Explorations in math and programming
David Lowry-Duda

This is a continuation of my last factoring post. I thought that I might have been getting ahead of myself, as I left out a relatively simple idea that led to great gains in factorization. The key of this post is Fermat's Factorization, and a continuation by R. Lehman.

The main idea here is very simple. When a number $N$ can be written as the difference of two squares, i.e. $N = a^2 - b^2$, then we can factor $N$ as $N = (a+b)(a-b)$. And as long as neither are 1, it yields a proper factorization.

Now I mention a brief aside, not relevant to Fermat Factorization. There is another, lesser-known identity called Sophie Germain's Identity: $a^4 + 4 b^4 = ( (a+b)^2 + b^2)((a - b)^2 +b^2) =$ $(a^2 + 2ab + 2b^2)(a^2 - 2ab + 2b^2) $ By the way, a Sophie Germain prime is a prime $p$ such that $2p + 1$ is also a prime. It is unknown whether or not there are infinitely many Sophie Germain primes.

Now, the idea of this factorization method is to try different values of $ a$ in the hope that $a^2 - N = c$ is a square, i.e. $c = b^2$ for some integer $b$. So the algorithm proper might be like:

  1. Set $a = \lceil \sqrt N \rceil$
  2. $c = a^2 - N$
  3. Test if c is a square. If it is, look at $a - \sqrt c$ and $a + \sqrt c$. If not, go to step 4.
  4. Increase a by 1 and set $c = a^2 - N $. Return to step 3.

Of course, one should end the algorithm sometime if no factorization is found. So perhaps one should use a counter. But that's besides the point.

Clearly, this algorithm works best when the factors are about the size of $\sqrt N$. Done naively, Fermat's Algorithm works slower than trial diversion in the worst case. But there is a quick way to combine Fermat's Algorithm and trial division that is faster than doing either separately. This is only the first of a few possible optimizations.

Let's look at an example. Suppose we want to factor $N = 123456789123$ (astoundingly enough, 1234567891 is prime, and was going to be my first example). One sees that $\lceil N \rceil = 351365$. So with trial division, we would need to test numbers up to 351365. But let's do a couple of iterations of Fermat's Method:


  1. $351365^2 - N = 574102$; and $\sqrt{574102} = 757.7$
  2. $351366^2 - N = 1276833$; and $\sqrt{1276833} = 1129.97$
  3. $351367^2 - N = 1979566$ and $\sqrt{1979566} = 1406.97$
  4. $351368^2 - N = 2682301$ and $\sqrt{2682301} = 1637.77$
  5. ...

So no result yet, it might seem. But Fermat's Method does not miss factors in the range that it sweeps through. Thus from these 4 iterations, we have looked for factors as low as $351368 - 1637.77 = 349730$. So in just 4 iterations, we narrowed the range to be tested by trial division from every between 1 and 351365 to everything between 1 and 349730. 4 iterations reduces the 1000 most complicated trial division tests (there are 210 primes in that range, so at least that many).

In general, if one chooses a bound $d > \sqrt N$ and uses Fermat to find factors between $\sqrt N$ and $d$, then the resulting necessary bound for trial division is $d - \sqrt{d^2 - N}$.

There is another easy modification to speed up this test, involving a sieve. Let's make a couple of observations.

First Note

Note that all squares end in $0, 1, 4, 5, 9,\; \mathrm{or} \; 16 \mod 20$. Suppose we have calculated a particular value of $a^2 - N \mod 20$. The last two digits are cyclic too - they repeat with each increase by 10. So calculating a couple of values of $a^2 - N$ allows us to decide which a to continue to calculate. This leads to calculating only a fraction of the a values and a fraction of the subsequent square root calculations.

There is nothing special about 20, really. Any modulus will do. But 10, 20, or (for larger values) a prime power. Or one can combine a few with the Chinese Remainder Theorem. Unfortunately, this only really changes the overall time complexity by a constant factor.

Second Note

While it is clear that Fermat's Method works best for factors near $\sqrt N$, that doesn't happen too often. But if one can somehow divine (or guess) an approximate ratio of the two factors, suppose something like $ \frac{p}{q}$, then one can choose a rational number $\frac{l}{m}$ near that value and then perform Fermat's Method on $Nlm = pm \cdot du$, which should pull the factors $cv \; \mathrm{and} \; du$ first.

This is turning out to be longer than I was expecting, so I'm splitting this post into 2 (that way I can finish the other half tomorrow). In the next, we will continue to improve upon Fermat's Factorization, firstly by splitting up the interval wittily. Secondly, by coming up with a method that heuristically splits a composite number $n$ in $O(n^{1/4 + \epsilon})$ steps by using a slight generalization. Finally, I have heard of an improvement of Grenier that allows polynomial time factorization if the primes are relatively close to each other.

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