Computing maximal subsemigroups of a finite semigroup

C. R. Donoven, J. D. Mitchell, W. A. Wilson

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A proper subsemigroup of a semigroup is maximal if it is not contained in any other proper subsemigroup. A maximal subsemigroup of a finite semigroup has one of a small number of forms, as described in a paper of Graham, Graham, and Rhodes. Determining which of these forms arise in a given finite semigroup is difficult, and no practical mechanism for doing so appears in the literature. We present an algorithm for computing the maximal subsemigroups of a finite semigroup S given knowledge of the Green's structure of S, and the ability to determine maximal subgroups of certain subgroups of S, namely its group H-classes. In the case of a finite semigroup S represented by a generating set X, in many examples, if it is practical to compute the Green's structure of S from X, then it is also practical to find the maximal subsemigroups of S using the algorithm we present. In such examples, the time taken to determine the Green's structure of S is comparable to that taken to find the maximal subsemigroups. The generating set X for S may consist, for example, of transformations, or partial permutations, of a finite set, or of matrices over a semiring. Algorithms for computing the Green's structure of S from X include the Froidure–Pin Algorithm, and an algorithm of the second author based on the Schreier–Sims algorithm for permutation groups. The worst case complexity of these algorithms is polynomial in |S|, which for, say, transformation semigroups is exponential in the number of points on which they act. Certain aspects of the problem of finding maximal subsemigroups reduce to other well-known computational problems, such as finding all maximal cliques in a graph and computing the maximal subgroups in a group. The algorithm presented comprises two parts. One part relates to computing the maximal subsemigroups of a special class of semigroups, known as Rees 0-matrix semigroups. The other part involves a careful analysis of certain graphs associated to the semigroup S, which, roughly speaking, capture the essential information about the action of S on its J-classes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-596
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Algebra
Early online date15 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • Algorithms
  • Computational group theory
  • Computational semigroup theory
  • Maximal subsemigroups


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