I have the following set of linear equations


Here $m$ and $n$ run from 1 to $N$, so there are $N^2$ equations for the unknowns $a_{m,n}$. Fixed boundary conditions are used such that $a_{N+1,n}=0$ etc.

I would like to solve this system numerically, and for that I need to first write it in matrix form $M a = f$. How can I programatically generate the coefficient matrix M?

EDIT Trying to follow @Wolfgang's suggestion

Ok, so lets take the simplest case of N=2. Writing the equations by hand and extracting the coefficients results in the matrix equation

$$\left[\begin{array}{cccc} 2 & 1 & 1 & 0\\ 1 & 5 & 0 & 1\\ 1 & 0 & 5 & 2\\ 0 & 1 & 2 & 8 \end{array}\right]\left[\begin{array}{c} a_{1,1}\\ a_{1,2}\\ a_{2,1}\\ a_{2,2} \end{array}\right]=\left[\begin{array}{c} f_{1,1}\\ f_{1,2}\\ f_{2,1}\\ f_{2,2} \end{array}\right]$$

Now if I follow @Wolfgang's suggestion and replace $(m,n)$ by $i$ I get a different matrix

$$\left[\begin{array}{cccc} 5 & 1 & 2 & 0\\ 1 & 5 & 1 & 1\\ 2 & 1 & 8 & 1\\ 0 & 1 & 1 & 10 \end{array}\right]\left[\begin{array}{c} a_{1}\\ a_{2}\\ a_{3}\\ a_{4} \end{array}\right]=\left[\begin{array}{c} f_{1}\\ f_{2}\\ f_{3}\\ f_{4} \end{array}\right]$$

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Minor nitpick: I would like to solve this system numerically, and for that I need to first write it in matrix form -- no, you don't need to do it. There are very popular matrix-free methods, which are often the best choice for large-scale systems. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2014 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ I've edited my answer in response to Andy Terrel's comment as pointed out below my answer. $\endgroup$ Oct 6, 2014 at 15:27

1 Answer 1


You need to re-enumerate your degrees of freedom. Right now, you have two indices $1\le m,n\le N$. These span a rectangular array. Enumerate them from $i=0$ to $N^2-1$ (it turns out that zero-based indexing is so much simpler), for example by defining $i(m,n)=(m-1)+N*(n-1)$. In your case, this would corresponding to row-wise numbering. You can recover the original indices by observing that $m=(i\%N)+1$ and $n=(i/N)+1$ where the two operations are done in integer arithmetic. Then you can substitute these definitions in your formula everywhere.

Specifically, if you write your linear system in terms of $a_i$, not $a_{m,n}$, then you'll get this set of equations: $$ a_{i+1}+a_{i-1}+(i\%N+1)(a_{i+N}+a_{i-N})+((i\%N+1)^2+(i/N+1)^2)a_i = f_i $$ where I've again assumed that you do the operations $i\%N$ and $i/N$ in integer arithmetic.

This is the equation you have for $i=0,\ldots,N^2$. Now write each of these $N^2$ equations down one by one and you get the corresponding matrix entries.

  • $\begingroup$ I still don't see how I can get the matrix form of the linear system from this.. $\endgroup$
    – Andrei
    Oct 3, 2014 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrei, Wolfgang has written the general form of the $i^{\rm th}$ row of the matrix. So if you take $i$ from 1 to $N^2$, you get the coefficients of the matrix on each row. $\endgroup$
    – Bill Barth
    Oct 3, 2014 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ I moved my comment to the original question, due to lack of space here. $\endgroup$
    – Andrei
    Oct 3, 2014 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ Not quite. The entries in $M_{1,2},M_{2,1},M_{3,4},M_{4,3}$ should be 1, if I read your formula correctly. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2014 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ If you define $i$ as $m+Nn$ then it runs from $N+1$ to $N(N+1)$ as $m$ and $n$ run from 1 to $N$, and not $1$ to $N^2$. Furthermore, I still cannot recover the matrix $M$ obtained by manual substitution. $\endgroup$
    – Andrei
    Oct 4, 2014 at 11:18

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