Subcubic certificates for CFL reachability

Chistikov, Dmitry and Majumdar, Rupak and Schepper, Philipp
(2022) Subcubic certificates for CFL reachability.
In: POPL 2022.
Conference: POPL ACM-SIGACT Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages

Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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Many problems in interprocedural program analysis can be modeled as the context-free language (CFL) reachability problem on graphs and can be solved in cubic time. Despite years of efforts, there are no known truly sub-cubic algorithms for this problem. We study the related certification task: given an instance of CFL reachability, are there small and efficiently checkable certificates for the existence and for the non-existence of a path? We show that, in both scenarios, there exist succinct certificates (O(n^2) in the size of the problem) and these certificates can be checked in subcubic (matrix multiplication) time. The certificates are based on grammar-based compression of paths (for reachability) and on invariants represented as matrix inequalities (for non-reachability). Thus, CFL reachability lies in nondeterministic and co-nondeterministic subcubic time. A natural question is whether faster algorithms for CFL reachability will lead to faster algorithms for combinatorial problems such as Boolean satisfiability (SAT). As a consequence of our certification results, we show that there cannot be a fine-grained reduction from SAT to CFL reachability for a conditional lower bound stronger than n^ω, unless the nondeterministic strong exponential time hypothesis (NSETH) fails. In a nutshell, reductions from SAT are unlikely to explain the cubic bottleneck for CFL reachability. Our results extend to related subcubic equivalent problems: pushdown reachability and 2NPDA recognition; as well as to all-pairs CFL reachability. For example, we describe succinct certificates for pushdown non-reachability (inductive invariants) and observe that they can be checked in matrix multiplication time. We also extract a new hardest 2NPDA language, capturing the “hard core” of all these problems.


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