Relax All the Edges: Bellman-Ford

Get to know the Bellman-Ford algorithm and its applications in solving the shortest paths problem.

Understanding the Bellman-Ford algorithm

The simplest implementation of Ford’s generic shortest-path algorithm was first sketched by Alfonso Shimbel in 1954, described in more detail by Edward Moore in 1957, and independently rediscovered by Max Woodbury and George Dantzig in 1957, by Richard Bellman in 1958, and by George Minty in 1958. (Neither Woodbury and Dantzig nor Minty published their algorithms.) In full compliance with Stigler’s Law, the algorithm is almost universally known as Bellman-Ford, because Bellman explicitly used Ford’s 1956 formulation of relaxing edges, although some authors refer to Bellman-Kalaba and a few early sources refer to Bellman-Shimbel.

The figure below shows a complete run of Dijkstra’s algorithm on a graph with negative edges. At each iteration, bold edges indicate predecessors; shaded vertices are in the priority queue; and the bold vertex is the next to be scanned.

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