branch and bound

(algorithmic technique)

Definition: An algorithmic technique to find the optimal solution by keeping the best solution found so far. If a partial solution cannot improve on the best, it is abandoned.

See also depth-first search, best-first search.

Note: For instance, suppose we want to find the shortest route from Zarahemla to Manti, and at some time the shortest route found until that time is 387 kilometers. Suppose we are to next consider routes through Cumeni. If the shortest distance from Zarahemla to Cumeni is 350 km and Cumeni is 46 km from Manti in a straight line, there is no reason to explore possible roads from Cumeni: they will be at least 396 km (350 + 46), which is worse than the shortest known route. So we need not explore paths from Cumeni.

This may be implemented as a backtracking algorithm, which is a modified depth-first search, or using a priority queue ordering partial solutions by lower bounds (current + least possible completion), which is a best-first search.

This technique is not helpful if all solutions are about the same or the initial solutions are very poor and better solutions are only found gradually. In either case, the cost is similar to exploring the entire solution space.

Author: PEB


Arnold Neumaier's page of branch and bound implementations (C, C++, Matlab, Fortran, executables, etc.).

More information

A more formal and complete explanation.

Go to the Dictionary of Algorithms and Data Structures home page.

If you have suggestions, corrections, or comments, please get in touch with Paul Black.

Entry modified 12 September 2005.
HTML page formatted Fri Feb 23 10:06:07 2018.

Cite this as:
Paul E. Black, "branch and bound", in Dictionary of Algorithms and Data Structures [online], Vreda Pieterse and Paul E. Black, eds. 12 September 2005. (accessed TODAY) Available from: