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A Dichotomy for Regular Expression Membership Testing


Bringmann,  Karl
Algorithms and Complexity, MPI for Informatics, Max Planck Society;

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Bringmann, K., Grønlund, A., & Larsen, K. G. (2016). A Dichotomy for Regular Expression Membership Testing. Retrieved from

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We study regular expression membership testing: Given a regular expression of size $m$ and a string of size $n$, decide whether the string is in the language described by the regular expression. Its classic $O(nm)$ algorithm is one of the big success stories of the 70s, which allowed pattern matching to develop into the standard tool that it is today. Many special cases of pattern matching have been studied that can be solved faster than in quadratic time. However, a systematic study of tractable cases was made possible only recently, with the first conditional lower bounds reported by Backurs and Indyk [FOCS'16]. Restricted to any "type" of homogeneous regular expressions of depth 2 or 3, they either presented a near-linear time algorithm or a quadratic conditional lower bound, with one exception known as the Word Break problem. In this paper we complete their work as follows: 1) We present two almost-linear time algorithms that generalize all known almost-linear time algorithms for special cases of regular expression membership testing. 2) We classify all types, except for the Word Break problem, into almost-linear time or quadratic time assuming the Strong Exponential Time Hypothesis. This extends the classification from depth 2 and 3 to any constant depth. 3) For the Word Break problem we give an improved $\tilde{O}(n m^{1/3} + m)$ algorithm. Surprisingly, we also prove a matching conditional lower bound for combinatorial algorithms. This establishes Word Break as the only intermediate problem. In total, we prove matching upper and lower bounds for any type of bounded-depth homogeneous regular expressions, which yields a full dichotomy for regular expression membership testing.