The evolution of the cover time

Martin T. Barlow*, Jian Ding, Asaf Nachmias, Yuval Peres

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cover time of a graph is a celebrated example of a parameter that is easy to approximate using a randomized algorithm, but for which no constant factor deterministic polynomial time approximation is known. A breakthrough due to Kahn, Kim, Lovász and Vu [25] yielded a (log logn)2 polynomial time approximation. We refine the upper bound of [25], and show that the resulting bound is sharp and explicitly computable in random graphs. Cooper and Frieze showed that the cover time of the largest component of the Erdos-Rényi random graph G(n, c/n) in the supercritical regime with c > 1 fixed, is asymptotic to ψ(c)nlog2n, where ψ(c) → 1 as c ↓ 1. However, our new bound implies that the cover time for the critical Erdos-Rényi random graph G(n, 1/n) has order n, and shows how the cover time evolves from the critical window to the supercritical phase. Our general estimate also yields the order of the cover time for a variety of other concrete graphs, including critical percolation clusters on the Hamming hypercube {0, 1}n, on high-girth expanders, and on tori ℤdn for fixed large d. This approach also gives a simpler proof of a result of Aldous [2] that the cover time of a uniform labelled tree on k vertices is of order k3/2. For the graphs we consider, our results show that the blanket time, introduced by Winkler and Zuckerman [45], is within a constant factor of the cover time. Finally, we prove that for any connected graph, adding an edge can increase the cover time by at most a factor of 4.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-345
Number of pages15
JournalCombinatorics Probability and Computing
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


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