Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science

2001 Edition
| Editors: Saul I. Gass, Carl M. Harris


Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/1-4020-0611-X_141

The term “computational complexity” has two usages which must be distinguished. On the one hand, it refers to an algorithm for solving instances of a problem: broadly stated, the computational complexity of an algorithm is a measure of how many steps the algorithm will require in the worst case for an instance or input of a given size. The number of steps is measured as a function of that size.

The term's second, more important use is in reference to a problem itself. The theory of computational complexity involves classifying problems according to their inherent tractability or intractability — that is, whether they are “easy” or “hard” to solve. This classification scheme includes the well-known classes P and NP; the terms “NP-complete” and “NP-hard” are related to the class NP.


To understand what is meant by the complexity of an algorithm, we must define algorithms, problems, and problem instances. Moreover, we must understand how one measures the size of a...

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA