Streaming Algorithms with Few State Changes

Proceedings of the ACM on Management of Data(2024)

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In this paper, we study streaming algorithms that minimize the number of changes made to their internal state (i.e., memory contents). While the design of streaming algorithms typically focuses on minimizing space and update time, these metrics fail to capture the asymmetric costs, inherent in modern hardware and database systems, of reading versus writing to memory. In fact, most streaming algorithms write to their memory on every update, which is undesirable when writing is significantly more expensive than reading. This raises the question of whether streaming algorithms with small space and number of memory writes are possible. We first demonstrate that, for the fundamental F_p moment estimation problem with p≥ 1, any streaming algorithm that achieves a constant factor approximation must make Ω(n^1-1/p) internal state changes, regardless of how much space it uses. Perhaps surprisingly, we show that this lower bound can be matched by an algorithm that also has near-optimal space complexity. Specifically, we give a (1+ε)-approximation algorithm for F_p moment estimation that uses a near-optimal 𝒪_ε(n^1-1/p) number of state changes, while simultaneously achieving near-optimal space, i.e., for p∈[1,2], our algorithm uses poly(log n,1/ε) bits of space, while for p>2, the algorithm uses 𝒪_ε(n^1-2/p) space. We similarly design streaming algorithms that are simultaneously near-optimal in both space complexity and the number of state changes for the heavy-hitters problem, sparse support recovery, and entropy estimation. Our results demonstrate that an optimal number of state changes can be achieved without sacrificing space complexity.
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