Chapter 4. Pathfinding and Graph Search Algorithms
Graph search algorithms explore a graph either for general discovery or explicit search. These algorithms carve paths through the graph, but there is no expectation that those paths are computationally optimal. We will cover Breadth First Search and Depth First Search because they are fundamental for traversing a graph and are often a required first step for many other types of analysis.
Pathfinding algorithms build on top of graph search algorithms and explore routes between nodes, starting at one node and traversing through relationships until the destination has been reached. These algorithms are used to identify optimal routes through a graph for uses such as logistics planning, least cost call or IP routing, and gaming simulation.
Specifically, the pathfinding algorithms we’ll cover are:
 Shortest Path, with two useful variations (A* and Yen’s)

Finding the shortest path or paths between two chosen nodes
 All Pairs Shortest Path and Single Source Shortest Path

For finding the shortest paths between all pairs or from a chosen node to all others
 Minimum Spanning Tree

For finding a connected tree structure with the smallest cost for visiting all nodes from a chosen node
 Random Walk

Because it’s a useful preprocessing/sampling step for machine learning workflows and other graph algorithms
In this chapter we’ll explain how these algorithms work and show examples in Spark and Neo4j. In cases where an algorithm is only available in one platform, we’ll provide just that one example or illustrate how you can customize our implementation.
Figure 41 shows the key differences between these types of algorithms, and Table 41 is a quick reference to what each algorithm computes with an example use.
Algorithm type  What it does  Example use  Spark example  Neo4j example 

Traverses a tree structure by fanning out to explore the nearest neighbors and then their sublevel neighbors 
Locating neighbor nodes in GPS systems to identify nearby places of interest 
Yes 
No 

Traverses a tree structure by exploring as far as possible down each branch before backtracking 
Discovering an optimal solution path in gaming simulations with hierarchical choices 
No 
No 

Calculates the shortest path between a pair of nodes 
Finding driving directions between two locations 
Yes 
Yes 

Calculates the shortest path between all pairs of nodes in the graph 
Evaluating alternate routes around a traffic jam 
Yes 
Yes 

Calculates the shorest path between a single root node and all other nodes 
Least cost routing of phone calls 
Yes 
Yes 

Calculates the path in a connected tree structure with the smallest cost for visiting all nodes 
Optimizing connected routing, such as laying cable or garbage collection 
No 
Yes 

Returns a list of nodes along a path of specified size by randomly choosing relationships to traverse. 
Augmenting training for machine learning or data for graph algorithms. 
No 
Yes 
First we’ll take a look at the dataset for our examples and walk through how to import the data into Apache Spark and Neo4j. For each algorithm, we’ll start with a short description of the algorithm and any pertinent information on how it operates. Most sections also include guidance on when to use related algorithms. Finally, we provide working sample code using the sample dataset at the end of each algorithm section.
Let’s get started!
Example Data: The Transport Graph
All connected data contains paths between nodes, which is why search and pathfinding are the starting points for graph analytics. Transportation datasets illustrate these relationships in an intuitive and accessible way. The examples in this chapter run against a graph containing a subset of the European road network. You can download the nodes and relationships files from the book’s GitHub repository.
id  latitude  longitude  population 

Amsterdam 
52.379189 
4.899431 
821752 
Utrecht 
52.092876 
5.104480 
334176 
Den Haag 
52.078663 
4.288788 
514861 
Immingham 
53.61239 
0.22219 
9642 
Doncaster 
53.52285 
1.13116 
302400 
Hoek van Holland 
51.9775 
4.13333 
9382 
Felixstowe 
51.96375 
1.3511 
23689 
Ipswich 
52.05917 
1.15545 
133384 
Colchester 
51.88921 
0.90421 
104390 
London 
51.509865 
0.118092 
8787892 
Rotterdam 
51.9225 
4.47917 
623652 
Gouda 
52.01667 
4.70833 
70939 
src  dst  relationship  cost 

Amsterdam 
Utrecht 
EROAD 
46 
Amsterdam 
Den Haag 
EROAD 
59 
Den Haag 
Rotterdam 
EROAD 
26 
Amsterdam 
Immingham 
EROAD 
369 
Immingham 
Doncaster 
EROAD 
74 
Doncaster 
London 
EROAD 
277 
Hoek van Holland 
Den Haag 
EROAD 
27 
Felixstowe 
Hoek van Holland 
EROAD 
207 
Ipswich 
Felixstowe 
EROAD 
22 
Colchester 
Ipswich 
EROAD 
32 
London 
Colchester 
EROAD 
106 
Gouda 
Rotterdam 
EROAD 
25 
Gouda 
Utrecht 
EROAD 
35 
Den Haag 
Gouda 
EROAD 
32 
Hoek van Holland 
Rotterdam 
EROAD 
33 
Figure 42 shows the target graph that we want to construct.
For simplicity we consider the graph in Figure 42 to be undirected because most roads between cities are bidirectional. We’d get slightly different results if we evaluated the graph as directed because of the small number of oneway streets, but the overall approach remains similar. However, both Spark and Neo4j operate on directed graphs. In cases like this where we want to work with undirected graphs (e.g., bidirectional roads), there is an easy way to accomplish that:

For Spark, we’ll create two relationships for each row in transportrelationships.csv—one going from
dst
tosrc
and one fromsrc
todst
. 
For Neo4j, we’ll create a single relationship and then ignore the relationship direction when we run the algorithms.
Having understood those little modeling workarounds, we can now get on with loading graphs into Spark and Neo4j from the example CSV files.
Importing the Data into Apache Spark
Starting with Spark, we’ll first import the packages we need from Spark and the GraphFrames package:
from
pyspark.sql.types
import
*
from
graphframes
import
*
The following function creates a GraphFrame from the example CSV files:
def
create_transport_graph
():
node_fields
=
[
StructField
(
"id"
,
StringType
(),
True
),
StructField
(
"latitude"
,
FloatType
(),
True
),
StructField
(
"longitude"
,
FloatType
(),
True
),
StructField
(
"population"
,
IntegerType
(),
True
)
]
nodes
=
spark
.
read
.
csv
(
"data/transportnodes.csv"
,
header
=
True
,
schema
=
StructType
(
node_fields
))
rels
=
spark
.
read
.
csv
(
"data/transportrelationships.csv"
,
header
=
True
)
reversed_rels
=
(
rels
.
withColumn
(
"newSrc"
,
rels
.
dst
)
.
withColumn
(
"newDst"
,
rels
.
src
)
.
drop
(
"dst"
,
"src"
)
.
withColumnRenamed
(
"newSrc"
,
"src"
)
.
withColumnRenamed
(
"newDst"
,
"dst"
)
.
select
(
"src"
,
"dst"
,
"relationship"
,
"cost"
))
relationships
=
rels
.
union
(
reversed_rels
)
return
GraphFrame
(
nodes
,
relationships
)
Loading the nodes is easy, but for the relationships we need to do a little preprocessing so that we can create each relationship twice.
Now let’s call that function:
g
=
create_transport_graph
()
Importing the Data into Neo4j
Now for Neo4j. We’ll start by creating a database that we’ll use for the examples in this chapter:
:
u
s
e
s
y
s
t
e
m
;
CREATE
D
A
T
A
B
A
S
E
c
h
a
p
t
e
r
4
;
:
u
s
e
c
h
a
p
t
e
r
4
;
Switch to the system database.
Create a new database with the name
chapter4
. This operation is asynchronous so we may have to wait a couple of seconds before switching to the database.Switch to the
chapter4
database.
Now let’s load the nodes:
WITH
'https://github.com/neo4jgraphanalytics/book/raw/master/data/'
AS
base
WITH
base +
'transportnodes.csv'
AS
uri
LOAD CSV
WITH
HEADERS FROM uri
AS
row
MERGE (place:Place {
id
:row.
id
})
SET
place.latitude = toFloat(row.latitude),
place.longitude = toFloat(row.longitude),
place.population = toInteger(row.population);
And now the relationships:
WITH
'https://github.com/neo4jgraphanalytics/book/raw/master/data/'
AS
base
WITH
base +
'transportrelationships.csv'
AS
uri
LOAD CSV
WITH
HEADERS FROM uri
AS
row
MATCH
(origin:Place {
id
: row.src})
MATCH
(destination:Place {
id
: row.dst})
MERGE (origin)[:EROAD {distance: toInteger(row.cost)}]>(destination);
Although we’re storing directed relationships, we’ll ignore the direction when we execute algorithms later in the chapter.
Breadth First Search
Breadth First Search (BFS) is one of the fundamental graph traversal algorithms. It starts from a chosen node and explores all of its neighbors at one hop away before visiting all the neighbors at two hops away, and so on.
The algorithm was first published in 1959 by Edward F. Moore, who used it to find the shortest path out of a maze. It was then developed into a wire routing algorithm by C. Y. Lee in 1961, as described in “An Algorithm for Path Connections and Its Applications”.
BFS is most commonly used as the basis for other more goaloriented algorithms. For example, Shortest Path, Connected Components, and Closeness Centrality all use the BFS algorithm. It can also be used to find the shortest path between nodes.
Figure 43 shows the order in which we would visit the nodes of our transport graph if we were performing a breadth first search that started from the Dutch city, Den Haag (in English, The Hague). The numbers next to the city name indicate the order in which each node is visited.
We first visit all of Den Haag’s direct neighbors, before visiting their neighbors, and their neighbors’ neighbors, until we’ve run out of relationships to traverse.
Breadth First Search with Apache Spark
Spark’s implementation of the Breadth First Search algorithm finds the shortest path between two nodes by the number of relationships (i.e., hops) between them. You can explicitly name your target node or add criteria to be met.
For example, we can use the bfs
function to find the first mediumsized (by European standards) city that has a population of between 100,000 and 300,000 people.
Let’s first check which places have a population matching those criteria:
(
g
.
vertices
.
filter
(
"population > 100000 and population < 300000"
)
.
sort
(
"population"
)
.
show
())
This is the output we’ll see:
id  latitude  longitude  population 

Colchester 
51.88921 
0.90421 
104390 
Ipswich 
52.05917 
1.15545 
133384 
There are only two places matching our criteria, and we’d expect to reach Ipswich first based on a breadth first search.
The following code finds the shortest path from Den Haag to a mediumsized city:
from_expr
=
"id='Den Haag'"
to_expr
=
"population > 100000 and population < 300000 and id <> 'Den Haag'"
result
=
g
.
bfs
(
from_expr
,
to_expr
)
result
contains columns that describe the nodes and relationships between the two cities.
We can run the following code to see the list of columns returned:
(
result
.
columns
)
This is the output we’ll see:
['from', 'e0', 'v1', 'e1', 'v2', 'e2', 'to']
Columns beginning with e
represent relationships (edges) and columns beginning with v
represent nodes (vertices).
We’re only interested in the nodes, so let’s filter out any columns that begin with e
from the resulting DataFrame:
columns
=
[
column
for
column
in
result
.
columns
if
not
column
.
startswith
(
"e"
)]
result
.
select
(
columns
)
.
show
()
If we run the code in pyspark we’ll see this output:
from  v1  v2  to 

[Den Haag, 52.078… 
[Hoek van Holland… 
[Felixstowe, 51.9… 
[Ipswich, 52.0591… 
As expected, the bfs
algorithm returns Ipswich!
Remember that this function is satisfied when it finds the first match, and as you can see in Figure 43, Ipswich is evaluated before Colchester.
Depth First Search
Depth First Search (DFS) is the other fundamental graph traversal algorithm. It starts from a chosen node, picks one of its neighbors, and then traverses as far as it can along that path before backtracking.
DFS was originally invented by French mathematician Charles Pierre Trémaux as a strategy for solving mazes. It provides a useful tool to simulate possible paths for scenario modeling. Figure 44 shows the order in which we would visit the nodes of our transport graph if we were performing a DFS that started from Den Haag.
Notice how different the node order is compared to BFS. For this DFS, we start by traversing from Den Haag to Amsterdam, and are then able to get to every other node in the graph without needing to backtrack at all!
We can see how search algorithms lay the groundwork for moving through graphs. Now let’s look at the pathfinding algorithms that find the cheapest path in terms of the number of hops or weight. Weights can be anything measured, such as time, distance, capacity, or cost.
Shortest Path
The Shortest Path algorithm calculates the shortest (weighted) path between a pair of nodes. It’s useful for user interactions and dynamic workflows because it works in real time.
Pathfinding has a history dating back to the 19th century and is considered to be a classic graph problem. It gained prominence in the early 1950s in the context of alternate routing; that is, finding the secondshortest route if the shortest route is blocked. In 1956, Edsger Dijkstra created the bestknown of these algorithms.
Dijkstra’s Shortest Path algorithm operates by first finding the lowestweight relationship from the start node to directly connected nodes. It keeps track of those weights and moves to the “closest” node. It then performs the same calculation, but now as a cumulative total from the start node. The algorithm continues to do this, evaluating a “wave” of cumulative weights and always choosing the lowest weighted cumulative path to advance along, until it reaches the destination node.
Note
You’ll notice in graph analytics the use of the terms weight, cost, distance, and hop when describing relationships and paths. “Weight” is the numeric value of a particular property of a relationship. “Cost” is used similarly, but we’ll see it more often when considering the total weight of a path.
“Distance” is often used within an algorithm as the name of the relationship property that indicates the cost of traversing between a pair of nodes. It’s not required that this be an actual physical measure of distance. “Hop” is commonly used to express the number of relationships between two nodes. You may see some of these terms combined, as in “It’s a fivehop distance to London” or “That’s the lowest cost for the distance.”
When Should I Use Shortest Path?
Use Shortest Path to find optimal routes between a pair of nodes, based on either the number of hops or any weighted relationship value. For example, it can provide realtime answers about degrees of separation, the shortest distance between points, or the least expensive route. You can also use this algorithm to simply explore the connections between particular nodes.
Example use cases include:

Finding directions between locations. Webmapping tools such as Google Maps use the Shortest Path algorithm, or a close variant, to provide driving directions.

Finding the degrees of separation between people in social networks. For example, when you view someone’s profile on LinkedIn, it will indicate how many people separate you in the graph, as well as listing your mutual connections.

Finding the number of degrees of separation between an actor and Kevin Bacon based on the movies they’ve appeared in (the Bacon Number). An example of this can be seen on the Oracle of Bacon website. The Erdös Number Project provides a similar graph analysis based on collaboration with Paul Erdös, one of the most prolific mathematicians of the twentieth century.
Shortest Path with Neo4j
The Neo4j Graph Data Science library has a builtin procedure that we can use to compute both unweighted and weighted shortest paths. Let’s first learn how to compute unweighted shortest paths.
Neo4j’s Shortest Path algorithm takes in a config map with the following keys:
startNode

The node where our shortest path search begins.
endNode

The node where our shortest path search ends.
nodeProjection

Enables the mapping of specific kinds of nodes into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more node labels.
relationshipProjection

Enables the mapping of relationship types into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more relationship types along with direction and properties.
relationshipWeightProperty

The relationship property that indicates the cost of traversing between a pair of nodes. The cost is the number of kilometers between two locations.
To have Neo4j’s Shortest Path algorithm ignore weights we won’t set the relationshipWeightProperty
key.
The algorithm will then assume a default weight of 1.0
for each relationship.
The following query computes the unweighted shortest path from Amsterdam to London:
MATCH
(source:Place {
id
:
"Amsterdam"
}),
(destination:Place {
id
:
"London"
})
CALL gds.alpha.shortestPath.stream({
startNode: source,
endNode: destination,
nodeProjection:
"*"
,
relationshipProjection: {
all
: {
type
:
"*"
,
orientation:
"UNDIRECTED"
}
}
})
YIELD nodeId, cost
RETURN
gds.util.asNode(nodeId).
id
AS
place, cost;
In this query we are passing nodeProjection: "*"
, which means that all node labels should be considered.
The relationshipProjection
is a bit more complicated.
We’re using the advanced configuration mode, which enables a more flexible definition of the relationship types to consider during the traversal.
Let’s break down the values that we passed in:
type: "*"

All relationship types should be considered.
orientation: "UNDIRECTED"

Each relationship in the underlying graph is projected in both directions.
Note
More detailed documentation about node and relationship projections can be found in the Native Projection chapter of the Graph Data Science user manual.
This query returns the following output:
place  cost 

Amsterdam 
0.0 
Immingham 
1.0 
Doncaster 
2.0 
London 
3.0 
Here, the cost is the cumulative total for relationships (or hops). This is the same path as we see using Breadth First Search in Spark.
We could even work out the total distance of following this path by writing a bit of postprocessing Cypher. The following procedure calculates the shortest unweighted path and then works out what the actual cost of that path would be:
MATCH
(source:Place {
id
:
"Amsterdam"
}),
(destination:Place {
id
:
"London"
})
CALL gds.alpha.shortestPath.stream({
startNode: source,
endNode: destination,
nodeProjection:
"*"
,
relationshipProjection: {
all
: {
type
:
"*"
,
orientation:
"UNDIRECTED"
}
}
})
YIELD nodeId, cost
WITH
collect
(gds.util.asNode(nodeId))
AS
path
UNWIND
range
(0, size(path)1)
AS
index
WITH
path[index]
AS
current, path[index+1]
AS
next
WITH
current, next, [(current)[r:EROAD](next)  r.distance][0]
AS
distance
WITH
collect
({current: current, next:next, distance: distance})
AS
stops
UNWIND
range
(0, size(stops)1)
AS
index
WITH
stops[index]
AS
location, stops, index
RETURN
location.current.
id
AS
place,
reduce
(acc=0.0,
distance
in
[stop
in
stops[0..index]  stop.distance] 
acc + distance)
AS
cost;
If the previous code feels a bit unwieldy, notice that the tricky part is figuring out how to massage the data to include the cost over the whole journey. This is helpful to keep in mind when we need the cumulative path cost.
The query returns the following result:
place  cost 

Amsterdam 
0.0 
Immingham 
369.0 
Doncaster 
443.0 
London 
720.0 
Figure 46 shows the unweighted shortest path from Amsterdam to London, routing us through the fewest number of cities. It has a total cost of 720 km.
Choosing a route with the fewest number of nodes visited might be very useful in situations such as subway systems, where less stops are highly desirable. However, in a driving scenario, we’re probably more interested in the total cost using the shortest weighted path.
Shortest Path (Weighted) with Neo4j
We can execute the Weighted Shortest Path algorithm to find the shortest path between Amsterdam and London like this:
MATCH
(source:Place {
id
:
"Amsterdam"
}),
(destination:Place {
id
:
"London"
})
CALL gds.alpha.shortestPath.stream({
startNode: source,
endNode: destination,
nodeProjection:
"*"
,
relationshipProjection: {
all
: {
type
:
"*"
,
properties:
"distance"
,
orientation:
"UNDIRECTED"
}
},
relationshipWeightProperty:
"distance"
})
YIELD nodeId, cost
RETURN
gds.util.asNode(nodeId).
id
AS
place, cost;
We are now passing the optional relationshipWeightProperty
, which is the name of the relationship property that indicates the cost of traversing between a pair of nodes.
The cost is the number of kilometers between two locations. The query returns the following result:
place  cost 

Amsterdam 
0.0 
Den Haag 
59.0 
Hoek van Holland 
86.0 
Felixstowe 
293.0 
Ipswich 
315.0 
Colchester 
347.0 
London 
453.0 
The quickest route takes us via Den Haag, Hoek van Holland, Felixstowe, Ipswich, and Colchester! The cost shown is the cumulative total as we progress through the cities. First we go from Amsterdam to Den Haag, at a cost of 59. Then we go from Den Haag to Hoek van Holland, at a cumulative cost of 86—and so on. Finally, we arrive in London, from Colchester, for a total cost of 453 km.
Remember that the unweighted shortest path had a total cost of 720 km, so we’ve been able to save 267 km by taking weights into account when computing the shortest path.
Shortest Path (Weighted) with Apache Spark
In the Breadth First Search with Apache Spark section we learned how to find the shortest path between two nodes. That shortest path was based on hops and therefore isn’t the same as the shortest weighted path, which would tell us the shortest total distance between cities.
If we want to find the shortest weighted path (in this case, distance) we need to use the cost
property, which is used for various types of weighting.
This option is not available out of the box with GraphFrames, so we need to write our own version of Weighted Shortest Path using its aggregateMessages
framework. Most of our algorithm examples for Spark use the simpler process of calling on algorithms from the library, but we have the option of writing our own functions.
More information on aggregateMessages
can be found in the “Message passing via AggregateMessages” section of the GraphFrames user guide.
Tip
When available, we recommend leveraging preexisting, tested libraries. Writing our own functions, especially for more complicated algorithms, requires a deeper understanding of our data and calculations.
The following example should be treated as a reference implementation, and would need to be optimized before running on a larger dataset. Those that aren’t interested in writing their own functions can skip this example.
Before we create our function, we’ll import some libraries that we’ll use:
from
graphframes.lib
import
AggregateMessages
as
AM
from
pyspark.sql
import
functions
as
F
The aggregateMessages
module is part of the GraphFrames library and contains some useful helper functions.
Now let’s write our function. We first create a userdefined function that we’ll use to build the paths between our source and destination:
add_path_udf
=
F
.
udf
(
lambda
path
,
id
:
path
+
[
id
],
ArrayType
(
StringType
()))
And now for the main function, which calculates the shortest path starting from an origin and returns as soon as the destination has been visited:
def
shortest_path
(
g
,
origin
,
destination
,
column_name
=
"cost"
):
if
g
.
vertices
.
filter
(
g
.
vertices
.
id
==
destination
)
.
count
()
==
0
:
return
(
spark
.
createDataFrame
(
sc
.
emptyRDD
(),
g
.
vertices
.
schema
)
.
withColumn
(
"path"
,
F
.
array
()))
vertices
=
(
g
.
vertices
.
withColumn
(
"visited"
,
F
.
lit
(
False
))
.
withColumn
(
"distance"
,
F
.
when
(
g
.
vertices
[
"id"
]
==
origin
,
0
)
.
otherwise
(
float
(
"inf"
)))
.
withColumn
(
"path"
,
F
.
array
()))
cached_vertices
=
AM
.
getCachedDataFrame
(
vertices
)
g2
=
GraphFrame
(
cached_vertices
,
g
.
edges
)
while
g2
.
vertices
.
filter
(
'visited == False'
)
.
first
():
current_node_id
=
g2
.
vertices
.
filter
(
'visited == False'
)
.
sort
(
"distance"
)
.
first
()
.
id
msg_distance
=
AM
.
edge
[
column_name
]
+
AM
.
src
[
'distance'
]
msg_path
=
add_path_udf
(
AM
.
src
[
"path"
],
AM
.
src
[
"id"
])
msg_for_dst
=
F
.
when
(
AM
.
src
[
'id'
]
==
current_node_id
,
F
.
struct
(
msg_distance
,
msg_path
))
new_distances
=
g2
.
aggregateMessages
(
F
.
min
(
AM
.
msg
)
.
alias
(
"aggMess"
),
sendToDst
=
msg_for_dst
)
new_visited_col
=
F
.
when
(
g2
.
vertices
.
visited

(
g2
.
vertices
.
id
==
current_node_id
),
True
)
.
otherwise
(
False
)
new_distance_col
=
F
.
when
(
new_distances
[
"aggMess"
]
.
isNotNull
()
&
(
new_distances
.
aggMess
[
"col1"
]
<
g2
.
vertices
.
distance
),
new_distances
.
aggMess
[
"col1"
])
.
otherwise
(
g2
.
vertices
.
distance
)
new_path_col
=
F
.
when
(
new_distances
[
"aggMess"
]
.
isNotNull
()
&
(
new_distances
.
aggMess
[
"col1"
]
<
g2
.
vertices
.
distance
),
new_distances
.
aggMess
[
"col2"
]
.
cast
(
"array<string>"
))
.
otherwise
(
g2
.
vertices
.
path
)
new_vertices
=
(
g2
.
vertices
.
join
(
new_distances
,
on
=
"id"
,
how
=
"left_outer"
)
.
drop
(
new_distances
[
"id"
])
.
withColumn
(
"visited"
,
new_visited_col
)
.
withColumn
(
"newDistance"
,
new_distance_col
)
.
withColumn
(
"newPath"
,
new_path_col
)
.
drop
(
"aggMess"
,
"distance"
,
"path"
)
.
withColumnRenamed
(
'newDistance'
,
'distance'
)
.
withColumnRenamed
(
'newPath'
,
'path'
))
cached_new_vertices
=
AM
.
getCachedDataFrame
(
new_vertices
)
g2
=
GraphFrame
(
cached_new_vertices
,
g2
.
edges
)
if
g2
.
vertices
.
filter
(
g2
.
vertices
.
id
==
destination
)
.
first
()
.
visited
:
return
(
g2
.
vertices
.
filter
(
g2
.
vertices
.
id
==
destination
)
.
withColumn
(
"newPath"
,
add_path_udf
(
"path"
,
"id"
))
.
drop
(
"visited"
,
"path"
)
.
withColumnRenamed
(
"newPath"
,
"path"
))
return
(
spark
.
createDataFrame
(
sc
.
emptyRDD
(),
g
.
vertices
.
schema
)
.
withColumn
(
"path"
,
F
.
array
()))
Warning
If we store references to any DataFrames in our functions, we need to cache them using the AM.getCachedDataFrame
function or we’ll encounter a memory leak during execution.
In the shortest_path
function we use this function to cache the vertices
and new_vertices
DataFrames.
If we wanted to find the shortest path between Amsterdam and Colchester we could call that function like so:
result
=
shortest_path
(
g
,
"Amsterdam"
,
"Colchester"
,
"cost"
)
result
.
select
(
"id"
,
"distance"
,
"path"
)
.
show
(
truncate
=
False
)
which would return the following result:
id  distance  path 

Colchester 
347.0 
[Amsterdam, Den Haag, Hoek van Holland, Felixstowe, Ipswich, Colchester] 
The total distance of the shortest path between Amsterdam and Colchester is 347 km and takes us via Den Haag, Hoek van Holland, Felixstowe, and Ipswich. By contrast, the shortest path in terms of number of relationships between the locations, which we worked out with the Breadth First Search algorithm (refer back to Figure 44), would take us via Immingham, Doncaster, and London.
Shortest Path Variation: A*
The A* Shortest Path algorithm improves on Dijkstra’s by finding shortest paths more quickly. It does this by allowing the inclusion of extra information that the algorithm can use, as part of a heuristic function, when determining which paths to explore next.
The algorithm was invented by Peter Hart, Nils Nilsson, and Bertram Raphael and described in their 1968 paper “A Formal Basis for the Heuristic Determination of Minimum Cost Paths”.
The A* algorithm operates by determining which of its partial paths to expand at each iteration of its main loop. It does so based on an estimate of the cost (heuristic) still left to reach the goal node.
Warning
Be thoughtful in the heuristic employed to estimate path costs. Underestimating path costs may unnecessarily include some paths that could have been eliminated, but the results will still be accurate. However, if the heuristic overestimates path costs, it may skip over actual shorter paths (incorrectly estimated to be longer) that should have been evaluated, which can lead to inaccurate results.
A* selects the path that minimizes the following function:
`f(n) = g(n) + h(n)`
where:

g(n)
is the cost of the path from the starting point to noden
. 
h(n)
is the estimated cost of the path from noden
to the destination node, as computed by a heuristic.
Note
In Neo4j’s implementation, geospatial distance is used as the heuristic. In our example transportation dataset we use the latitude and longitude of each location as part of the heuristic function.
A* with Neo4j
Neo4j’s A* algorithm takes in a config map with the following keys:
startNode

The node where our shortest path search begins.
endNode

The node where our shortest path search ends.
nodeProjection

Enables the mapping of specific kinds of nodes into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more node labels.
relationshipProjection

Enables the mapping of relationship types into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more relationship types along with direction and properties.
relationshipWeightProperty

The relationship property that indicates the cost of traversing between a pair of nodes. The cost is the number of kilometers between two locations.
propertyKeyLat

The name of the node property used to represent the latitude of each node as part of the geospatial heuristic calculation.
propertyKeyLon

The name of the node property used to represent the longitude of each node as part of the geospatial heuristic calculation.
The following query executes the A* algorithm to find the shortest path between Den Haag and London:
MATCH
(source:Place {
id
:
"Den Haag"
}),
(destination:Place {
id
:
"London"
})
CALL gds.alpha.shortestPath.astar.stream({
startNode: source,
endNode: destination,
nodeProjection:
"*"
,
relationshipProjection: {
all
: {
type
:
"*"
,
properties:
"distance"
,
orientation:
"UNDIRECTED"
}
},
relationshipWeightProperty:
"distance"
,
propertyKeyLat:
"latitude"
,
propertyKeyLon:
"longitude"
})
YIELD nodeId, cost
RETURN
gds.util.asNode(nodeId).
id
AS
place, cost;
Running this procedure gives the following result:
place  cost 

Den Haag 
0.0 
Hoek van Holland 
27.0 
Felixstowe 
234.0 
Ipswich 
256.0 
Colchester 
288.0 
London 
394.0 
We’d get the same result using the Shortest Path algorithm, but on more complex datasets the A* algorithm will be faster as it evaluates fewer paths.
Shortest Path Variation: Yen’s kShortest Paths
Yen’s kShortest Paths algorithm is similar to the Shortest Path algorithm, but rather than finding just the shortest path between two pairs of nodes, it also calculates the second shortest path, third shortest path, and so on up to k1 deviations of shortest paths.
Jin Y. Yen invented the algorithm in 1971 and described it in “Finding the K Shortest Loopless Paths in a Network”. This algorithm is useful for getting alternative paths when finding the absolute shortest path isn’t our only goal. It can be particularly helpful when we need more than one backup plan!
Yen’s with Neo4j
The Yen’s algorithm takes in a config map with the following keys:
startNode

The node where our shortest path search begins.
endNode

The node where our shortest path search ends.
nodeProjection

Enables the mapping of specific kinds of nodes into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more node labels.
relationshipProjection

Enables the mapping of relationship types into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more relationship types along with direction and properties.
relationshipWeightProperty

The relationship property that indicates the cost of traversing between a pair of nodes. The cost is the number of kilometers between two locations.
k

The maximum number of shortest paths to find.
The following query executes Yen’s algorithm to find the shortest paths between Gouda and Felixstowe:
MATCH
(
start
:Place {
id
:
"Gouda"
}),
(end:Place {
id
:
"Felixstowe"
})
CALL gds.alpha.kShortestPaths.stream({
startNode:
start
,
endNode: end,
nodeProjection:
"*"
,
relationshipProjection: {
all
: {
type
:
"*"
,
properties:
"distance"
,
orientation:
"UNDIRECTED"
}
},
relationshipWeightProperty:
"distance"
,
k: 5
})
YIELD index, sourceNodeId, targetNodeId, nodeIds, costs, path
RETURN
index,
[
node in
gds.util.asNodes(nodeIds[1..1]) 
node
.
id
]
AS
via,
reduce
(acc=0.0, cost
in
costs  acc + cost)
AS
totalCost;
After we get back the shortest paths, we look up the associated node for each node ID using the gds.util.asNodes
function, and then filter out the start and end nodes from the resulting collection.
We also calculate the total cost for each path by summing the returned costs.
Running this procedure gives the following result:
index  via  totalCost 

0 
[Rotterdam, Hoek van Holland] 
265.0 
1 
[Den Haag, Hoek van Holland] 
266.0 
2 
[Rotterdam, Den Haag, Hoek van Holland] 
285.0 
3 
[Den Haag, Rotterdam, Hoek van Holland] 
298.0 
4 
[Utrecht, Amsterdam, Den Haag, Hoek van Holland] 
374.0 
Figure 47 shows the shortest path between Gouda and Felixstowe.
The shortest path in Figure 47 is interesting in comparison to the results ordered by total cost. It illustrates that sometimes you may want to consider several shortest paths or other parameters. In this example, the secondshortest route is only 1 km longer than the shortest one. If we prefer the scenery, we might choose the slightly longer route.
All Pairs Shortest Path
The All Pairs Shortest Path (APSP) algorithm calculates the shortest (weighted) path between all pairs of nodes. It’s more efficient than running the Single Source Shortest Path algorithm for every pair of nodes in the graph.
APSP optimizes operations by keeping track of the distances calculated so far and running on nodes in parallel. Those known distances can then be reused when calculating the shortest path to an unseen node. You can follow the example in the next section to get a better understanding of how the algorithm works.
Note
Some pairs of nodes might not be reachable from each other, which means that there is no shortest path between these nodes. The algorithm doesn’t return distances for these pairs of nodes.
A Closer Look at All Pairs Shortest Path
The calculation for APSP is easiest to understand when you follow a sequence of operations. The diagram in Figure 48 walks through the steps for node A.
Initially the algorithm assumes an infinite distance to all nodes. When a start node is selected, then the distance to that node is set to 0. The calculation then proceeds as follows:

From start node A we evaluate the cost of moving to the nodes we can reach and update those values. Looking for the smallest value, we have a choice of B (cost of 3) or C (cost of 1). C is selected for the next phase of traversal.

Now from node C, the algorithm updates the cumulative distances from A to nodes that can be reached directly from C. Values are only updated when a lower cost has been found:
A=0, B=3, C=1, D=8, E=∞

Then B is selected as the next closest node that hasn’t already been visited. It has relationships to nodes A, D, and E. The algorithm works out the distance to those nodes by summing the distance from A to B with the distance from B to each of those nodes. Note that the lowest cost from the start node A to the current node is always preserved as a sunk cost. The distance (d) calculation results:
d(A,A) = d(A,B) + d(B,A) = 3 + 3 = 6 d(A,D) = d(A,B) + d(B,D) = 3 + 3 = 6 d(A,E) = d(A,B) + d(B,E) = 3 + 1 = 4

In this step the distance from node A to B and back to A, shown as d(A,A) = 6, is greater than the shortest distance already computed (0), so its value is not updated.

The distances for nodes D (6) and E (4) are less than the previously calculated distances, so their values are updated.


E is selected next. Only the cumulative total for reaching D (5) is now lower, and therefore it is the only one updated.

When D is finally evaluated, there are no new minimum path weights; nothing is updated, and the algorithm terminates.
When Should I Use All Pairs Shortest Path?
All Pairs Shortest Path is commonly used for understanding alternate routing when the shortest route is blocked or becomes suboptimal. For example, this algorithm is used in logical route planning to ensure the best multiple paths for diversity routing. Use All Pairs Shortest Path when you need to consider all possible routes between all or most of your nodes.
Example use cases include:

Optimizing the location of urban facilities and the distribution of goods. One example of this is determining the traffic load expected on different segments of a transportation grid. For more information, see R. C. Larson and A. R. Odoni’s book, Urban Operations Research (PrenticeHall).

Finding a network with maximum bandwidth and minimal latency as part of a data center design algorithm. There are more details about this approach in the paper “REWIRE: An OptimizationBased Framework for Data Center Network Design”, by A. R. Curtis et al.
All Pairs Shortest Path with Apache Spark
Spark’s shortestPaths
function is designed for finding the shortest paths from all nodes to a set of nodes called landmarks.
If we wanted to find the shortest path from every location to Colchester, Immingham, and Hoek van Holland, we would write the following query:
result
=
g
.
shortestPaths
([
"Colchester"
,
"Immingham"
,
"Hoek van Holland"
])
result
.
sort
([
"id"
])
.
select
(
"id"
,
"distances"
)
.
show
(
truncate
=
False
)
If we run that code in pyspark we’ll see this output:
id  distances 

Amsterdam 
[Immingham → 1, Hoek van Holland → 2, Colchester → 4] 
Colchester 
[Colchester → 0, Hoek van Holland → 3, Immingham → 3] 
Den Haag 
[Hoek van Holland → 1, Immingham → 2, Colchester → 4] 
Doncaster 
[Immingham → 1, Colchester → 2, Hoek van Holland → 4] 
Felixstowe 
[Hoek van Holland → 1, Colchester → 2, Immingham → 4] 
Gouda 
[Hoek van Holland → 2, Immingham → 3, Colchester → 5] 
Hoek van Holland 
[Hoek van Holland → 0, Immingham → 3, Colchester → 3] 
Immingham 
[Immingham → 0, Colchester → 3, Hoek van Holland → 3] 
Ipswich 
[Colchester → 1, Hoek van Holland → 2, Immingham → 4] 
London 
[Colchester → 1, Immingham → 2, Hoek van Holland → 4] 
Rotterdam 
[Hoek van Holland → 1, Immingham → 3, Colchester → 4] 
Utrecht 
[Immingham → 2, Hoek van Holland → 3, Colchester → 5] 
The number next to each location in the distances
column is the number of relationships (roads) between cities we need to traverse to get there from the source node. In our example, Colchester is one of our destination cities and you can see it has 0 nodes to traverse to get to itself but 3 hops to make from Immingham and Hoek van Holland. If we were planning a trip, we could use this information to help maximize our time at our chosen destinations.
All Pairs Shortest Path with Neo4j
Neo4j has a parallel implementation of the All Pairs Shortest Path algorithm, which returns the distance between every pair of nodes.
The All Pairs Shortest Path algorithm takes in a config map with the following keys:
nodeProjection

Enables the mapping of specific kinds of nodes into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more node labels.
relationshipProjection

Enables the mapping of relationship types into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more relationship types along with direction and properties.
relationshipWeightProperty

The relationship property that indicates the cost of traversing between a pair of nodes. The cost is the number of kilometers between two locations.
If we don’t set relationshipWeightProperty
then the algorithm will calculate the unweighted shortest paths between all pairs of nodes.
The following query does this:
CALL gds.alpha.allShortestPaths.stream({
nodeProjection:
"*"
,
relationshipProjection: {
all
: {
type
:
"*"
,
properties:
"distance"
,
orientation:
"UNDIRECTED"
}
}
})
YIELD sourceNodeId, targetNodeId, distance
WHERE
sourceNodeId < targetNodeId
RETURN
gds.util.asNode(sourceNodeId).
id
AS
source,
gds.util.asNode(targetNodeId).
id
AS
target,
distance
ORDER BY
distance
DESC
LIMIT
10;
This algorithm returns the shortest path between every pair of nodes twice—once with each of the nodes as the source node. This would be helpful if you were evaluating a directed graph of oneway streets.
However, we don’t need to see each path twice, so we filter the results to only keep one of them by using the sourceNodeId < targetNodeId
predicate.
The query returns the following results:
source  target  distance 

Colchester 
Utrecht 
5.0 
London 
Rotterdam 
5.0 
London 
Gouda 
5.0 
Ipswich 
Utrecht 
5.0 
Colchester 
Gouda 
5.0 
Colchester 
Den Haag 
4.0 
London 
Utrecht 
4.0 
London 
Den Haag 
4.0 
Colchester 
Amsterdam 
4.0 
Ipswich 
Gouda 
4.0 
This output shows the 10 pairs of locations that have the most relationships between them because we asked for results in descending order (DESC
).
If we want to calculate the shortest weighted paths, we should set relationshipWeightProperty
to the property name that contains the cost
to be used in the shortest path calculation.
This property will then be evaluated to work out the shortest weighted path between each pair of nodes.
The following query does this:
CALL gds.alpha.allShortestPaths.stream({
nodeProjection:
"*"
,
relationshipProjection: {
all
: {
type
:
"*"
,
properties:
"distance"
,
orientation:
"UNDIRECTED"
}
},
relationshipWeightProperty:
"distance"
})
YIELD sourceNodeId, targetNodeId, distance
WHERE
sourceNodeId < targetNodeId
RETURN
gds.util.asNode(sourceNodeId).
id
AS
source,
gds.util.asNode(targetNodeId).
id
AS
target,
distance
ORDER BY
distance
DESC
LIMIT
10;
The query returns the following result:
source  target  distance 

Doncaster 
Hoek van Holland 
529.0 
Rotterdam 
Doncaster 
528.0 
Gouda 
Doncaster 
524.0 
Felixstowe 
Immingham 
511.0 
Den Haag 
Doncaster 
502.0 
Ipswich 
Immingham 
489.0 
Utrecht 
Doncaster 
489.0 
London 
Utrecht 
460.0 
Colchester 
Immingham 
457.0 
Immingham 
Hoek van Holland 
455.0 
Now we’re seeing the 10 pairs of locations furthest from each other in terms of the total distance between them. Notice that Doncaster shows up frequently along with several cities in the Netherlands. It looks like it would be a long drive if we wanted to take a road trip between those areas.
Single Source Shortest Path
The Single Source Shortest Path (SSSP) algorithm, which came into prominence at around the same time as Dijkstra’s Shortest Path algorithm, acts as an implementation for both problems.
The SSSP algorithm calculates the shortest (weighted) path from a root node to all other nodes in the graph, as demonstrated in Figure 49.
It proceeds as follows:

It begins with a root node from which all paths will be measured. In Figure 49 we’ve selected node A as the root.

The relationship with the smallest weight coming from that root node is selected and added to the tree, along with its connected node. In this case, that’s d(A,D)=1.

The next relationship with the smallest cumulative weight from our root node to any unvisited node is selected and added to the tree in the same way. Our choices in Figure 49 are d(A,B)=8, d(A,C)=5 directly or 4 via ADC, and d(A,E)=5. So, the route via ADC is chosen and C is added to our tree.

The process continues until there are no more nodes to add and we have our single source shortest path.
When Should I Use Single Source Shortest Path?
Use Single Source Shortest Path when you need to evaluate the optimal route from a fixed start point to all other individual nodes. Because the route is chosen based on the total path weight from the root, it’s useful for finding the best path to each node, but not necessarily when all nodes need to be visited in a single trip.
For example, SSSP is helpful for identifying the main routes to use for emergency services where you don’t visit every location on each incident, but not for finding a single route for garbage collection where you need to visit each house in one trip. (In the latter case, you’d use the Minimum Spanning Tree algorithm, covered later.)
Example use cases include:

Detecting changes in topology, such as link failures, and suggesting a new routing structure in seconds

Using Dijkstra as an IP routing protocol for use in autonomous systems such as a local area network (LAN)
Single Source Shortest Path with Apache Spark
We can adapt the shortest_path
function that we wrote to calculate the shortest path between two locations to instead return us the shortest path from one location to all others. Note that we’re using Spark’s aggregateMessages
framework again to customize our function.
We’ll first import the same libraries as before:
from
graphframes.lib
import
AggregateMessages
as
AM
from
pyspark.sql
import
functions
as
F
And we’ll use the same userdefined function to construct paths:
add_path_udf
=
F
.
udf
(
lambda
path
,
id
:
path
+
[
id
],
ArrayType
(
StringType
()))
Now for the main function, which calculates the shortest path starting from an origin:
def
sssp
(
g
,
origin
,
column_name
=
"cost"
):
vertices
=
g
.
vertices
\.
withColumn
(
"visited"
,
F
.
lit
(
False
))
\.
withColumn
(
"distance"
,
F
.
when
(
g
.
vertices
[
"id"
]
==
origin
,
0
)
.
otherwise
(
float
(
"inf"
)))
\.
withColumn
(
"path"
,
F
.
array
())
cached_vertices
=
AM
.
getCachedDataFrame
(
vertices
)
g2
=
GraphFrame
(
cached_vertices
,
g
.
edges
)
while
g2
.
vertices
.
filter
(
'visited == False'
)
.
first
():
current_node_id
=
g2
.
vertices
.
filter
(
'visited == False'
)
.
sort
(
"distance"
)
.
first
()
.
id
msg_distance
=
AM
.
edge
[
column_name
]
+
AM
.
src
[
'distance'
]
msg_path
=
add_path_udf
(
AM
.
src
[
"path"
],
AM
.
src
[
"id"
])
msg_for_dst
=
F
.
when
(
AM
.
src
[
'id'
]
==
current_node_id
,
F
.
struct
(
msg_distance
,
msg_path
))
new_distances
=
g2
.
aggregateMessages
(
F
.
min
(
AM
.
msg
)
.
alias
(
"aggMess"
),
sendToDst
=
msg_for_dst
)
new_visited_col
=
F
.
when
(
g2
.
vertices
.
visited

(
g2
.
vertices
.
id
==
current_node_id
),
True
)
.
otherwise
(
False
)
new_distance_col
=
F
.
when
(
new_distances
[
"aggMess"
]
.
isNotNull
()
&
(
new_distances
.
aggMess
[
"col1"
]
<
g2
.
vertices
.
distance
),
new_distances
.
aggMess
[
"col1"
])
\.
otherwise
(
g2
.
vertices
.
distance
)
new_path_col
=
F
.
when
(
new_distances
[
"aggMess"
]
.
isNotNull
()
&
(
new_distances
.
aggMess
[
"col1"
]
<
g2
.
vertices
.
distance
),
new_distances
.
aggMess
[
"col2"
]
.
cast
(
"array<string>"
))
\.
otherwise
(
g2
.
vertices
.
path
)
new_vertices
=
g2
.
vertices
.
join
(
new_distances
,
on
=
"id"
,
how
=
"left_outer"
)
\.
drop
(
new_distances
[
"id"
])
\.
withColumn
(
"visited"
,
new_visited_col
)
\.
withColumn
(
"newDistance"
,
new_distance_col
)
\.
withColumn
(
"newPath"
,
new_path_col
)
\.
drop
(
"aggMess"
,
"distance"
,
"path"
)
\.
withColumnRenamed
(
'newDistance'
,
'distance'
)
\.
withColumnRenamed
(
'newPath'
,
'path'
)
cached_new_vertices
=
AM
.
getCachedDataFrame
(
new_vertices
)
g2
=
GraphFrame
(
cached_new_vertices
,
g2
.
edges
)
return
g2
.
vertices
\.
withColumn
(
"newPath"
,
add_path_udf
(
"path"
,
"id"
))
\.
drop
(
"visited"
,
"path"
)
\.
withColumnRenamed
(
"newPath"
,
"path"
)
If we want to find the shortest path from Amsterdam to all other locations we can call the function like this:
via_udf
=
F
.
udf
(
lambda
path
:
path
[
1
:

1
],
ArrayType
(
StringType
()))
result
=
sssp
(
g
,
"Amsterdam"
,
"cost"
)
(
result
.
withColumn
(
"via"
,
via_udf
(
"path"
))
.
select
(
"id"
,
"distance"
,
"via"
)
.
sort
(
"distance"
)
.
show
(
truncate
=
False
))
We define another userdefined function to filter out the start and end nodes from the resulting path. If we run that code we’ll see the following output:
id  distance  via 

Amsterdam 
0.0 
[] 
Utrecht 
46.0 
[] 
Den Haag 
59.0 
[] 
Gouda 
81.0 
[Utrecht] 
Rotterdam 
85.0 
[Den Haag] 
Hoek van Holland 
86.0 
[Den Haag] 
Felixstowe 
293.0 
[Den Haag, Hoek van Holland] 
Ipswich 
315.0 
[Den Haag, Hoek van Holland, Felixstowe] 
Colchester 
347.0 
[Den Haag, Hoek van Holland, Felixstowe, Ipswich] 
Immingham 
369.0 
[] 
Doncaster 
443.0 
[Immingham] 
London 
453.0 
[Den Haag, Hoek van Holland, Felixstowe, Ipswich, Colchester] 
In these results we see the physical distances in kilometers from the root node, Amsterdam, to all other cities in the graph, ordered by shortest distance.
Single Source Shortest Path with Neo4j
Neo4j implements a variation of SSSP, called the DeltaStepping algorithm that divides Dijkstra’s algorithm into a number of phases that can be executed in parallel.
The Single Source Shortest Path algorithm takes in a config map with the following keys:
startNode

The node where our shortest path search begins.
nodeProjection

Enables the mapping of specific kinds of nodes into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more node labels.
relationshipProjection

Enables the mapping of relationship types into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more relationship types along with direction and properties.
relationshipWeightProperty

The relationship property that indicates the cost of traversing between a pair of nodes. The cost is the number of kilometers between two locations.
delta

The grade of concurrency to use
The following query executes the DeltaStepping algorithm:
MATCH
(n:Place {
id
:
"London"
})
CALL gds.alpha.shortestPath.deltaStepping.stream({
startNode: n,
nodeProjection:
"*"
,
relationshipProjection: {
all
: {
type
:
"*"
,
properties:
"distance"
,
orientation:
"UNDIRECTED"
}
},
relationshipWeightProperty:
"distance"
,
delta: 1.0
})
YIELD nodeId, distance
WHERE
gds.util.isFinite(distance)
RETURN
gds.util.asNode(nodeId).
id
AS
destination, distance
ORDER BY
distance;
The query returns the following output:
destination  distance 

London 
0.0 
Colchester 
106.0 
Ipswich 
138.0 
Felixstowe 
160.0 
Doncaster 
277.0 
Immingham 
351.0 
Hoek van Holland 
367.0 
Den Haag 
394.0 
Rotterdam 
400.0 
Gouda 
425.0 
Amsterdam 
453.0 
Utrecht 
460.0 
In these results we see the physical distances in kilometers from the root node, London, to all other cities in the graph, ordered by shortest distance.
Minimum Spanning Tree
The Minimum (Weight) Spanning Tree algorithm starts from a given node and finds all its reachable nodes and the set of relationships that connect the nodes together with the minimum possible weight. It traverses to the next unvisited node with the lowest weight from any visited node, avoiding cycles.
The first known Minimum Weight Spanning Tree algorithm was developed by the Czech scientist Otakar Borůvka in 1926. Prim’s algorithm, invented in 1957, is the simplest and best known.
Prim’s algorithm is similar to Dijkstra’s Shortest Path algorithm, but rather than minimizing the total length of a path ending at each relationship, it minimizes the length of each relationship individually. Unlike Dijkstra’s algorithm, it tolerates negativeweight relationships.
The Minimum Spanning Tree algorithm operates as demonstrated in Figure 410.
The steps are as follows:

It begins with a tree containing only one node. In Figure 410 we start with node A.

The relationship with smallest weight coming from that node is selected and added to the tree (along with its connected node). In this case, AD.

This process is repeated, always choosing the minimalweight relationship that joins any node not already in the tree. If you compare our example here to the SSSP example in Figure 49 you’ll notice that in the fourth graph the paths become different. This is because SSSP evaluates the shortest path based on cumulative totals from the root, whereas Minimum Spanning Tree only looks at the cost of the next step.

When there are no more nodes to add, the tree is a minimum spanning tree.
There are also variants of this algorithm that find the maximumweight spanning tree (highestcost tree) and the kspanning tree (tree size limited).
When Should I Use Minimum Spanning Tree?
Use Minimum Spanning Tree when you need the best route to visit all nodes. Because the route is chosen based on the cost of each next step, it’s useful when you must visit all nodes in a single walk. (Review the previous section on “Single Source Shortest Path” if you don’t need a path for a single trip.)
You can use this algorithm for optimizing paths for connected systems like water pipes and circuit design. It’s also employed to approximate some problems with unknown compute times, such as the Traveling Salesman Problem and certain types of rounding problems. Although it may not always find the absolute optimal solution, this algorithm makes potentially complicated and computeintensive analysis much more approachable.
Example use cases include:

Minimizing the travel cost of exploring a country. “An Application of Minimum Spanning Trees to Travel Planning” describes how the algorithm analyzed airline and sea connections to do this.

Visualizing correlations between currency returns. This is described in “Minimum Spanning Tree Application in the Currency Market”.

Tracing the history of infection transmission in an outbreak. For more information, see “Use of the Minimum Spanning Tree Model for Molecular Epidemiological Investigation of a Nosocomial Outbreak of Hepatitis C Virus Infection”.
Warning
The Minimum Spanning Tree algorithm only gives meaningful results when run on a graph where the relationships have different weights. If the graph has no weights, or all relationships have the same weight, then any spanning tree is a minimum spanning tree.
Minimum Spanning Tree with Neo4j
Let’s see the Minimum Spanning Tree algorithm in action. The Minimum Spanning Tree algorithm takes in a config map with the following keys:
startNodeId

The id of the node where our shortest path search begins.
nodeProjection

Enables the mapping of specific kinds of nodes into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more node labels.
relationshipProjection

Enables the mapping of relationship types into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more relationship types along with direction and properties.
relationshipWeightProperty

The relationship property that indicates the cost of traversing between a pair of nodes. The cost is the number of kilometers between two locations.
writeProperty

The name of the relationship type written back as a result
weightWriteProperty

The name of the weight property on the
writeProperty
relationship type written back
The following query finds a spanning tree starting from Amsterdam:
MATCH
(n:Place {
id
:
"Amsterdam"
})
CALL gds.alpha.spanningTree.minimum.write({
startNodeId:
id
(n),
nodeProjection:
"*"
,
relationshipProjection: {
EROAD: {
type
:
"EROAD"
,
properties:
"distance"
,
orientation:
"UNDIRECTED"
}
},
relationshipWeightProperty:
"distance"
,
writeProperty:
'MINST'
,
weightWriteProperty:
'cost'
})
YIELD createMillis, computeMillis, writeMillis, effectiveNodeCount
RETURN
createMillis, computeMillis, writeMillis, effectiveNodeCount;
The parameters passed to this algorithm are:
Place

The node labels to consider when computing the spanning tree
EROAD

The relationship types to consider when computing the spanning tree
distance

The name of the relationship property that indicates the cost of traversing between a pair of nodes
id(n)

The internal node id of the node from which the spanning tree should begin
This query stores its results in the graph. If we want to return the minimum weight spanning tree we can run the following query:
MATCH
path = (n:Place {
id
:
"Amsterdam"
})[:MINST*]()
WITH
relationships
(path)
AS
rels
UNWIND rels
AS rel
WITH DISTINCT rel AS rel
RETURN
startNode(
rel
).
id
AS
source,
endNode(
rel
).
id
AS
destination,
rel
.cost
AS
cost;
And this is the output of the query:
source  destination  cost 

Amsterdam 
Utrecht 
46.0 
Utrecht 
Gouda 
35.0 
Gouda 
Rotterdam 
25.0 
Rotterdam 
Den Haag 
26.0 
Den Haag 
Hoek van Holland 
27.0 
Hoek van Holland 
Felixstowe 
207.0 
Felixstowe 
Ipswich 
22.0 
Ipswich 
Colchester 
32.0 
Colchester 
London 
106.0 
London 
Doncaster 
277.0 
Doncaster 
Immingham 
74.0 
If we were in Amsterdam and wanted to visit every other place in our dataset during the same trip, Figure 411 demonstrates the shortest continuous route to do so.
Random Walk
The Random Walk algorithm provides a set of nodes on a random path in a graph. The term was first mentioned by Karl Pearson in 1905 in a letter to Nature magazine titled “The Problem of the Random Walk”. Although the concept goes back even further, it’s only more recently that random walks have been applied to network science.
A random walk, in general, is sometimes described as being similar to how a drunk person traverses a city. They know what direction or end point they want to reach but may take a very circuitous route to get there.
The algorithm starts at one node and somewhat randomly follows one of the relationships forward or backward to a neighbor node. It then does the same from that node and so on, until it reaches the set path length. (We say somewhat randomly because the number of relationships a node has, and its neighbors have, influences the probability a node will be walked through.)
When Should I Use Random Walk?
Use the Random Walk algorithm as part of other algorithms or data pipelines when you need to generate a mostly random set of connected nodes.
Example use cases include:

As part of the node2vec and graph2vec algorithms, that create node embeddings. These node embeddings could then be used as the input to a neural network.

As part of the Walktrap and Infomap community detection. If a random walk returns a small set of nodes repeatedly, then it indicates that node set may have a community structure.

As part of the training process of machine learning models. This is described further in David Mack’s article “Review Prediction with Neo4j and TensorFlow”.
You can read about more use cases in a paper by N. Masuda, M. A. Porter, and R. Lambiotte, “Random Walks and Diffusion on Networks”.
Random Walk with Neo4j
Neo4j has an implementation of the Random Walk algorithm. It supports two modes for choosing the next relationship to follow at each stage of the algorithm:
random

Randomly chooses a relationship to follow
node2vec

Chooses relationship to follow based on computing a probability distribution of the previous neighbors
The Random Walk procedure takes in a config map with the following keys:
start

The id of the node where our shortest path search begins.
nodeProjection

Enables the mapping of specific kinds of nodes into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more node labels.
relationshipProjection

Enables the mapping of relationship types into the inmemory graph. We can declare one or more relationship types along with direction and properties.
walks

The number of paths returned ``
The following performs a random walk starting from London:
MATCH
(source:Place {
id
:
"London"
})
CALL gds.alpha.randomWalk.stream({
start
:
id
(source),
nodeProjection:
"*"
,
relationshipProjection: {
all
: {
type
:
"*"
,
properties:
"distance"
,
orientation:
"UNDIRECTED"
}
},
steps: 5,
walks: 1
})
YIELD nodeIds
UNWIND gds.util.asNodes(nodeIds)
as
place
RETURN
place.
id
AS
place
It returns the following result:
place 

London 
Doncaster 
Immingham 
Amsterdam 
Utrecht 
Amsterdam 
At each stage of the random walk the next relationship is chosen randomly. This means that if we rerun the algorithm, even with the same parameters, we likely won’t get the same result. It’s also possible for a walk to go back on itself, as we can see in Figure 412 where we go from Amsterdam to Den Haag and back.
Summary
Pathfinding algorithms are useful for understanding the way that our data is connected. In this chapter we started out with the fundamental Breadth and Depth First algorithms, before moving onto Dijkstra and other shortest path algorithms. We also looked at variants of the shortest path algorithms optimized for finding the shortest path from one node to all other nodes or between all pairs of nodes in a graph. We finished with the Random Walk algorithm, which can be used to find arbitrary sets of paths.
Next we’ll learn about Centrality algorithms that can be used to find influential nodes in a graph.
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