2.5 Problem

Problem defines how a single combinatorial problem works. There are some basic information that every problem must provide and then additional which is not required but allows wider variety of algorithms to be used (or to be used more effectively). Which information a problem provides is defined by interfaces it implements.

Different interfaces will be described more in detail later. Here we will just show one problem implemented in JCOP, how does it work and how to modify it.

We will take a look at the Knapsack problem. A knapsack problem (or more precisely 0-1 knapsack problem) is given a set of items, each having its value and weight, and knapsack capacity. The goal is to select a subset of items which weight in total no more than is knapsack's capacity and have maximal possible total value. See image from wikipedia in figure 1.

Knapsack, source: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knapsack_problem">wikipedia.org</a>

Figure 1: Knapsack, source: wikipedia.org.

As show in figure 2, Knapsack problem consists of six classes. Lets take a look what are they for and how to use them.

Knapsack structure

Figure 2: Knapsack structure.


Knapsack is core of knapsack problem - it parses user input data into fully configured problem, provides both random (random items in knapsack) and starting (empty knapsack) configurations, default fitness for this problem and creates operation iterators to name the most important.


KnapsackItem is not required by JCOP and is only used by Knapsack internally to keep track of items (their price, weight and index) in current knapsack instance.


KnapsackFitness is default fitness for a knapsack which assigns every configuration a numeric value such that non full knapsack has higher fitness than overfilled and configurations with higher total price has higher fitness than lower price (first named has higher priority). This is very important part of problems since vast majority of algorithms uses default fitnesses to work properly.


AddOperation and RemoveOperation are two members of a concept we have not yet seen. There are two types of algorithms in JCOP - global search and local search. We will cover global search later, but all local search algorithms works on same principle. They have one (or more) configurations in search space and uses Operations to navigate in search space. If you will represent search space as graph, operations will be oriented edges.

Operations are applied on configurations to create new configuration. They always transform one configuration into one new configuration, no more (even though one operation could be applied to several configurations in turn). Lets take a look at AddOperation.

In JCOP, operations implements Operation interface, which requires just one method - Operation#execute(Configuration). It takes one configuration and returns another one, as simple as that. If we look on source code of the AddOperation, we can see that it just creates list of attributes from original configuration, sets one variable to 1 (effectively adding an item with such index to knapsack) and return new configuration created from that list.

  public Configuration execute(Configuration configuration) {
      List>Integer< newConfiguration = configuration.asList();

      newConfiguration.set(this.knapsackItem.getIndex(), 1);

      return new Configuration(newConfiguration, new OperationHistory(this, configuration.getOperationHistory()));

The only part not as easy to understand is second parameter - OperationHistory. Do not bother with it much now, it will be discussed later. But a brief description is that some problems requires not just the solution, but entire way how to get that solution (for example bucket problem), so you need to keep history of all operations applied to a configuration.


In general, for every configuration in search space the list of valid operations is subset of all operations in the problem. In knapsack problem, configuration with empty knapsack will have no RemoveOperation, but will have AddOperation for every item. But if problem will return a list of operations for every configuration, JCOP wold consume large amounts of memory for some algorithms. To cope with this, problem returns OperationIterator which behaves just like iterator over a List of Operations, but creates operations real time when they are needed (lazy initialization).

If we take a look on KnapsackIterator part by part, we see that it is created with reference to problem and configuration, so it does consume almost no memory at all.

public class KnapsackIterator implements OperationIterator {
    protected int counter = 0;
    protected Configuration configuration;
    protected Knapsack problem;

    public KnapsackIterator(Configuration configuration, Knapsack problem) {
        this.configuration = configuration;
        this.problem = problem;
        this.counter = 0;
    /** ... */

Counter is here so we know which operation we have returned last. When asked for next operation (as we would in a common list iterator), KnapsackIterator checks if there is an operation left. If yes, it returns either AddOperation or RemoveOperation, depending on whether configuration has 1 or 0 on index this.counter. As Knapsack problem stores all available operations in two lists (Knapsack#removeOperations and Knapsack#removeOperations) we just need to take an appropriate operation from one of these lists at index this.counter.

  public Operation next() throws NoSuchElementException {
      if (this.counter >= this.problem.knapsackItems.size())
          throw new NoSuchElementException("Knapsack iterator has no more operations");

      if (this.configuration.valueAt(this.counter) == 1)
          return this.problem.removeOperations.get(this.counter++);
      return this.problem.addOperations.get(this.counter++);

The only thing missing is to implement OperationIterator#hasNext() and OperationIterator#getRandomOperation(), but both are very easy to implement:

public boolean hasNext() {
    return this.counter < this.problem.knapsackItems.size();
public Operation getRandomOperation() throws UnsupportedOperationException {
    int i = JcopRandom.nextInt(this.problem.knapsackItems.size());
    if (this.configuration.valueAt(i) == 1)
        return this.problem.removeOperations.get(i);
    return this.problem.addOperations.get(i);


If you want to edit a problem, you usually change how problem is loaded, how fitness is calculated or which operations (or in which order) does the problem provide.

First one is easy - just add another constructor, which loads data in required way. If you want to change fitness, keep in mind that you can always change only default fitness - no matter what a problem does, algorithm or solver are always able to override this. But with this in mind, you just override Problem#getDefaultFitness():

public Fitness getDefaultFitness() {
    return new KnapsackFitness(this);

to return your own class. Please note that creating fitness class is not primitive to be done properly and it will be covered in later chapters. But you can take inspiration in JCOP implementation if you don't want to wait.

Altering OperationIterator is again very easy - you simply override method which returns next operation (OperationIterator#next()) and that is it!


In previous chapters we have mentioned that an ObjectiveProblem is used in solver (and in algorithm as we will see later on) instead of just Problem. This is because of the fact that there are several interfaces for a problem and since one problem can (and usually does) implement more than one, we will be pressed to write something like this in an algorithm (or solver):

public void myMethod(Problem problem) {
    if (!problem instanceOf StartingConfigurationProblem) throw new Exception("required StartingConfigurationProblem problem");
    if (!problem instanceOf DestinationProblem) throw new Exception("required DestinationProblem problem");

    Configuration startingConfiguration = ((StartingConfigurationProblem)problem).getStartingConfiguration();
    Configuration DestinationProblem = ((DestinationProblem)problem).getDestination();
    /** ... */

Which is a lot of typecast all around, making the code confusing and difficult to maintain. JCOP comes with a different solution - it introduces an ObjectiveProblem interface and its basic implementation BaseObjectiveProblem. It is kind of wrapper around problem which implements all problem interfaces. When you create a BaseObjectiveProblem, you supply a Problem to it as an argument in constructor. All calls to this baseObjectiveProblem is then either redirected to the problem (properly casted) or raises an exception if original problem did not implement such interface. So you can work with ObjectiveProblem instead of normal one and does not need to worry about casting or instanceOf checks.

Full list of bundled problems can be found in Appendix C.