There are well-known classical algorithms such as depth-first search and breadth-first search which solve USTCON in linear time and space. Their existence, shown long before SL was defined, proves that SL is contained in P. It's also not difficult to show that USTCON, and so SL, is in NL, since we can just nondeterministically guess at each vertex which vertex to visit next in order to discover a path if one exists.
The first nontrivial result for SL, however, was Savitch's theorem, proved in 1970, which provided an algorithm that solves USTCON in log2 n space. Unlike depth-first search, however, this algorithm is impractical for most applications because of its potentially superpolynomial running time. One consequence of this is that USTCON, and so SL, is in DSPACE(log2n). (Actually, Savitch's theorem gives the stronger result that NL is in DSPACE(log2n).)
Although there were no (uniform) deterministic space improvements on Savitch's algorithm for 22 years, a highly practical probabilistic log-space algorithm was found in 1979 by Aleliunas et al.: simply start at one vertex and perform a random walk until you find the other one (then accept) or until |V|3 time has passed (then reject). False rejections are made with a small bounded probability that shrinks exponentially the longer the random walk is continued. This showed that SL is contained in RLP, the class of problems solvable in polynomial time and logarithmic space with probabilistic machines that reject incorrectly less than 1/3 of the time. By replacing the random walk by a universal traversal sequence, Aleliunas et al. also showed that SL is contained in L/poly, a non-uniform complexity class of the problems solvable deterministically in logarithmic space with polynomial advice.
In 1989, Borodin et al. strengthened this result by showing that the complement of USTCON, determining whether two vertices are in different connected components, is also in RLP. This placed USTCON, and SL, in co-RLP and in the intersection of RLP and co-RLP, which is ZPLP, the class of problems which have log-space, expected polynomial-time, no-error randomized algorithms.
In 1992, Nisan, Szemerédi, and Wigderson finally found a new deterministic algorithm to solve USTCON using only log1.5 n space. This was improved slightly, but there would be no more significant gains until Reingold.
In 1995, Nisan and Ta-Shma showed the surprising result that SL is closed under complement, which at the time was believed by many to be false; that is, SL = co-SL. Equivalently, if a problem can be solved by reducing it to a graph and asking if two vertices are in the same component, it can also be solved by reducing it to another graph and asking if two vertices are in different components. However, Reingold's paper would later make this result redundant.
One of the most important corollaries of SL = co-SL is that LSL = SL; that is, a deterministic, log-space machine with an oracle for SL can solve problems in SL (trivially) but cannot solve any other problems. This means it does not matter whether we use Turing reducibility or many-one reducibility to show a problem is in SL; they are equivalent.
A breakthrough October 2004 paper by Omer Reingold showed that USTCON is in fact in L. Since USTCON is SL-complete, this implies that SL = L, essentially eliminating the usefulness of consideration of SL as a separate class. A few weeks later, graduate student Vladimir Trifonov showed that USTCON could be solved deterministically using O(log n log log n) space—a weaker result—using different techniques.
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