The design of competitive online algorithms via a primal-dual approach

Niv Buchbinder*, Joseph Naor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


The primal-dual method is a powerful algorithmic technique that has proved to be extremely useful for a wide variety of problems in the area of approximation algorithms for NP-hard problems. The method has its origins in the realm of exact algorithms, e.g., for matching and network flow. In the area of approximation algorithms, the primal-dual method has emerged as an important unifying design methodology, starting from the seminal work of Goemans and Williamson [60]. We show in this survey how to extend the primal-dual method to the setting of online algorithms, and show its applicability to a wide variety of fundamental problems. Among the online problems that we consider here are the weighted caching problem, generalized caching, the set-cover problem, several graph optimization problems, routing, load balancing, and the problem of allocating ad-auctions. We also show that classic online problems such as the ski rental problem and the dynamic TCP-acknowledgement problem can be solved optimally using a simple primal-dual approach. The primal-dual method has several advantages over existing methods. First, it provides a general recipe for the design and analysis of online algorithms. The linear programming formulation helps detecting the difficulties of the online problem, and the analysis of the competitive ratio is direct, without a potential function appearing "out of nowhere." Finally, since the analysis is done via duality, the competitiveness of the online algorithm is with respect to an optimal fractional solution, which can be advantageous in certain scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBoston
PublisherNow Publishers
Number of pages171
ISBN (Electronic)9781601982179
ISBN (Print)9781601982162, 160198216X
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameFoundations and Trends in Theoretical Computer Science
PublisherNow Publishers Inc
ISSN (Print)1551-305X


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