Graph Learning for Combinatorial Optimization: A Survey of State-of-the-Art

Yun Peng, Byron Choi, Jianliang Xu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Graphs have been widely used to represent complex data in many applications, such as e-commerce, social networks, and bioinformatics. Efficient and effective analysis of graph data is important for graph-based applications. However, most graph analysis tasks are combinatorial optimization (CO) problems, which are NP-hard. Recent studies have focused a lot on the potential of using machine learning (ML) to solve graph-based CO problems. Most recent methods follow the two-stage framework. The first stage is graph representation learning, which embeds the graphs into low-dimension vectors. The second stage uses machine learning to solve the CO problems using the embeddings of the graphs learned in the first stage. The works for the first stage can be classified into two categories, graph embedding methods and end-to-end learning methods. For graph embedding methods, the learning of the the embeddings of the graphs has its own objective, which may not rely on the CO problems to be solved. The CO problems are solved by independent downstream tasks. For end-to-end learning methods, the learning of the embeddings of the graphs does not have its own objective and is an intermediate step of the learning procedure of solving the CO problems. The works for the second stage can also be classified into two categories, non-autoregressive methods and autoregressive methods. Non-autoregressive methods predict a solution for a CO problem in one shot. A non-autoregressive method predicts a matrix that denotes the probability of each node/edge being a part of a solution of the CO problem. The solution can be computed from the matrix using search heuristics such as beam search. Autoregressive methods iteratively extend a partial solution step by step. At each step, an autoregressive method predicts a node/edge conditioned to current partial solution, which is used to its extension. In this survey, we provide a thorough overview of recent studies of the graph learning-based CO methods. The survey ends with several remarks on future research directions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-141
Number of pages23
JournalData Science and Engineering
Issue number2
Early online date28 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Computer Science Applications

User-Defined Keywords

  • Combinational optimization
  • Graph neural network
  • Graph representation learning


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