A Randomness Threshold for Online Bipartite Matching, via Lossless Online Rounding

Niv Buchbinder, Joseph, Naor, David Wajc

Over three decades ago, Karp, Vazirani and Vazirani (STOC'90) introduced the online bipartite matching problem. They observed that deterministic algorithms' competitive ratio for this problem is no greater than $1/2$, and proved that randomized algorithms can do better. A natural question thus arises: \emph{how random is random}? i.e., how much randomness is needed to outperform deterministic algorithms? The \textsc{ranking} algorithm of Karp et al.~requires $\tilde{O}(n)$ random bits, which, ignoring polylog terms, remained unimproved. On the other hand, Pena and Borodin (TCS'19) established a lower bound of $(1-o(1))\log\log n$ random bits for any $1/2+\Omega(1)$ competitive ratio. We close this doubly-exponential gap, proving that, surprisingly, the lower bound is tight. In fact, we prove a \emph{sharp threshold} of $(1\pm o(1))\log\log n$ random bits for the randomness necessary and sufficient to outperform deterministic algorithms for this problem, as well as its vertex-weighted generalization. This implies the same threshold for the advice complexity (nondeterminism) of these problems. Similar to recent breakthroughs in the online matching literature, for edge-weighted matching (Fahrbach et al.~FOCS'20) and adwords (Huang et al.~FOCS'20), our algorithms break the barrier of $1/2$ by randomizing matching choices over two neighbors. Unlike these works, our approach does not rely on the recently-introduced OCS machinery, nor the more established randomized primal-dual method. Instead, our work revisits a highly-successful online design technique, which was nonetheless under-utilized in the area of online matching, namely (lossless) online rounding of fractional algorithms. While this technique is known to be hopeless for online matching in general, we show that it is nonetheless applicable to carefully designed fractional algorithms with additional (non-convex) constraints.

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