Between primitive and 2-transitive: synchronization and its friends

João Araújo, Peter Jephson Cameron, Benjamin Steinberg

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An automaton (consisting of a finite set of states with given transitions) is said to be synchronizing if there is a word in the transitions which sends all states of the automaton to a single state. Research on this topic has been driven by the Černý conjecture, one of the oldest and most famous problems in automata theory, according to which a synchronizing n-state automaton has a reset word of length at most (n − 1)2 . The transitions of an automaton generate a transformation monoid on the set of states, and so an automaton can be regarded as a transformation monoid with a prescribed set of generators. In this setting, an automaton is synchronizing if the transitions generate a constant map.

A permutation group G on a set Ω is said to synchronize a map f if the monoid (G, f) generated by G and f is synchronizing in the above sense; we say G is synchronizing if it synchronizes every non-permutation.

The classes of synchronizing groups and friends form an hierarchy of natural and elegant classes of groups lying strictly between the classes of primitive and 2-homogeneous groups. These classes have been floating around for some years and it is now time to provide a unified reference on them.

The study of all these classes has been prompted by the Černý conjecture, but it is of independent interest since it involves a rich mix of group theory, combinatorics, graph endomorphisms, semigroup theory, finite geometry, and representation theory, and has interesting computational aspects as well. So as to make the paper self-contained, we have provided background material on these topics.
Our purpose here is to present recent work on synchronizing groups and related topics. In addition to the results that show the connections between the various areas of mathematics mentioned above, we include a new result on the Černý conjecture (a strengthening of a theorem of Rystsov), some challenges to finite geometers (which classical polar spaces can be partitioned into ovoids?), some thoughts about infinite analogues, and a long list of open problems to stimulate further work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-184
JournalEMS Surveys in Mathematical Sciences
Issue number2
Early online date13 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Primitive groups
  • Synchronizing groups
  • Spreading groups
  • Separating groups
  • Černý conjecture
  • Ovoids and spreads
  • Graphs
  • Orbitals
  • Transformation semigroups
  • Automata
  • 2-transitive


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