Merge-and-Shrink: A Compositional Theory of Transformations of Factored Transition Systems

Main Article Content

Silvan Sievers
Malte Helmert


The merge-and-shrink framework has been introduced as a general approach for defining abstractions of large state spaces arising in domain-independent planning and related areas. The distinguishing characteristic of the merge-and-shrink approach is that it operates directly on the factored representation of state spaces, repeatedly modifying this representation through transformations such as shrinking (abstracting a factor of the representation), merging (combining two factors), label reduction (abstracting the way in which different factors interact), and pruning (removing states or transitions of a factor).

We provide a novel view of the merge-and-shrink framework as a “toolbox” or “algebra” of transformations on factored transition systems, with the construction of abstractions as only one possible application. For each transformation, we study desirable properties such as conservativeness (overapproximating the original transition system), inducedness (absence of spurious states and transitions), and refinability (reconstruction of paths in the original transition system from the transformed one). We provide the first complete characterizations of the conditions under which these desirable properties can be achieved. We also provide the first full formal account of factored mappings, the mechanism used within the merge-and-shrink framework to establish the relationship between states in the original and transformed factored transition system.

Unlike earlier attempts to develop a theory for merge-and-shrink, our approach is fully compositional: the properties of a sequence of transformations can be entirely understood by the properties of the individual transformations involved. This aspect is key to the use of merge-and-shrink as a general toolbox for transforming factored transition systems. New transformations can easily be added to our theory, with compositionality taking care of the seamless integration with the existing components. Similarly, new properties of transformations can be integrated into the theory by showing their compositionality and studying under which conditions they are satisfied by the building blocks of merge-and-shrink.

Article Details