in addition to its ID. The computation is based on a series of rules of the form: if the node see some combinations of states around itself (at distance 1), then it update its state to some new state. For example, suppose each state encodes a pointer to a neighbor and a color ; then a rule could be: if all neighbors’ pointers are pointing toward me, and I have color red, then I make my own pointer point towards myself, and change my color to blue.
Asynchrony is modeled by an adversarial scheduler who decides at every round which nodes can update their states (with the only constraint that at each round at least one node should so such an update).
The idea of selfstabilization is that your algorithm (that is, your set of rules) should be robust enough so that starting from an arbitrary collection of states, you end up with a correct configuration. Note that this should hold for any choice of schedule by the scheduler. For example the scheduler can choose that some node will not apply any rule, until it is the only node that can apply a rule (in this case the scheduler is forced to “activate” this node otherwise the computation is stopped).
The state model is very basic and simple. This has a drawback: to be precise, algorithms have to be described by long lists of rules, which is often unpleasant to write and read. A good thing is that the number of bits of used by the states represents both the “message size” (as the nodes communicate y reading their neighbors states) and the memory of a node (the information it should store for later use).
At the end there are basically two measures of complexity: the time before convergence and the space used to encode states.
Silent stabilization and certification
As we said, a selfstabilizing algorithm ends up in a good configuration after some time, even if it started from a chaos of states. For example, if the goal is to compute a spanning tree, at the end of the computation, every node has in its state the description of a pointer to a neighbor, and the collection of pointers forms a spanning tree. Now suppose that a fault occur, and a pointer is changed. If the nodes only hold the pointers in memory, they cannot detect that something is wrong.
Thus the nodes have to store more than just the output. For example in the case of a spanning tree, the nodes keep their distance to the root and the ID of the root. This can easily be computed during the computation. More importantly, it is enough for stabilization. Indeed, one can show that if the distances are consistent, then the pointers must form a spanning forest, and the ID of the root ensures the connectivity.
A good property of this type of stabilization, is that once the algorithm has stabilized to a correct solution, the states do not change anymore (unless there is a fault) ; that is no rule of the algorithm can be applied anymore. These are called silent algorithms. (There are other algorithm that keep exchanging information after stabilization.)
Silent algorithms basically end up with a certification of the solution. Such certification has been shown to be equivalent to socalled prooflabeling schemes (or locally checkable proofs, or more generally local certification)^{1}.
Space and time efficiency
As said earlier, given an algorithm one can measure the time until it stabilizes and the space it needs. The space needed for the certification, that is for the very end of the algorithm, is a lower bound on the space needed. It was proved that actually one can always design an algorithm with this space complexity (up to an additive $O(\log n)$ term), but the technique uses exponential time.^{1} A question is then: what are the problems that can be solved with optimal space and polynomial time?
In a recent paper,^{2} we proved as a side result that minimum spanning tree is one of these problems. A intriguing thing is that we were somehow forced to use an uncommon approach: instead of bookkeeping information during the computation for certification, we had to first build a solution and only then certify it.
We’ll discuss this in detail in the next post of the series.
Notes

Lélia Blin, Pierre Fraigniaud, Boaz PattShamir: ProofLabeling Schemes versus Silent Selfstabilizing Algorithms. SSS 2014: 1832 ↩ ↩^{2}

Lélia Blin, Swan Dubois, Laurent Feuilloley: Silent MST approximation for tiny memory. To appear at SSS 2020. (arxiv link) ↩