Effective compilation of constraint models
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Constraint Programming is a powerful technique for solving large-scale combinatorial (optimisation) problems. However, it is often inaccessible to users without expert knowledge in the area, precluding the wide-spread use of Constraint Programming techniques. This thesis addresses this issue in three main contributions. First, we propose a simple ‘model-and-solve’ approach, consisting of a framework where the user formulates a solver-independent problem model, which is then automatically tailored to the input format of a selected constraint solver (a process similar to compiling a high-level modelling language to machine code). The solver is then executed on the input, solver, and solutions (if they exist) are returned to the user. This allows the user to formulate constraint models without requiring any particular background knowledge of the respective solver and its solving technique. Furthermore, since the framework can target several solvers, the user can explore different types of solvers. Second, we extend the tailoring process with model optimisations that can compensate for a wide selection of poor modelling choices that novices (and experts) in Constraint Programming often make and hence result in redundancies. The elimination of these redundancies by the proposed optimisation techniques can result in solving time speedups of over an order of magnitude, in both naive and expert models. Furthermore, the optimisations are particularly light-weight, adding negligible overhead to the overall translation process. The third contribution is the implementation of this framework in the tool TAILOR, that currently translates 2 different solver-independent modelling languages to 3 different solver formats and is freely available online. It performs almost all optimisation techniques that are proposed in this thesis and demonstrates its significance in our empirical analysis. In summary, this thesis presents a framework that facilitates modelling for both experts and novices: problems can be formulated in a clear, high-level fashion, without requiring any particular background knowledge about constraint solvers and their solving techniques, while (sometimes naturally occurring) redundancies in the model are eliminated for practically no additional cost, improving the respective model in solving performance by up to an order of magnitude.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy