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Comparing the speed and accuracy of approaches to betweenness centrality approximation



Many algorithms require doing a large number of betweenness centrality calculations quickly, and accommodating this need is an active open research area. There are many different ideas and approaches to speeding up these calculations, and it is difficult to know which approach will work best in practical situations.


The current study attempts to judge performance of betweenness centrality approximation algorithms by running them under conditions that practitioners are likely to experience. For several approaches to approximation, we run two tests, clustering and immunization, on identical hardware, along with a process to determine appropriate parameters. This allows an across-the-board comparison of techniques based on the dimensions of speed and accuracy of results.


Overall, the speed of betweenness centrality can be reduced several orders of magnitude by using approximation algorithms. We find that the speeds of individual algorithms can vary widely based on input parameters. The fastest algorithms utilize parallelism, either in the form of multi-core processing or GPUs. Interestingly, getting fast results does not require an expensive GPU.


The methodology presented here can guide the selection of a betweenness centrality approximation algorithm depending on a practitioner’s needs and can also be used to compare new methods to existing ones.


Many centrality measures exist, utilizing both local and global information for quantifying the importance of a node in a network. Local measures such as degree and closeness centrality can be computed in linear time [1], but are limited in their usefulness. Global measures have a much higher time complexity, but have a wider variety of applications. Betweenness centrality [2] is an important global measure based on the shortest paths through an entire network. Given a graph \(G = (V, E)\), where V is a set of vertices and \(E \subset \left( {\begin{array}{c}V\\ 2\end{array}}\right)\) is a set of edges, the betweenness centrality of vertex \(v \in V\) is defined as

$$\begin{aligned} \mathrm {BC}(v) = \sum _{s\ne v\ne t} \frac{\sigma _{st}(v)}{\sigma _{st}}, \end{aligned}$$

where \(\sigma _{st}\) is the number of shortest paths from node s to node t, and \(\sigma _{st}(v)\) is the number of those paths that pass through vertex v.

Betweenness centrality has been applied to problems as diverse as cancer diagnosis [3], network flow [4], and the measurement of influence in social networks [5]. There are many applications involving a large number of betweenness centrality calculations, such as power grid contingency analysis [6] (which is so computationally intensive that it must be done on a supercomputer), Girvan–Newman community detection [7], network routing [8], skill characterization in artificial intelligence [9], analysis of terrorist networks [10], node-based resilience clustering [11], and the modeling of immunization strategies [12]. In these applications, the vertex with the highest betweenness centrality must be determined for a continually changing graph O(n) times.

The most efficient known algorithm for calculating exact betweenness centralities is a faster algorithm by Brandes [13]. For unweighted graphs, this algorithm is based on a modification of breadth-first search (BFS) and can calculate the betweenness centrality of every node in a graph with a time complexity of O(|V||E|). Many algorithms used in the biological and social sciences, such as those mentioned above, rely on repeatedly calculating betweenness centrality for every node in a network. The relevant networks examined, such as online social networks, can become arbitrarily large, making Brandes’ algorithm impractical for many realistic scenarios. Therefore, the problem of performing a large number of betweenness centrality calculations efficiently is an active open research area [14] to which this work contributes.

We wish to compare different ways of decreasing the execution time of the above algorithms, and both speed and accuracy are important in the assessment of outcomes. Simply comparing the results of approximate betweenness centralities to the true values is not necessarily useful for several reasons. First, several of the aforementioned algorithms use betweenness centrality as a measure of relative importance with which to rank vertices, and only the correct ranking is required. An approximation that produces some incorrect values, but preserves the correct ranking will perform just as well as exact calculations. Second, for some of the algorithms, even the exact centrality ordering is not critical. For example, it is noted in works such as [15, 16] that only the top or top k vertices with the highest betweenness centrality are required. In light of such considerations, approximation algorithms for betweenness centrality that consistently and efficiently discover the highest betweenness node or nodes may be more useful than slower traditional methods computing the betweenness centrality for every node exactly.

The first major study to attempt to comprehensively benchmark betweenness centrality calculations is by Al-Ghamdi et al. [17]. They use a supercomputer to compute exact betweenness centralities for large graphs, and then compare the results from approximations to these “gold standard” values. They run tests by benchmarking seven different approximation methods, including methods by Brandes and Pich [18], Bader et al. [19], Riondato and Kornaropoulos [20], Geisberger et al. [21], Riondato and Upfal [22], Pfeffer and Carley [23], and Everett and Borgatti [24]. As we are interested in comparing the benchmarking performances obtained in [17] with our results, we examine the first four of the listed methods in this paper along with several other algorithms. Whereas the focus of the work by Al-Ghamdi et al. [17] is on the process of benchmarking itself, the focus of our work is to clarify conditions under which the approximation algorithms are sufficiently accurate and fast for the important applications considered. For example, most methods use parameters which control the trade-off between speed and accuracy. Results in [17] are based on the use of only one set of parameters, while our work follows a methodical process which yields insight into the process of finding and using the best parameters given a preferred outcome.

The present work is an extension of the conference paper A Comparison of Approaches to Computing Betweenness Centrality for Large Graphs [25]. Whereas the previous paper compared only two approaches to increasing the speed of a large number of betweenness centrality calculations, this paper compares many different approaches: eight are fully tested, and experiences with several others are reported upon. The previous paper used a clustering test as the benchmark for comparison. Here we add a second benchmark, a test based on the immunization problem. A third addition is the comparison of our results to [17]. While [17] is an important related work, we come to very different conclusions, and the reasons for the differences are analyzed. Finally, because the trade-off between speed and accuracy of approximation methods is determined by user-supplied parameters, this paper gives detailed notes on parameter selection meant to be useful to practitioners.

The rest of the paper is organized as follows. “Background” discusses research in the area of betweenness centrality calculation and provides a useful survey of many different heuristic and approximation methods. “Methods” describes and justifies the tests and graphs used, and the process of carrying out the experiments. “Experimental results” describes individual results for ten different estimation techniques and summarizes performance based on both speed and accuracy. A description of each algorithm including its time complexity is given in this section. Finally, “Conclusion” contains a brief summary of the paper.


Attempts to increase the speed of betweenness centrality calculations go back at least to Brandes’s original faster algorithm in 2001 [13]. Brandes’s paper notably establishes a time complexity for exact calculation of O(|V||E|) (for unweighted graphs) against which many other algorithms are compared. Brandes is also known for his paper on variants of betweenness centrality, which provides ideas for efficient implementations [26].

Betweenness centrality is a shortest-paths based measure, and computing it involves solving a single-source shortest paths (SSSP) problem. One heuristic strategy for speeding the overall computation is to solve the SSSP problem for a smaller set of vertices. Brandes and Pich's 2007 work (hereafter referred to as Brandes2007) creates estimates that “are based on a restricted number of SSSP computations from a set of selected pivots” [18]. The idea of using a sample, based on an earlier technique for speeding closeness centrality calculations [27], is tested using different sampling strategies, such as uniformly at random, random proportional to degree, and maximizing/minimizing distances from previous pivots. It is determined that a randomly chosen sample gives best results.

Bader et al. [19] introduce an adaptive sampling algorithm (Bader2007) which, like Brandes2007, reduces the number of SSSP computations through choosing representative samples. The sampling is called adaptive because “the number of samples required varies with the information obtained from each sample.” For example, a vertex whose neighbors induce a clique has betweenness centrality of zero, and its inclusion in the sample does not provide much information. Geisberger, Sanders and Schultes develop a method termed Better Approximation in [21] (Geisberger2008), in which the process for selecting the pivot nodes is improved. To further increase speed, if an arbitrary number k of vertices is selected, the algorithm can be parallelized for up to k processors. The overall idea of sampling is generalized by Chehreghani in [28], where a framework is given for using different sampling techniques, and a strategy for choosing sampling techniques that minimize error is discussed. Further discussion of a large number of sampling strategies can be found in [29].

Riondato and Kornaropoulos introduce a different idea for sampling in [20] (Riondato2016). In this sampling algorithm, betweenness centrality computations are based not on pivots as in Bader2007 and Brandes2007, but on a predetermined number of samples of node pairs. This fixed sample size results in faster computation with the same probabilistic guarantees on the quality of the approximation. Riondato and Upfall have another technique, called ABRA, that uses Rademacher averages to estimate betweenness centrality [22].

KADABRA (the ADaptive Algorithm for Betweenness via Random Approximation) is described by Borassi and Natale in [30] (Borassi2016). With KADABRA speed is achieved by changing the way breadth-first search is performed and by taking a different approach to sampling. The use of parallelization also helps to make it very fast. In addition to computing betweenness centrality for every vertex, the algorithm can be configured to compute the set of the k most-central vertices. This will turn out to be an important property that gives the algorithm great speed with applicable applications. Along these same lines, work by Mumtaz and Wang focuses on identifying the top-k influential nodes in networks using an estimation technique which is based on progressive sampling with early stopping conditions [31].

In general, the time complexity of the sampling algorithms (such as described above) is based on the O(|V||E|) time complexity of Brandes’ algorithm, but is proportional to the number of samples. The algorithms therefore have a practical time complexity of O(k|E|) where k is the number of samples used. The fact that all time complexities are the same makes the actual performance of the algorithms difficult to judge and says nothing about the accuracy obtained.

A non-sampling strategy for reducing calculation time is to exploit the properties of the networks being considered. In these algorithms, the graph is partitioned in ways that preserve betweenness centralities, but allow them to be computed on smaller graphs. One such algorithm is BADIOS (Bridges, Articulation, Degree-1, and Identical vertices, Ordering, and Side vertices), introduced by Sariyüce et al. [32] and developed further in [33]. BADIOS relies on “manipulating the graph by compressing it and splitting into pieces so that the centrality computation can be handled independently for each piece”. Erdös et al. present an exact, divide-and-conquer algorithm in [34]. This algorithm also relies on partitioning, causing all computations to be run “over graphs that are significantly smaller than the original graph” [34]. Baglioni et al. rely on the sparseness of social networks to reduce the size of graphs [35], and work by Li et al. [36] relies on the inherent community structure of real-world networks to do “hierarchical decomposition” of a graph. These strategies speed computation by shrinking the size of the graph that must be computed. Chehreghani et al. [37] have an algorithm that combines both graph reduction and sampling techniques, although it applies only to directed graphs.

As with the sampling algorithms, the time complexity for the network-reducing algorithms is, in the worst case, the same O(|V||E|) as computing the entire graph, and performance must be measured empirically.

The calculation of many elements of betweenness centrality can be run in parallel, and this is a widely attempted strategy. Sariyüce et al. have developed algorithms for use with heterogeneous architectures, by which they mean using multiple CPU cores and a GPU concurrently. Their algorithm is called “gpuBC” [38], and they borrow ideas from BADIOS, as well as introducing new ideas specific to GPU architecture.

In addition to [21, 30, 38], ideas for distributed methods include those by Wang and Tang [39], Shi and Zhang [40], and works by David Bader with Adam McLaughlin [41] and other authors [42, 43]. McLaughlin and Bader introduce Hybrid-BC in [41] (McLaughlin2014). The term hybrid refers to the use of a combination of approaches. The first approach is edge parallel, where each edge is assigned to a different thread. The second approach is called work-efficient, where each vertex is handled by a separate thread in a manner that minimizes redundant or wasted work. At each iteration, either an edge-parallel or work-efficient algorithm is chosen depending on the overall structure of the graph. Other algorithms exploiting extreme parallelism involving multiple GPUs are explored by Bernaschi et al. [44, 45]. In [46], Ostrowski explores using big-data techniques such as map reduce to decompose a graph resulting in faster computations.

Some ideas are radically different and offer unique perspectives on the problem of speeding betweenness centrality calculations. Yoshida's [1] paper on adaptive betweenness centrality is such a work. The term adaptive betweenness centrality is defined in [12] and refers to computing betweenness centrality for a succession of vertices “without considering the shortest paths that have been taken into account by already-chosen vertices” [1]. In effect, adaptive betweenness centrality means that once the vertex with top betweenness centrality is chosen, it is removed from the network along with its adjacent vertices. Subsequent calculations of betweenness centrality are calculated based on this newly configured network. This description matches exactly the method of calculating used in our benchmark problems. Like Yoshida’s method, the HEDGE algorithm introduced in [47] works with evolving networks and has provable bounds on the accuracy of the approximation. An additional algorithm with applicability to dynamic networks is described in [48].

One last speed enhancing strategy is to substitute a different measure that is easier to compute, but has results that correlate with betweenness centrality. This has been attempted using such measures as Katz centrality [49], closeness centrality [1], \(\kappa\)-path centrality [50], and routing betweenness centrality [51]. A variation on this strategy is to use local measures to estimate global betweenness centralities [52].

While numerous other proposals may exist for speeding up betweenness centrality calculations, the aforementioned algorithms are a good representative sample. The prominent ideas are summarized as follows:

  1. 1

    Compute fewer shortest paths, by extrapolating information from pivots, or otherwise limiting the number of SSSP problems solved [18,19,20,21,22].

  2. 2

    Partition the graph in a way that preserves betweenness centralities, but allows them to be computed on a smaller vertex set [33, 34, 38].

  3. 3

    Use multiple cores or a GPU to compute shortest paths simultaneously, or otherwise parallelize an algorithm [21, 30, 38, 41].

  4. 4

    Use an adaptive approach, which, instead of removing nodes and recalculating in a loop, attempts to calculate directly the succession of top betweenness centrality vertices, taking into account the removal of previous vertices [1].

  5. 5

    Identify influential nodes using easier to compute measures that are correlated with betweenness centrality such as coverage centrality [1], or \(\kappa\)-path centrality [50].


The goal of this work is to compare the speed and accuracy of several different approximation algorithms for betweenness centrality in the context of important applications. For each algorithm, we attempt to perform two tests. First, a clustering test is performed on a series of six 10,000-node graphs. Parameters are chosen strategically to balance speed and accuracy. If results are promising, we continue the clustering test with six 100,000-node graphs. Third, we run the immunization test on three popular graphs from SNAP [53]: email-enron, p2p-Gnutella31, and soc-sign-epinions. If results are exceptional, we run the immunization test on a fourth graph, web-Google. In this section we describe the clustering test, the immunization test, the graphs used, and the strategy for choosing parameters.

The scope of the experiment

An important consideration in the design of the experiments is the size of the networks being tested. Because different runs can take different amounts of time, even on the same computer, we wanted to test graphs large enough that the algorithms took at least a few minutes to compute. This way, the magnitude of the duration is being examined more than the exact duration. In initial testing, graphs of approximately 5000 nodes took only a few seconds to run and were considered too small to give an accurate impression of the speedup of the techniques tested. Initial experiments on a graph with 10,000 nodes (Graph 6 described below) took approximately 48 h. Most of the estimation techniques were able to reduce this time to less than an hour. In addition, works such as [17] use graphs of approximately 10,000, 100,000 nodes and 1,000,000 nodes, so it was thought that using these graph sizes would facilitate comparison of results. With the real-life datasets, we followed the same strategy, using the Enron and Gnutella databases with approximately 10,000 nodes, Epinions with approximately 100,000 nodes and Google, which approaches 1,000,000 nodes. The difficulty of the clustering test is great, and even the fastest approximation techniques would take weeks to complete it on million-node graphs. Therefore, only the immunization test was attempted on the largest graph.

The clustering test

The first evaluation of approximation approaches is conducted with the clustering test, which uses a graph clustering methodology called node-based resilience measure clustering (NBR-Clust). A specific variant of NBR-Clust is first discussed in [54], and the full framework is defined in [11]. As implied by the name, node-based resilience clustering takes a resilience measure R(G) as a functional parameter computed on the input graph G. Every node-based resilience measure operates by computing a limited size attack set S of vertices whose removal causes substantial disruption to the graph with respect to the resulting connected component size distribution. NBR-Clust takes the resulting components to be the foundational clusters, and completes the clustering of the input graph G by subsequently adding each attack set node in S to its appropriately chosen adjacent cluster. The description of the NBR-Clust framework follows.

The NBR-Clust clustering framework

  1. 1

    Approximate a resilience measure R(G) with acceptable accuracy and return the corresponding attack set S whose removal results in some number (\(\ge 2\)) of candidate clusters. In these experiments we will use the resilience measure integrity [55] as R(G).

  2. 2

    Create \(G' = G\setminus\{S\}\), which must consist of two or more candidate clusters.

  3. 3

    Adjust the number of clusters. Datasets used in this experiment come with automatically generated ground truth data, including the number of clusters the graph contains. If more clusters have been obtained than that indicated by the ground truth data, clusters are joined based on their adjacencies. If there are not enough clusters, choose the least resilient of the clusters (based on the resilience measure R) and repeat steps 1 and 2 on that cluster. Continue until the correct number of clusters is obtained.

  4. 4

    Assign attack set nodes to clusters.

The dependence of NBR-Clust on betweenness centrality calculations, in turn, hinges upon the calculation of the node-based resilience measure R. Many resilience measures exist across a large number of applications. One example is the controllability of a complex network [56, 57], which uses control theory to determine a set of driver nodes that are capable of controlling the network and is applicable to static networks as well as networks with changing topologies [58, 59]. A specific measure is control centrality which quantifies a node’s ability to perform as a driver. Such resilience measures can be used as R(G) with the NBR-Clust framework. In [58], it is noted that the control centrality of a node is not determined by its degree or betweenness centrality, but by other factors. We are looking to measure the speed of calculating betweenness centrality, and therefore do not use such measures in our experiments.

Computational aspects of many important node-based resilience measures are considered in [60], including vertex attack tolerance (VAT) [61, 62], integrity [55], tenacity [63, 64], toughness [65], and scattering number [66]. As all of these measures have associated computational hardness results, the performance of heuristics was considered on several representative networks in [60]. Amongst the algorithms considered in [60], a betweenness centrality-based heuristic called Greedy-BC exhibited high-quality performance, particularly on the most relevant measures such as integrity, VAT, and tenacity. Integrity quantifies resilience by measuring the largest connected component after removal of an attack set. Integrity is defined as

$$\begin{aligned} I(G) = \min _{S \subset V} \left\{ |S| + C_{max}(V-S) \right\} , \end{aligned}$$

where S is an attack set and \(C_{max}(V-S)\) is the largest connected component in \(V-S\). Because integrity is a function of the largest connected component size distribution, it shares a similarity with the immunization problem and well-studied methods of maximizing results on both problems use betweenness centrality.

With Greedy-BC, the highest betweenness vertex is calculated and removed from the graph. This process is repeated until all nodes have been removed, and the attack set whose removal results in the smallest resilience measure value is returned. Given a resilience measure R, the resilience measure of a specific graph G denoted by R(G), and the resilience measure of a specific graph G with attack set S removed denoted by R(SG), the steps of Greedy-BC are as follows:

The Greedy-BC heuristic

  1. 1

    \(R_{min} = R(G)\), \(S_{min} = \{\}\)

  2. 2

    repeat |V| times

  3. 3

          \(v = argmax_{v \in V}BC(V)\)

  4. 4

          \(G = G \setminus \{v\}\) and \(S = S \cup \{v\}\)

  5. 5

          if \(R(S,G) < R_{min}\) then \(R_{min} = R(S,G)\) and \(S_{min} = S\)

  6. 6

    return \(S_{min}.\)

Amongst the various resilience measures considered, integrity was found to be particularly useful with respect to the application to clustering in NBR-Clust due to the higher accuracy and one-step clustering it provides when the number of clusters is not known a priori [11]. Therefore, the resilience measure we use here with NBR-Clust is integrity [55]. Here, I(G) from Eq. 2 will be the resilience measure called for by R(G)

NBR-Clust is a good test case for algorithms that speed up betweenness centrality calculations because it shares many of the properties of practical problems that practitioners face. First, the exact values being calculated are not important. The algorithm does not use the exact value, except to determine the highest ranking vertex. Therefore, it is the ranking of vertices that is important, and small variations of ranking do not change the result. Second, because a large number of calculations are required (conceivably \(O(n^2)\) betweenness centralities must be calculated), scalability is tested. Third, the usefulness of the results can be judged by the accuracy of the resulting clustering, which allows for presentation of results along two axes of speed and accuracy. Because of its similarities to many algorithms, results from NBR-Clust can be generalized to other algorithms that also rely on a large number of betweenness centrality calculations.

One limitation of the clustering test is that the datasets used require a ground truth against which accuracy results can be determined. This limits the types of data that can be used. In this work, we use generated datasets with meaningful ground truth data. We note that, to achieve high accuracy, the clustering test must match a particular predetermined outcome, confirming the difficulty of this test.

The immunization test

The immunization problem is well known and well studied in the complex networks literature, with applications to diffusion of information [67], identification of important nodes [68], and also to the spread of disease and computer viruses [69]. The immunization problem involves attacking a network by removing vertices, presumably in the order most likely to cause damage to the network. The problem is made more difficult by limiting the number of nodes that can be attacked. The success of the attack is measured by the size of the largest remaining component, also called the giant component.Footnote 1 There are several well-known strategies for choosing the attack order for the immunization problem. Four of the strategies detailed in [12] are as follows:

  1. i.

    Select vertices in order of decreasing degree in the original graph and remove vertices in that order.

  2. ii.

    Use an adaptive strategy which involves selecting the highest degree vertex in a graph, removing it, selecting the highest degree vertex in the newly configured graph, and continuing in that fashion.

  3. iii.

    Select vertices in order of decreasing betweenness centrality in the original graph and remove vertices in that order.

  4. iv.

    Use an adaptive strategy which involves selecting the highest betweenness centrality vertex in a graph, removing it, selecting the highest degree vertex in the newly configured graph, and continuing in that fashion.

When the immunization test is conducted in this paper, the adaptive betweenness strategy (strategy iv above) is used to remove nodes from the network until either (1) all nodes have been removed, (2) some predetermined number of nodes have been removed, or (3) the betweenness centralities of the remaining nodes are all zero. Obviously, if all nodes are removed the largest connected component will be zero. We are more interested in seeing if removing smaller numbers of nodes can result in small components. Therefore, our results show the maximum component size after a predetermined number of removals, usually 10% of the nodes in the network.

Graphs used with the clustering test

There are many generative models for graphs, such as Erdös–Rényi random graphs, the planted l-partition model [70], the Gaussian random partition generator [71], and the LFR benchmark network [72]. We test using the LFR benchmark because it is considered state of the art [73] and was created specifically to test community detection algorithms. The LFR Net can be generated based on several parameters, such as minimum and maximum cluster size and average and maximum degree and mixing factor. The mixing factor controls the percentage of edges that leave a cluster, also called boundary edges. A higher mixing factor means less tightly bound clusters that are more difficult to detect. One strength of the LFR model is that it accounts for “heterogeneity in the distributions of node degrees and community sizes” [72], and it is often used to generate scale-free graphs. We controlled both the degree and the community sizes as described below to keep most graph properties constant while varying mixing factor, and our graphs are not scale free. The graphs are generated according to the following sequence, which is described more fully in [72, 73].

  1. 1

    A sequence of community sizes is extracted. This is done randomly, although it is controlled by parameters specifying minimum and maximum community sizes.

  2. 2

    Each vertex i of a community is assigned an internal degree of \((1-\mu )d_i\), where \(d_i\) is the degree of vertex i, and \(\mu\) is the previously described mixing factor. The degree is chosen randomly, although it is subject to parameters controlling its minimum and maximum values. The node is considered to have \((1-\mu )d_i\) stubs, where a stub is a potential edge.

  3. 3

    Stubs of vertices of the same community are randomly attached until all stubs are used.

  4. 4

    Each vertex i receives \(\mu d_i\) additional stubs that are randomly attached to vertices of different communities, until all stubs are used.

Twelve LFR network graphs are used with the clustering test. Half have 10,000 nodes and half have 100,000 nodes. All graphs are generated randomly, to have approximately 40 communities. The six 10,000-node graphs are generated to have degree distributions from 19 to 64 and community sizes from 100 to 500. Based on extensive experimentation, it was discovered that the mixing factor parameter, denoted \(\mu\), had the greatest influence on the ease of clusterability of a graph. Our graphs have mixing factors \(\mu\) ranging from 0.01 to 0.1. Complete details are given in Table 1.

Table 1 10,000-node randomly generated LFR nets used

The 10,000-node graphs 1 through 6 keep properties such as degree structure and average community size constant while changing \(\mu\). This allows a test based on clustering difficulty without complicating factors such as number of edges (which would require more computation time in edge-based sampling methods). Most of the approximation methods tested use parameters which control the trade-off between speed and accuracy. It is anticipated that succeeding in the clustering test will require much less accuracy for Graph 1 than for Graph 6. Therefore, Graph 1 was used as a baseline accuracy test. It was expected that as accuracy parameters were increased, graphs 2 through 5 would become clusterable, with Graph 6 being the ultimate test. It is noted that Graph 6 is much more difficult to cluster than the first five.

A second series of LFR networks with 100,000 nodes was also generated. Details for these graphs are presented in Table 2. The six graphs can best be viewed as two series of three graphs. Graphs 1–3 are characterized by low average degree and low number of edges. They are in order of increasing difficulty. With approximation methods that are based on the number of edges, these graphs should be substantially faster to cluster than graphs 4–6, which have three times as many edges. This gives an effective test of the scalability of the algorithms. To test the power of mixing factor \(\mu\) over clusterability, graphs 1–3 and 4–6 represent independent progressions of mixing factor. There should be cases where an accuracy parameter setting will fail to cluster Graph 3 but will succeed in clustering Graph 4. However, Graph 4 may take longer because of its larger number of edges. With the largest mixing factor, and a large number of edges, Graph 6 is the most difficult to cluster on all counts. Our goal in setting parameters was to find a combination that would cluster Graph 6 with at least 90% accuracy, although that did not always happen.

Table 2 100,000-node randomly generated LFR nets used

Graphs used with the immunization test

For the immunization test, we used four graphs taken from the SNAP repository [53]. Their information is shown in Table 3.

Table 3 Graphs used in the immunization test

Choosing parameters

The approximation methods use parameters to control the trade-off between speed and accuracy. For each method that was evaluated, we followed a structured process to find an optimal speed/accuracy trade-off. The steps followed are listed below:

  1. 1

    We took note of suggested parameters in the source papers, particularly parameters that the authors had used in their own experiments.

  2. 2

    We attempted to use parameters discovered in step 1 to cluster the 10,000-node Graph 1, hoping to obtain results of 100% accuracy. If the graph was not clustered to 100% accuracy, we changed the parameters to increase accuracy. This process was repeated until an appropriate setting was found. Often, these parameters successfully clustered graphs 1–6, with varying degrees of accuracy. If possible, we tried to find the fastest setting that gave 100% accuracy with Graph 1.

  3. 3

    Having found the minimum accuracy settings, we increased the accuracy parameter until Graph 6 was clustered with at least 90% accuracy (although we could not always achieve this in a reasonable time).

  4. 4

    For comparison, we chose a parameter setting between the settings discovered in steps 2 and 3. We ran the clustering test for all six graphs for all three parameter settings.

  5. 5

    Moving to the 100,000-node graphs, we tried the same settings used for the 10,000-node graphs. The most common problem was that the maximum accuracy setting for the 10,000-node graphs was very slow when used with the 100,000-node graphs. In that case, we tried slightly faster/less accurate settings. In all cases, we tried to find a setting that would cluster 100,000-node Graph 6 with at least 90% accuracy. If that did not succeed, we tried to find a setting where the clustering for Graph 6 at least did not fail. Preliminary work for this paper appeared in [25], and those timings were used as an indication of what should be considered reasonable.

Experimental results

The goal of the experiments is to reproduce the steps a practitioner with a real problem to solve might take to use one of the approximation algorithms, although under more controlled circumstances. In real life, exact calculations of graphs of tens of thousands of nodes are going to take days to run, at least with current, readily available technology. For example, executing the clustering test with 10,000-node Graph 6 took approximately 48 h using Brandes’s exact faster algorithm [13]. We did not have access to a supercomputer and assume many practitioners do not.

All experiments were conducted on two identical computers. Each had an Intel i7-7700K CPU running at 4.20 GHz with four cores and eight logical processors, and 16 GB ram. Computers also had Nvidia GPU cards, which will be described later. We attempted to use many different betweenness centrality approximation methods, compiled from a variety of sources, and code from the original authors was used where available. All implementations of algorithms used are available from documented public sources. All were written in C++ (or CUDA and C++) and compiled to optimize speed.

Overall results

Results of the clustering test depend to an extent on the difficulty of the graph being clustered. The speed and accuracy under optimal conditions of the top four algorithms for the 10,000-node graphs are compared in Fig. 1. Results for Graph 5 are shown in Fig. 1a, and results for Graph 6 are shown in Fig. 1b. Algorithms offering the best combinations of speed and accuracy will appear in the upper left hand corner of the chart. On the easier-to-cluster Graph 5, McLaughlin2014 is most successful. Borassi2016 offers a slight gain in speed at the cost of some accuracy, and Geisberger2008 gives consistently good accuracy, but takes more than twice as long. For the more difficult \(\mu =0.1\) graphs shown in Fig. 1a, Borassi2016 matches McLaughlin2014 in speed, and in one case beats it in accuracy as well. Two additional runs of the Borassi2016 algorithm (detailed with all runs in Table 18) with speed of 62, accuracy 50% and speed of 50, accuracy 44% did not have high enough accuracy to be shown in Fig. 1b.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Best performing algorithms for the clustering test on 10,000-node graphs. These results represent optimal conditions. McLaughlin2014 is run using an Nvidia Titan V GPU, and Borassi2016 is configured to return five betweenness centralities at one time

The overall clustering test results for 100,000-node graphs are shown in Fig. 2. Results for the sparse-edge Graph 3 are shown in Fig. 2a and for the denser Graph 6 in Fig. 2b. The 100,000-node clustering test is a good indication of the scalability of the algorithms. Note that on the most difficult examples, the Riondato2016 algorithm has dropped off the chart. On the less dense Graph 3, Borassi2016 performs best, both in terms of speed and accuracy. On the denser Graph 6, McLaughlin2014 is the most consistent combination of speed and accuracy, although again some accuracy can be traded for gains in speed with Borassi2016. In both cases, Geisberger2008 is slower but with consistently high accuracy.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Best performing algorithms for the clustering test on 100,000-node graphs. These results represent optimal conditions. McLaughlin2014 is run using an Nvidia Titan V GPU, and Borassi2016 is configured to return five betweenness centralities at one time

Because of the exceptional performance of McLaughlin2014, Borassi2016 and Geisberger2008, we tested each further for scalability using the immunization test on the Google dataset, which has 875,713 nodes and over 5 million edges. Results are shown in Fig. 3. Borassi2016 performs very well here, having the best speed, and also the best speed/accuracy combination. McLaughlin2014 was run on an Nvidia Titan V GPU, and performed well with speed, but had trouble achieving accuracy. Results from the circled runs in Fig. 3a, which are shown in Fig. 3b, show that for quick results Borassi2016 performs best. Borassi2016 removes less than 2% of nodes to achieve a smallest cluster of approximately 1%. Geisberger2008 requires attacking almost twice as many nodes to achieve the same results. McLaughlin2014 never achieves the dramatic drop of the other two, and only achieves a smallest component size of 12% in roughly the same amount of time.

Fig. 3
figure 3

Scalability test for the top performing algorithms on the 875K-node Google graph

Individual algorithm and parameter selection results

Following is a list of tested algorithms. For each algorithm we describe the parameters, show the parameters selected, and, to the extent available, display the results of the clustering and immunization tests. All results include a time component, which is given in seconds. Hopefully, this will aid the practitioner in selecting parameters given graph size, available time, and desired performance. We understand that many algorithms are relevant because they contain important new ideas, and that all algorithms do not need to be fastest. We also understand that sometimes those algorithms and ideas will later be incorporated into new algorithms that will surpass previous algorithms in speed or accuracy. All of the algorithms below have made important contributions to the understanding of the mechanics of calculating betweenness centrality. We test them for speed, although a slower speed does not diminish their importance or usefulness.

Brandes and Pich 2007 (Brandes2007)

This algorithm is taken from [18], and we used code from [17] to run it. The algorithm uses a heuristic: shortest paths are calculated for a group of samples, called pivots, instead of for all nodes in the graph. The paper states that the ultimate result would be that “the results obtained by solving an SSSP from every pivot are representative for solving it from every vertex in V” [18]. They test several different strategies for selecting the pivots, and find that uniform random selection works best. The algorithm tested here uses uniform random selection. The worst-case time complexity of this approach is O(|V||E|). The speedup is directly proportional to the number of pivots, giving a practical time complexity of O(k|E|) where k is the number of pivots. Results are shown in Table 4. For the 10,000-node graphs, 50 samples gave good results on Graph 1 and Graph 2, but accuracies fell for the remaining graphs. Note that 200 samples were required to obtain uniformly high accuracies, and even then did not meet 90% for Graph 6. The 100,000-node graphs got good results with only 25 samples. The 10- and 50-sample results are shown mostly to demonstrate speed. Note that with Graph 3, doubling the number of samples roughly doubles the amount of time required.

It is useful to compare these results to the Bader2007 algorithm (shown in the next section in Table 7). Note that on the 10,000-node graphs, Brandes2007 takes sometimes twice or even three times as long as Bader2007, even though the latter algorithm required a larger number of samples. With the 100,000-node graphs, Brandes2007 was able to cluster Graph 6 with 200 samples, while Bader2007 required 250 samples. Nonetheless, the time for Bader2007 is shorter and the accuracy higher. Both algorithms have the same theoretical time complexity, making the large difference in running times an interesting result.

Numerical results for the immunization test are shown in Table 5. Brandes2007 does very well with 100 and 250 samples. The time for the large Epinions dataset with 100 samples is less than 3 h. Again, it is interesting to compare to Bader2007. Accuracy results for both algorithms are visualized in Fig. 4. Note that concerning accuracy, both algorithms are almost identical. With the Enron test, both algorithms achieve a cluster of less than 1% with removal of about 8.5% of vertices. With the Epinions dataset, both leave a largest cluster of less than 1% with the removal of approximately 7% of vertices. Note that speed-wise Brandes2007 takes roughly twice as long as Bader2007, using the same numbers of samples.

Table 4 Brandes2007 clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 and 100,000 nodes
Table 5 Brandes2007 run time and max cluster size immunization results
Fig. 4
figure 4

Visualization of results for Brandes2007 versus Bader2007 immunization test

Bader et al. 2007 (Bader2007)

Like Brandes2007, this algorithm estimates centrality by solving the SSSP problem on a sampled subset of vertices. The sampling is referred to as adaptive, because the number of samples required can vary depending on the information obtained from each sample [19]. As with other sampling algorithms, the speedup achieved is directly proportional to the number of shortest path computations. In the worst case, all vertices would be sampled, and so the time complexity of this algorithm is O(|V||E|) in the worst case, and O(k|E|), where k is the number of samples, in the practical case. There are two parameters to this algorithm. The first is a constant c that controls a stopping condition. The second parameter is an arbitrary vertex. For optimum performance, the arbitrary vertex should have high betweenness centrality. The algorithm is of great interest because its benchmark time was the fastest in [17], where the algorithm is referred to as GSIZE. We used code from [17] to run tests of four approximation methods, calculating betweenness centrality values for the Enron dataset. Results from this experiment are shown in Table 6.

Table 6 Initial testing of four algorithms on the Enron dataset

It seems very clear that the fastest method here is Brandes2007, and yet results presented in [17] show that the Bader method is overall ten times faster than the others. Interestingly, by experimenting with the arbitrary vertex parameter, we were able to obtain a range of execution times from 430 to 3 s, depending on the choice of vertex. Obviously, this makes benchmarking the speed of the algorithm difficult.

The benchmarking method in [17] only calculates once on the initial graph. Therefore, it is easy to pick one high-betweenness vertex, perhaps by guessing based on degree. The clustering and immunization tests in this work calculate betweenness centralities repeatedly on a changing graph. There is no way to know what the highest betweenness vertices are at a given time. One easy-to-calculate proxy is vertex degree. Running the algorithm with a parameter of \(c = 2\), and pivoting on the highest degree vertex at each step, our 10,000-node Graph 1 was clustered at 100% accuracy in 8960 s. Compare this to 290 s for Brandes2007. A second attempt was made to speed the algorithm up by, at each iteration, choosing the second highest betweenness centrality vertex from the previous iteration. This also did not speed things up. Bader et al. state in [19] that they set a limit on the number of samples at \(\frac{n}{20}\). We tried this and noticed that with Graph 1 the stopping condition was never reached—500 samples were always used. This configuration clustered perfectly again, but was still not fast at 1112 s. Last, we tried simply changing the limits on the number of samples. With limits of 50, 100 and 250 we got acceptable speeds and accuracies. All tests were run with parameter \(c = 2\), although the parameter probably was not used as the number of samples in fact controlled the stopping point.

Results for the clustering test are shown in Table 7. With a small number of 50 samples, this algorithm clustered the 10,000-node graph 1 in 171 s with 100% accuracy. Clustering the most difficult graph, the 100,000-node Graph 6, to over 90% accuracy took 8.75 h. It is noted on the immunization tests that the 50 sample test was largely ineffective, while the 250 sample test was much more successful, with the largest remaining cluster of only 1.1% with approximately 9% of vertices removed. These results can be seen in Table 8. Accuracy results for the immunization test are compared with Brandes2007 in Fig. 4.

Table 7 Bader2007 clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 and 100,000 nodes
Table 8 Bader2007 run time and max cluster size immunization results

Geisberger et al. better approximation (Geisberger2008)

This algorithm is developed by Geisberger et al. [21]. It is based on the pivot method originally proposed by Brandes and Pich, where calculations are run on some number k of sampled pivots. The Brandes2007 method is said to overstate the importance of nodes near a pivot, a problem that this method solves by using a linear scaling function to reestimate betweenness centrality values based on the distance a from a node to a pivot. Overall time complexity of the method is O(|V||E|), where the speedup is proportional to the number of pivots, k, that are sampled. What will perhaps turn out to be the true power of this algorithm is realized by the authors’ statement that the “algorithms discussed are easy to parallelize with up to k processors” [21]. We used the implementation in NetworKit [74], in the version which parallelizes the computations. The parallelization is programmed using Open MPI. The only parameter is the number of samples, which is chosen by the user. In [21] the number of samples is chosen as powers of 2, ranging from 16 to 8192. We had surprisingly good luck with sample sizes as small as 2. Results for the clustering test are shown in Table 9. This is a quick method to use for clustering with high accuracies on both the 10,000 and 100,000 graphs. Note especially the performance on the most difficult graphs. This is an algorithm that scales to a difficult graph with a large number of edges much better than those we have seen so far. See Figs. 1 and 2 for a comparison of Geisberger2008 performance among the fastest of the algorithms tested.

Results from the immunization test are listed in Table 10. It is interesting to note that, while the improvement from 4 samples to 8 is large for both Enron and Epinions, the improvement from 8 to 16 samples is not as large. Overall, this is a highly accurate algorithm. This is especially evident in Fig. 5.

Table 9 Geisberger2008 clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 and 100,000 nodes
Table 10 Geisberger2008 run time and max cluster size immunization results
Fig. 5
figure 5

Visualization of results for Geisberger2008 immunization test

Riondato–Kornaropoulos fast approximation through sampling (Riondato2016)

Riondato and Kornaropoulos introduce this method in [20], which is based on sampling a predetermined number of node pairs (chosen uniformly at random). The sample size is based on the vertex diameter of the graph, denoted VD(G), which is the minimum number of nodes in the longest shortest path in G, and may vary from (diameter + 1) if the graph is weighted. Sampled vertices can be chosen to guarantee that the estimated betweenness values for all vertices are within an additive factor \(\epsilon\) from the real values, with a chosen probability at least 1-\(\delta\), where \(0< \delta < 1\).

The time complexity of this algorithm is \(O(r(|V|+|E|))\), where r is determined by the equation:

$$\begin{aligned} r = \frac{c}{\epsilon ^2}\Big ( \lfloor {\text {log}}_2 (\text {VD(G)} - 2) \rfloor + 1 + \text {ln} \frac{1}{\delta } \Big ). \end{aligned}$$

In Eq. 3, c is a universal positive constant that is estimated in [20] to be 0.5, VD(G) is the vertex diameter of the graph, \(\epsilon\) is the additive factor by which the approximation may vary from the true betweenness centrality value, and \(\delta\) is the probability that the estimated value will be within \(\epsilon\) of the true value.

We used the implementation in NetworKit [74]. There are three parameters, the first of which, a constant c,  is set at 1.0 in NetworKit. The other parameters are \(\epsilon\), which is the maximum additive error, and \(\delta\), which is the probability that the values are within the error guarantee. Our experiments use \(\delta =0.1\) for a probability of 90%, and vary \(\epsilon\), where higher \(\epsilon\) values mean lower accuracy but also greater speed. Results are shown in Table 11. A couple of things are interesting. First, notice that relatively good accuracies are obtained even at relatively high values of \(\epsilon\). The algorithm displays good speeds on the simpler 100,000-node graphs, taking only 556 s to cluster Graph 1 compared to 2808 s for Geisberger2008. However, Riondato2016 does not scale as well—the most difficult graph takes about three times as long as Geisberger2008 to cluster with at least 90% accuracy.

Results from the immunization test are shown in Table 12 and Fig. 6.

Overall, Riondato2016 is the fourth most successful of our survey, and offers a theoretical guarantee of accuracy. A similar theoretical guarantee is also offered by Borassi2016.

Table 11 Riondato2016 clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 and 100,000 nodes
Table 12 Riondato2016 run time and max cluster size immunization results
Fig. 6
figure 6

Visualization of results for Riondato2016 Immunization Test

McLaughlin and Bader Hybrid-BC (McLaughlin2014)

Hybrid-BC is introduced by McLaughlin and Bader in [41]. It offers an approximation that uses a sampling of k vertices to determine the structure of the graph. As k is increased, calculations are slower, but accuracy is greater.

McLaughlin2014 is a GPU-based algorithm, and calculations were initially performed and timed on a computer with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, which has 2560 CUDA cores, 20 streaming multiprocessors, and a base clock of 1607MHz. This GPU is at this writing found in good-quality gaming computers, and is at a price point that most practitioners can afford. It is arguably Nvidia’s second or third most powerful GPU. We used code downloaded from Adam McLaughlin’s website [41]. Our hardware setup was capable of running 1024 threads simultaneously.

Results for the clustering test are shown in Table 13. Across the board, these are the best results we have seen so far. In fact, McLaughlin2014 is able to cluster the most difficult graph with a high 98% accuracy in approximately 60% of the time of Geisberger2008. It is noted that McLaughlin2014 is one of the fastest and most accurate of all algorithms on the clustering test.

Table 13 McLaughlin2014 clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 and 100,000 nodes With Nvidia GTX1080 GPU

Results for the immunization test are shown in Table 14. The times are the fastest seen so far, and the the max cluster sizes are small. As can be seen in Fig. 7, 64 samples produced the best result in all cases, but 32 samples also performed well. Notice the large difference in accuracy between those and the test with 16 samples. Also notice that due to somewhat lower accuracy on the Enron test, we have changed the scale of the x-axis. The McLaughlin algorithm is interesting because it scales very well time-wise, but accuracies are not as good. It does better on the clustering test, but is also very successful on the immunization test.

Table 14 McLaughlin2014 run time and max cluster size immunization results
Fig. 7
figure 7

Visualization of results for McLaughlin2014 immunization test

The McLaughlin2014 results are so impressive that we wanted to determine the extent to which the properties of the GPU influenced calculation times. We replaced the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU with an Nvidia Titan V GPU, which has 5120 CUDA cores (twice as many as the GTX1080), 80 streaming multiprocessors (four times as many as the GTX1080), and a base clock of 1200 MHz (interestingly, slower than the GTX1080). Results from rerunning the clustering test with this new configuration are shown in Table 15. For the 10,000-node graphs, clustering times are reduced by about 70%. The time to process 100,000-node Graph 6 with k = 64 went from 10917 to 6007 s, a savings of almost 82 min off an already fast 3-h processing time. These are among the best times that we will see.

The performance of McLaughlin2014 on the clustering tests with the Titan V GPU is compared to the other top algorithms in Figs. 1 and 2. A comparison of immunization test results using the large Google graph is shown in Fig. 3. Interestingly, although it is still a top performer, it is sometimes bested by other algorithms in terms of speed and accuracy. At the time of this writing, the price of the Titan V was approximately five times the cost of the GTX 1080.

Table 15 McLaughlin2014 clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 and 100,000 nodes with Nvidia Titan V GPU

Borassi and Natale KADABRA (Borassi2016)

ADaptive Algorithm for Betweenness via Random Approximation (KADABRA) is described by Borassi and Natale in [30]. These authors achieve speed in two different ways. First, distances are computed using balanced bidirectional breadth-first search, in which a BFS is performed “from each of the two endpoints s and t, in such a way that the two BFSs are likely to explore about the same number of edges, and ... stop as soon as the two BFSs touch each other.” This reduces the time complexity of the part of the algorithm that samples shortest paths from O(|E|) to \(O(|E|^{\frac{1}{2}+ o(1)})\). A second improvement is that they take a different approach to sampling, one that “decreases the total number of shortest paths that need to be sampled to compute all betweenness centralities with a given absolute error.” The algorithm has a theoretical guarantee of error less than \(\epsilon\) with probability 1 − \(\delta\). For our experiments, we kept \(\delta\) at 0.1, which implied a 90% probability of being within the specified error, and varied \(\epsilon\).

Experiments with Borassi2016 were run using the original code as referenced in [30]. Results are shown in Table 16. Borassi2016 code is parallelized using OpenMP. Note that it is very fast, and that the accuracies are impressive, even at what seem to be high error tolerances. For example, the threshold time for the easiest 10,000-node graph is 60 s with no special hardware, where the same graph is clustered using an expensive GPU in 68 s. Notice that with the 100,000-node graphs, the \(\epsilon =0.05\) results from Borassi2016 are comparable with, and sometimes faster than, the k = 32 results from McLaughlin2014 with the Titan V GPU. The only issue we notice with the Borassi2106 algorithm is that the time seems to be very sensitive to small changes in \(\epsilon\). For example, our attempts to run the 100,000-node graphs at \(\epsilon =0.01\) were going to take hours longer than at \(\epsilon =0.025\). Clustering 100,000-node Graph 6 with \(\epsilon =0.025\) takes over twice as long as with the high-powered GPU, raising questions about scalability; however, it appears that if one is willing to trade a small amount of accuracy, the speed of Borassi2016 rivals that of a GPU algorithm.

Results from the immunization test are shown in Table 17. Notice the extremely small largest components for all three networks when \(\epsilon =0.01\), and the small sizes when \(\epsilon =0.05\). Times are shorter than for any algorithms but McLaughlin2014. Accuracy results for the immunization test are shown in Fig. 8. Notice particularly in Fig. 8b the rapid decrease in size of the largest component with only 6% of nodes removed, and results for \(\epsilon =0.05\) and \(\epsilon =0.01\) are very similar. These results are so impressive that we ran the algorithm on the 875k-node Google graph. It achieved these accuracies: \(\epsilon =0.1\): 53,706 s and 27.9% accuracy, \(\epsilon =0.05\): 58,405 s and 11.7% accuracy, and \(\epsilon =0.025\): 85,277 s and 8.7% accuracy. A comparison of Borassi2016 with the other two algorithms tested on the Google graph is shown in Fig. 3a. Notice that this is arguably the most successful of the three algorithms in terms of speed and accuracy. In Fig. 3b it shows by far the most rapid decline in largest component size, decreasing to less than 1% of graph size with less than 2% of nodes removed.

Table 16 Borassi2016 KADABRA clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 and 100,000 nodes
Table 17 Borassi2016 run time and max cluster size immunization results
Fig. 8
figure 8

Visualization of results for Borassi2016 immunization test

The Borassi2016 algorithm can be configured to return the top k vertices. In previous experiments we used it to return only the top vertex. Because the exact order of vertices chosen is not of the utmost importance in the clustering test, we wondered if the speed of this algorithm could be improved even further by choosing a set of nodes at each iteration. We tested this on the 10,000-node graphs by using the algorithm to find the top five vertices, while all other factors remained the same. Results can be seen in Table 18. The 10,000-node baseline graph is clustered in 36 s, compared to 68 s for the GPU algorithm. The most difficult graph took 4402 s, which is 27 min shorter than the clustering time with the GPU.

Charts showing the overall performance of Borassi2016 compared to the other three top algorithms are contained in Figs. 1 and 2. Figure 2a is particularly interesting, as Borassi2016 beats all other algorithms with its combination of speed and accuracy.

Table 18 Borassi2016 KADABRA clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 and 100,000 nodes with top five vertices chosen

Yoshida’s adaptive betweenness centrality (Yoshida2014)

Yoshida2014 adaptive betweenness centrality refers to computing betweenness centrality for a succession of vertices “without considering the shortest paths that have been taken into account by already-chosen vertices” [1]. This description matches exactly the Greedy-BC heuristic used with NBR-Clust. Once the array of betweenness centralities is calculated, the node-removal order is known and the resilience measures are calculated for the graph at each configuration. The configuration with the lowest resilience measure value is chosen. Yoshida’s adaptive betweenness centrality algorithm has an expected total runtime of \(O((|V| + |E|)k + hk + hk\) log |V|), where h is a probabilistic parameter that in most graphs is much less than \((|V| + |E|)\), and k is the number of times the graph is sampled. The algorithm runs faster or slower depending on the parameter k, which also controls the expected error. It is suggested that k should be chosen to be O(log \(|V| / \epsilon ^2)\), where \(\epsilon\) is the expected error. Our experiments used different values of k to help establish a link between the speed and accuracy of this algorithm.

We used the original code downloaded from Yoshida’s website. Results for the clustering test are shown in Table 19. We had success with this algorithm in [25], but here were unable to cluster the 100,000-node Graph 6 with 90% accuracy, even with \(k=800,000\). Also, the corresponding times were comparatively long, and we did not continue with the immunization test.

Table 19 Yoshida2014 clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 and 100,000 nodes

Sariyüce et al. BADIOS (Sariyüce2012)

BADIOS (Bridges, Articulation, Degree-1, and Identical vertices, Ordering, and Side vertices) is introduced by Sariyüce et al. [32]. BADIOS is not actually an approximation technique, but a speed enhancement. This algorithm involves splitting a graph in ways that will not affect the accuracy of the betweenness centrality calculation. Because the pieces are smaller, scaling problems are reduced. For example, Degree-1 means that all degree-1 vertices have a betweenness centrality of zero. They can be removed from a graph, shrinking its size without affecting the accuracy of the final calculation. It sounds simple, but even after a graph is shattered by removing an articulation node, that node becomes a degree-1 node and can be removed. The different strategies are repeated until all options are exhausted.

In the worst case, manipulations to the graph fail or are few (for example, a graph with many large cliques), which indicates a time complexity of O(|V||E|). In the best case times are greatly enhanced. Our 10,000-node Graph 1 took approximately 5 h with BADIOS. This is a substantial improvement over the original exact calculation time of 48 h; however, the savings in time does not compare to the other approximation algorithms discussed.

Sariyüce et al. gpuBC (Sariyüce2013)

Sariyüce et al. introduced gpuBC in 2013. It contains some ideas from BADIOS, such as removal of degree 1 vertices and graph ordering. It also introduces new ideas: first, vertex virtualization, which replaces high-degree vertices with virtual vertices that have at most a predetermined maximum degree. One of the original problems with GPU parallelization of betweenness centrality is whether to parallelize based on edge or node traversals. By evening out the degree of vertices, this method solves the problem. Second, they use techniques to store the graph that improve the speed of memory access.

The software is available on their website. The software is written for CUDA 4.2.9. We could not get it to run with more recent versions (at this writing, CUDA 9.1 is the most recent version). We were able to run gpuBC for the 10,000-node graphs after installing older versions of Linux and CUDA. Due to memory errors that we could not correct, we were not able to run gpuBC on the 100,000-node graphs.

We used the version of the software with ordering and degree-1 vertex removal techniques enabled, and virtual-vertex based GPU parallelism with strided access. There are two parameters available, one is the max degree of the virtual vertex, which we set at 4, and the number of BFS runs to be executed, which we varied from 100 to 200 to 1000. Results for the clustering test are shown in Table 20, and they are good, although we could not get the Graph 6 to cluster to 90% accuracy.

Table 20 Sariyüce2013 gpuBC clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 nodes

Kourtellis et al. \(\kappa\)-path centrality (Kourtellis2013)

\(\kappa\)-path centrality is introduced in [50], where it is shown empirically that nodes with high \(\kappa\)-path centrality are highly correlated with nodes with high betweenness centrality. This randomized algorithm runs in time \(O(\kappa ^{3}|V|^{2-2\alpha }\log |V|)\), where graph exploration is limited to a neighborhood of \(\kappa\) hops around each node, and \(\alpha \in [-\frac{1}{2}, \frac{1}{2}]\) is a parameter that controls the tradeoff between speed and accuracy. The algorithm outputs, for each vertex v, an estimate of its \(\kappa\)-path centrality up to additive error of \(\pm |V|^{1/2+ \alpha }\) with probability \(1-1/|V|^2\) [50].

Recommended values for the parameters are \(\alpha = 0.2\) and \(\kappa = {\rm ln}(|V|+|E|)\). For the 10,000-node graph 1, the recommended \(\kappa\) would be 13. Our graphs generally do not have long shortest paths, and it was observed that lowering \(\kappa\) speeded the run time considerably. Our tests used \(\kappa\) = 10, and varied \(\alpha\) from 0.1 to 0.3. Results from the clustering test for 10,000-node graphs are shown in Table 21. Even with the suggested parameters we could not get Graph 1 to cluster to 90% accuracy. Because accuracies are generally low and run times high, we did not test further.

Table 21 Kourtellis2013 \(\kappa\)-path centrality clustering results for LFR nets of 10,000 nodes


Many different factors will affect the choice of an algorithm. Which is better is often in the eye of the beholder. Among the algorithms considered here, the easiest to install are the algorithms contained with NetworKit, which is an ongoing project, supports not only UNIX, but MacOS and Windows 10, and contains both the Riondato2016 and Geisberger2008 algorithms. Notes contained in NetworKit suggest that if you do not need the guaranteed error bounds of Riondato2016, Geisberger2008 is thought to work better in practice. Our results agree with that conclusion, although both algorithms are in the top four for performance in terms of the combinations of speed and accuracy they provide.

Parallelization is a key concept in increasing the speed of betweenness centrality calculations, and many of the algorithms parallelize well. The top three algorithms in terms of speed and performance have parallel implementations, Geisberger2008 and Borassi2016 by using CPU cores, and McLaughlin2014 as a GPU algorithm. Fast results are obtained by using a powerful GPU and an algorithm like McLaughlin2014, which performed even better with the high-performance Nvidia Titan V card. In the original paper [25], we concluded by stating that the results “almost certainly underestimate the potential of GPU algorithms.” With the additional results in this paper, we see the complete potential.

The best alternative to the GPU-based algorithm, and perhaps the best all-around algorithm, is Borassi2016 (KADABRA), which offers results that rival and even beat the GPU with certain configurations. In one instance, Borassi2016 clustered a 10,000-node graph in half the time of the GPU algorithm. Borassi2016 was especially useful in its ability to predictably trade accuracy for additional speed. Also, the speed is gained without the added cost and programming skill that running a GPU algorithm requires.

Although some algorithms offer a more desirable combination of speed and accuracy, all algorithms examined here bring new ideas and insights to the search for faster betweenness centrality computations.


  1. We briefly note the plausible similarity of this process with that of computing node-based resilience measures such as integrity and VAT, which also limit the size of both the attack set and the resulting giant component. Therefore, some commonalities of their betweenness centrality-based computations may be expected.


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Authors' contributions

JM designed and ran the experiments. GE contributed ideas on content and worked on the writing. KS contributed ideas on content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


The authors would like to thank Ziyad Al-Ghamdi for genuinely useful help, as well as the anonymous reviewers for the 6th International Conference on Complex Networks and Their Applications for their insightful suggestions.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Matta, J., Ercal, G. & Sinha, K. Comparing the speed and accuracy of approaches to betweenness centrality approximation. Comput Soc Netw 6, 2 (2019).

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