Date of Award

Fall 1999

Project Type


Program or Major

Computer Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Philip J Hatcher


The research presented here aims at providing a comprehensive framework for solving configuration problems, based on the Constraint Satisfaction paradigm. This thesis is addressing the two main issues raised by a configuration task: modeling the problem and solving it efficiently. Our approach subsumes previous approaches, incorporating both Simplification and further extension, offering increased representational power and efficiency.

Modeling. We advance the idea of local, context independent models for the types of objects in the application domain, and show how the model of an artifact can be built as a composition of local models of the constituent parts. Our modeling technique integrates two mechanisms for dealing with complexity, namely composition and abstraction. Using concepts such as locality, aggregation and inheritance, it offers support and guidance as to the appropriate content and organization of the domain knowledge, thus making knowledge specification and representation less error prone, and knowledge maintenance much easier.

There are two specific aspects which make modeling configuration problems challenging: the complexity and heterogeneity of relations that must be expressed, manipulated and maintained, and the dynamic nature of the configuration process. We address these issues by introducing Composite Constraint Satisfaction Problems, a new, nonstandard class of problems which extends the classic Constraint Satisfaction paradigm.

Efficiency. For the purpose of the work presented here, we are only interested in providing a guaranteed optimal solution to a configuration problem. To achieve this goal, our research focused on two complementary directions.

The first one led to a powerful search algorithm called Maintaining Arc Consistency Extended (MACE). By maintaining arc consistency and taking advantage of the problem structure, MACE turned out to be one of the best general purpose CSP search algorithms to date.

The second research direction aimed at reducing the search effort involved in proving the optimality of the proposed solution by making use of information which is specific to individual configuration problems. By adding redundant specialized constraints, the algorithm improves dramatically the lower bound computation. Using abstraction through focusing only on relevant features allows the algorithm to take advantage of context-dependent interchangeability between component instances and discard equivalent solutions, involving the same cost as solutions that have already been explored.