Shadow variable

1. Introduction

A shadow variable is a planning variable whose correct value can be deduced from the state of the genuine planning variables. Even though such a variable violates the principle of normalization by definition, in some use cases it can be very practical to use a shadow variable, especially to express the constraints more naturally. For example in vehicle routing with time windows: the arrival time at a customer for a vehicle can be calculated based on the previously visited customers of that vehicle (and the known travel times between two locations).

planningVariableListener

When the customers for a vehicle change, the arrival time for each customer is automatically adjusted. For more information, see the vehicle routing domain model.

From a score calculation perspective, a shadow variable is like any other planning variable. From an optimization perspective, OptaPlanner effectively only optimizes the genuine variables (and mostly ignores the shadow variables): it just assures that when a genuine variable changes, any dependent shadow variables are changed accordingly.

Any class that has at least one shadow variable, is a planning entity class (even if it has no genuine planning variables). That class must be defined in the solver configuration and have a @PlanningEntity annotation.

A genuine planning entity class has at least one genuine planning variable, but can have shadow variables too. A shadow planning entity class has no genuine planning variables and at least one shadow planning variable.

There are several built-in shadow variables:

2. Bi-directional variable (inverse relation shadow variable)

Two variables are bi-directional if their instances always point to each other (unless one side points to null and the other side does not exist). So if A references B, then B references A.

bidirectionalVariable

For a non-chained planning variable, the bi-directional relationship must be a many-to-one relationship. To map a bi-directional relationship between two planning variables, annotate the source side (which is the genuine side) as a normal planning variable:

@PlanningEntity
public class CloudProcess {

    @PlanningVariable(...)
    public CloudComputer getComputer() {
        return computer;
    }
    public void setComputer(CloudComputer computer) {...}

}

And then annotate the other side (which is the shadow side) with a @InverseRelationShadowVariable annotation on a Collection (usually a Set or List) property:

@PlanningEntity
public class CloudComputer {

    @InverseRelationShadowVariable(sourceVariableName = "computer")
    public List<CloudProcess> getProcessList() {
        return processList;
    }

}

Register this class as a planning entity, otherwise OptaPlanner won’t detect it and the shadow variable won’t update. The sourceVariableName property is the name of the genuine planning variable on the return type of the getter (so the name of the genuine planning variable on the other side).

The shadow property, which is Collection (usually List, Set or SortedSet), can never be null. If no genuine variable references that shadow entity, then it is an empty collection. Furthermore it must be a mutable Collection because once OptaPlanner starts initializing or changing genuine planning variables, it will add and remove elements to the Collections of those shadow variables accordingly.

For a chained planning variable, the bi-directional relationship is always a one-to-one relationship. In that case, the genuine side looks like this:

@PlanningEntity
public class Customer ... {

    @PlanningVariable(graphType = PlanningVariableGraphType.CHAINED, ...)
    public Standstill getPreviousStandstill() {
        return previousStandstill;
    }
    public void setPreviousStandstill(Standstill previousStandstill) {...}

}

And the shadow side looks like this:

@PlanningEntity
public class Standstill {

    @InverseRelationShadowVariable(sourceVariableName = "previousStandstill")
    public Customer getNextCustomer() {
         return nextCustomer;
    }
    public void setNextCustomer(Customer nextCustomer) {...}

}

Register this class as a planning entity, otherwise OptaPlanner won’t detect it and the shadow variable won’t update.

The input planning problem of a Solver must not violate bi-directional relationships. If A points to B, then B must point to A. OptaPlanner will not violate that principle during planning, but the input must not violate it either.

3. Anchor shadow variable

An anchor shadow variable is the anchor of a chained variable.

Annotate the anchor property as a @AnchorShadowVariable annotation:

@PlanningEntity
public class Customer {

    @AnchorShadowVariable(sourceVariableName = "previousStandstill")
    public Vehicle getVehicle() {...}
    public void setVehicle(Vehicle vehicle) {...}

}

This class should already be registered as a planning entity. The sourceVariableName property is the name of the chained variable on the same entity class.

4. Custom VariableListener

To update a shadow variable, OptaPlanner uses a VariableListener. To define a custom shadow variable, write a custom VariableListener: implement the interface and annotate it on the shadow variable that needs to change.

    @PlanningVariable(...)
    public Standstill getPreviousStandstill() {
        return previousStandstill;
    }

    @CustomShadowVariable(variableListenerClass = VehicleUpdatingVariableListener.class,
            sources = {@PlanningVariableReference(variableName = "previousStandstill")})
    public Vehicle getVehicle() {
        return vehicle;
    }

Register this class as a planning entity if it isn’t already. Otherwise OptaPlanner won’t detect it and the shadow variable won’t update.

The source’s variableName is the (genuine or shadow) variable that triggers changes to this shadow variable. If the source variable’s class is different than the shadow variable’s class, also specify the entityClass in the @PlanningVariableReference annotation and make sure the shadow variable’s class is registered as a planning entity.

Implement the VariableListener interface. For example, the VehicleUpdatingVariableListener assures that every Customer in a chain has the same Vehicle, namely the chain’s anchor.

public class VehicleUpdatingVariableListener implements VariableListener<VehicleRoutingSolution, Customer> {

    public void afterEntityAdded(ScoreDirector<VehicleRoutingSolution> scoreDirector, Customer customer) {
        updateVehicle(scoreDirector, customer);
    }

    public void afterVariableChanged(ScoreDirector<VehicleRoutingSolution> scoreDirector, Customer customer) {
        updateVehicle(scoreDirector, customer);
    }

    ...

    protected void updateVehicle(ScoreDirector<VehicleRoutingSolution> scoreDirector, Customer sourceCustomer) {
        Standstill previousStandstill = sourceCustomer.getPreviousStandstill();
        Vehicle vehicle = previousStandstill == null ? null : previousStandstill.getVehicle();
        Customer shadowCustomer = sourceCustomer;
        while (shadowCustomer != null && shadowCustomer.getVehicle() != vehicle) {
            scoreDirector.beforeVariableChanged(shadowCustomer, "vehicle");
            shadowCustomer.setVehicle(vehicle);
            scoreDirector.afterVariableChanged(shadowCustomer, "vehicle");
            shadowCustomer = shadowCustomer.getNextCustomer();
        }
    }

}

A VariableListener can only change shadow variables. It must never change a genuine planning variable or a problem fact.

Any change of a shadow variable must be told to the ScoreDirector with before*() and after*() methods.

If one VariableListener changes two shadow variables (because having two separate VariableListeners would be inefficient), then annotate only the first shadow variable with the variableListenerClass and let the other shadow variable(s) reference the first shadow variable:

    @PlanningVariable(...)
    public Standstill getPreviousStandstill() {
        return previousStandstill;
    }

    @CustomShadowVariable(variableListenerClass = TransportTimeAndCapacityUpdatingVariableListener.class,
            sources = {@PlanningVariableReference(variableName = "previousStandstill")})
    public Integer getTransportTime() {
        return transportTime;
    }

    @CustomShadowVariable(variableListenerRef = @PlanningVariableReference(variableName = "transportTime"))
    public Integer getCapacity() {
        return capacity;
    }

A shadow variable’s value (just like a genuine variable’s value) isn’t planning cloned by the default solution cloner, unless it can easily prove that it must be planning cloned (for example the property type is a planning entity class). Specifically shadow variables of type List, Set, Collection or Map usually need to be planning cloned to avoid corrupting the best solution when the working solution changes. To planning clone a shadow variable, add @DeepPlanningClone annotation:

    @DeepPlanningClone
    @CustomShadowVariable(...)
    private Map<LocalDateTime, Integer> usedManHoursPerDayMap;

5. VariableListener triggering order

All shadow variables are triggered by a VariableListener, regardless if it’s a built-in or a custom shadow variable. The genuine and shadow variables form a graph, that determines the order in which the afterEntityAdded(), afterVariableChanged() and afterEntityRemoved() methods are called:

shadowVariableOrder

In the example above, D could have also been ordered after E (or F) because there is no direct or indirect dependency between D and E (or F).

OptaPlanner guarantees that:

  • The first VariableListener's after*() methods trigger after the last genuine variable has changed. Therefore the genuine variables (A and B in the example above) are guaranteed to be in a consistent state across all its instances (with values A1, A2 and B1 in the example above) because the entire Move has been applied.

  • The second VariableListener's after*() methods trigger after the last first shadow variable has changed. Therefore the first shadow variable (C in the example above) are guaranteed to be in a consistent state across all its instances (with values C1 and C2 in the example above). And of course the genuine variables too.

  • And so forth.

OptaPlanner does not guarantee the order in which the after*() methods are called for the sameVariableListener with different parameters (such as A1 and A2 in the example above), although they are likely to be in the order in which they were affected.

By default, OptaPlanner does not guarantee that the events are unique. For example, if a shadow variable on an entity is changed twice in the same move (for example by two different genuine variables), then that will cause the same event twice on the VariableListeners that are listening to that original shadow variable. To avoid dealing with that complexity, overwrite the method requiresUniqueEntityEvents() to receive unique events at the cost of a small performance penalty:

public class StartTimeUpdatingVariableListener implements VariableListener<TaskAssigningSolution, Task> {

    @Override
    public boolean requiresUniqueEntityEvents() {
        return true;
    }

    ...
}