May 15 – 20 , 2022, Dagstuhl Seminar 22201

The Constraint Satisfaction Problem: Complexity and Approximability


Martin Grohe (RWTH Aachen University, DE)
Venkatesan Guruswami (Carnegie Mellon University – Pittsburgh, US)
Dániel Marx (CISPA – Saarbrücken, DE)
Stanislav Živný (University of Oxford, GB)

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The constraint satisfaction problem, or CSP in short, provides a unifying framework in which it is possible to express, in a natural way, a wide variety of computational problems dealing with mappings and assignments, including satisfiability, graph/hypergraph colorability, and systems of equations. The CSP framework originated around 40 years ago independently in artificial intelligence, database theory, and graph theory, under three different guises, and it was realised only in the late 1990s that these are in fact different faces of the same fundamental problem. Nowadays, the CSP is extensively used in theoretical computer science, being a mathematical object offering a good balance between generality and structure that provides an excellent laboratory both for classification methods and for algorithmic techniques, while in AI and more applied areas of computer science this framework is widely regarded as a versatile and efficient way of modelling and solving a variety of real-world problems, such as planning and scheduling, software verification and natural language comprehension, to name just a few. An instance of CSP consists of a set of variables, a set of values for the variables, and a set of constraints that restrict the combinations of values that certain subsets of variables may take. Given such an instance, the possible questions include (a) deciding whether there is an assignment of values to the variables so that every constraint is satisfied, or optimising such assignments in various ways, or (b) finding an assignment satisfying as many constraints as possible. There are many important modifications and extensions of this basic framework, e.g., those that deal with counting assignments or involve soft or global constraints.

Constraint satisfaction has always played a central role in computational complexity theory; appropriate versions of CSPs are classical complete problems for most standard complexity classes. CSPs constitute a rich and yet sufficiently manageable class of problems to give a good perspective on general computational phenomena. For instance, they help to understand which mathematical properties make a problem tractable (in a wide sense, e.g., polynomial-time solvable or non-trivially approximable, fixed-parameter tractable or definable in a weak logic). One of the most striking features of this study is the variety of different branches of mathematics (including universal algebra and logic, combinatorics and graph theory, probability theory and mathematical programming) that are used to achieve deep insights into CSP, and this Dagstuhl Seminar aims to contribute towards further synergy in the area.

After about 15 years of intense research activity and hugely impressive progress, the culmination of the algebraic-approach to fixed-template CSPs was the resolution of the Feder-Vardi conjecture independently by Bulatov and Zhuk in 2017. While some fundamental questions (such as a fine-grained understanding of tractable CSPs) remain open, new research directions on generalizations of CSPs started emerging. The fixed-template promise CSP (PCSP) is among the most promising new directions of research motivated by better understanding computational hardness or tractability. PCSPs are a vast generalization of CSPs where each predicate has a strong and a weak form and given a CSP instance, the objective is to distinguish if the strong form can be satisfied vs. even the weak form cannot be satisfied. A prime and well-known example is the approximate graph coloring problem: distinguish k-colorable graphs from graphs that are not even l-colorable, for some fixed k < l. The main topic of this seminar is PCSPs, a highly ambitious research direction with intriguing connections to both old open problems (such as the approximate graph coloring problem) and new research directions (such as generalizations of submodularity, a key concept in optimization).

Motivation text license
  Creative Commons BY 4.0
  Martin Grohe, Venkatesan Guruswami, Dániel Marx, and Stanislav Živný

Dagstuhl Seminar Series


  • Computational Complexity
  • Data Structures And Algorithms
  • Logic In Computer Science


  • Constraint satisfaction problem
  • Computational complexity
  • Hardness of approximation
  • Universal algebra
  • Semidefinite programming


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