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A quadratic upper bound on the size of a synchronizing word in one-cluster automata


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A quadratic upper bound on the size of a synchronizing word in one-cluster automata

Marie-Pierre Béal, Dominique Perrin

To cite this version:

Marie-Pierre Béal, Dominique Perrin. A quadratic upper bound on the size of a synchronizing word in one-cluster automata. 13th International Conference on Developments in Language Theory (DLT 2009), Jun 2009, Stuttgart, Germany. pp.81-90, �10.1007/978-3-642-02737-6_6�. �hal-00620310�


A quadratic upper bound on the size of a synchronizing word in one-cluster automata.

Marie-Pierre B´eal1 and Dominique Perrin1

Universit´e Paris-Est, LIGM CNRS, 77454 Marne-la-Vall´ee Cedex 2, France {beal,perrin}@univ-mlv.fr

Abstract. Cern´ˇ y’s conjecture asserts the existence of a synchronizing word of length at most (n1)2 for any synchronizedn-state determin- istic automaton. We prove a quadratic upper bound on the length of a synchronizing word for any synchronizedn-state deterministic automa- ton satisfying the following additional property: there is a letterasuch that for any pair of statesp, q, one hasp·ar =q·as for some integers r, s (for a state pand a word w, we denote by p·w the state reached frompby the path labeledw). As a consequence, we show that for any finite synchronized prefix code with ann-state decoder, there is a syn- chronizing word of lengthO(n2). This applies in particular to Huffman codes.

1 Introduction

Synchronized automata are deterministic and complete finite-state au- tomata admitting a synchronizing word, that is a word which takes each state of the automaton to a single special state. ˇCern´y conjecture claims that each n-state synchronized automaton has a synchronizing word of length at most (n−1)2 [5]. An extension of this conjecture due to Pin [12, 14] was shown to be false by Kari [9]. The conjecture has been shown to be true for particular classes of automata like the class of circular au- tomata by Dubuc [6] (see also [13]). An(n−1)/2 upper bound has been obtained by Trahtman [17, 19] for aperiodic automata. This upper bound was improved to n(n+ 1)/6 by Volkov [20] (see also [21]).

In a previous note [1], the first author gave a proof of a quadratic bound for circular automata which is simpler than the one given in [6].

Nevertheless, it does not allow one to get the tight (n−1)2 bound. The proof uses rational series.

The formulation of the problem in terms of rational series is also used in [1] to provide a simple proof of a result from Kari [10] which proves Cern´ˇ y’s conjecture for automata with an underlying Eulerian graph.

Later, the result on circular automata was generalized by Carpi and d’Alessandro to a larger class called strongly transitive automata [4].


Their proof uses rational series as in [1]. They use the same methods to generalize the result of Kari to unambiguous automata.

In this paper, we prove the existence of a quadratic upper bound for the length of a synchronizing word for a class of finite automata called one-cluster. This means that, for some letter a, there is only one cycle with all edges labeled bya. The proof is an extension of the argument of [1] and uses again rational series.

The class of one-cluster automata contains in particular the automata associated with finite prefix codes. We thus obtain the existence of a quadratic bound on the length of a synchronizing word for a finite maxi- mal synchronized prefix code. This applies in particular to Huffman codes.

Let us mention two recent results connected to our work (we thank Hugo Vaccaro for pointing out these references to us). First, it is proved in [8] that almost all finite maximal prefix codes are synchronizing. Next, in [3], it is proved that a finite maximal synchronized prefix code with n codewords of maximal length h has a synchronizing word of length O(nhlogn). This bound is not comparable with ours. Indeed, since logn≤ h≤n−1, one has n(logn)2≤nhlogn≤n2logn.

2 Automata and series

Let A be a finite alphabet andA be the set of finite words drawn from the alphabet A, the empty word ǫincluded. A (finite) automaton Aover some (finite) alphabet A is composed of a finite set Q of states and a finite set E of edges which are triples (p, a, q) where p, q are states and a is a symbol from A called the label of the edge. Note that we do not specify a set of terminal states and that, for this reason, our automata are sometimes called semi-automata.

An automaton isdeterministic if, for each state p and each letter a, there is at most one edge starting in p and labeled witha. It iscomplete deterministic if, for each state p and each letter a, there is exactly one edge starting in p and labeled witha. This implies that, for each state p and each wordw, there is exactly one path starting inpand labeled with w. We denote by p·w the state which is the end of this unique path.

An automaton is irreducible if its underlying graph is strongly con- nected.

Asynchronizing wordof a deterministic complete automaton is a word wsuch that for any statesp, q, one hasp·w=q·w. A synchronizing word is also called areset sequence or amagic sequence, or also ahoming word.


An automaton which has a synchronizing word is calledsynchronized (see an example on the right part of Figure 1).

1 2

3 4

1 2

3 4

Fig. 1. Two complete deterministic automata labeled on A = {a, b}. A thick plain edge is an edge labeled by a while a thin dashed edge is an edge labeled by b. The automaton on the left is not synchronized. The one on the right is synchronized; for instance, the wordaaais a synchronizing word.

LetA= (Q, E) be a complete deterministic automaton. For any word u∈A, we denote byMu the transition matrix of the action of uon the states Q. It is defined by:

(Mu)pq =

(1 ifp·u=q, 0 otherwise.

Note that ifu, v are two words, we have Muv =MuMv.

We define therank of a worduas the cardinality ofQ·u. Note that since the automaton is complete deterministic, this rank is non null, and that a word is synchronizing if and only if his rank is 1.

A circular automaton is a deterministic complete automaton on the alphabet A such that there is a letter a of A which induces a circular permutation of the states, i.e. such that Ma is a circular permutation matrix.

We shall consider the set of non commutative formal series with co- efficients in a ring K (with K = Z or K = Q), which are applications from A toK. IfS is such a series, the image of a word u of A by S is denoted by hS, ui and called the coefficient ofu inS.

As an example, the series S on {a, b} with coefficients in Z defined by hS, ui=|u|a− |u|b maps a wordu∈ {a, b} to the difference between the number of occurrences ofaand b inu.

A K-linear representation of dimension d of a series S is a triple (λ, µ, γ) where λ ∈ Kd, µ is a morphism from A to Kd×d, and λ ∈ Kd×1, such that

hS, ui=λµ(u)γ.


A series s is K-rational if it has a K-linear representation. Its rank on K is the minimal dimension of all its linear representations.

For example, the seriesS defined on{a, b} by hS, ui=|u|a− |u|b is rational of rank 2. The triple (λ, µ, γ) defined by

λ=h1 0i, µ(a) =


1 1 0 1


, µ(b) =


1−1 0 1

# , γ =


1 0


is aZ-linear representation of S of dimension 2.

Cern´ˇ y’s conjecture gives an upper bound on the size of a shortest synchronizing word in a synchronized automaton.

Conjecture 1 ( ˇCern´y 1964). A synchronized n-state deterministic com- plete automaton has a synchronizing word of length at most (n−1)2.

The conjecture was proved by Dubuc for circular automata.

Proposition 1 (Dubuc 1998). A circular synchronized n-state deter- ministic complete automaton has a synchronizing word of size at most (n−1)2.

3 One-cluster automata

In the sequelA = (Q, E) denotes an n-state deterministic and complete automaton over an alphabetA. We fix a particular lettera∈A.

LetR be the subgraph of the graph of A made of the edges labeled by a. The graph R is a disjoint union of connected component called a-clusters. Since each state has exactly one outgoing edge in R, each a- cluster contains a unique cycle, called an a-cycle, with trees attached to the cycle at their root. For each state p of the a-cluster, we define the level of p as the distance between p and the root of the tree containing p. If pbelongs to the cycle, its level is null. Thelevel of the automaton is the maximal level of its states.

A one-cluster automaton with respect to a letter ais a complete de- terministic automaton which has only onea-cluster. Equivalently, an au- tomaton is one-cluster if it satisfies the following condition: for any pair of statesp, q, one hasp·ar=q·as for some integersr, s.

Note that a one-cluster automaton whose level is null is circular.

LetC be a cycle ofAandP be a subset of C. A wordu is said to be P-augmenting if

card(P u−1 ∩C)>card(P),


where we denoteP u−1 ={q ∈Q|q·u∈P}.

We now prove the existence of a quadratic upper bound on the size of a shortest synchronizing word in a synchronized automaton.

Proposition 2. Let A be a synchronized n-state deterministic complete automaton. IfAis one-cluster, then it has a synchronizing word of length at most 1 + 2(n−1)(n−2).

We prove the proposition for irreducible automata. The case of re- ducible automata easily reduces to this one. Let A = (Q, E) be a deter- ministic complete and irreducible n-state automaton.

Since ˇCern´y’s conjecture is proved for circular automata, we may as- sume that the level ℓof the automaton is greater than or equal to 1.

LetC be thea-cycle and let mbe the length ofC. LetP be a subset of C. Note that a wordu is aP-augmenting word if and only if

C MuPt> CPt,

whereP, C denote the characteristic row vectors of the setsP, C. Indeed, C MuPt= X


(Mu)rs= card{r ∈C |r·u∈P}= card(P u−1 ∩C).

Similarly, CPt= card(P).

We denote byS the series defined by:

hS, ui=C MuPt−C Pt,

By definition, one hashS, ui>0 if and only ifuis aP-augmenting word.

Lemma 1. The seriesS has rank on Qat most n.

Proof. The seriesSisZ-rational since it is the difference of twoZ-rational series (the second one is actually a constant). It has the following linear representation (λ, µ, γ) withλ∈Z1×2n, µ:A →Z2n×2n, λ∈Z2n×1,

λ= (C,−C), µ(u) =


Mu0 0 I

# , γ =


Pt Pt

# ,

since hS, ui = λµ(u)γ. The rank of S on Q is bounded above by the dimension of theQ-vector space generated by the row vectors (CMu,−C).

This space is included in the vector space generated by the vectors (CMu− C,0) and the row vector (C,−C), where 0 is the null column vector of sizen. Thus the rank ofS is at most equal to the dimension of the vector


spaceV generated by the vectorsC(Mu−I), plus one. We now show that the dimension ofV is at mostn−1. Since the automatonA is complete deterministic, for any u ∈ A, Mu1 = 1, where 1 is the column vector with coefficients 1 of size n. This implies that C(Mu−I)·1 = 0. Thus the vectors of V are orthogonal to the vector 1. The dimension of V is thus at mostn−1. This proves that the rank ofS onQ is at mostn.

We denote byT the Z-rational series defined by hT, ui=hS, uai,

where ℓ denotes the level of the automaton A. If (λ, µ, γ) is a Q-linear representation ofS of dimensionn, then (λ, µ, µ(a)γ) is a representation of T. Thus the rank ofT on Qis at mostn.

Lemma 2. For any subsetP of C such thatP 6=∅ and P 6=C, there is a P-augmenting word of length at most 2(n−1).

Proof. Since A is synchronized and irreducible, there is a synchronizing wordusuch thatQ·uis a single staterbelonging toP. Letkbe a positive integer such thatkm≥ℓ, wherem is the length of the cycleC. We have Q·uakma = r ·akm = r. Hence uakma also is a synchronizing word focusing tor. LetR denote the characteristic row vector ofr. Since q·u=r for allq ∈Qand since C hasm elements, we haveCMu=mR.

Moreover, since r∈C,RMam=R. We have hT, uakmi=hS, uakmi





=m−card(P)6= 0.

As a consequenceT is non null.

SinceT has rank at mostnon Q, there is a word vof length at most n−1 such thathT, vi 6= 0 (see [7, p. 145] or [15, p. 492 corollaire 4.19]).

If there is word v of length at most n−1 such that hT, vi>0, then va is aP-augmenting word and the claim is proved. Otherwise, there is a wordv of length at most n−1 such thathT, vi<0.

Sinceℓ is the level of A, the vector CMva is a linear combination of elements of C and the sum of its coefficients is equal to m.


We have




hT, vaii=




hS, vaaii=





= (









= (CMva(





= (X







= (X


C−mC)Pt= 0.

Indeed, for anyr inC, the stateq =r·va is inC and for any stateq in C, the row of indexq of the matrixPmi=0−1Mai is the row vectorC.

As a consequence, there is a wordwof length at mostn+m−2 such that hT, wi >0. Hence there is a P-augmenting word of length at most n+m−2 +ℓ.

Thus, in all cases, there is a word of length at most n+m−2 +ℓ which isP-augmenting.

To prove Proposition 2, we show thatAhas a synchronizing word of length at most 1 + 2m(n−2). Indeed, let P1 be reduced to an arbitrary state ofC. IfP1 =C (that is to say ifm= 1), thenQ·a⊆P1, and thus a is a synchronizing word.

Otherwise, by Lemma 2, there exists a word u1 of length at most n+m−2 +ℓ which is P1-augmenting. Set P2 =P1u−11 ∩C. If P2 6=C, there is a wordu2 of length at mostn+m−2 +ℓwhich isP2-augmenting, and so on. In this way, we build a sequence u1, . . , ut−1 of words and a sequence P1, . . , Pt of sets of states, with t≤m, such that, for 1≤i < t,

– ui is a Pi-augmenting word of length at mostn+m−2 +ℓ;

– Pi+1 =Piu−1i ∩C;

– Pt=C.

Then the word aut−1. . u1 is a synchronizing word of length at most ℓ+ (m−1)(n+m−2 +ℓ). Indeed, Q·aut−1. . u1 ⊆ C·ut−1. . u1 ⊆ Pt−1·ut−2. . u1⊆. . P2·u1 ⊆P1.


Sincem≤n−ℓ andm≤n−1, we have

ℓ+ (m−1)(n+m+ℓ−2)≤ℓ+ (m−1)(2n−2)

≤n−m+ 2mn−2n−2m+ 2

≤2mn−n−3m+ 2

= (n−2)(2m−1) +m

≤1 + 2m(n−2)≤1 + 2(n−1)(n−2), which completes the proof.

4 Application to finite prefix codes

In this section we show how the previous result can be applied to the automaton associated to a finite prefix code.

A prefix code on the alphabet A is a set X of words on A such that no element of X is a prefix of another word of X.

A prefix code ismaximal if it is not contained in another prefix code on the same alphabet. As an equivalent definition, a prefix code X is maximal if for any worduinA has a prefix inX or is a prefix of a word of X.

For a deterministic automatonA and an initial statei, the setXA of labels of first return paths from ito iis a prefix code. If the automaton is complete, the prefix code is maximal.

Conversely, for any finite prefix code X, there exists a deterministic automaton A such that X = XA. Moreover, the automaton A can be supposed to be irreducible. IfX is a maximal prefix code, the automaton A is complete.

The automaton A can be chosen as follows. The set of states is the setQof prefixes of the words of X. The transitions are defined forp∈Q and a∈A by p·a=paifpa is a prefix of a word ofX, and by p·a=ε if pa ∈ X. This automaton, denoted AX is a decoder of X. Let indeed α be a one-to-one map from a source alphabet B onto X. Let us add an output label to each edge ofAX in the following way. The output label of (p, a, q) isεifq6=εand is equal toα−1(pa) ifq =ε. With this definition, for any word x ∈ X, the output label of the path i −→x i is the word α−1(x).

Let us show that, as a consequence of the fact that X is finite, the automaton Ais additionally one-cluster with respect to any letter.

Indeed, letabe a letter and letCbe the set of states of the formi·aj. For any state q, there exists a path i−→u q −→v i. We may suppose that i


does not occur elsewhere on this path. Thus uv ∈X. SinceX is a finite maximal code, there is an integer j such that uaj ∈ X. Then q·aj =i belongs to C. This shows that Ais one-cluster with respect to a.

A maximal prefix code X is synchronized if there is a word x ∈ X such that for any wordw∈A, one haswx∈X. Such a wordxis called a synchronizing word forX.

Let X be a synchronized prefix code. Let A be an irreducible de- terministic automaton with an initial state i such that XA = X. The automaton A is synchronized. Indeed, let x be a synchronizing word for X. Letq be a state ofA. Since Ais irreducible, there is a pathi−→u q for someu∈A. Sincex is synchronizing forX, we haveux∈X, and thus q·x=i. This shows thatx is a synchronizing word for A.

Conversely, letAbe an irreducible complete deterministic automaton.

If A is a synchronized automaton, the prefix code XA is synchronized.

Indeed, letxbe a synchronizing word forA. We may assume thatq·x=i for any stateq. Then x is a synchronizing word forX.

Proposition 3. Let X be a maximal synchronized prefix code with n codewords on an alphabet of sizek. The decoder ofX has a synchronizing word of length at most O((kn)2).

Proof. The automaton AX is one-cluster. The number N of its states is the number of prefixes of the words of X. Thus N = (n−1)(k−1) since a complete k-ary tree with n leaves has (n−1)(k −1) internal nodes. By Proposition 2, there is a synchronizing word of length at most 1 + 2(N−1)(N−2), whenceO((kn)2).

Example 1. Let us consider the following Huffman code X= (00 + 01 + 1)(0+10+11) corresponding to a source alphabetB ={a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i}

with a probability distribution (1/16,1/16,1/8,1/16,1/16,1/8,1/8,1/8, 1/4). The Huffman tree is pictured in the left part of Figure 1 while the decoder automaton AX is given in its right part. The word 010 is a synchronizing word ofAX.

When the lengths of the codewords inXare not relatively prime, the automaton AX is never synchronized (see Example of Figure 1). When the lengths of the codewords inX are relatively prime, the codeXis not necessarily synchronized. However, there is always another Huffman code X corresponding to the same length distribution which is synchronized by a result of Sch¨utzenberger [16]. One can even chooseX such that the underlying graph of AX and AX are the same. This is a particular case of the road coloring theorem of due to Trahtman [18] (see also [2]). The


a b d e 4

c f 7 g h

3 6 i 8

2 5


4 7

3 6 8

2 5


Fig. 2.A synchronized Huffman codeX on the left and its decoderAX on the right.

particular case corresponding to finite prefix codes was proved before in [11].

Our result guarantees that the Huffman decoder has a synchronizing word of length at most quadratic in the number of nodes of the Huffman tree.

a b d e

4 c 7 f g h

3 6 8 i

2 5


4 7

3 6 8

2 5


Fig. 3.A non synchronized Huffman codeX on the left and its decoder on the right.

The automaton on the right is not synchronized. Indeed, for any word w, the set of states reachable bywis either{1,3},{2,4},{1,5}, or{1,6}.


1. M.-P. B´eal, A note on ˇCern´y’s conjecture and rational series. preprint IGM


2003-05. Unpublished, 2003.

2. M.-P. B´eal and D. Perrin, A quadratic algorithm for road coloring, CoRR, abs/0803.0726 (2008).

3. M. T. Biskup,Shortest synchronizing strings for Huffman codes, in MFCS, 2008, pp. 120–131.

4. A. Carpi and F. D’Alessandro,The synchronization problem for strongly tran- sitive automata, in Developments in Language Theory, 2008, pp. 240–251.

5. J. ˇCern´y,Pozn´amka k. homog´ennym experimentom s konecn´ymi automatmi, Mat.

fyz. ˇcas SAV, 14 (1964), pp. 208–215.

6. L. Dubuc,Sur les automates circulaires et la conjecture de ˇCern´y, RAIRO Inform.

Th´eor. Appl., 32 (1998), pp. 21–34.

7. S. Eilenberg,Automata, languages, and machines. Vol. A, Academic Press [A subsidiary of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers], New York, 1974. Pure and Applied Mathematics, Vol. 58.

8. C. F. Freiling, D. S. Jungreis, F. Th´eberge, and K. Zeger, Almost all complete binary prefix codes have a self-synchronizing string, IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, 49 (2003), pp. 2219–2225.

9. J. Kari, A counter example to a conjecture concerning synchronizing words in finite automata, EATCS Bulletin, 73 (2001), p. 146.

10. , Synchronizing finite automata on Eulerian digraphs, in MFCS’2001, no. 2136 in LNCS, Berlin, 2001, Springer, pp. 432–438.

11. D. Perrin and M.-P. Sch¨utzenberger,Synchronizing words and automata and the road coloring problem, in Symbolic Dynamics and its Applications, P. Walters, ed., American Mathematical Society, 1992, pp. 295–318. Contemporary Mathe- matics, vol. 135.

12. J.-E. Pin,Le probl`eme de la synchronisation et la conjecture de ˇCern´y, th`ese de 3`eme cycle, Universit´e Paris VI, 1978.

13. ,Sur un cas particulier de la conjecture de ˇCern´y, in 5th ICALP, no. 62 in LNCS, Berlin, 1978, Springer, pp. 345–352.

14. , On two combinatorial problems arising from automata theory, Annals of Discrete Mathematics, 17 (1983), pp. 535–548.

15. J. Sakarovitch,El´´ements de th´eorie des automates, ´Editions Vuibert, 2003.

16. M.-P. Sch¨utzenberger,On synchronizing prefix codes, Inform. and Control, 11 (1967), pp. 396–401.

17. A. N. Trahtman,Synchronization of some DFA, in TAMC, 2007, pp. 234–243.

18. A. N. Trahtman,The road coloring problem, Israel J. Math., (2008). to appear.

19. A. Trakhtman,Some aspects of synchronization of DFA, J. Comput. Sci. Tech- nol., 23 (2008), pp. 719–727.

20. M. V. Volkov, Synchronizing automata preserving a chain of partial orders, in CIAA, 2007, pp. 27–37.

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