Minimal Spanning Trees

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Problem Description

Here's a program to test whether Kruskal's algorithm for finding minimal spanning trees for a connected graph really works.   (It does.)  User's can interactively add, delete, and move nodes;  connect nodes by edges; assign weights and delete edges; and save and reload graphs built in this manner.    Oh, and display the minimal spanning tree by clicking a button. 

(June 29, 2007:  A second method for finding minimal spanning trees, Prim's Algorithm, was added today.)

Background & Techniques

Some time ago I wrote a Delphi class (TGraphList) to handle graph objects and which includes depth first and breadth first searches for paths connecting two nodes and Dijkstra's algorithm for finding the shortest path between two nodes.  That was largely motivated to help solve some large search programming  problems proposed in  A recent problem requires finding a "minimal spanning tree", and was a logical extension to TGraphList.   This program is a version of  the result.

I decided to add some graphics features, so nodes now optionally include x, y coordinates. 

Some Graph Definitions

Here is brief set of definitions leading to the one main interest here, minimal spanning trees.

Graphs consist of nodes (also called  vertices), logical objects of most any sort, and edges, logical connections between pairs of nodes.  Edges may have weights associated with them.   Graphs Multivariate Newton-Raphsonare a valuable data structure for solving many types of problems including puzzles and games where nodes can represent states of the board or puzzle and edges are moves which can get us from one state to another.

A path is a set of edges leading from one node to another.  There may be more than one way to accomplish this.  A graph is connected if there is a path from every node to every other node.  A simple path is a path which has no nodes repeated.  A cycle is a simple path except the first and last nodes are the same.   (As an aside, a cycle which includes all of the nodes in a graph is called a Hamiltonian Cycle,  Hamiltonian Circuit, Hamilton Cycle, or Hamilton Circuit.) 

Continuing down our main road, a tree is a set of nodes which contains no cycles.  There is only one way to get from any node to any other node in a tree.  A spanning tree is a tree that includes all of the nodes in a graph. A connected graph  contains at least one spanning tree.  Finally, for our purposes, a minimal spanning tree is the spanning tree the sum of whose edge weights is less than or equal to the sum of the weights of any other spanning tree for this graph.    If nodes represent cities and edge weights represent distances, and we need to run trunk power lines to each city, the minimal spanning tree will define the minimum total miles of line required.   Notice, by the way that, for physical travel,  trees are not the solution since they not consider the distance to return from any dead end branch of the tree.  For routing problems (mail routes, school busses, garbage trucks, and traveling salesmen),  other path types  provide a better approach. And present a much harder problem.

Operation  .

The program operation should be quite self explanatory so I won't waste our time with a  click by click  explanation.  Clicks on empty spaces on the image field will add a vertex to the graph.  Clicks on existing vertices or edges will pop-up a menu of available actions. 

For now, there is a restriction on node names -  they are assigned as single letters and may not be changed or reused once assigned, although they they may be moved or deleted.   This means that no graph defined in this program can contain more than 26 nodes .           

Non-programmers are welcome to read on, but may want to skip to the bottom of this page to download executable version of the program.

Notes for Programmers


Adding graphic capabilities to TGraphList meant adding x, y coordinates to nodes.  No actual graphic output was implemented, I kept that in the main unit U_MinimalSpanTrees.  For efficiency in handling large graphs, the original TGraphList required all nodes be added before the edges.  The nodes were "finalized" by sorting them and this allowed the edges to contain only index pointers to the nodes representing the ends.   That structure is not the best for interactive graph building where nodes and edges may be added and deleted in any order.  The compromise solution is to add node ids in increasing sequence, i.e. the id of a deleted node is not reused.  This eliminates the need to re-sort when a node is added, which is not the case for batch mode problems where nodes may be added in any order.  It also means that, for now, change to node Ids is not allowed. 


Since we allow changes to edges, a CloseToEdge function was added which in turn required calculating the perpendicular distance from a (clicked) point to a line (edge).  Function PerpDistance was added to a new UGeometry unit for this purpose.  In the process, I discovered that the Intersect routine called by PerpDistance doesn't work well for lines near vertical.   I replaced it with  LinesIntersect from another program.   Fixing Intersect is another project for the futures list 

File Streams

The only other item of interest that comes to mind is the use of file streams to save and restore graphs.   In particular I had to re-learn how to save a string in a stream. I'll describe it  so I might find it here the next time the need arises.  (Save the length (Len) of the string (S) to the stream  first, then save Len characters from S[1].  At load time, read the length (Len) of the string (S), use SetLength to set the length of S to Len and then read Len characters into S[1]).

Two units, UTGraphSearch containing TGraphList and UGeometry containing several computational geometry functions,  were added to our DFF Library file so these units are not included in the zipped source file for MinimalSpanTrees.  The library reduces the number of files to be reposted when one of its units changes.  (One library file as opposed to many program source zip files which use the changed unit).     

Addendum June 29, 2007:  A young Chinese student  had an assignment to explain both Prim's and Kuskal's Algorithms for finding minimal spanning trees (MST) using code samples from any source.  To help him out, I added a Prim's button to the the MST program today.   It is actually predates Kuskal's method, is simpler, and slower.   The algorithm assigns any node as the first node of the tree and then loops looking for the node not in the tree with the smallest weighted edge to a node in the tree.  That node is added and the loop begins again.  The search continues until all nodes have been added.               

Running/Exploring the Program 

bulletDownload source (Requires library version DFFLibV04 or later)
bulletDownload current DFF Library source (DFFLibV15 )
bulletDownload  executable

Suggestions for Further Explorations

Modify TGraphList to include node keys in the edge definition record.  This would remove the restriction that nodes exist in increasing Id sequence and allow user changes to Node Ids.
Allow user "play" of the minimal span "game".  (Find a minimal span tree in the fewest number of edge clicks to win)  


Original Date: October 29, 2005 

Modified: July 29, 2017

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