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When the Solver Fails

Too Many Iterations or Function Evaluations

The solver stopped because it reached a limit on the number of iterations or function evaluations before it minimized the objective to the requested tolerance. To proceed, try one or more of the following.

1. Enable Iterative Display
2. Relax Tolerances
3. Start the Solver From Different Points
4. Check Objective and Constraint Function Definitions
5. Center and Scale Your Problem
6. Provide Gradient or Jacobian
7. Provide Hessian

1. Enable Iterative Display

Set the Display option to 'iter'. This setting shows the results of the solver iterations.

To enable iterative display:

  • Using the Optimization app, choose Level of display to be iterative or iterative with detailed message.

  • At the MATLAB® command line, enter

    options = optimoptions('solvername','Display','iter');

    Call the solver using the options structure.

For an example of iterative display, see Interpreting the Result.

What to Look For in Iterative Display.  

  • See if the objective function (Fval or f(x) or Resnorm) decreases. Decrease indicates progress.

  • Examine constraint violation (Max constraint) to ensure that it decreases towards 0. Decrease indicates progress.

  • See if the first-order optimality decreases towards 0. Decrease indicates progress.

  • See if the Trust-region radius decreases to a small value. This decrease indicates that the objective might not be smooth.

What to Do.  

  • If the solver seemed to progress:

    1. Set MaxIter and/or MaxFunEvals to values larger than the defaults. You can see the default values in the Optimization app, or in the Options table in the solver's function reference pages.

    2. Start the solver from its last calculated point.

  • If the solver is not progressing, try the other listed suggestions.

2. Relax Tolerances

If TolX or TolFun, for example, are too small, the solver might not recognize when it has reached a minimum; it can make futile iterations indefinitely.

To change tolerances using the Optimization app, use the Stopping criteria list at the top of the Options pane.

To change tolerances at the command line, use optimoptions as described in Set and Change Options.

The DiffMaxChange and DiffMinChange options can affect a solver's progress. These options control the step size in finite differencing for derivative estimation.

3. Start the Solver From Different Points

See Change the Initial Point.

4. Check Objective and Constraint Function Definitions

For example, check that your objective and nonlinear constraint functions return the correct values at some points. See Check your Objective and Constraint Functions. Check that an infeasible point does not cause an error in your functions; see Iterations Can Violate Constraints.

5. Center and Scale Your Problem

Solvers run more reliably when each coordinate has about the same effect on the objective and constraint functions. Multiply your coordinate directions with appropriate scalars to equalize the effect of each coordinate. Add appropriate values to certain coordinates to equalize their size.

Example: Centering and Scaling.  Consider minimizing 1e6*x(1)^2 + 1e-6*x(2)^2:

f = @(x) 10^6*x(1)^2 + 10^-6*x(2)^2;

Minimize f using the medium-scale fminunc algorithm:

opts = optimoptions('fminunc','Display','none','Algorithm','quasi-newton');
x = fminunc(f,[0.5;0.5],opts)

x =
         0
    0.5000

The result is incorrect; poor scaling interfered with obtaining a good solution.

Scale the problem. Set

D = diag([1e-3,1e3]);
fr = @(y) f(D*y);
y = fminunc(fr, [0.5;0.5], opts)

y =
     0
     0 % the correct answer

Similarly, poor centering can interfere with a solution.

fc = @(z)fr([z(1)-1e6;z(2)+1e6]); % poor centering
z = fminunc(fc,[.5 .5],opts)

z =
  1.0e+005 *
   10.0000  -10.0000 % looks good, but...

z - [1e6 -1e6] % checking how close z is to 1e6

ans =

   -0.0071    0.0078 % reveals a distance


fcc = @(w)fc([w(1)+1e6;w(2)-1e6]); % centered

w = fminunc(fcc,[.5 .5],opts)

w =
     0     0 % the correct answer

6. Provide Gradient or Jacobian

If you do not provide gradients or Jacobians, solvers estimate gradients and Jacobians by finite differences. Therefore, providing these derivatives can save computational time, and can lead to increased accuracy.

For constrained problems, providing a gradient has another advantage. A solver can reach a point x such that x is feasible, but finite differences around x always lead to an infeasible point. In this case, a solver can fail or halt prematurely. Providing a gradient allows a solver to proceed.

Provide gradients or Jacobians in the files for your objective function and nonlinear constraint functions. For details of the syntax, see Writing Scalar Objective Functions, Writing Vector and Matrix Objective Functions, and Nonlinear Constraints.

To check that your gradient or Jacobian function is correct, use the DerivativeCheck option, as described in Checking Validity of Gradients or Jacobians.

If you have a Symbolic Math Toolbox™ license, you can calculate gradients and Hessians programmatically. For an example, see Symbolic Math Toolbox Calculates Gradients and Hessians.

For examples using gradients and Jacobians, see Minimization with Gradient and Hessian, Nonlinear Constraints with Gradients, Symbolic Math Toolbox Calculates Gradients and Hessians, Nonlinear Equations with Analytic Jacobian, and Nonlinear Equations with Jacobian.

7. Provide Hessian

Solvers often run more reliably and with fewer iterations when you supply a Hessian.

The following solvers and algorithms accept Hessians:

If you have a Symbolic Math Toolbox license, you can calculate gradients and Hessians programmatically. For an example, see Symbolic Math Toolbox Calculates Gradients and Hessians.

No Feasible Point

The solver was unable to find a point satisfying all constraints to within the TolCon constraint tolerance. To proceed, try one or more of the following.

1. Check Linear Constraints
2. Check Nonlinear Constraints

1. Check Linear Constraints

Try finding a point that satisfies the bounds and linear constraints by solving a linear programming problem.

  1. Define a linear programming problem with an objective function that is always zero:

    f = zeros(size(x0)); % assumes x0 is the initial point
  2. Solve the linear programming problem to see if there is a feasible point:

    xnew = linprog(f,A,b,Aeq,beq,lb,ub);
  3. If there is a feasible point xnew, use xnew as the initial point and rerun your original problem.

  4. If there is no feasible point, your problem is not well-formulated. Check the definitions of your bounds and linear constraints.

2. Check Nonlinear Constraints

After ensuring that your bounds and linear constraints are feasible (contain a point satisfying all constraints), check your nonlinear constraints.

  • Set your objective function to zero:

    @(x)0

    Run your optimization with the zero objective. If you find a feasible point xnew, set x0 = xnew and rerun your original problem.

  • If you do not find a feasible point using a zero objective function, use the zero objective function with several initial points.

    • If you find a feasible point xnew, set x0 = xnew and rerun your original problem.

    • If you do not find a feasible point, try relaxing the constraints, discussed next.

Try relaxing your nonlinear inequality constraints, then tightening them.

  1. Change the nonlinear constraint function c to return c-Δ, where Δ is a positive number. This change makes your nonlinear constraints easier to satisfy.

  2. Look for a feasible point for the new constraint function, using either your original objective function or the zero objective function.

    1. If you find a feasible point,

      1. Reduce Δ

      2. Look for a feasible point for the new constraint function, starting at the previously found point.

    2. If you do not find a feasible point, try increasing Δ and looking again.

If you find no feasible point, your problem might be truly infeasible, meaning that no solution exists. Check all your constraint definitions again.

Problem Unbounded

The solver reached a point whose objective function was less than the objective limit tolerance.

  • Your problem might be truly unbounded. In other words, there is a sequence of points xi with

    lim f(xi) = –∞.

    and such that all the xi satisfy the problem constraints.

  • Check that your problem is formulated correctly. Solvers try to minimize objective functions; if you want a maximum, change your objective function to its negative. For an example, see Maximizing an Objective.

  • Try scaling or centering your problem. See Center and Scale Your Problem.

  • Relax the objective limit tolerance by using optimoptions to reduce the value of the ObjectiveLimit tolerance.

fsolve Could Not Solve Equation

fsolve can fail to solve an equation for various reasons. Here are some suggestions for how to proceed:

  1. Try Changing the Initial Point. fsolve relies on an initial point. By giving it different initial points, you increase the chances of success.

  2. Check the definition of the equation to make sure that it is smooth. fsolve might fail to converge for equations with discontinuous gradients, such as absolute value. fsolve can fail to converge for functions with discontinuities.

  3. Check that the equation is "square," meaning equal dimensions for input and output (has the same number of unknowns as values of the equation).

  4. Change tolerances, especially TolFun and TolX. If you attempt to get high accuracy by setting tolerances to very small values, fsolve can fail to converge. If you set tolerances that are too high, fsolve can fail to solve an equation accurately.

  5. Check the problem definition. Some problems have no real solution, such as x^2 + 1 = 0.

Solver Takes Too Long

Solvers can take excessive time for various reasons. To diagnose the reason, use one or more of the following techniques.

  1. Enable Iterative Display

  2. Enable FunValCheck

  3. Use Appropriate Tolerances

  4. Use a Plot Function

  5. Enable DerivativeCheck

  6. Use Inf Instead of a Large, Arbitrary Bound

  7. Use an Output Function

  8. Use a Sparse Solver or a Multiply Function

  9. Use Parallel Computing

Enable Iterative Display

Set the Display option to 'iter'. This setting shows the results of the solver iterations.

To enable iterative display:

  • Using the Optimization app, choose Level of display to be iterative or iterative with detailed message.

  • At the MATLAB command line, enter

    options = optimoptions('solvername','Display','iter');

    Call the solver using the options structure.

For an example of iterative display, see Interpreting the Result. For more information, see What to Look For in Iterative Display.

Enable FunValCheck

Sometimes a solver fails because an objective function or nonlinear constraint function returns a complex value, infinity, or NaN. To halt solver iterations in these cases, enable the FunValCheck option.

  • Using the Optimization app, check the box labeled Error if user-supplied function returns Inf, NaN, or complex in the Function value check pane.

  • At the MATLAB command line, enter

    options = optimoptions('solvername','FunValCheck','on');

    Call the solver using the options structure.

Use Appropriate Tolerances

Solvers can fail to converge if tolerances are too small, especially TolFun and TolX.

To change tolerances using the Optimization app, use the Stopping criteria list at the top of the Options pane.

To change tolerances at the command line, use optimoptions as described in Set and Change Options.

Use a Plot Function

You can obtain more visual or detailed information about solver iterations using a plot function. For a list of the predefined plot functions, see Options > Plot functions in the Optimization app. The Options section of your solver's function reference pages also lists the plot functions.

To use a plot function:

  • Using the Optimization app, check the boxes next to each plot function you wish to use.

  • At the MATLAB command line, enter

    options = optimoptions('solvername','PlotFcns',{@plotfcn1,@plotfcn2,...});

    Call the solver using the options structure.

For an example of using a plot function, see Using a Plot Function.

Enable DerivativeCheck

If you have supplied derivatives (gradients or Jacobians) to your solver, the solver can fail to converge if the derivatives are inaccurate. For more information about using the DerivativeCheck option, see Checking Validity of Gradients or Jacobians.

Use Inf Instead of a Large, Arbitrary Bound

If you use a large, arbitrary bound (upper or lower), a solver can take excessive time, or even fail to converge. However, if you set Inf or -Inf as the bound, the solver can take less time, and might converge better.

Why? An interior-point algorithm can set an initial point to the midpoint of finite bounds. Or an interior-point algorithm can try to find a "central path" midway between finite bounds. Therefore, a large, arbitrary bound can resize those components inappropriately. In contrast, infinite bounds are ignored for these purposes.

Minor point: Some solvers use memory for each constraint, primarily via a constraint Hessian. Setting a bound to Inf or -Inf means there is no constraint, so there is less memory in use, because a constraint Hessian has lower dimension.

Use an Output Function

You can obtain detailed information about solver iterations using an output function. Solvers call output functions at each iteration. You write output functions using the syntax described in Output Function.

For an example of using an output function, see Example: Using Output Functions.

Use a Sparse Solver or a Multiply Function

Large problems can cause MATLAB to run out of memory or time. Here are some suggestions for using less memory:

Use Parallel Computing

If you have a Parallel Computing Toolbox™ license, your solver might run faster using parallel computing. For more information, see Parallel Computing.

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