Problem Solving with Nial  Nial Introduction, Chapter 5
Problem Solving with Nial
Q’Nial provides an interactive environment for experimenting while trying to solve a problem. The interactive approach allows thinking about the problem by trying steps towards a solution.
This chapter consists of a log of an interactive session used to explore a problem in graph theory. The recording of the log is started using
set "log ;
The Problem
Consider a directed graph consisting of nodes a, b, … and edges that indicate a directed link between some of the nodes. For example, consider the following graph:
++
+> b 
 ++

++ ++ ++ ++
 a > c > g > k 
++ ++ ++ ++

++ ++ 
 d > e >+
++ ++
One way to represent the graph is to provide a list of edges in which each edge is a pair of nodes indicating a link from the first node to the second.
Edges := ("a "b) ("a "c) ("c "g) ("g "k) ("d "e) ("e "k)
++
a ba cc gg kd ee k
++
This array describes the graph completely.
Suppose the requirement is to write an operation that, given an edgelist for a graph and two nodes Node1 and Node2, determines whether or not there exists a path from Node1 to Node2 along the links in the graph. Visual inspection of the example graph reveals that there exists a path from a to k but not one from b to d. The task is to determine how to test this finding computationally.
Testing for a Path
We begin experimenting by looking for the path from a to k. First, look for all the links that start at a.
EACH first Edge
a a c g d e
EACH first Edges = "a
o
Using equal returns only a single result. Try match.
EACH first Edges match "a
lloooo
This gives a bitstring, a string of booleans, that can be used with sublist to extract the desired links.
Lnksfrm_a := EACH first Edges match "a sublist Edges
++
a ba c
++
Then, test whether or not a direct path to k has been found.
"k in EACH second Lnksfrm_a
o
The answer is negative. Now repeat the process to see if there is a link through b or c.
Lnksfrm_b := EACH first Edges match "b sublist Edges
Lnksfrm_c := EACH first Edges match "c sublist Edges
++
c g
++
There are no links found from b and only one from c. Test to see if the link from c completes a path.
"k in EACH second Lnksfrm_c
o
The result is negative so the process is repeated on the node to which c links.
Lnksfrm_g := EACH first Edges match "g sublist Edges
++
g k
++
"k in EACH second Lnksfrm_g
l
A path has been found. This exploration indicates that a path test can be written in this style. It will have two parts: a test to see if a direct link occurs or the use of a loop to find whether or not one of the links leads to a path.
pathtest is OP Edges Node1 Node2 {
Lnksfrm_node1 := EACH first Edges match Node1 sublist Edges;
IF Node2 in EACH second Lnksfrm_Node1 THEN
% direct path Node1 to Node2;
True
ELSE
% loop through linked nodes to see if a path to Node2 exists;
Linkednodes := EACH second Lnksfrm_node1;
Found := False;
I := 0;
WHILE not Found and (I < tally Linked nodes) DO
Node := Linkednodes@I;
Lnksfrm_node := EACH first Edges match Node sublist Edges;
Found := Node2 in EACH second Lnksfrm_Node;
I := I + 1;
ENDWHILE;
Found
ENDIF }
pathtest Edges "a "k
o
The test of this version shows that the algorithm fails.
pathtest Edges "a "b
l
pathtest Edges "a "c
l
pathtest Edges "a "g
l
Further testing shows that the algorithm is close to working. It finds a path over two links but not over three. The problem is apparently in the loop that looks for a path from a node in the list of linked nodes.
Instead of trying to test for a path directly, it is necessary to call the routine recursively to get the path test to go down an arbitrary number of links.
pathtest is OP Edges Node1 Node2 {
Lnksfrm_node1 := EACH first Edges match Node1 sublist Edges;
IF Node2 in EACH second Lnksfrm_Node1 THEN
% direct path from Node1 to Node2;
True
ELSE
% loop through linked nodes to see if a path to Node2 exists;
Linkednodes := EACH second Lnksfrm_node1;
Found := False;
I := 0;
WHILE not Found and (I < tally Linked nodes) DO
Found := pathtest Edges Linkednodes@I Node2;
I := I + 1;
ENDWHILE;
Found
ENDIF }
pathtest Edges "a "k
l
pathtest Edges "b "d
o
The operation has succeeded.
Returning the Path Found
An alternative solution would be to return the path if one is found. This is only a minor change in the algorithm. Instead of returning a boolean value in the direct test, the link would be returned. In the loop, an empty path would be set and it would be replaced by a found path in the loop. The first attempt is:
findpath is OP Edges Node1 Node2 {
Lnksfrm_node1 := EACH first Edges match Node1 sublist Edges;
IF Node2 in EACH second Lnksfrm_node1 THEN
% direct path from Node1 to Node2;
Node1 Node2
ELSE
% loop through linked nodes to see if a path to Node2 exists;
Linkednodes := EACH second Lnksfrm_node1;
Foundpath := Null;
I := 0;
WHILE empty Foundpath and (I < tally Linkednodes) DO
Foundpath := findpath Edges Linkednodes@I Node2;
IF not empty Foundpath THEN
Foundpath := Linkednodes@I hitch Foundpath;
ENDIF;
I := I + 1;
ENDWHILE;
Foundpath
ENDIF }
findpath Edges "a "c
a c
findpath Edges "a "k
c g g k
The operation works on a direct link but has a missing node and a repetition in a path of length four. The problem is caused by the path computation after the recursion has returned a path. It should be Node1 rather than the linked node that is added to the path.
findpath is OP Edges Node1 Node2 {
Lnksfrm_node1 := EACH first Edges match Node1 sublist Edges;
IF Node2 in EACH second Lnksfrm_Node1 THEN
% direct path from Node1 to Node2;
Node1 Node2
ELSE
% loop through linked nodes to see if a path to Node2 exists;
Linkednodes := EACH second Lnksfrm_node1;
Foundpath := Null;
I := 0;
WHILE empty Foundpath and (I < tally Linkednodes) DO
Foundpath := findpath Edges Linkednodes@I Node2;
I := I + 1;
ENDWHILE;
IF not empty Foundpath THEN
Foundpath := Node1 hitch Foundpath;
ENDIF;
Foundpath
ENDIF }
findpath Edges "a "k
a c g k
Finding Paths in a Cyclic Graph
Now consider the situation where a graph has more than one path between two nodes. It may be desirable to compute all the paths between nodes. Consider the graph which is the same as the previous one except that it adds a link from a to d.
Edges:=("a "b)("a "c)("c "g)("g "k)("d "e)("e "k)("a "d)
++
a ba cc gg kd ee ka d
++
The modification needed is twofold. On a direct link, the result must be returned as a solitary list holding the direct link to indicate one existing path. For the linked nodes, the loop has to be changed to check all of the nodes for paths and these have to be combined to give the list of all paths.
findpaths is OP Edges Node1 Node2 {
Lnksfrm_node1 := EACH first Edges match Node1 sublist Edges;
IF Node2 in EACH second Lnksfrm_Node1 THEN
% there is a direct path from Node1 to Node2;
Paths := [ Node1 Node2 ];
ELSE
Paths := Null;
ENDIF;
% loop through linked nodes to add any additional paths;
Linkednodes := EACH second Lnksfrm_node1;
FOR Node WITH Linkednodes except [Node2] DO
Newpaths := findpaths Edges Node Node2;
Paths := Paths link (Node1 EACHRIGHT hitch Newpaths);
ENDFOR;
Paths }
findpaths Edges "a "k
++
a c g ka d e k
++
The algorithm worked on the first attempt.
The limits of the algorithm can be explored. Consider the test:
Cyclic_graph := ("a "b)("b "c)("b "d)("c "a)
++
a bb cb dc a
++
findpath Cyclic_graph "a "d
system warning: C stack overflow
The algorithm fails with a stack overflow. The problem is caused by the recursion going around the cycle in the graph until the internal stack in Q’Nial runs out of space. The algorithm has an implicit assumption that the chains of links will all terminate. The assumption would be valid if it is known that the directed graph does not have cycles (i.e. it is acyclic). To make the algorithm work in the general case, it needs to be altered to avoid cycles. The approach is to add a fourth parameter that records the nodes that have been encountered in pursuing a path and to use it to avoid a recursion that cycles.
The expression calling findpaths uses Null as the initial value for the new parameter Encountered. Encountered is a list which is extended when a new node is considered. The list is used to remove can didates from the list of linked nodes that have already been processed.
findpaths is OPERATION Edges Node1 Node2 Encountered {
Lnksfrm_node1 := EACH first Edges match Node1 sublist Edges;
IF Node2 in EACH second Lnksfrm_Node1 THEN
% direct path from Node1 to Node2;
Paths := [ Node1 Node2 ];
ELSE
Paths := Null;
ENDIF;
Encountered := Encountered append Node1;
% loop through linked nodes not encountered to add paths ;
Linkednodes :=EACH second Lnksfrm_node1 except Encountered;
FOR Node WITH Linkednodes except [Node2] DO
Newpaths := findpaths Edges Node Node2 Encountered;
Paths := Paths link (Node1 EACHRIGHT hitch Newpaths)
ENDFOR }
findpaths Cyclic_graph "a "d Null
++
a b d
++
Exploring directed graph computations could continue in other ways. For example, the use of Edges is only one way to represent a graph. Another is to use a boolean table where a true in row i and column j indicates that there is a link between nodes i and j. With this representation, a correspondence between the node names and the indices is maintained.