A Simple C# Genetic Algorithm
Abstract
In this article we shall produce a simple genetic algorithm in C#. It will not be multithreaded, nor will it contain exotic operators or convergence criteria (i.e. a condition where many of the solutions found are very similar). It will simply demonstrate a genetic algorithm in managed code, taking advantage of some of the features of the .NET runtime.
Introduction
A genetic algorithm is an optimization technique that relies on parallels with nature. It can tackle a variety of optimization techniques provided that they can be parameterized in such a way that a solution to the problem provides measure of how accurate the solution found by the algorithm is. This measure we define as fitness.
Genetic algorithms were first conceived in early 1970's (Holland, 1975). The initial idea came from observing how the evolution of biological creatures derives from their constituent DNA and chromosomes. In this sense a simple analogy can be made with a mathematical problem made up of many parameters. Each parameter can take the place of a chromosome in the mathematical analogy of a real chemical sequence.
In nature, evolution is carried out by a process of selection typified by the expression survival of the fittest. In order to select an individual, we need a population of such individuals to choose from to produce a new generation of individuals.
For any problem that we wish to solve, we need some measure of the goodness of the solution, i.e. fitness, often a χ^{2} (chisquared) measure, i.e. the better the solution, the higher the fitness returned from out function. The less fit the solutions are, the less likely that they are to survive to a successive population. By employing such a technique, the algorithm can reduce the number of possible solutions that it examines.
Many problems are internally represented in binary by various genetic algorithms. Here we will only consider a decimal representation. The internal representation of a genetic algorithm does not actually matter provided the implementation is thorough (Field, 1995).
The Problem
In our example code, we supply a test function that uses sin and cos to produce the plot below:
The optimal solution for this problem is (0.5,0.5), i.e. the highest peak. We choose this example to demonstrate how a genetic algorithm is not fooled by the surrounding local maxima (i.e. the high peaks).
Test Harness
We start by declaring a new genetic algorithm:
GA ga = new GA(0.8,0.05,100,2000,2);
ga.FitnessFunction = new GAFunction(theActualFunction);
where we the arguments are the crossover rate, mutation rate, population size, number of generations, and number of parameters that we are solving for. We declare the FitnessFunction property as:
public delegate double GAFunction(double[] values);
public class GA
{
static private GAFunction getFitness;
public GAFunction FitnessFunction {
// etc.
};
// etc.
}
This then enables us to declare our fitness function the same as the delegate function:
public static double theActualFunction(double[] values)
{
if (values.GetLength(0) != 2)
throw new ArgumentOutOfRangeException("should only have 2 args");
double x = values[0];
double y = values[1];
double n = 9;
double f1 = Math.Pow(15*x*y*(1x)*(1y)*Math.Sin(n*Math.PI*x)
*Math.Sin(n*Math.PI*y),2);
return f1;
}
which is therefore accepted by the algorithm. The genetic algorithm is then set to run using:
ga.Go();
The genetic algorithm will now run for the supplied number of generations.
The Algorithm
The algorithm code contains 2 simple classes, GA and Genome, plus a helper class GenomeComparer.
The Genome class can be thought of as a simple container. The underlying structure is an array of doubles within the range of 0 to 1. The user is expected to take these values and scale them to whatever values they require. Since mutation occurs on the genome, the Mutate method is found in this class. The Crossover operator requires access to the private data of the Genome, so it is also a member function which takes a second Genome, and outputs two child Genome objects. The fitness of a particular genome is also stored within the Genome object. There are some additional helper functions that maybe found in the code itself.
The GA class does all the work. The genetic algorithm consists of the following basic steps:
 Create a new population
 Select two individuals from the population weighting towards the individual that represents the best solution so far.
 'Breed' them to produce children.
 If we don't have enough children for a new population return to step 2.
 Replace old population with new.
 If we have not produced enough generations return to step 2.
 We have finished.
When selecting individuals to breed, we use what is called the Roulette wheel method. This is where fitter individuals have a larger proportion of the 'wheel' and are more likely to be chosen. We chose to store the finesses cumulatively in System.Collections.ArrayList as it had some nice features like sorting. Unfortunately, its binary search method was only for exact values, so we had to implement the following work around:
mid = (last  first)/2;
// ArrayList's BinarySearch is for exact values only
// so do this by hand.
while (idx == 1 && first <= last)
{
if (randomFitness < (double)m_fitnessTable[mid])
{
last = mid;
}
else if (randomFitness > (double)m_fitnessTable[mid])
{
first = mid;
}
mid = (first + last)/2;
// lies between i and i+1
if ((last  first) == 1)
idx = last;
}
The GenomeComparer class inherits from the IComparer interface. Each generation is stored in a System.Collections.ArrayList, and we wish to sort each generation in order of fitness. We therefore need to implement this interface as follows:
public sealed class GenomeComparer : IComparer
{
public GenomeComparer()
{
}
public int Compare( object x, object y)
{
if ( !(x is Genome)  !(y is Genome))
throw new ArgumentException("Not of type Genome");
if (((Genome) x).Fitness > ((Genome) y).Fitness)
return 1;
else if (((Genome) x).Fitness == ((Genome) y).Fitness)
return 0;
else
return 1;
}
}
Note that we need to explicitly cast the ArrayList elements back to a Genome type. We also make the class sealed as there is no point inheriting from it.
A Quick Note On Operators
We mentioned briefly, two operators, crossover and mutation, and we shall explain these in a little more detail here.
Crossover simply takes two genomes, splits them at some point and produces two new genomes by swapping the end parts, e.g.
10 20 30 40 50 60 70



10 20 30 40 50 60 70




===>



00 90 80 70 60 50 40



00 90 80 70 60 50 40


The split occurs at a randomly chosen point along the length of the genome, and the split only occurs if a probability test is passed. This is typically set quite high which reflects what happens in Nature.
Mutation, in comparison, happens rarely so the probability that it occurs is set quite low, typically less than 5%. Each gene within the genome is tested in turn to see it is allowed to mutate, and if so it is replaced with a random number, e.g.
10

20

30

40

50

60


80

90

===>

10

20

30

40

50

60


80

90

Results
With our simple example we know that the optimal solution is at (0.5, 0.5), and we find after 250 generations we find a solution extremely close to this (within 4 significant figures). The progress of the GA can be seen below:
Conclusion and Notes.
A genetic algorithm does not provide a magic bullet solution to all minimization/maximization problems. In many cases other algorithms are faster and more practical. However for problems with a large parameter space and where the problem itself can be easily specified, it can be an appropriate solution.
Whilst writing this I learnt several features of C# that I'd like to summarize here (coming from a C++ background):
 The System.Collections.ArrayList container only does shallow copies.
 The System.Collections.ArrayList container's binary search only works for exact values.
 An obvious thing, but simply defining a variable, doesn't necessarily assign it a value.
 Implementing the IComparer interface is fairly trivial (see GenomeComparer class).
Further improvements to the algorithm can be made by implementing all sorts of weird and wonderful operators. I'm sure someone will be able to tell me an easier way to supply the number of parameters the problem has automatically rather than using the GA constructor and the delegate function.
References
Field, P., "A Multary Theory for Genetic Algorithms: Unifying Binary and Nonbinary Problem Representations", Ph.D. Thesis, 1995, Queen Mary and Westfield College.
Holland, J.H., "Adaption in Natural and Artificial Systems", MIT Press, 1975, (1992 Edition).
Lippman, S.B., "C# Primer, A Practical Approach", AddisonWesley, 2002, (1st Edition).
Links
The following may be of interest:
 Wall, M., "GALib  a C++ implementation of a genetic algorithm," MIT, 1999.
 A Russian version of this article may be found here translated by Vladimir Lioubitelev.
History
 22nd August, 2003  Update to code.
 3rd May, 2003  Update to conclusion.
 15th Mar, 2003  Update to article text.
 16th Nov, 2002  Update to article text.
 6th Nov, 2002  Initial revision.
About Barry Lapthorn
Barry is an exphysicist, exastrophysicist, and exhelioseismologist. He is now working in finance for a large investment bank, developing in Unix + occasionally Windows.
