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Concept# Numerical stability

Summary

In the mathematical subfield of numerical analysis, numerical stability is a generally desirable property of numerical algorithms. The precise definition of stability depends on the context. One is numerical linear algebra and the other is algorithms for solving ordinary and partial differential equations by discrete approximation.
In numerical linear algebra, the principal concern is instabilities caused by proximity to singularities of various kinds, such as very small or nearly colliding eigenvalues. On the other hand, in numerical algorithms for differential equations the concern is the growth of round-off errors and/or small fluctuations in initial data which might cause a large deviation of final answer from the exact solution.
Some numerical algorithms may damp out the small fluctuations (errors) in the input data; others might magnify such errors. Calculations that can be proven not to magnify approximation errors are called numerically stable. One of the common tasks of numerical analysis is to try to select algorithms which are robust – that is to say, do not produce a wildly different result for very small change in the input data.
An opposite phenomenon is instability. Typically, an algorithm involves an approximative method, and in some cases one could prove that the algorithm would approach the right solution in some limit (when using actual real numbers, not floating point numbers). Even in this case, there is no guarantee that it would converge to the correct solution, because the floating-point round-off or truncation errors can be magnified, instead of damped, causing the deviation from the exact solution to grow exponentially.
There are different ways to formalize the concept of stability. The following definitions of forward, backward, and mixed stability are often used in numerical linear algebra.
Consider the problem to be solved by the numerical algorithm as a function f mapping the data x to the solution y. The result of the algorithm, say y*, will usually deviate from the "true" solution y.

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Numerical stability

In the mathematical subfield of numerical analysis, numerical stability is a generally desirable property of numerical algorithms. The precise definition of stability depends on the context. One is numerical linear algebra and the other is algorithms for solving ordinary and partial differential equations by discrete approximation. In numerical linear algebra, the principal concern is instabilities caused by proximity to singularities of various kinds, such as very small or nearly colliding eigenvalues.

Eigenvalues and eigenvectors

In linear algebra, an eigenvector (ˈaɪgənˌvɛktər) or characteristic vector of a linear transformation is a nonzero vector that changes at most by a constant factor when that linear transformation is applied to it. The corresponding eigenvalue, often represented by , is the multiplying factor. Geometrically, a transformation matrix rotates, stretches, or shears the vectors it acts upon. The eigenvectors for a linear transformation matrix are the set of vectors that are only stretched, with no rotation or shear.

Round-off error

In computing, a roundoff error, also called rounding error, is the difference between the result produced by a given algorithm using exact arithmetic and the result produced by the same algorithm using finite-precision, rounded arithmetic. Rounding errors are due to inexactness in the representation of real numbers and the arithmetic operations done with them. This is a form of quantization error.

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