Document Type



Computer Science

First Advisor's Name

Geoffrey Smith

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Giri Narasimhan

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Masoud Milani

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Steven Hudson

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


theory of computation, finite-state automata

Date of Defense



Since the 1950s, the theory of deterministic and nondeterministic finite automata (DFAs and NFAs, respectively) has been a cornerstone of theoretical computer science. In this dissertation, our main object of study is minimal NFAs. In contrast with minimal DFAs, minimal NFAs are computationally challenging: first, there can be more than one minimal NFA recognizing a given language; second, the problem of converting an NFA to a minimal equivalent NFA is NP-hard, even for NFAs over a unary alphabet. Our study is based on the development of two main theories, inductive bases and partials, which in combination form the foundation for an incremental algorithm, ibas, to find minimal NFAs. An inductive basis is a collection of languages with the property that it can generate (through union) each of the left quotients of its elements. We prove a fundamental characterization theorem which says that a language can be recognized by an n-state NFA if and only if it can be generated by an n-element inductive basis. A partial is an incompletely-specified language. We say that an NFA recognizes a partial if its language extends the partial, meaning that the NFA's behavior is unconstrained on unspecified strings; it follows that a minimal NFA for a partial is also minimal for its language. We therefore direct our attention to minimal NFAs recognizing a given partial. Combining inductive bases and partials, we generalize our characterization theorem, showing that a partial can be recognized by an n-state NFA if and only if it can be generated by an n-element partial inductive basis. We apply our theory to develop and implement ibas, an incremental algorithm that finds minimal partial inductive bases generating a given partial. In the case of unary languages, ibas can often find minimal NFAs of up to 10 states in about an hour of computing time; with brute-force search this would require many trillions of years.





Rights Statement

Rights Statement

In Copyright. URI:
This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).