Genetic Algorithms - Fundamentals


This section introduces the basic terminology required to understand GAs. Also, a generic structure of GAs is presented in both pseudo-code and graphical forms. The reader is advised to properly understand all the concepts introduced in this section and keep them in mind when reading other sections of this tutorial as well.

Basic Terminology

Before beginning a discussion on Genetic Algorithms, it is essential to be familiar with some basic terminology which will be used throughout this tutorial.

  • Population − It is a subset of all the possible (encoded) solutions to the given problem. The population for a GA is analogous to the population for human beings except that instead of human beings, we have Candidate Solutions representing human beings.

  • Chromosomes − A chromosome is one such solution to the given problem.

  • Gene − A gene is one element position of a chromosome.

  • Allele − It is the value a gene takes for a particular chromosome.

  • Genotype − Genotype is the population in the computation space. In the computation space, the solutions are represented in a way which can be easily understood and manipulated using a computing system.

  • Phenotype − Phenotype is the population in the actual real world solution space in which solutions are represented in a way they are represented in real world situations.

  • Decoding and Encoding − For simple problems, the phenotype and genotype spaces are the same. However, in most of the cases, the phenotype and genotype spaces are different. Decoding is a process of transforming a solution from the genotype to the phenotype space, while encoding is a process of transforming from the phenotype to genotype space. Decoding should be fast as it is carried out repeatedly in a GA during the fitness value calculation.

    For example, consider the 0/1 Knapsack Problem. The Phenotype space consists of solutions which just contain the item numbers of the items to be picked.

    However, in the genotype space it can be represented as a binary string of length n (where n is the number of items). A 0 at position x represents that xth item is picked while a 1 represents the reverse. This is a case where genotype and phenotype spaces are different.

Phenotype and Genotype Space
  • Fitness Function − A fitness function simply defined is a function which takes the solution as input and produces the suitability of the solution as the output. In some cases, the fitness function and the objective function may be the same, while in others it might be different based on the problem.

  • Genetic Operators − These alter the genetic composition of the offspring. These include crossover, mutation, selection, etc.

Basic Structure

The basic structure of a GA is as follows −

We start with an initial population (which may be generated at random or seeded by other heuristics), select parents from this population for mating. Apply crossover and mutation operators on the parents to generate new off-springs. And finally these off-springs replace the existing individuals in the population and the process repeats. In this way genetic algorithms actually try to mimic the human evolution to some extent.

Each of the following steps are covered as a separate chapter later in this tutorial.

Basic Structure

A generalized pseudo-code for a GA is explained in the following program −

   initialize population
   find fitness of population
   while (termination criteria is reached) do
      parent selection
      crossover with probability pc
      mutation with probability pm
      decode and fitness calculation
      survivor selection
      find best
   return best