6.7. Implementation of multistep methods#

We now consider some of the practical issues that arise when multistep formulas are used to solve IVPs. In this section we emphasize the vector IVP, \(\mathbf{u}'=\mathbf{f}(t,\mathbf{u})\), and use boldface in the difference formula (6.6.2) as well.

Explicit methods#

As a concrete example, the AB4 method is defined by the formula

(6.7.1)#\[\mathbf{u}_{i+1} = \mathbf{u}_i + h\, ( \tfrac{55}{24}\mathbf{f}_i - \tfrac{59}{24} \mathbf{f}_{i-1} + \tfrac{37}{24}\mathbf{f}_{i-2} - \tfrac{9}{24}\mathbf{f}_{i-3}), \quad i=3,\ldots,n-1.\]

Function 6.7.1 shows a basic implementation of AB4.

Observe that Function 6.4.4 is used to find the starting values \(\mathbf{u}_1,\mathbf{u}_2,\mathbf{u}_3\) that are needed before the iteration formula takes over. As far as RK4 is concerned, it needs to solve (the same step size as in the AB4 iteration). These results are then used to find \(\mathbf{f}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{f}_3\) and get the main iteration started.

Function 6.7.1 :  ab4

4th-order Adams–Bashforth formula for an IVP

 2    ab4(ivp,n)
 4Apply the Adams-Bashforth 4th order method to solve the given IVP
 5using `n` time steps. Returns a vector of times and a vector of
 6solution values.
 8function ab4(ivp,n) 
 9    # Time discretization.
10    a,b = ivp.tspan
11    h = (b-a)/n
12    t = [ a + i*h for i in 0:n ]
14    # Constants in the AB4 method.
15    k = 4;   σ = [55,-59,37,-9]/24;
17    # Find starting values by RK4.
18    u = fill(float(ivp.u0),n+1)
19    rkivp = ODEProblem(ivp.f,ivp.u0,(a,a+(k-1)*h),ivp.p)
20    ts,us = rk4(rkivp,k-1)
21    u[1:k] .= us
23    # Compute history of u' values, from newest to oldest.
24    f = [ ivp.f(u[k-i],ivp.p,t[k-i]) for i in 1:k-1  ]
26    # Time stepping.
27    for i in k:n
28        f = [ ivp.f(u[i],ivp.p,t[i]), f[1:k-1]... ]   # new value of du/dt
29        u[i+1] = u[i] + h*sum(f[j]*σ[j] for j in 1:k)  # advance a step
30    end
31    return t,u
Demo 6.7.2

We study the convergence of AB4 using the IVP \(u'=\sin[(u+t)^2]\) over \(0\le t \le 4\), with \(u(0)=-1\). As usual, solve is called to give an accurate reference solution.

ivp = ODEProblem((u,p,t)->sin((t+u)^2),-1.,(0.0,4.0))
u_ref = solve(ivp,Tsit5(),reltol=1e-14,abstol=1e-14);

Now we perform a convergence study of the AB4 code.

n = @. [ round(Int,4*10^k) for k in 0:0.5:3 ]
err = []
for n in n
    t,u = FNC.ab4(ivp,n)
    push!( err, norm(u_ref.(t)-u,Inf) )

pretty_table([n err],["n","inf-norm error"])
│    n  inf-norm error │
│    4 │        0.50044 │
│   13 │        1.39129 │
│   40 │     0.00627809 │
│  126 │     9.94942e-5 │
│  400 │     1.09598e-6 │
│ 1265 │     1.12766e-8 │
│ 4000 │    1.13736e-10 │

The method should converge as \(O(h^4)\), so a log-log scale is appropriate for the errors.

    xaxis=(:log10,L"n"),yaxis=(:log10,"inf-norm error"),
    title="Convergence of AB4",leg=:bottomleft)

inf-norm error Convergence of AB4

Implicit methods#

The implementation of an implicit multistep method is more difficult. Consider the second-order implicit formula AM2, also known as the trapezoid method. To advance from step \(i\) to \(i+1\), we need to solve

(6.7.2)#\[ \mathbf{z} - \tfrac{1}{2} h f(t_{i+1},\mathbf{z}) = \mathbf{u}_i + \tfrac{1}{2} h \mathbf{f}(t_i,\mathbf{u}_i)\]

for \(\mathbf{z}\). This equation can be written as \(\mathbf{g}(\mathbf{z})=\boldsymbol{0}\), so the rootfinding methods of Chapter 4 can be used. The new value \(\mathbf{u}_{i+1}\) is equal to the root of this equation.

An implementation of AM2 using Function 4.6.4 from Section 4.6 is shown in Function 6.7.3.

Function 6.7.3 :  am2

2nd-order Adams–Moulton (trapezoid) formula for an IVP

 2    am2(ivp,n)
 4Apply the Adams-Moulton 2nd order method to solve given IVP using
 5`n` time steps. Returns a vector of times and a vector of
 6solution values.
 8function am2(ivp,n)
 9    # Time discretization.
10    a,b = ivp.tspan
11    h = (b-a)/n
12    t = [ a + i*h for i in 0:n ]
14    # Initialize output.
15    u = fill(float(ivp.u0),n+1)
17    # Time stepping.
18    for i in 1:n
19        # Data that does not depend on the new value.
20        known = u[i] + h/2*ivp.f(u[i],ivp.p,t[i])
21        # Find a root for the new value.
22        g = z -> z - h/2*ivp.f(z,ivp.p,t[i+1]) - known
23        unew = levenberg(g,known)
24        u[i+1] = unew[end]
25    end
26    return t,u

Stiff problems#

At each time step in Function 6.7.3, or any implicit IVP solver, a rootfinding iteration of uncertain expense is needed, requiring multiple calls to evaluate the function \(\mathbf{f}\). This fact makes the cost of an implicit method much greater on a per-step basis than for an explicit one. Given this drawback, you are justified to wonder whether implicit methods are ever competitive! The answer is emphatically yes, as Demo 6.7.4 demonstrates.

Demo 6.7.4

The following simple ODE uncovers a surprise.

ivp = ODEProblem((u,p,t)->u^2-u^3, 0.005, (0,400.))
ODEProblem with uType Float64 and tType Float64. In-place: false
timespan: (0.0, 400.0)
u0: 0.005

We will solve the problem first with the implicit AM2 method using \(n=200\) steps.

tI,uI = FNC.am2(ivp,200)


Now we repeat the process using the explicit AB4 method.

tE,uE = FNC.ab4(ivp,200)


Once the solution starts to take off, the AB4 result goes catastrophically wrong.

7-element Vector{Float64}:

We hope that AB4 will converge in the limit \(h\to 0\), so let’s try using more steps.

plt = scatter(tI,uI,label="AM2, n=200",m=3,

for n in [1000,1600]
    tE,uE = FNC.ab4(ivp,n)
    plot!(tE,uE,label="AM4, n=$n")

So AB4, which is supposed to be more accurate than AM2, actually needs something like 8 times as many steps to get a reasonable-looking answer!

Although the result of Demo 6.7.4 may seem counter-intuitive, there is no contradiction. A fourth-order explicit formula is more accurate than a second-order implicit one, in the limit \(h\to 0\). But there is another limit to consider, \(t\to \infty\) with \(h\) fixed, and in this one the implicit method wins.

Problems for which implicit methods are much more efficient than explicit counterparts are called stiff. A complete mathematical description will wait for Chapter 11, but a sure sign of stiffness is the presence of phenomena on widely different time scales. In Demo 6.7.4, for instance, there are two slow periods during which the solution changes very little, interrupted by a very fast transition in the state. An explicit method “thinks” that the step size must always be dictated by the time scale of the fast transition, whereas an implicit method can take large steps during the slow periods.


As with RK methods, we can run two time stepping methods simultaneously in order to estimate the error and adjust the step size. For example, we could pair AB3 with AB4 as practically no cost because the methods differ only in how they include known information from the recent past. The more accurate AB4 value should allow an accurate estimate of the local error in the AB3 value, and so on.

Because multistep methods rely on the solution history, though, changing the step size is more algebraically complicated than for RK methods. If \(h\) is changed, then the historical values \(\mathbf{u}_{i-1},\mathbf{u}_{i-2}\ldots\) and \(\mathbf{f}_{i-1},\mathbf{f}_{i-2}\ldots\) are no longer given at the right moments in time to apply the iteration formula. A typical remedy is to use interpolation to re-evaluate the historical values at the appropriate times. The details are important but not especially illuminating, and we do not give them here.


  1. ⌨ For each IVP, solve the problem using Function 6.7.1 with \(n=100\), and plot the solution and the error \(u-\hat{u}\) on separate plots.

    (a) \(u' = -2t u, \ 0 \le t \le 2, \ u(0) = 2;\ \hat{u}(t) = 2e^{-t^2}\)

    (b) \(u' = u + t, \ 0 \le t \le 1, \ u(0) = 2;\ \hat{u}(t) = 1-t+e^t\)

    (c) \(u' = x^2/[u(1+x^3)],\ 0 \le x \le 3, \ u(0) =1;\ \hat{u}(x) =[1+(2/3)\ln (1+x^3)]^{1/2}\)

    (d) \(u''+ 9u = 9t, \: 0< t< 2\pi, \: u(0) =1,\: u'(0) = 1; \: \hat{u}(t) = t+\cos (3t)\)

    (e) \(u''+ 9u = \sin(2t), \: 0< t< 2\pi, \: u(0) =2,\: u'(0) = 1\); \(\quad \hat{u}(t) = (1/5) \sin(3t) + 2 \cos (3t)+ (1/5) \sin (2t)\)

    (f) \(u''- 9u = 9t \: 0< t< 1, \: u(0) =2,\: u'(0) = -1; \: \hat{u}(t) = e^{3t} + e^{-3t}-t\)

    (g) \(u''+ 4u'+ 4u = t, \: 0< t< 4, \: u(0) =1,\: u'(0) = 3/4; \: \hat{u}(t) = (3t+5/4)e^{-2t} + (t-1)/4\)

    (h) \(x^2 u'' +5xu' + 4u = 0,\: 1<x<e^2, \: u(1) =1, \: u'(1) = -1; \: \hat{u}(x) = x^{-2}( 1 + \ln x)\)

    (i) \(2 x^2 u'' +3xu' - u = 0,\: 1<x<16, \: u(1) =4, \: u'(1) = -1\); \(\quad \hat{u}(x) = 2(x^{1/2} + x^{-1})\)

    (j) \(x^2 u'' -xu' + 2u = 0,\: 1<x<e^{\pi}, \: u(1) =3, \: u'(1) = 4\); \(\quad \hat{u}(x) = x \left[ 3 \cos \left( \ln x \right)+\sin \left( \ln x \right) \right]\)

  2. ⌨ For each IVP in Exercise 1, use Function 6.7.1 for \(n=10\cdot2^d\) and \(d=1,\ldots,10\). Make a log-log convergence plot for the final time error \(|u_n-\hat{u}(t_n)|\) versus \(n\), and add a straight line indicating fourth-order convergence.

  3. ⌨ Repeat Exercise 1 above using Function 6.7.3.

  4. ⌨ Repeat Exercise 2 above using Function 6.7.3 and comparing to second-order rather than fourth-order convergence.

  5. ⌨ Using Function 6.7.3 as a model, write a function bd2 that applies the BD2 method to solve an IVP. Test the convergence of your function on one of the IVPs in Exercise 1 above.

  6. ⌨ For double-precision purposes, the exact solution of the IVP in Demo 6.7.4 satisfies \(\hat{u}(400)=1\).

    (a) Use Function 6.7.1 with \(n=600,800,1000,\ldots,2000\) and make a log-log convergence plot of the error \(|u_n-1|\) as a function of \(n\).

    (b) Repeat part (a) using Function 6.7.3.

  7. Consider the IVP

    \[\begin{split}\mathbf{u}'(t) = \mathbf{A} \mathbf{u}(t), \quad \mathbf{A}= \begin{bmatrix} 0&-4\\4&0 \end{bmatrix}, \quad \mathbf{u}(0) = \begin{bmatrix} 1\\0 \end{bmatrix}.\end{split}\]

    (a) ✍ Define \(E(t) = \bigl\|\mathbf{u}(t)\bigr\|_2^2\). Show that \(E(t)\) is constant. (Hint: differentiate \(\mathbf{u}^T\mathbf{u}\) with respect to time and simplify it.)

    (b) ⌨ Use Function 6.7.1 to solve the IVP for \(t\in[0,20]\) with \(n=100\) and \(n=150\). Plot \(|E(t)-E(0)|\) versus time for both solutions on a single log-linear graph. You should see exponential growth in time. (In this regime, AB4 is acting unstably in a sense discussed in Section 11.3.)

    (c) ⌨ Repeat part (b) with \(n=400\) and \(n=600\), but on a linear-linear plot. Now you should see only linear growth of \(|E(t)-E(0)|\). (In this regime, AB4 is fully stable.)

    (d) ⌨ Repeat part (b) with AM2 instead of AB4, on a linear-linear plot. You will find that AM2 conserves energy, just like the exact solution.

  8. (a) Modify Function 6.7.1 to implement the AB2 method.

    (b) Repeat part (b) of the preceding exercise, using AB2 in place of AB4.

    (c) Repeat part (c) of the preceding exercise, using AB2 in place of AB4.

  9. (a) Modify Function 6.7.3 to implement the backward Euler (AM1) method.

    (b) Repeat part (d) of Exercise 7 above, using AM1 in place of AM2 and \(n=400,800\). Does the AM1 method conserve energy?