Motivated by the wavelength assignment problem in WDM optical networks, we study path coloring problems in graphs. Given a set of paths P on a graph G, the path coloring problem is to color the paths of P so that no two paths traversing the same edge of G are assigned the same color and the total number of colors used is minimized. The problem has been proved to be NP-hard even for trees and rings.
Using optimal solutions to fractional path coloring, a natural relaxation of path coloring, on which we apply a randomized rounding technique combined with existing coloring algorithms, we obtain new upper bounds on the minimum number of colors sufficient to color any set of paths on any graph. The upper bounds are either existential or constructive.
The existential upper bounds significantly improve existing ones provided that the cost of the optimal fractional path coloring is sufficiently large and the dilation of the set of paths is small. Our algorithmic results include improved approximation algorithms for path coloring in rings and in bidirected trees. Our results extend to variations of the original path coloring problem arizing in multifiber WDM optical networks.