Algebraic Theory of Minimal Nondeterministic Finite Automata with Applications Dissertation

thesis or dissertation chair

fiu authors

  • Cazalis, Daniel S.


  • Since the 1950s, the theory of deterministic and nondeterministic finite automata (DFAs and NFAs, respectively) has been a cornerstone of theoretical computer science. In this dissertation, our main object of study is minimal NFAs. In contrast with minimal DFAs, minimal NFAs are computationally challenging: first, there can be more than one minimal NFA recognizing a given language; second, the problem of converting an NFA to a minimal equivalent NFA is NP-hard, even for NFAs over a unary alphabet. Our study is based on the development of two main theories, inductive bases and partials, which in combination form the foundation for an incremental algorithm, ibas, to find minimal NFAs. An inductive basis is a collection of languages with the property that it can generate (through union) each of the left quotients of its elements. We prove a fundamental characterization theorem which says that a language can be recognized by an n-state NFA if and only if it can be generated by an n-element inductive basis. A partial is an incompletely-specified language. We say that an NFA recognizes a partial if its language extends the partial, meaning that the NFA's behavior is unconstrained on unspecified strings; it follows that a minimal NFA for a partial is also minimal for its language. We therefore direct our attention to minimal NFAs recognizing a given partial. Combining inductive bases and partials, we generalize our characterization theorem, showing that a partial can be recognized by an n-state NFA if and only if it can be generated by an n-element partial inductive basis. We apply our theory to develop and implement ibas, an incremental algorithm that finds minimal partial inductive bases generating a given partial. In the case of unary languages, ibas can often find minimal NFAs of up to 10 states in about an hour of computing time; with brute-force search this would require many trillions of years.

publication date

  • November 14, 2007


  • finite-state automata
  • theory of computation

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)