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Matrix Representation of Graphs in Network Problems

Jason Wilborn

A matrix is often an eloquent and efficient way of representing a graph for

analysis. There is a correspondence between many graph-theoretic properties and matrix

properties that makes the problem easier to visualize and solve. Matrix representations of

graphs are often used to analyze networks, such as those for communications, power

distribution, transportation, and shipping. Often it is difficult to employ a computer to

analyze a pictorial problem. If computer analysis is desired, converting the pictorial

problem into a matrix is a convenient procedure. Many matrix representations also allow

for easy hand calculations when the problem cannot be solved by inspection. Incidence,

path, circuit, cut-set, and adjacency matrices are useful representations of graphs for

network analysis and similar problems.

The incidence matrix of a non-directed graph G is an n by e binary matrix; where

n is the number of vertices of the graph and e is the number of edges in the graph. It is

constructed such that xij is one if the jth edge is incident on the ith vertex and xij is zero

otherwise [1]. If the incident matrix has no self-loops the incidence matrix will contain

the same information as the corresponding graph. Incidence matrices have the

distinguishing characteristic of having exactly two ones in each column since every edge

is incident on exactly two vertices. When considering an individual vertex, the number

of ones in the corresponding row of the incidence matrix is the degree of the vertex. It is

theorized that the rank of an incidence matrix is the number of edges of the graph minus

one [2]. Incidence matrices are best suited for use with graphs in which most of the

vertices have high degree.

Another convenient tool for analyzing network graphical network problems is the

path matrix. Unlike many other matrix representations of graphs, a path matrix is not

defined for an entire graph. It is only defined for exactly two vertices on a given graph.

The path matrix of a graph G is an n by e matrix where n is the number of paths between

the two vertices and e is the number of edges in G. The xij entry in the path matrix is one

if the jth edge lies in the ith path and the entry is zero otherwise [1]. Path matrices have

several distinct characteristics. A column of all zeros indicates an edge that does not lie

on any path between the two vertices and is most likely inconsequential to the problem.

There will be no row of all zeros since no path can consist of zero edges. A column of all

ones corresponds to an edge that is in every path between the two vertices. Such an edge

is likely to be of critical importance to the graph. Path matrices are most important when

analyzing communication and transportation networks. Path matrices make unnecessary

routes, bottlenecks, and loops obvious.

Circuit matrices can be thought of as path matrices where all the paths are

circuits. The circuit matrix of a graph G is a q by e matrix where q is the number of

distinct circuits in the graph and e is the number of edges in G. The xij entry is one if

edge j is in circuit i [2]. Many of the characteristics of circuit matrices are similar to

those of path matrices. An edge that is not on a circuit produces a column of zeros. The

number of edges in a circuit must be equal to the number of ones in the corresponding

row of the circuit matrix. Unlike an incidence matrix, a circuit matrix can represent a

graph with self loops. A self loop is denoted by a single one in the corresponding row. A

circuit matrix does not fully represent a graph; multiple distinct graphs may have the

produce the same circuit matrix. Circuit matrices are especially useful when the number
of nodes of a network is known, but the connections between them must be determined

experimentally; such as determining the wiring of an enclosed switch box.

Cut-set matrices are defined in a similar manner to path matrices and circuit

matrices. A cut-set matrix of a graph G is an f by e binary matrix such that f is the

number of cut-sets in G and e is the number of edges. The xij entry is one if the ith cut-set

contains the jth edge and is zero otherwise [1]. Parallel edges in a graph produce

identical columns in the corresponding cut-set set matrix. Cut-set matrices are capable of

representing self-loops and do so in a unique way. A column of all zeros represents an

edge that forms a self loop. Cut-set graphs are often employed when the network being

considered is large enough to be divided into several cut-sets.

The adjacency matrix of a simple graph G with n vertices is an n by n binary

matrix. It is constructed such that xij equals one if there is an edge between the ith and jth

vertices and xij equals zero if there is not an edge between the ith and jth vertices [1]. The

defining characteristics and general uses of an adjacency matrix are outlined in the paper

Adjacency Matrices [3]. This paper also discusses the some of the benefits and

limitations of adjacency matrices.

Many common types of matrices used to represent graphs have been discussed.

Their definition, outstanding characteristics, and general uses have been given. The

usefulness of these tools in analyzing graphical network problems has been demonstrated.


1. Deo, Narsingh 1974 Graph Theory with Applications to Engineering and

Computer Science London Prentice-Hall International, Inc. pg. 137-164.
2. Henley, Ernest J. and Williams, R. A. Graph Theory in Modern Engineering
New York Academic Press pg. 175-188.

3. Wilborn, Jason Adjacency Matrices July 2003