Dynamic programming, like the divide-and-conquer method, solves problems by combining the solutions to subproblems. (“Programming” in this context refers to a tabular method, not to writing computer code.)
divide-and-conquer algorithms partition the problem into independent subproblems, solve the subproblems recursively, and then combine their solutions to solve the original problem. In contrast, dynamic programming is applicable when the subproblems are not independent, that is, when subproblems share subsubproblems. In this context, a divide-and-conquer algorithm does more work than necessary, repeatedly solving the common subsubproblems. A dynamic-programming algorithm solves every subsubproblem just once and then saves its answer in a table, thereby avoiding the work of recomputing the answer every time the subsubproblem is encountered.
Dynamic programming is typically applied to optimization problems. In such problems there can be many possible solutions. Each solution has a value, and we wish to find a solution with the optimal (minimum or maximum) value. We call such a solution an optimal solution to the problem, as opposed to the optimal solution, since there may be several solutions that achieve the optimal value.
The development of a dynamic-programming algorithm can be broken into a sequence of four steps.
1. Characterize the structure of an optimal solution.
2. Recursively define the value of an optimal solution.
3. Compute the value of an optimal solution in a bottom-up fashion.
4. Construct an optimal solution from computed information.
Steps 1-3 form the basis of a dynamic-programming solution to a problem. Step 4 can be omitted if only the value of an optimal solution is required. When we do perform step 4, we sometimes maintain additional information during the computation in step 3 to ease the construction of an optimal solution.
The sections that follow use the dynamic-programming method to solve some optimization problems. Section 16.1 asks how we can multiply a chain of matrices so that the fewest total scalar multiplications are performed.