I have a matrix $A\in \mathbb{C}^{N\times N}$ and I need to calculate $||A^{-1}||_{2}$ efficiently. Can it be done without having to evaluate the inverse explicitly?

In general, I am looking for methods of calculating $||A^{-1}||_{2}$ that are faster than just doing the following in Matlab:


If no faster method is possible, or actually, just in general, I am alternatively interested in efficient ways to calculate an approximation or upper bound of $||A^{-1}||_{2}$.

Does anyone have any insight on this?

Edit: Note that the form of the matrix $A$ is in fact $A = I-B$ and this $I-B$ is very well conditioned (as $A$ has arisen due to preconditioning). I don't know if this makes any difference to how efficiently $||A^{-1}||_2$ an be computed but I just thought I'd mention it in case.

  • $\begingroup$ Is A a sparse matrix? fully dense? $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2020 at 21:36

1 Answer 1


You might want to use the fact that:

$$ ||A||_2=\sigma_\max(A) $$

where $\sigma_\max$ is the largest singular value. If you are interested in details, this Math SO question should be interesting. Thus,

$$ ||A^{-1}||_2=\frac{1}{\sigma_\min(A)} $$ where $\sigma_\min$ is the smallest singular value.

You certainly want to avoid the actual calculation of the inverse and at least change it by a much more numerically stable Singular Vector Decomposition. Unfortunately, it is also a $\mathcal O(N^3)$ operation, where $N$ is the size of your matrix.

Now, if $N$ is too large, you might want to be interested in the algorithms of estimating singular values or even condition numbers, as

$$ \kappa_2(A)=||A||_2||A^{-1}||_2=\frac{\sigma_\max(A)}{\sigma_\min(A)} $$

which might be your actual motivation of calculating the $||A^{-1}||_2$ in the first place.

If your matrix $A$ happens to be normal ($A^HA=AA^H)$, then

$$ \kappa_2(A)=\frac{|\lambda_\max(A)|}{|\lambda_\min(A)|} $$ where $A^H$ represents a conjugate transpose, while $\lambda_\max(A)$ and $\lambda_\min(A)$ are the maximum and minimum eigenvalues of $A$ respectively. In this case, some calculations can be simplified.

Relevant material to start with:

Now, what to use in practice, would depend on your particular reasons for calculating this quantity, matrix size, available computational resources, and, potentially, matrix structure.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I find the Spectra to be a useful and easy library for calculating top-k eigenvalues. For appropriate matrices, these can then be manipulated through @Anton's answer to give the desired results. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Dec 30, 2019 at 23:54
  • $\begingroup$ I think the formula should actually be $\|A^{-1}\|_2 = \frac{1}{\sigma_\text{min}(A)}$. $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2019 at 23:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @WolfgangBangerth I have no idea how did I miss that while typing. Thanks! Worth to mention that singular values are non-negative, thus magnitude is not needed. $\endgroup$
    – Anton Menshov
    Dec 31, 2019 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ @sonicboom the smallest eigenvalue won't give you what you need. You need the smallest singular value (which are directly related to eigenvalues of $AA^H$, not just $A$) $\endgroup$
    – Anton Menshov
    Jan 2, 2020 at 10:44
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @sonicboom that's not how it works. singular values cannot be obtained by calculating eigenvalues of $A$ and taking a square root in a general case. See my comment above and edits to the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Anton Menshov
    Jan 3, 2020 at 15:53

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