When using genetic and evolutionary algorithms for network design, choosing a good representation scheme for the construction of the genotype is important for algorithm performance. One of the most common representation schemes for networks is the characteristic vector representation. However, with encoding trees, and using crossover and mutation, invalid individuals occur that are either under or overspecified. When constructing the offspring or repairing the invalid individuals that do not represent a tree, it is impossible to distinguish between the importance of the links that should be used. These problems can be overcome by transferring the concept of random keys from scheduling and ordering problems to the encoding of trees. This paper investigates the performance of a simple genetic algorithm (SGA) using network random keys (NetKeys) for the one-max tree and a real-world problem. The comparison between the network random keys and the characteristic vector encoding shows that despite the effects of stealth mutation, which favors the characteristic vector representation, selectorecombinative SGAs with NetKeys have some advantages for small and easy optimization problems. With more complex problems, SGAs with network random keys significantly outperform SGAs using characteristic vectors.

This paper shows that random keys can be used for the encoding of trees, and that genetic algorithms using network random keys are able to solve complex tree problems much faster than when using the characteristic vector. Users should therefore be encouraged to use network random keys for the representation of trees.

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