Julia solvers for systems of nonlinear equations and mixed complementarity problems


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The NLsolve package solves systems of nonlinear equations. Formally, if f is a multivariate function, then this package looks for some vector x that satisfies f(x)=0.

The package is also able to solve mixed complementarity problems, which are similar to systems of nonlinear equations, except that the equality to zero is allowed to become an inequality if some boundary condition is satisfied. See further below for a formal definition and the related commands.

Since there is some overlap between optimizers and nonlinear solvers, this package borrows some ideas from the Optim package, and depends on it for linesearch algorithms.

Simple example

We consider the following bivariate function of two variables:

(x, y) -> ((x+3)*(y^3-7)+18, sin(y*exp(x)-1))

In order to find a zero of this function and display it, you would write the following program:

using NLsolve

function f!(x, fvec)
    fvec[1] = (x[1]+3)*(x[2]^3-7)+18
    fvec[2] = sin(x[2]*exp(x[1])-1)

function g!(x, fjac)
    fjac[1, 1] = x[2]^3-7
    fjac[1, 2] = 3*x[2]^2*(x[1]+3)
    u = exp(x[1])*cos(x[2]*exp(x[1])-1)
    fjac[2, 1] = x[2]*u
    fjac[2, 2] = u

nlsolve(f!, g!, [ 0.1; 1.2])

First, note that the function f! computes the residuals of the nonlinear system, and stores them in a preallocated vector passed as second argument. Similarly, the function g! computes the Jacobian of the system and stores it in a preallocated matrix passed as second argument. Residuals and Jacobian functions can take different shapes, see below.

Second, when calling the nlsolve function, it is necessary to give a starting point to the iterative algorithm.

Finally, the nlsolve function returns an object of type SolverResults. In particular, the field zero of that structure contains the solution if convergence has occurred. If r is an object of type SolverResults, then converged(r) indicates if convergence has occurred.

Specifying the function and its Jacobian

There are various ways of specifying the residuals function and possibly its Jacobian.

With functions modifying arguments in-place

This is the most efficient method, because it minimizes the memory allocations.

In the following, it is assumed that have defined a function f!(x::Vector, fx::Vector) computing the residual of the system at point x and putting it into the fx argument.

In turn, there 3 ways of specifying how the Jacobian should be computed:

Finite differencing

If you do not have a function that compute the Jacobian, it is possible to have it computed by finite difference. In that case, the syntax is simply:

nlsolve(f!, initial_x)

Alternatively, you can construct an object of type DifferentiableMultivariateFunction and pass it to nlsolve, as in:

df = DifferentiableMultivariateFunction(f!)
nlsolve(df, initial_x)

Automatic differentiation

Another option if you do not have a function computing the Jacobian is to use automatic differentiation, thanks to the ForwardDiff package. The syntax is simply:

nlsolve(f!, initial_x, autodiff = true)

Jacobian available

If, in addition to f!, you have a function g!(x::Vector, gx::Array) for computing the Jacobian of the system, then the syntax is, as in the example above:

nlsolve(f!, g!, initial_x)

Note that you should not assume that the Jacobian gx passed in argument is initialized to a zero matrix. You must set all the elements of the matrix in the function g!.

Alternatively, you can construct an object of type DifferentiableMultivariateFunction and pass it to nlsolve, as in:

df = DifferentiableMultivariateFunction(f!, g!)
nlsolve(df, initial_x)

Optimization of simultaneous residuals and Jacobian

If, in addition to f! and g!, you have a function fg!(x::Vector, fx::Vector, gx::Array) that computes both the residual and the Jacobian at the same time, you can use the following syntax:

df = DifferentiableMultivariateFunction(f!, g!, fg!)
nlsolve(df, initial_x)

If the function fg! uses some optimization that make it costless than calling f! and g! successively, then this syntax can possibly improve the performance.

Other combinations

There are other helpers for two other cases, described below. Note that these cases are not optimal in terms of memory management.

If only f! and fg! are available, the helper function only_f!_and_fg! can be used to construct a DifferentiableMultivariateFunction object, that can be used as first argument of nlsolve. The complete syntax is therefore:

nlsolve(only_f!_and_fg!(f!, fg!), initial_x)

If only fg! is available, the helper function only_fg! can be used to construct a DifferentiableMultivariateFunction object, that can be used as first argument of nlsolve. The complete syntax is therefore:

nlsolve(only_fg!(fg!), initial_x)

With functions returning residuals and Jacobian as output

Here it is assumed that you have a function f(x::Vector) that returns a newly-allocated vector containing the residuals. The helper function not_in_place can be used to construct a DifferentiableMultivariateFunction object, that can be used as first argument of nlsolve. The complete syntax is therefore:

nlsolve(not_in_place(f), initial_x)

Finite-differencing is used to compute the Jacobian in that case.

If, in addition, there is a function g(x::Vector) returning a newly-allocated matrix containing the Jacobian, it can be passed as a second argument to not_in_place. Similarly, you can pass as a third argument a function fg(x::Vector) returning a pair consisting of the residuals and the Jacobian.

With functions taking several scalar arguments

If you have a function f(x::Float64, y::Float64, ...) that takes the point of interest as several scalars and returns a vector or a tuple containing the residuals, you can use the helper function n_ary can be used to construct a DifferentiableMultivariateFunction object, that can be used as first argument of nlsolve. The complete syntax is therefore:

nlsolve(n_ary(f), initial_x)

Finite-differencing is used to compute the Jacobian.

If the Jacobian is sparse

If the Jacobian of your function is sparse, it is possible to ask the routines to manipulate sparse matrices instead of full ones, in order to increase performance on large systems. This can be achieved by constructing an object of type DifferentiableSparseMultivariateFunction:

df = DifferentiableSparseMultivariateFunction(f!, g!)
nlsolve(df, initial_x)

It is possible to give an optional third function fg! to the constructor, as for the full Jacobian case.

The second argument of g! (and the third of fg!) is assumed to be of the same type as the one returned by the function spzeros (i.e. SparseMatrixCSC).

Note that on the first call to g! or fg!, the sparse matrix passed in argument is empty, i.e. all its elements are zeros. But this matrix is not reset across function calls. So you need to be careful and ensure that you don’t forget to overwrite all nonzeros elements that could have been initialized by a previous function call. If in doubt, you can clear the sparse matrix at the beginning of the function. If gx is the sparse Jacobian, this can be achieved with:

fill!(gx.colptr, 1)

Another solution is to directly pass a Jacobian matrix with a given sparsity. To do so, construct an object of type DifferentiableGivenSparseMultivariateFunction

df = DifferentiableGivenSparseMultivariateFunction(f!, g!, J)
nlsolve(df, initial_x)

If g! conserves the sparsity structure of gx, gx will always have the same sparsity as J. This sometimes allow to write a faster version of g!.

Fine tunings

Two algorithms are currently available. The choice between the two is achieved by setting the optional method argument of nlsolve. The default algorithm is the trust region method.

Trust region method

This is the well-known solution method which relies on a quadratic approximation of the least-squares objective, considered to be valid over a compact region centered around the current iterate.

This method is selected with method = :trust_region.

This method accepts the following custom parameters:

  • factor: determines the size of the initial trust region. This size is set to the product of factor and the euclidean norm of initial_x if nonzero, or else to factor itself. Default: 1.0.
  • autoscale: if true, then the variables will be automatically rescaled. The scaling factors are the norms of the Jacobian columns. Default: true.

Newton method with linesearch

This is the classical Newton algorithm with optional linesearch.

This method is selected with method = :newton.

This method accepts a custom parameter linesearch!, which must be equal to a function computing the linesearch. Currently, available values are taken from the LineSearches package. By default, no linesearch is performed. Note: it is assumed that a passed linesearch function will at least update the solution vector and evaluate the function at the new point.

Common options

Other optional arguments to nlsolve, available for all algorithms, are:

  • xtol: norm difference in x between two successive iterates under which convergence is declared. Default: 0.0.
  • ftol: infinite norm of residuals under which convergence is declared. Default: 1e-8.
  • iterations: maximum number of iterations. Default: 1_000.
  • store_trace: should a trace of the optimization algorithm’s state be stored? Default: false.
  • show_trace: should a trace of the optimization algorithm’s state be shown on STDOUT? Default: false.
  • extended_trace: should additional algorithm internals be added to the state trace? Default: false.

Mixed complementarity problems

Given a multivariate function f and two vectors a and b, the solution to the mixed complementarity problem (MCP) is a vector x such that one of the following holds for every index i:

  • either f_i(x) = 0 and a_i <= x_i <= b_i
  • or f_i(x) > 0 and x_i = a_i
  • or f_i(x) < 0 and x_i = b_i

The vector a can contain elements equal to -Inf, while the vector b can contain elements equal to Inf. In the particular case where all elements of a are equal to -Inf, and all elements of b are equal to Inf, the MCP is exactly equivalent to the multivariate root finding problem described above.

The package solves MCPs by reformulating them as the solution to a system of nonlinear equations (as described by Miranda and Fackler, 2002, though NLsolve uses the sign convention opposite to theirs).

The function mcpsolve solves MCPs. It takes the same arguments as nlsolve, except that the vectors a and b must immediately follow the argument(s) corresponding to f (and possibly its derivative). There is also an extra optional argument reformulation, which can take two values:

  • reformulation = :smooth: use a smooth reformulation of the problem using the Fischer function. This is the default, since it is more robust for complex problems.
  • reformulation = :minmax: use a min-max reformulation of the problem. It is faster than the smooth approximation, since it uses less algebra, but is less robust since the reformulated problem has kinks.

Here is a complete example:

using NLsolve

function f!(x, fvec)

r = mcpsolve(f!, [0., 0., 0., 0.], [Inf, Inf, Inf, Inf],
             [1.25, 0., 0., 0.5], reformulation = :smooth, autodiff = true)

The solution is:

4-element Array{Float64,1}:

The lower bounds are hit for the second and third components, hence the second and third components of the function are positive at the solution. On the other hand, the first and fourth components of the function are zero at the solution.

julia> fvec = similar(

julia> f!(, fvec)

julia> fvec
4-element Array{Float64,1}:


Related Packages

  • JuMP.jl can also solve non linear equations. Just reformulate your problem as an optimization problem with non linear constraints: use the set of equations as constraints, and enter 1.0 as the objective function. JuMP currently supports a number of open-source and commercial solvers.
  • Complementarity.jl brings the powerful modeling language of JuMP.jl to complementarity problems. It supports two solvers: PATHSolver.jl and NLsolve.jl.


Nocedal, Jorge and Wright, Stephen J. (2006): “Numerical Optimization”, second edition, Springer

MINPACK by Jorge More’, Burt Garbow, and Ken Hillstrom at Argonne National Laboratory

Miranda, Mario J. and Fackler, Paul L. (2002): “Applied Computational Economics and Finance”, MIT Press

Related Repositories



Julia solvers for systems of nonlinear equations and mixed complementarity problems ...