Bonobo.jl: Branch and Bound

Creation date: 2021-11-07

Tags: julia, tsp, optimization, branch_and_bound, bonobo

First of all I can't really believe that I do this for like the fifth time now but maybe I get better at it 😄. I'm talking about building some kind of branch and bound system. This time I don't really have much code to begin with so I can start building a general branch and bound solver.

Anyhow, welcome back to my blog 😉. Ready for the second part of the TSP series? If you haven't please check out the first part where I introduce the problem a bit and work on both an upper bound and a lower bound.

What is branch and bound?

Branch and bound is an idea that is often used in mathematical optimization like my constraint solver or in the MINLP solver Juniper .

In general we have some kind of problem that we can't solve directly. Instead we can only provide some bounds to the solution. Then we make a choice like set this boolean variable to true in one branch and set it to false in another. This way we have two problems now instead of one but they both are a bit simpler as they are restricted. Important is however that we never remove an actual solution by splitting up the problem instead we remove only the current relaxed solution. Maybe that boolean variable was set to 0.7 before which can never be the case in the solution we are looking for.

This way we can basically try all the different options to reach the solution. Of course we don't really wanna try out everything. Instead we also do bounding which means the following.

Let's assume we have found a solution in one of those branches maybe without even fixing all the variables. That way we have an upper bound for the best solution. (I assume we have a minimization problem here.)

If in some other branch the lower bound is bigger than this upper bound we don't have to investigate that branch any further and can cut that branch from the tree.

The general structure

There are a bunch of different ways to go about this problem which I have detailed in the constraint solver backtracking post.

Before we talk about the last approach which is the one I'll take we should probably get at least one negative point about the other variants 😄

The recursive structure makes stuff often very straightforward to code at first until you get your first recursion bug that you can't wrap your head around. In general however this approach isn't very scalable as you'll hit the recursion limit pretty soon.

The tree option sounds pretty nice as the structure is very much a tree. However iterating through a tree is sometimes not that nice. Like if we want to pick the next node we want to branch on we have to somehow iterate over all of them to pick the next good one.


Maybe a small blue box about terminology 😉

A node is a state where in which we can evaluate both a lower and an upper bound. To branch on a node means to split the node up into normally two children. In our case later we will either fix on connection between two points or we disallow it.

Normally there are two main important questions in branch and bound:

  • Which node to check next

  • How to branch on it i.e which edge do we either fix or disallow next?

Alright, up to the next point which what BranchAndBound.jl uses. Wait a minute there is already a package for it ...? Yeah that's right, I'm just as a lot of time not satisfied enough... but might end up with a crappier solution 😄. In that package you have a list of nodes and a list of processed nodes. The problem I see there is that it stores the nodes in a sorted vector instead of a priority queue. Which saved me a lot of time in my ConstraintSolver . You can read about priority queues in that series.

Therefore, my plan is to create a general branch and bound structure which holds


The reasons above made me create yet another repository Bonobo , which aims to be a very general branch and bound framework in Julia . Seeing the support and interest in the project already now about a week after I created it, took me by surprise. It seems like there is a need for something like it for longer. I'll explain now my current way of how I try to fill this gap.

Bonobo consists of a general tree structure:

mutable struct BnBTree{Node<:AbstractNode,Root,Value,Solution<:AbstractSolution{Node,Value}}

Which consists of the value for the current best objective (incumbent) the current lower bound lb a vector of solutions, the open nodes in a priority queue as discussed above. Then a root field which holds the information that is needed by the program that builds on top of this general framework. As an example it can hold the information of a JuMP model. Then in some cases not all of the variables have to be discrete therefore branching_indices stores a list of variables that should be discrete or should be branched on in general. As an example in our TSP solver it has nothing to do with being discrete therefore the change in name here. (It was called discrete_indices before).

num_nodes is just a counter of how many nodes were created. The sense is either :Min or :Max which defines whether we want to minimize or maximize the objective. In the case of :Max we still use it as if we were minimizing but when receiving the information from solving a node it will be flipped and when we return the solution it gets flipped again.

The last field options holds all kinds of options currently only the branching strategy and the traverse strategy though the latter is currently fixed 😄 .

Now we have to initialize this struct which is done with the following method (here I only show the arguments):

function initialize(;
    traverse_strategy = BFS,
    branch_strategy = FIRST,
    atol = 1e-6,
    rtol = 1e-6,
    Node = DefaultNode,
    Value = Vector{Float64},
    Solution = DefaultSolution{Node,Value},
    root = nothing,
    sense = :Min,

Fell free to click on the "See on GitHub" link above to see the whole definition. Everything has a default value but at least the root should probably be overwritten.

In the general structure above you have probably also seen the various types I used:

mutable struct BnBTree{Node<:AbstractNode,Root,Value,Solution<:AbstractSolution{Node,Value}}

those can be specialized in the initialize function as well as you can see. You often want to have your own type Node to hold the information you need in each node. In some cases it also makes sense to store the solution of a node not as a vector of floats like in our TSP solver case where this would be probably a list of edges.

Let me walk you through some more functions before I show you a concrete example. We now have initialized the struct or at least know the function to do so. The next step is to set the initial node. This is the root node which holds the information of the initial solve of the problem. Remember the branch and bound part mostly consists of splitting up the problem in easier ones and do some tricks to avoid the need to evaluate all of them. It does however not solve the smaller problems. Its goal is simply to maintain the structure and information but the evaluation of the nodes is done by someone else. It is kind of the managing system and it starts with information about the root node which will be evaluated first.

This is done by the set_root! function:

function set_root!(tree::BnBTree, node_info::NamedTuple)
    add_node!(tree, node_info)

It does nothing else than adding a node to the structure by inserting it into our priority queue.

After that we are ready to start the branch and bound process with the optimize! function. It is also fairly simple at its core functionality as you can see here:

function optimize!(tree::BnBTree)
    while !terminated(tree)
        node = get_next_node(tree, tree.options.traverse_strategy)
        lb, ub = evaluate_node!(tree, node) 
        # if the problem was infeasible we simply close the node and continue
        if isnan(lb) && isnan(ub)
            close_node!(tree, node)

        set_node_bound!(tree.sense, node, lb, ub)

        updated = update_best_solution!(tree, node)
        updated && bound!(tree,

        close_node!(tree, node)
        branch!(tree, node)

We check whether we are done which normally is only the case if there are no more nodes to evaluate. Then we check which node we take on next. Afterwards we evaluate the node itself and obtain again a lower and upper bound. This can update the general tree if we obtained a new upper bound (solution which might or might not be optimal).

Then we close the node itself and create new nodes with the branch! call. Our main functions to check are:

The first one is rather simple as we have specified in the initialize function that we want to use BFS as our traverse strategy. This means we obtain the node with the lowest lower bound in each round. The next function evaluate_node! needs to be implemented by the library or code that uses Bonobo as Bonobo doesn't really know anything about how to obtain the lower and upper bounds of your problem. Those are the things that we had a look at in the last post of this series.

Probably the most interesting one is branch!

function branch!(tree, node)
    variable_idx = get_branching_variable(tree, tree.options.branch_strategy, node)
    # no branching variable selected => return
    variable_idx == -1 && return 
    nodes_info = get_branching_nodes_info(tree, node, variable_idx)
    for node_info in nodes_info
        add_node!(tree, node_info)

It consists of two things:

The first step can be handled by Bonobo with calling some more functions but Bonobo itself can hold the logic of which branching variable might be a wise choice. In general it uses mostly the function get_relaxed_values which should return the current values of the nodes. In our case the current edges set in our lower bound.

get_branching_nodes_info however needs to be implemented outside of Bonobo again. There you decide how to split up the problem.

Then those new nodes are added to the tree structure.

As the final step for this blog post I want to show you an example of how to use Bonobo to solve a general mixed integer problem using a linear solver.

An example

A basic JuMP model with the Cbc solver:

m = Model(Cbc.Optimizer)
set_optimizer_attribute(m, "logLevel", 0)
@variable(m, x[1:3] >= 0)
@constraint(m, 0.5x[1]+3.1x[2]+4.2x[3] <= 6.1)   
@constraint(m, 1.9x[1]+0.7x[2]+0.2x[3] <= 8.1)   
@constraint(m, 2.9x[1]-2.3x[2]+4.2x[3] <= 10.5)   
@objective(m, Max, x[1]+1.2x[2]+3.2x[3])

Here I specified the variables \(x_1, x_2, x_3\) to be positive but not that they should be discrete. (Yes Cbc can solve MIPs directly but we want to showcase Bonobo here 😄)

The we initialize Bonobo

bnb_model = BB.initialize(; 
    Node = MIPNode,
    root = m,
    sense = objective_sense(m) == MOI.MAX_SENSE ? :Max : :Min

(I used const BB = Bonobo) As you can see we want to have a specific node structure to save the information necessary for us to evaluate the subproblems. This information should be stored in MIPNode which I'll show in a second. Then the root is the model itself and will store the problem itself and we can use this to dispatch.

The last just checks using JuMP whether it's a minimization or maximization problem. In our case we could simply set it to :Max directly.

We define MIPNode as this:

mutable struct MIPNode <: AbstractNode
    std :: BnBNode
    lbs :: Vector{Float64}
    ubs :: Vector{Float64}
    status :: MOI.TerminationStatusCode

It needs to be a subtype of AbstractNode and has to have the field named std with type BnBNode as Bonobo itself also stores some information in each node. Then for our problem we need to store the lower and upper bounds of each variable and the status code of our node.

We specify our initial bounds for the root node:

BB.set_root!(bnb_model, (
    lbs = zeros(length(x)),
    ubs = fill(Inf, length(x)),

as well as setting the status to indicate that this node wasn't evaluated yet. I've set the lower bounds to 0 here as in the model and the upper bound for each variable is Inf.

Then we can call:


However this will fail as we haven't implemented a bunch of other functions for example how to we evaluate a node?

function BB.evaluate_node!(tree::BnBTree{MIPNode, JuMP.Model}, node::MIPNode)
    m = tree.root
    vids = MOI.get(m ,MOI.ListOfVariableIndices())
    vars = VariableRef.(m, vids)
    JuMP.set_lower_bound.(vars, node.lbs)

    status = termination_status(m)
    node.status = status
    if status != MOI.OPTIMAL
        return NaN,NaN

    obj_val = objective_value(m)
    if all(BB.is_approx_feasible.(tree, value.(vars)))
        node.ub = obj_val
        return obj_val, obj_val
    return obj_val, NaN

This is the first Bonobo function that we dispatch on based on our structs to not have type piracy. It is itself a pretty basic function which sets the lower and upper bounds then calls optimize! which is the JuMP function to optimize the model. Then we check the status which could be infeasible when there is no solution. In that case we would return that there is neither a lower nor an upper bound.

Otherwise we obtain the objective value and also check whether we found a discrete solution. Depending on that we either only return the lower bound or both a lower and an upper one.

The for the branching part we need the following two functions to get the branching variable:

function BB.get_relaxed_values(tree::BnBTree{MIPNode, JuMP.Model}, node)
    vids = MOI.get(tree.root ,MOI.ListOfVariableIndices())
    vars = VariableRef.(tree.root, vids)
    return JuMP.value.(vars)

function BB.get_branching_indices(model::JuMP.Model)
    # every variable should be discrete
    vis = MOI.get(model, MOI.ListOfVariableIndices())
    return 1:length(vis)

The latter one is actually only called once in initialize but it is necessary for this step. There we specify that every variable should have an integer solution in the end. The get_relaxed_values function simply uses the JuMP.value function to get the current values of each variable and return it.

The very last step is to have the get_branching_nodes_info function which returns two nodes one where we set the upper bound of the variable with index vidx which is based on the branching strategy and one where we set the lower bound.

I'll include the full function for completeness even though it's not especially interesting.

function BB.get_branching_nodes_info(tree::BnBTree{MIPNode, JuMP.Model}, node::MIPNode, vidx::Int)
    m = tree.root
    node_info = NamedTuple[]

    var = VariableRef(m, MOI.VariableIndex(vidx))

    # first variable which is not discrete
    lbs = copy(node.lbs)
    ubs = copy(

    val = JuMP.value(var)

    # left child set upper bound
    ubs[vidx] = floor(Int, val)

    push!(node_info, (
        lbs = copy(node.lbs),
        ubs = ubs,
        status = MOI.OPTIMIZE_NOT_CALLED,

    # right child set lower bound
    lbs[vidx] = ceil(Int, val)

    push!(node_info, (
        lbs = lbs,
        ubs = copy(,
        status = MOI.OPTIMIZE_NOT_CALLED,
    return node_info

The important part is that it returns a vector of NamedTuple which includes all the information needed to create our MIPNode besides the std field.

With this you can solve a MIP problem without the need of a MIP solver, you just need any kind of linear solver. It will not be fast based on our current limited branching strategies but more on that at another time.

Next up

This post is already quite long enough I think and even though I might have promised to show you our very first TSP solver in this post at some stage, as this was the plan 😄 I hope you agree that this branch and bound framework deserved its own post here and I'll implement and the write about the actual usage of this for our TSP problem in the next post.

As always: Thanks for reading and see you soon. If you don't want to miss any posts and show me your interest please subscribe to the free email newsletter at the end.

I want to especially thank Mathieu Besançon this time as he helped me with Bonobo quite a bit by reviewing my PRs. Sometimes you don't need to provide code or even documentation to contribute to open source. Reviewing the PRs of people on projects with a single maintainer is very valuable as well. He has some more insight into the topic from another perspective and I'm very grateful for his ideas and support.

Special thanks to my 12 patrons!

Special special thanks to my >4$ patrons. The ones I thought couldn't be found 😄

For a donation of a single dollar per month you get early access to these posts. Your support will increase the time I can spend on working on this blog.

There is also a special tier if you want to get some help for your own project. You can checkout my mentoring post if you're interested in that and feel free to write me an E-mail if you have questions: o.kroeger <at>

I'll keep you updated on Twitter opensourcesblog.


NamedTuples are, as their name suggests, named Tuples. That is, they're a tuple-like collection of values, where each entry has a unique name, represented as a Symbol. Like Tuples, NamedTuples are immutable; neither the names nor the values can be modified in place after construction.

Accessing the value associated with a name in a named tuple can be done using field access syntax, e.g. x.a, or using getindex, e.g. x[:a]. A tuple of the names can be obtained using keys, and a tuple of the values can be obtained using values.


Iteration over NamedTuples produces the values without the names. (See example below.) To iterate over the name-value pairs, use the pairs function.

The @NamedTuple macro can be used for conveniently declaring NamedTuple types.


julia> x = (a=1, b=2)
(a = 1, b = 2)

julia> x.a

julia> x[:a]

julia> keys(x)
(:a, :b)

julia> values(x)
(1, 2)

julia> collect(x)
2-element Vector{Int64}:

julia> collect(pairs(x))
2-element Vector{Pair{Symbol, Int64}}:
 :a => 1
 :b => 2

In a similar fashion as to how one can define keyword arguments programmatically, a named tuple can be created by giving a pair name::Symbol => value or splatting an iterator yielding such pairs after a semicolon inside a tuple literal:

julia> (; :a => 1)
(a = 1,)

julia> keys = (:a, :b, :c); values = (1, 2, 3);

julia> (; zip(keys, values)...)
(a = 1, b = 2, c = 3)

As in keyword arguments, identifiers and dot expressions imply names:

julia> x = 0

julia> t = (; x)
(x = 0,)

julia> (; t.x)
(x = 0,)
Julia 1.5

Implicit names from identifiers and dot expressions are available as of Julia 1.5.

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