Dijkstra’s algorithm is an algorithm for finding the shortest paths between nodes in a graph, which may represent, for example, road networks. It was conceived by computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra in 1956 and published three years later.
The algorithm exists in many variants; Dijkstra’s original variant found the shortest path between two nodes, but a more common variant fixes a single node as the “source” node and finds shortest paths from the source to all other nodes in the graph, producing a shortest-path tree.
For a given source node in the graph, the algorithm finds the shortest path between that node and every other. It can also be used for finding the shortest paths from a single node to a single destination node by stopping the algorithm once the shortest path to the destination node has been determined. For example, if the nodes of the graph represent cities and edge path costs represent driving distances between pairs of cities connected by a direct road, Dijkstra’s algorithm can be used to find the shortest route between one city and all other cities.
As a result, the shortest path algorithm is widely used in network routing protocols, most notably IS-IS (Intermediate System to Intermediate System) and Open Shortest Path First (OSPF). It is also employed as a subroutine in other algorithms such as Johnson’s.
In some fields, artificial intelligence in particular, Dijkstra’s algorithm or a variant of it is known as uniform cost search and formulated as an instance of the more general idea of best-first search.
“Dijkstra’s shortest path algorithm is sheer elegance. It should be in the Hall of Fame because of the huge number of practical applications that exist today.”
Professor Ionica Smeets