On a recommendation from Mathematica.SE, I am posting this on Computational Science.SE:

I am trying to quantify stiffness of an ODE by relating it to the fine-ness with which NDSolve treats it's time step.


For the uninitiated:

Essentially, when an ordinary differential equation is stiff and we attempt to solve it with NDSolve in Mathematica, it would employ a stiff solver to detect and reconcile stiffness.

I use the stiff equation shown on wikipedia to demonstrate this. This equation is solved using BDF (backward difference formulation/formula) which is a recognized method to solve stiff equations.

Equation and solution using NDSolve with BDF

r'[t]==-15 r[t]&&r[0]==1,r,

Plots of solution r vs t


Fig 1

enter image description here

Fig 2

enter image description here

Fig 1 shows that up to t=29.9 or so, there is considerable stiffness (unstable oscillations) that is reconciled by ensuring that the time step is sufficiently small.


What would be a good plot to quantify this stiffness and internal reconciliation/changing of time step? How can I best quantify stiffness graphically in Mathematica?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to SciComp! Please include the ODE (and its initial conditions) using LaTeX syntax so that non-Mathematica users can better understand your example. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 4:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This might be helpful: blogs.mathworks.com/cleve/2014/06/09/… $\endgroup$
    – Rhei
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Someone (Gustaf Soderlind) has finally proposed a quantitative measure of stiffness that experts are beginning to agree on. See this paper. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 8:07

1 Answer 1


Stiffness has no precise quantitative definition. (See my answer here.)

Common numerical proxies would be things like:

  • stiffness ratio: find the (unsigned) ratio of largest magnitude eigenvalue to smallest magnitude eigenvalue of the Jacobian matrix of your right-hand side; estimates are probably fine
  • ratio of time step taken to maximum stable time step: a ratio closer to 1 indicates a stability-limited time step, so your problem is probably stiff; a ratio closer to 0 indicates an accuracy-limited time step, and probably a non-stiff problem

There may be other metrics out there; these are the first two that come to mind.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I am currently trying to plot item 2 of your description. Will put that down here as an answer soon. $\endgroup$
    – dearN
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 19:31

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