Better Decision Heuristics in CDCL through Local Search and Target Phases

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Shaowei Cai
Xindi Zhang
Mathias Fleury
Armin Biere


On practical applications, state-of-the-art SAT solvers dominantly use the conflict-driven clause learning (CDCL) paradigm. An alternative for satisfiable instances is local search solvers, which is more successful on random and hard combinatorial instances. Although there have been attempts to combine these methods in one framework, a tight integration which improves the state of the art on a broad set of application instances has been missing. We present a combination of techniques that achieves such an improvement. Our first contribution is to maximize in a local search fashion the assignment trail in CDCL, by sticking to and extending promising assignments via a technique called target phases. Second, we relax the CDCL framework by again extending promising branches to complete assignments while ignoring conflicts. These assignments are then used as starting point of local search which tries to find improved assignments with fewer unsatisfied clauses. Third, these improved assignments are imported back to the CDCL loop where they are used to determine the value assigned to decision variables. Finally, the conflict frequency of variables in local search can be exploited during variable selection in branching heuristics of CDCL. We implemented these techniques to improve three representative CDCL solvers (Glucose, MapleLcm DistChronoBT, and Kissat). Experiments on benchmarks from the main tracks of the last three SAT Competitions from 2019 to 2021 and an additional benchmark set from spectrum allocation show that the techniques bring significant improvements, particularly and not surprisingly, on satisfiable real-world application instances. We claim that these techniques were essential to the large increase in performance witnessed in the SAT Competition 2020 where Kissat and Relaxed LcmdCbDl NewTech were leading the field followed by CryptoMiniSAT-Ccnr, which also incorporated similar ideas.

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