I am trying to solve the following PDE by using finite difference

\begin{eqnarray*} \Delta u&=& f ~~on~~(0,1)\times(0,1)\\ \frac{\partial u}{\partial y}(x,0)&=&0=\frac{\partial u}{\partial y}(x,1)~for ~x\in[0,1]\\ u(0,y)&=&u(1,y)~for ~y\in[0,1]\\ \end{eqnarray*}

For a uniform spacing $h$, I got the following equation, $$ \frac{1}{h^2}(u_{{i-1},j}-4u_{i,j}+u_{{i+1},j}+u_{{i},{j-1}}+u_{{i},{j+1}})=f_{i,j} $$ for $i =1,2,......,Nx+2$ and $j=1,2,...,Ny+2$. After the implementation of the boundary conditions, I converted the system into the system of linear equations $$ Au=f $$.

Now, I am trying to solve this system of linear equations, for certain value of $Nx$, I got the following warning;

Warning: Matrix is close to singular or badly scaled. Results may be inaccurate. RCOND = 1.053110e-20.

I believe this message is appearing because the matrix $A$ become singular after the implementation of the boundary conditions. The following a sub-code of my main code to solve this problem.

function [v1] = new_v1(w,Nx,Ny,dx,dy)
% -------------------------------------------------------
Iint = 1:Nx+1; % Indices of interior point in x direction
Jint = 1:Ny+2; % Indices of interior point in y direction
%assembly of the tridiagonal matrix(LHS)

sx = 1/(dx^2);
sy = 1/(dy^2);

T(1,Nx+1)= sx;
T(Nx+1,1)= sx;

for i=1:Nx+1
    for j=1:Nx+1

%Solve the linear system
rhs = w ;
    for i=1:Nx+1
    %convert the rhs into column vector
    F = reshape(rhs, (Nx+1)*(Ny+2),1);
    uvec = A\F;
    v1(Iint, Jint)= reshape(uvec, Nx+1,Ny+2);
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Let's forget the discretization entirely for a sec. Suppose you have a putative solution $u$ to this boundary value problem; for any constant $c$, the function $u + c$ is also a solution to your boundary value problem. What are the implications of this fact and what do you think it means for how you discretize the problem? $\endgroup$ Commented May 18, 2022 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielShapero this differential equation has infinitely many solutions. So the rank of the matrix A is less than the order of A. Could you please give me little more details so I can think about your point here? $\endgroup$
    – User124356
    Commented May 18, 2022 at 16:50

1 Answer 1


Let's give this PDE a simple physical interpretation as the problem of finding a steady-state temperature distribution on the side surface of a cylinder.

enter image description here

The x coordinate describes the length along the azimuthal direction (normalized to unity), and the y coordinate describes the length along the cylinder axis (normalized to unity). The variable $u(x,y)$ is the temperature, and the right-hand side $f$ is the heat source, and the heat diffusivity coefficient is equal to 1. The condition of $\partial_y u = 0$ at the top and bottom of the cylinder is satisfied because those are the boundaries of the domain, so the heat flux normal to the boundary vanishes there. The condition $u(0,y)=u(1,y)$ is naturally satisfied because the system is periodic in $x$. This physics problem in general is not solvable, there is no steady-state solution here unless the integral of the heat source over the surface vanishes, $\int \! \!{f}dxdy$=0. In the latter case, there is a smooth solution defined up to a constant.

The BC $u(0,y)=u(1,y)$ is less stringent than the periodicity conditions in the physical system where $u_x(0,y)=u_x(1,y)$ is also imposed (assuming $f$ does not contain delta-functions). To account for that, one can put the surface of the cylinder in contact with a thermostat along the line $x=0$, thus enforcing an arbitrary temperature $T_0(y)$ along this line, and that would still be a solution satisfying the PDE and all given boundary conditions. Therefore there is an infinite number of solutions to this problem, corresponding to the choice of $T_0(y)$, so the problem as stated is ill posed. This ill-posedness is manifested in the matrix $A$ singularity. By imposing additional constraints on the problem one could make it well posed.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. Is there any way to find the solution of ill-posedness ? $\endgroup$
    – User124356
    Commented May 19, 2022 at 4:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Let's just think about it in terms of physics: Is there any way to find the solution to the heat conduction problem proposed above? If the source term averages out to zero then there is a solution, otherwise no. You can call it the consequence of the Gauss theorem. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2022 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ I understood your argument. I used the condition, $u_x(0,y)=u_x(1,y)$ and took the source term is zero. But my matrix $A$ is again a singular matrix. I used central difference for the condition $u_x(0,y)=u_x(1,y)$. Could you please write your matrix $A$? $\endgroup$
    – User124356
    Commented May 23, 2022 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ Even with the derivative matching conditions, the solution is still defined up to a constant. We need to use one more constraint, $u(x_0,y_0)=u_0$, i.e., enforcing $u$ to be some prescribed constant at a given point. That will fix the matrix singularity. $\endgroup$ Commented May 23, 2022 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean by $u(x_0,y)= u_0$? $\endgroup$
    – User124356
    Commented May 23, 2022 at 14:26

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