SIAM AN21 Minisymposium on Bohemian Matrices and Applications

Image ViridisDragonEye10 courtesy of Rob Corless.

The two-part minisymposium Bohemian Matrices and Applications, organized by Rob Corless and I, took place at the SIAM Annual Meeting, July 22 and 23, 2021. This page makes available slides from some of the talks.

The minisymposium followed a two-part minisymposium on Bohemian matrices at the 2019 ICIAM meeting in Valencia and a 3-day workshop on Bohemian matrices in Manchester in 2018.

For more on Bohemian matrices see the Bohemian matrices website.

Minisymposium description: Bohemian matrices are matrices with entries drawn from a fixed discrete set of small integers (or some other discrete set). The term is a contraction of BOunded HEight Matrix of Integers. Such matrices arise in many applications, and include (0,1) graph incidence matrices and (-1,1) Bernoulli matrices. The questions of interest range from identifying structures in the spectra of particular classes of Bohemian matrix to searching for most ill conditioned matrices within a class, and applications include stress-testing algorithms and software. This minisymposium will report recent theoretical and computational progress as well as open questions.

Putting Skew-Symmetric Tridiagonal Bohemians on the Calendar. Robert M. Corless, Western University, Canada. Abstract. Rob did not use slides but gave his talk using this paper and this Maple worksheet.

Determinants of Normalized Bohemian Upper Hessenberg Matrices. Massimiliano Fasi, Örebro University, Sweden; Jishe Feng, Longdong University, China; Gian Maria Negri Porzio, University of Manchester, United Kingdom. Abstract. Slides.

Experiments on Upper Hessenberg and Toeplitz Bohemians. Eunice Chan, Western University, Canada. Abstract. Slides.

Eigenvalues of Magic Squares and Related Bohemian Matrices. Hariprasad Manjunath Hegde, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, India. Abstract. Slides.

Calculating the 3D Kings Multiplicity Constant. Nicholas Cohen and Neil Calkin, Clemson University, U.S. Abstract. Slides.

Bohemian Inners Inverses: A First Step Toward Bohemian Generalized Inverses. Laureano Gonzalez-Vega, Universidad de Cantabria, Spain; Juan Rafael Sendra, Universidad Alcalá de Henares, Spain; Juana Sendra Pons, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain. Abstract. Slides.

Recent Progress in the Rational Factorisation of Integer Matrices. Matthew Lettington, Cardiff University, United Kingdom. Abstract. Slides.

Which Columns are Independent? Why does Row Rank = Column Rank? Gilbert Strang, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S. Abstract. Slides.

Bohemian Matrices: the Symbolic Computation Approach. Juana Sendra, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain; Laureano González-Vega, Universidad de Estudios Financieros en Madrid, Spain; Juan Rafael Sendra, Universidad Alcalá de Henares, Spain. Abstract. Slides.

What Is a Totally Nonnegative Matrix?

The determinant of a square submatrix of a matrix is called a minor. A matrix A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is totally positive if every minor is positive. It is totally nonnegative if every minor is nonnegative. These definitions require, in particular, that all the matrix elements must be nonnegative or positive, as must \det(A).

An important property is that total nonnegativity is preserved under matrix multiplication and hence under taking positive integer powers.

Theorem 1. If A,B\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} are totally nonnegative then so is AB.

Theorem 1 is a direct consequence of the Binet–Cauchy theorem on determinants (also known as the Cauchy–Binet theorem). To state it, we need a way of specifying submatrices. We say the vector \alpha = [\alpha_1,\alpha_2,\dots,\alpha_k] is an index vector of order k if its components are integers from the set \{1,2,\dots,n\} satisfying \alpha_1 < \alpha_2 < \cdots < \alpha_k. If \alpha and \beta are index vectors of order k and \ell, respectively, then A(\alpha, \beta) denotes the k\times \ell matrix with (i,j) element a_{\alpha_i,\beta_j}.

Theorem 2. (Binet–Cauchy) Let A\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n}, B\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times p}, and C = AB. If \alpha and \beta are index vectors of order k and 1 \le k \le \min(m,n,p) then

\notag     \det(C(\alpha,\beta)) = \sum_{\gamma} \det( A(\alpha,\gamma) )                                           \det( B(\gamma,\beta) ),      \qquad (1)

where the sum is over all index vectors \gamma of order k.

Note than when k = m = n = p, (1) reduces to the well-known relation \det(AB) = \det(A)\det(B), while when k = 1, (1) reduces to the definition of matrix multiplication.

Totally nonnegative matrices have many interesting determinantal properties. For example, they satisfy Fischer’s inequality, first proved for symmetric positive definite matrices.

Theorem 3. (Fischer) If A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is totally nonnegative then for any index vector \alpha,

\notag     \det(A) \le \det(A(\alpha)) \det(A(\alpha^c)),      \qquad (2)

where \alpha^c comprises the indices not in \alpha.

By repeatedly applying (2) with \alpha containing just one element, we obtain Hadamard’s inequality for totally nonnegative A:

\notag      \det(A) \le a_{11} a_{22} \cdots a_{nn}.


We give some examples of totally positive matrices, showing how they can be generated in MATLAB. We use the Anymatrix toolbox.

A matrix well known to be positive definite, but which is also totally positive, is the Hilbert matrix H\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n}, with h_{ij} = 1/(i+j-1). The Hilbert matrix is a particular case of a Cauchy matrix C, with c_{ij} = 1/(x_i + y_j) for given vectors x,y\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n}. A Cauchy matrix is totally positive if 0 < x_1 < x_2 < \cdots < x_n and 0 < y_1 < y_2 < \cdots < y_n, which follows from the formula

\notag    \det(C_n) = \displaystyle\frac{\displaystyle\prod_{1\le i < j \le n} (x_j-x_i) (y_j-y_i) }                {\displaystyle\prod_{1\le i,j \le n} (x_i+y_j) }.

In MATLAB, the Hilbert matrix is hilb(n) and the Cauchy matrix can be generated by gallery('cauchy',x,y) (or anymatrix('gallery/cauchy',x,y)).

A Vandermonde matrix

\notag     V = V(x_1,x_2,\dots,x_n)       = \begin{bmatrix}                 1      &   1    & \dots & 1     \\                 x_1   & x_2   & \dots & x_n  \\                 \vdots &\vdots  &       & \vdots \\                 x_1^{n-1} & x_2^{n-1} & \dots & x_n^{n-1}    \end{bmatrix}       \in \mathbb{C}^{n\times n}

is totally positive if the points x_i satisfy 0 < x_1 < x_2 < \cdots < x_n. As a partial check, the general formula

\notag   \det(V) = \displaystyle\prod_{1\le i < j \le n}^n (x_i - x_j)

shows that every leading principal minor is positive. In MATLAB, a Vandermonde matrix can be generated by anymatrix('core/vand',x).

The Pascal matrix P_n\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is defined by

p_{ij} = \displaystyle\frac{ (i+j-2)! }{ (i-1)! (j-1)! } =                    {i+j-2 \choose j-1}.

For example, in MATLAB:

>> P = pascal(5)
P =
     1     1     1     1     1
     1     2     3     4     5
     1     3     6    10    15
     1     4    10    20    35
     1     5    15    35    70

The Pascal matrix is totally positive for all n (see the section below on bidiagonal factorizations).

The one-parameter correlation matrix C_n(\theta) with off-diagonal elements given by \theta with 0 \le \theta < 1, illustrated by

\notag    C_3(\theta) =   \begin{bmatrix}         1 & \theta & \theta \\    \theta & 1      & \theta \\    \theta & \theta & 1 \\   \end{bmatrix},

is not totally positive because while the principal minors are all positive, the submatrix A([1,2],[2,3]) =    \bigl[\begin{smallmatrix}    \theta & \theta \\    1      & \theta    \end{smallmatrix}\bigr] has nonpositive determinant. However, the Kac–Murdock–Szegö matrix K_n(\theta) = (\theta^{|i-j|}), with 0 \le \theta < 1, illustrated by

\notag    K_3(\theta) =   \begin{bmatrix}         1   & \theta & \theta^2 \\    \theta   & 1      & \theta \\    \theta^2 & \theta & 1 \\   \end{bmatrix}

is totally positive thanks to the decay of the elements way from the diagonal. In MATLAB, the Kac–Murdock–Szegö matrix can be generated by gallery('kms',n,rho).

The lower Hessenberg Toeplitz matrix H_n with all elements 1 on and below the superdiagonal, illustrated for n = 4 by

\notag   H_4 =   \begin{bmatrix}   1 & 1 & 0 & 0 \\   1 & 1 & 1 & 0 \\   1 & 1 & 1 & 1 \\   1 & 1 & 1 & 1 \\   \end{bmatrix},

is totally nonnegative. It has \lfloor n/2 \rfloor zero eigenvalues, which appear in a single Jordan block, and its largest eigenvalue is 2(1+\cos(2\pi/(n+2))). In MATLAB, this matrix can be generated by anymatrix('core/hessfull01',n). This and other binary totally nonnegative matrices are studied by Brualdi and Kirkland (2010).

Finally, consider a nonnegative 4\times 4 bidiagonal matrix factorized into a product of elementary nonnegative bidiagonal matrices (nonnegative means that the elements of the matrix are nonnegative):

\notag \begin{aligned}  L = \begin{bmatrix}         1         & 0         & 0         & 0 \\         \ell_{21} & 1         & 0         & 0 \\         0         & \ell_{32} & 1         & 0 \\         0         & 9         & \ell_{43} & 1 \\      \end{bmatrix}  &=      \begin{bmatrix}         1         & 0         & 0         & 0 \\         \ell_{21} & 1         & 0         & 0 \\         0         & 0         & 1         & 0 \\         0         & 0         & 0         & 1 \\      \end{bmatrix}      \begin{bmatrix}         1         & 0         & 0         & 0 \\         0         & 1         & 0         & 0 \\         0         & \ell_{32} & 1         & 0 \\         0         & 0         & 0         & 1 \\      \end{bmatrix}      \begin{bmatrix}         1         & 0         & 0         & 0 \\         0         & 1         & 0         & 0 \\         0         & 0         & 1         & 0 \\         0         & 0         & \ell_{43} & 1 \\      \end{bmatrix}\\    &\equiv L_1(\ell_{21})            L_2(\ell_{32})            L_3(\ell_{43}). \end{aligned}

It is easy to see by inspection that L_1, L_2, and L_3 are totally nonnegative, so L is totally nonnegative by Theorem 1. With D = \mathrm{diag}(1,-1,1,1,-1), we have

\notag  \begin{aligned}   DL^{-1}D   &= (DLD)^{-1}   = (DL_1D \cdot DL_2D \cdot DL_3D )^{-1}\\   &= (DL_3D)^{-1} (DL_2D)^{-1} (DL_3D)^{-1}\\   &= L_3(\ell_{43}) L_2(\ell_{32}) L_1(\ell_{21}), \qquad (3)\ \end{aligned}

which is a product of totally nonnegative matrices and hence is totally nonnegative by Theorem 1. This example clearly generalizes to show that an n\times n nonnegative bidiagonal matrix is totally nonnegative.


Recall that the inverse of a nonsingular A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is given by A^{-1} = \mathrm{adj}(A)/\det(A), where

\mathrm{adj}(A) = \bigl( (-1)^{i+j} \det(A_{ji}) \bigr)

and A_{pq} denotes the submatrix of A obtained by deleting row p and column q. If A is nonsingular and totally nonnegative then it follows that A^{-1} has a checkerboard (alternating) sign pattern. Indeed, we can write A^{-1} = DBD, where D = \mathrm{diag}((-1)^{i+1}) and B has nonnegative elements, and in fact it can be shown that B is totally nonnegative using Theorem 1, Theorem 6, and (3). For example, here is the inverse of the 4\times 4 Pascal matrix:

>> inv(sym(pascal(5)))
ans =
[  5, -10,  10,  -5,  1]
[-10,  30, -35,  19, -4]
[ 10, -35,  46, -27,  6]
[ -5,  19, -27,  17, -4]
[  1,  -4,   6,  -4,  1]


A totally nonnegative matrix has nonnegative trace and determinant, so the sum and product of its eigenvalues are both nonnegative. In fact, all the eigenvalues are real and nonnegative. Since a Jordan block corresponding to a nonnegative eigenvalue is totally nonnegative any Jordan form with nonnegative eigenvalues is possible. More can be said of A is irreducible. Recall that a matrix A\in\mathbb{C}^{n\times n} is irreducible if there does not exist a permutation matrix P such that

\notag         P^TAP = \begin{bmatrix} A_{11} & A_{12} \\                                    0   & A_{22}                  \end{bmatrix}

where A_{11} and A_{22} are square, nonempty submatrices.

Theorem 4. If A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is totally nonnegative then its eigenvalues are all real and nonnegative. If A is also irreducible then the positive eigenvalues are distinct.

If A is nonsingular and totally nonnegative and irreducible then by the theorem we can write the eigenvalues as \lambda_1 > \lambda_2 > \cdots > \lambda_n >0. It is known that the eigenvector x_k associated with \lambda_k has k-1 sign changes, that is, (x_k)_{i+1} and (x_k)_i have opposite signs for k-1 values of i (any zero elements are deleted before counting sign changes). Note that for k=1, we already know from Perron–Frobenius theory that there is a positive eigenvector x_1. This result is illustrated by the Pascal matrix above:

>> A = pascal(5); [V,d] = eig(A,'vector'); [~,k] = sort(d,'descend');
>> evals = d', evecs = V(:,k)
evals =
   1.0835e-02   1.8124e-01   1.0000e+00   5.5175e+00   9.2290e+01
evecs =
   1.7491e-02   2.4293e-01  -7.6605e-01  -5.7063e-01   1.6803e-01
   7.4918e-02   4.8079e-01  -3.8302e-01   5.5872e-01  -5.5168e-01
   2.0547e-01   6.1098e-01   1.6415e-01   2.5292e-01   7.0255e-01
   4.5154e-01   4.1303e-01   4.3774e-01  -5.1785e-01  -4.0710e-01
   8.6486e-01  -4.0736e-01  -2.1887e-01   1.7342e-01   9.0025e-02

Note that the number of sign changes (but not the number of negative elements) increases by 1 as we go from one column to the next

The class of nonsingular totally nonnegative irreducible matrices is known as the oscillatory matrices, because such matrices arise in the analysis of small oscillations of elastic systems. An equivalent definition (in fact, the usual definition) is that an oscillatory matrix is a totally nonnegative matrix for which A^q is totally positive for some positive integer q.

LU Factorization

The next result shows that a totally nonnegative matrix has an LU factorization with special properties. We will need the following special case of Fischer’s inequality (Theorem 3):

\notag    \det(A) \le \det \bigl( A(1\colon p,1\colon p) \bigr)                \det \bigl( A(p+1\colon n,p+1\colon n) \bigr),    \quad p=1\colon n-1. \qquad (4)

Theorem 5. If A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is nonsingular and totally nonnegative then it has an LU factorization with L and U totally nonnegative and the growth factor \rho_n = 1.

Proof. Since A is nonsingular and every minor is nonnegative, (4) shows that \det(A(1\colon p,1\colon p))>0 for p=1\colon n-1, which guarantees the existence of an LU factorization. That the elements of L and U are nonnegative follows from explicit determinantal formulas for the elements of L and U. The total nonnegativity of L and U is proved by Cryer (1976). Gaussian elimination starts with A^{(1)} = A and computes a_{ij}^{(k+1)} = a_{ij}^{(k)} - m_{ik}a_{kj}^{(k)} = a_{ij}^{(k)} - \ell_{ik} u_{kj} \le a_{ij}^{(k)}, since \ell_{ik}, u_{kj} \ge 0. Thus a_{ij} = a_{ij}^{(1)} \ge a_{ij}^{(2)} \ge \cdots \ge a_{ij}^{(r)}, r = \min (i,j). For i > j, a_{ij}^{(r)} \ge a_{ij}^{(r+1)} = \cdots = a_{ij}^{(n)} = 0; for j \ge i, a_{ij}^{(r)} = \cdots = a_{ij}^{(n)} = u_{ij} \ge 0. Thus 0 \le a_{ij}^{(k)} \le a_{ij} for all i,j,k and hence \rho_n \le 1. But \rho_n\ge1, so \rho_n=1.

Theorem 5 implies that it is safe to compute the LU factorization without pivoting of a nonsingular totally nonnegativity matrix: the factorization does not break down and it is numerically stable. In fact, the computed LU factors have a strong componentwise form of stability. As shown by De Boor and Pinkus (1977), for small enough unit roundoff u the computed factors \widehat{L} and \widehat{U} will have nonnegative elements and so from the standard backward error result for LU factorization,

\notag          \widehat{L}\widehat{U} = A + \Delta A, \quad          |\Delta A| \le \gamma_n |\widehat{L}||\widehat{U}|         \quad \Bigl(\gamma_n = \displaystyle\frac{nu}{1-nu} \Bigr),

we have

\notag    |\widehat{L}||\widehat{U}| = |\widehat{L}\widehat{U}| = |A + \Delta A|    \le |A| + \gamma_n |\widehat{L}||\widehat{U}|,

which gives |\widehat{L}||\widehat{U}| \le (1 - \gamma_n)^{-1}|A| and hence

\notag        \widehat{L}\widehat{U} = A + \Delta A, \quad         |\Delta A| \le \displaystyle\frac{\gamma_n}{1-\gamma_n} |A|,

which is about as strong a backward error result as we could hope for. The significance of this result is reduced, however, by the fact that for some important classes of totally nonnegative matrices, including Vandermonde matrices and Cauchy matrices, structure-exploiting linear system solvers exist that are substantially faster, and potentially more accurate, than LU factorization.

Factorization into a Product of Bidiagonal Matrices

We showed above that any nonnegative bidiagonal matrix is totally nonnegative. The next result shows that any nonsingular totally nonnegative matrix has an LU factorization in which L and U can be factorized into a product of nonnegative bidiagonal matrices.

Theorem 6. (Gasca and Peña, 1996) A nonsingular matrix A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is totally nonnegative if and only if it it can be factorized as

\notag    A = L_{n-1} L_{n-2} \dots L_1 D U_1 U_2 \dots U_{n-1}, \qquad (5)

where D is a diagonal matrix with positive diagonal entries and L_i and U_i are unit lower and unit upper bidiagonal matrices, respectively, with the first i-1 entries along the subdiagonal of L_i and U_i^T zero and the rest nonnegative.

An analogue of Theorem 6 holds for totally positive matrices, the only difference being that the last n-i+1 subdiagonal entries of L_i and U_i^T are positive.

The factorization (5) can be computed by Neville elimination, which is a version of Gaussian elimination in which the eliminations are between adjacent rows, working from the bottom of each column upwards.

This factorization into bidiagonal factors can be used to obtain simple proofs of various properties of totally nonnegative matrices and totally positive matrices (Fallat, 2001). It also provides an efficient way to generates such matrices. If all the parameters in D and the L_i and U_i are set to 1 then the Pascal matrix is generated.

Testing for Total Positivity

An n\times n matrix has \sum_{i=1}^n {n \choose k} = 2^n-1 principal minors (ones based on submatrices centred on the diagonal) and \sum_{i=1}^n {n \choose k}^2 = {2n \choose n} -1 \approx 4^n/(n\pi)^{1/2} minors in total. However, it is not necessary to check all these minors to test for total positivity.

Theorem 7. (Gasca and Peña, 1996) The matrix A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is totally positive if and only if \det(A(\alpha,\beta)) > 0 for all index vectors \alpha and \beta such that one of \alpha and \beta is [1,2,\dots,k] and the entries of the other are k consecutive integers.

Theorem 7 shows that only n(n+1) minors need to be tested. Gasca and Peña have also show that total nonnegativity can be tested by checking about 2^{n+1} + n^2/2 minors. A more efficient way to test for total nonnegativity is to compute the factorization in Theorem 6 and check the signs of the entries.


The results we have described show that totally nonnegative and totally positive matrices are analogous in many ways to symmetric positive (semi)definite matrices. The analogies go further because totally nonnegative and totally positive matrices also satisfy eigenvalue interlacing inequalities (albeit weaker than for symmetric matrices) and the eigenvalues of an oscillatory matrix majorize the diagonal elements. See Fallat and Johnson (2011) or Fallat (2014) for details.


This is a minimal set of references, which contain further useful references within.

What Is the Perron–Frobenius Theorem?

A real matrix is nonnegative if all its elements are nonnegative and it is positive if all its elements are positive. Nonnegative matrices arise in a wide variety of applications, for example as matrices of probabilities in Markov processes and as adjacency matrices of graphs. Information about the eigensystem is often essential in these applications.

Perron (1907) proved results about the eigensystem of a positive matrix and Frobenius (1912) extended them to nonnegative matrices.

The following three results of increasing specificity summarize the key spectral properties of nonnegative matrices proved by Perron and Frobenius. Recall that a simple eigenvalue of an n\times n matrix is one with algebraic multiplicity 1, that is, it occurs only once in the set of n eigenvalues. We denote by \rho(A) the spectral radius of A, the largest absolute value of any eigenvalue of A.

Theorem 1. (Perron–Frobenius) If A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is nonnegative then

  1. \rho(A) is an eigenvalue of A,
  2. there is a nonnegative eigenvector x such that Ax = \rho(A)x.

A matrix A\in\mathbb{C}^{n\times n} is reducible if there is a permutation matrix P such that

\notag         P^TAP = \begin{bmatrix} A_{11} & A_{12} \\                                    0   & A_{22}                  \end{bmatrix}

where A_{11} and A_{22} are square, nonempty submatrices; it is irreducible if it is not reducible. Examples of reducible matrices are triangular matrices and matrices with a zero row or column. A positive matrix is trivially irreducible.

Theorem 2. (Perron–Frobenius) If A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is nonnegative and irreducible then

  1. \rho(A) is an eigenvalue of A,
  2. \rho(A)>0,
  3. there is a positive eigenvector x such that Ax = \rho(A) x,
  4. \rho(A) is a simple eigenvalue.

Theorem 3. (Perron) If A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is positive then Theorem 2 holds and, in addition, |\lambda| < \rho(A) for any eigenvalue \lambda with \lambda \ne \rho(A).

For nonnegative, irreducible A, the eigenvalue \rho(A) is called the Perron root of A and the corresponding positive eigenvector x, normalized so that \|x\|_1 = 1, is called the Perron vector.

It is a good exercise to apply the theorems to all binary 2\times 2 matrices. Here are some interesting cases.

  • A = \bigl[\begin{smallmatrix}0 & 1 \\ 0 & 0 \end{smallmatrix}\bigr]: Theorem 1 says that \rho(A) = 0 is an eigenvalue and and that it has a nonnegative eigenvector. Indeed [1~0]^T is an eigenvector. Note that A is reducible and 0 is a repeated eigenvalue.
  • A = \bigl[\begin{smallmatrix}0 & 1 \\ 1 & 0 \end{smallmatrix}\bigr]: A is irreducible and Theorem 2 says that \rho(A) is a simple eigenvalue with positive eigenvector. Indeed the eigenvalues are \pm 1 and [1~1]^T/2 is the Perron vector for the Perron root 1. This matrix has two eigenvalues of maximal modulus.
  • A = \bigl[\begin{smallmatrix}1 & 1 \\ 1 & 1 \end{smallmatrix}\bigr]: Theorem 3 says that \rho(A) = 2 is an eigenvalue with positive eigenvector and that the other eigenvalue has modulus less than 2. Indeed the eigenvalues are the Perron root 2, with Perron vector [1~1]^T/2, and 0.

For another example, consider the irreducible matrix

\notag   B = \begin{bmatrix} 0 & 0 & 1\\                 1 & 0 & 0\\                 0 & 1 &  0                 \end{bmatrix}, \quad      \Lambda(B) = \bigl\{ 1,             \textstyle\frac{1}{2}( -1 \pm \sqrt{3}\mskip1mu\mathrm{i} ) \bigr\}.

Note that B is a companion matrix and a permutation matrix. Theorem 2 correctly tells us that \rho(A) = 1 is an eigenvalue of A, and that it has a corresponding positive eigenvector, the Perron vector [1~1~1]^T/3. Two of the eigenvalues are complex, however, and all three eigenvalues have modulus 1, as they must because B is orthogonal.

A stochastic matrix is a nonnegative matrix whose row sums are all equal to 1. A stochastic matrix satisfies Ae = e, where e = [1,1,\dots,1]^T, which means that A has an eigenvalue 1, and so \rho(A) \ge 1. Since \rho(A) \le \|A\| for any norm, by taking the \infty-norm we conclude that \rho(A) = 1. For a stochastic matrix, Theorem 1 does not give any further information. If A is irreducible then Theorem 2 tells us that \rho(A) is a simple eigenvalue, and if A is positive Theorem 3 tells us that every other eigenvalue has modulus less than \rho(A).

The next result is easily proved using Theorem 3 together with the Jordan canonical form. It shows that the powers of a positive matrix behave like multiples of a rank-1 matrix.

Theorem 4. If A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is positive, x is the Perron vector of A, and y is the Perron vector of A^T then

\notag    \displaystyle\lim_{k\to\infty} \left( \displaystyle\frac{A}{\rho(A)} \right)^k = \displaystyle\frac{xy^T}{y^Tx}.

Note that y in the theorem is a left eigenvector of A corresponding to \rho(A), that is, y^TA = \rho(A)y^T (since \rho(A^T) = \rho(A)).

If A is stochastic and positive then Theorem 4 is applicable and x = n^{-1}e. If A also has unit column sums, so that it is doubly stochastic, then y = n^{-1}e and Theorem 4 says that \lim_{k\to\infty}A^k = n^{-1}ee^T. We illustrate this result in MATLAB using a scaled magic square matrix.

>> n = 4; M = magic(n), A = M/sum(M(1,:)) % Doubly stochastic matrix.
A =
    16     2     3    13
     5    11    10     8
     9     7     6    12
     4    14    15     1
A =
   4.7059e-01   5.8824e-02   8.8235e-02   3.8235e-01
   1.4706e-01   3.2353e-01   2.9412e-01   2.3529e-01
   2.6471e-01   2.0588e-01   1.7647e-01   3.5294e-01
   1.1765e-01   4.1176e-01   4.4118e-01   2.9412e-02

>> for k = 8:8:32, fprintf('%11.2e',norm(A^k-ones(n)/n,1)), end, disp(' ')
   3.21e-05   7.37e-10   1.71e-14   8.05e-16 


This is a minimal set of references, which contain further useful references within.

  • Roger A. Horn and Charles R. Johnson, Matrix Analysis, second edition, Cambridge University Press, 2013. Chapter 8. My review of the second edition.
  • Carl D. Meyer, Matrix Analysis and Applied Linear Algebra, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Philadelphia, PA, USA, 2000. Chapter 8.
  • Helene Shapiro, Linear Algebra and Matrices. Topics for a Second Course, American Mathematical Society, Providence, RI, USA, 2015. Chapter 17.

This article is part of the “What Is” series, available from and in PDF form from the GitHub repository

What Is the Kac–Murdock–Szegö Matrix?

The Kac–Murdock–Szegö matrix is the symmetric Toeplitz matrix

\notag A_n(\rho) = \begin{bmatrix}    1          & \rho       & \rho^2 & \dots  & \rho^{n-1} \\    \rho       & 1          & \rho   & \dots  & \rho^{n-2} \\    \rho^2     & \rho       & 1      & \ddots & \vdots     \\    \vdots     & \vdots     & \ddots & \ddots & \rho       \\    \rho^{n-1} & \rho^{n-2} & \dots  & \rho   & 1 \end{bmatrix} \in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n}. \qquad(1)

It was considered by Kac, Murdock, and Szegö (1953), who investigated its spectral properties. It arises in the autoregressive AR(1) model in statistics and signal processing.

The matrix is singular for \rho=1, as A_n(1) is the rank-1 matrix ee^T, and it is also rank-1 for \rho = -1, as in this case every column is a multiple of the vector with alternating elements \pm 1. The determinant \det(A_n(\rho)) = (1-\rho^2)^{n-1}. For \rho \ne \pm 1, A_n is nonsingular and the inverse is the tridiagonal (but not Toeplitz) matrix

\notag   A_n(\rho)^{-1} = \displaystyle\frac{1}{1-\rho^2}   \begin{bmatrix}    1      & -\rho    & 0        & \dots  & \dots    & 0      \\    -\rho  & 1+\rho^2 & -\rho    & \dots  & \dots    & 0      \\    0      & -\rho    & 1+\rho^2 & \ddots & \dots    & \vdots \\    \vdots & \vdots   & \ddots   & \ddots & \ddots   & 0      \\    0      & \dots    & \dots    & -\rho  & 1+\rho^2 & -\rho  \\    0      & \dots    & \dots    & 0      & -\rho    & 1   \end{bmatrix}. \qquad (2)

For -1 < \rho < 1, A_n(\rho) is positive definite, since every leading principal submatrix has positive determinant, as can also be seen by noting that the inverse is diagonally dominant with positive diagonal, so that A_n^{-1} is positive definite and hence A_n is positive definite.

For -1 \le \rho \le 1, A_n(\rho) is positive semidefinite, so it is a correlation matrix for \rho in this range.

For 0 \le \rho \le 1, A_n(\rho) is totally nonnegative, that is. every submatrix has nonnegative determinant. For 0 < \rho < 1, we know that A_n(\rho) is nonsingular, and it is clearly irreducible, and together with the total nonnegativity these properties imply that the eigenvalues are distinct and positive (this can also be deduced from the fact that the inverse is tridiagonal with nonzero subdiagonal and superdiagonal entries).

It is straightforward to verify that A_n has a factorization A_n = LDL^* with L the inverse of a unit lower bidiagonal matrix:

\notag  L =   \begin{bmatrix}    1     &          &          &        &\\    -\rho & 1        &          &        &\\          & -\rho    & 1        &        &\\          &          & \ddots   & \ddots &\\          &          &          &-\rho   &1   \end{bmatrix}^{-1}, \quad  D = \mathrm{diag}(1, 1-\rho^2, 1-\rho^2, \dots, 1-\rho^2).  \qquad (3)

This factorization can be used to prove all the properties stated above.

From (1) and (2) we can derive the formulas

\notag    \begin{aligned}   \|A_n\|_{1,\infty} &=        2 \left(\displaystyle\frac{1-\rho^{k+1}}{1-\rho}\right)        -1 - (2k-n+1) \rho^k,    \quad k = \lfloor n/2 \rfloor, \\   \|A_n^{-1}\|_{\infty} &= (1+2\rho+\rho^2)/(1-\rho^2) = (1+\rho)/(1-\rho).    \end{aligned}

Hence we have an explicit formula for the condition number \kappa_p(A_n) = \|A_n\|_{1,\infty} \|A_n^{-1}\|_{1,\infty} for p = 1,\infty.

We can allow \rho to be complex, in which case the definition (1) is modified to conjugate the elements below the diagonal. The factorization A = LDL^* continues to hold with D in (2) replaced by \mathrm{diag}(1, 1-|\rho|^2, 1-|\rho|^2, \dots, 1-|\rho|^2).

The Kac–Murdock–Szegö matrix (for real or complex \rho) can be generated in MATLAB as gallery('kms',n,rho).


This is a minimal set of references, which contain further useful references within.

Related Blog Posts

This article is part of the “What Is” series, available from and in PDF form from the GitHub repository

Ian Gladwell (1944–2021)

By Len Freeman, Nick Higham and Jim Nagy.

Ian Gladwell giving talk “Software for the Numerical Solution of ODEs—a University of Manchester and NAG Library Perspective” at Numerical Analysis and Computers—50 Years of Progress, University of Manchester, June 16–17, 1998.

Ian Gladwell passed away on May 23, 2021 at the age of 76. He was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1944. He did his secondary education at Thornleigh College, Bolton and was an undergraduate at Hertford College, University of Oxford, from where he graduated with a B.A. Hons. in Mathematics in 1966. He did his postgraduate studies at the University of Manchester, gaining an MSc in Numerical Analysis and Computing in 1967 and a PhD in Numerical Analysis in 1970. He was the first PhD student of Christopher T. H. Baker (1939–2017).

Ian was appointed Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Manchester in 1969 and progressed to Senior Lecturer in 1980. He was a member of the Numerical Analysis Group (along with Christopher Baker, Len Freeman, George Hall, Will McLewin, Jack Williams (1943–2015), and Joan Walsh (1932–2017)) who, together with colleagues at UMIST, made Manchester a major centre of numerical analysis activity from the 1970s onwards.

Ian’s research focused on ordinary differential equation (ODE) initial value problems and boundary value problems, mathematical software, and parallel computing, and he had a wide knowledge of numerical analysis and scientific computing. He was perhaps best known for his pioneering work on mathematical software for the numerical solution of ODEs, much of which was published in the NAG Library and in the journal ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software. A particular topic of interest for Ian was algorithms and software for the numerical solution of almost block diagonal linear systems, which arise in discretizations of boundary value problems for ODEs and partial differential equations.

More details on Ian’s publications can be found at his MathSciNet author profile (subscription required). It lists 55 publications with 19 co-authors, among which Richard Brankin, Larry Shampine, Ruth Thomas, and Marcin Paprzycki are his most frequent co-authors.

In his time at Manchester he collaborated with a variety of colleagues both inside and outside the department, and he was always ready to offer advice to students and colleagues across the campus on numerical computing (as evidenced by the common sight of people waiting outside his office door to be seen).

Ian was instrumental in setting up the Manchester Numerical Analysis Reports, a long-running technical report series to which he contributed many items.

Ian had a five-month visit to the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto in 1975. Links between the Manchester and Toronto departments were strong, and over the years numerical analysts made several visits in both directions.

In the mid 1980s, Ian was one of the first people in the UK to have an email address: His email account was on a computer at University College London (UCL), because UCL hosted a gateway between JANET, the UK computer network, and ARPANET in the USA. Ian kindly allowed Nick Higham and Len Freeman use of the account to communicate with colleagues in the US.

Ian had long-standing collaborations with the Numerical Algorithms Group (NAG) Ltd., Oxford. He contributed many codes and associated documentation to the NAG Library, principally in ordinary differential equations. In a 1979 paper in ACM Trans. Math. Software he wrote

“When the NAG library structure was designed in the late 1960s, it was decided to devote a chapter, named DO2, to the numerical solution of systems of ordinary differential equations and that this chapter would be contributed by members of the Department of Mathematics, University of Manchester, and in particular by J. E. Walsh, G. Hall, and the author.”

Ian was a long-term member of NAG and of the NAG Technical Policy Committee, and during 1986 he held a Royal Society/Science and Engineering Research Council Industrial Fellowship at NAG.

Nick Higham was taught by Ian in an upper level undergraduate course “Numerical Linear Algebra” that Ian was giving for the first time, in 1981. As an MSc student and PhD student he benefited greatly from Ian’s advice about how to think about and do research.

Ian moved to the Department of Mathematics at Southern Methodist University (SMU), Dallas, as a Visiting Associate Professor in 1987, which became a permanent position in 1988. He had collaborated during the 1980s with Larry Shampine, who was working at Sandia National Laboratories until he moved to the SMU Mathematics Department in 1986.

Ian served as chair of the department 1988–1994 and again in 1998. He was also Director of Graduate Studies from 2005–2008. Ian excelled in these roles as mentor, which is recognized by a PhD fellowship in his honor. Jim Nagy was extremely fortunate to have Ian as his first department chair in 1992; Ian mentored him during the challenging tenure-track years, advising on research, teaching and more, including extensive editing of his first successful grant proposals.

Ian wrote the book Solving ODEs with MATLAB (2003) with Larry Shampine and Skip Thompson, which was described as “an excellent treatment of the fundamentals for solving ODEs using MATLAB” in Mathematical Reviews. It is Ian’s most highly cited work, with around 900 citations on Google Scholar at the time of writing.

Ian served as editor for ten journals, including as Associate Editor (2002–2005) and Editor-in-Chief (2005–2008) of ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software, as Associate Editor of the IMA Journal on Numerical Analysis (1988–2007), and as Associate Editor of Scalable Computing: Practice and Experience (2005–2010). A special issue of the latter journal in 2009 was dedicated to him on the occasion of his retirement from SMU

Ian was a long-term member of the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications, of which he was a Fellow, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

According to the Mathematics Genealogy Project, Ian had 23 PhD students, equally split between Manchester and SMU, with one jointly supervised at the University of Bari.

What Is the Determinant of a Matrix?

The determinant of an n\times n matrix A is defined by

\notag   \det(A) = \displaystyle\sum_j (-1)^{\mathop{\mathrm{sgn}}j}                   a_{1,j_1}a_{2,j_2} \dots a_{n,j_n}, \qquad (1)

where the sum is over all n! permutations j = (j_1,j_2,\dots,j_n) of the sequence (1,2,\dots,n) and \mathop{\mathrm{sgn}}j is the number of inversions in j, that is, the number of pairs (j_k,j_\ell) with k  j_\ell. Each term in the sum is a signed product of n entries of A and the product contains one entry taken from each row and one from each column.

The determinant is sometimes written with vertical bars, as |A|.

Three fundamental properties are

\notag \begin{aligned} \det(\alpha A) &= \alpha^n \det(A)\; \mathrm{for~any~scalar~}\alpha,\qquad(2)\\ \det(A^T) &= \det(A), \qquad(3)\\ \det(AB) &= \det(A)\det(B) \mathrm{~for~} n\times n~ A \mathrm{~and~} B.\qquad(4) \end{aligned}

The first property is immediate, the second can be proved using properties of permutations, and the third is proved in texts on linear algebra and matrix theory.

An alternative, recursive expression for the determinant is the Laplace expansion

\notag   \det(A) = \displaystyle\sum_{j=1}^n (-1)^{i+j} a_{ij} \det (A_{ij}).  \qquad(5)

for any i\in\{1,2,\dots,n\}, where A_{ij} denotes the (n-1)\times (n-1) submatrix of A obtained by deleting row i and column j, and \det(a) = a for a scalar a. This formula is called the expansion by minors because \det (A_{ij}) is a minor of A.

For some types of matrices the determinant is easy to evaluate. If T is triangular then \det(T) = \prod_{i=1}^n t_{ii}. If Q is unitary then Q^*Q = I implies |\det(Q)| = 1 on using (3) and (4). An explicit formula exists for the determinant of a Vandermonde matrix.

The determinant of A is connected with the eigenvalues \lambda_i of A via the property \det(A) = \prod_{i=1}^n \lambda_i. Since the eigenvalues are the roots of the characteristic polynomial \det(tI - A), this relation follows by setting t = 0 in the expression

\notag   \det(tI - A) = t^n + a_{n-1}t^{n-1} + \cdots + a_1 t + a_0                = \displaystyle\prod_{i=1}^n (t - \lambda_i).

For n=2, the determinant is

\notag     \det\biggl( \begin{bmatrix} a & b \\ c & d \end{bmatrix} \biggr)      = ad - bc,

but already for n=3 the determinant is tedious to write down. If one must compute \det(A), the formulas (1) and (5) are too expensive unless n is very small: they have an exponential cost. The best approach is to use a factorization of A involving factors that are triangular or orthogonal, so that the determinants of the factors are easily computed. If PA = LU is an LU factorization, with P a permutation matrix, L unit lower triangular, and U upper triangular, then \det(A) = \det(P) \prod_{i=1}^n u_{ii} = \pm \prod_{i=1}^n u_{ii}. As this expression indicates, the determinant is prone to overflow and underflow in floating-point arithmetic, so it may be preferable to compute \log(|\det(A)|) = \sum_{i=1}^n \log|u_{ii}|.

The determinant features in the formula

\notag   A^{-1} = \displaystyle\frac{\mathrm{adj}(A)}{\det(A)}

for the inverse, where \mathrm{adj}(A) is the adjugate of A (recall that \mathrm{adj}(A) has (i,j) element (-1)^{i+j} \det(A_{ji})). More generally, Cramer’s rule says that the components of the solution to a linear system Ax = b are given by x_i = \det(A_i(b))/\det(A), where A_i(b) denotes A with its ith column replaced by b. While mathematically elegant, Cramer’s rule is of no practical use, as it is both expensive and numerically unstable in finite precision arithmetic.


A celebrated bound for the determinant of a Hermitian positive definite matrix H\in\mathbb{C}^{n\times n} is Hadamard’s inequality. Note that for such H, \det(H) is real and positive (being the product of the eigenvalues, which are real and positive) and the diagonal elements are also real and positive (since h_{ii} = e_i^*He_i > 0).

Theorem 1 (Hadamard’s inequality). For a Hermitian positive definite matrix H\in\mathbb{C}^{n\times n},

\notag     \det(H) \le \displaystyle\prod_{i=1}^n h_{ii},

with equality if and only if H is diagonal.

Theorem 1 is easy to prove using a Cholesky factorization.

The following corollary can be obtained by applying Theorem 1 to H = A^*A or by using a QR factorization of A.

Corollary 2. For A = [a_1,a_2,\dots,a_n] \in\mathbb{C}^{n\times n},

\notag     \det(A) \le \displaystyle\prod_{i=1}^n \|a_i\|_2,

with equality if and only if the columns of A are orthogonal.

Obviously, one can apply the corollary to A^* and obtain the analogous bound with column norms replaced by row norms.

The determinant of A\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} can be interpreted as the volume of the parallelepiped \{\, \sum_{i=1}^n t_ia_i : 0 \le t_i \le 1, ~ i = 1\colon n\,\}, whose sides are the columns of A. Corollary 2 says that for columns of given lengths the volume is maximized when the columns are orthogonal.

Nearness to Singularity and Conditioning

The determinant characterizes nonsingularity: A is singular if and only if \det(A) = 0. It might be tempting to use |\det(A)| as a measure of how close a nonsingular matrix A is to being singular, but this measure is flawed, not least because of the sensitivity of the determinant to scaling. Indeed if Q is unitary then \det(\alpha Q) = \alpha^n \det(Q) can be given any value by a suitable choice of \alpha, yet \alpha Q is perfectly conditioned: \kappa_2(\alpha Q) = 1, where \kappa(A) = \|A\| \|A^{-1}\| is the condition number.

To deal with the poor scaling one might normalize the determinant: in view of Corollary 2,

\notag   \psi(A) = \displaystyle\frac{\prod_{i=1}^n \|a_i\|_2} {\det(A)}

satisfies \psi(A) \ge 1 and \psi(A) = 1 if and only if the columns of A are orthogonal. Birkhoff (1975) calls \psi the Hadamard condition number. In general, \psi is not related to the condition number \kappa, but if A has columns of unit 2-norm then it can be shown that \kappa_2(A) < 2\psi(A) (Higham, 2002, Prob. 14.13). Dixon (1984) shows that for classes of n\times n random matrices A_n that include matrices with elements independently drawn from a normal distribution with mean 0, the probability that the inequality

n^{1/4 - \epsilon} \mathrm{e}^{n/2}     < \psi(A_n) < n^{1/4 + \epsilon} \mathrm{e}^{n/2}

holds tends to 1 as n\to\infty for any \epsilon > 0, so \psi(A_n) \approx n^{1/4}\mathrm{e}^{n/2} for large n. This exponential growth is much faster than the growth of \kappa, for which Edelman (1998) showed that for the standard normal distribution, \mathbb{E}(\log(\kappa_2(A_n))) \approx \log n + 1.537, where \mathbb{E} denotes the mean value. This MATLAB example illustrates these points.

>> rng(1); n = 50; A = randn(n); 
>> psi = prod(sqrt(sum(A.*A)))/abs(det(A)), kappa2 = cond(A)
psi =
kappa2 =
>> ratio = psi/(n^(0.25)*exp(n/2))
ratio =

The relative distance from A to the set of singular matrices is equal to the reciprocal of the condition number.

Theorem 3 (Gastinel, Kahan). For A\in\mathbb{C}^{n\times n} and any subordinate matrix norm,

\notag   \min \left\{ \displaystyle\frac{\|\Delta A\|}{\|A\|} : A+\Delta A\mathrm{~singular} \right\}  = \displaystyle\frac{1}{\kappa(A)}.


Determinants came before matrices, historically. Most linear algebra textbooks make significant use of determinants, but a lot can be done without them. Axler (1995) shows how the theory of eigenvalues can be developed without using determinants.

Determinants have little application in practical computations, but they are a useful theoretical tool in numerical analysis, particularly for proving nonsingularity.

There is a large number of formulas and identities for determinants. Sir Thomas Muir collected many of them in his five-volume magnum opus The Theory of Determinants in the Historical Order of Development, published between 1890 and 1930. Brualdi and Schneider (1983) give concise derivations of many identities using Gaussian elimination, bringing out connections between the identities.

The quantity obtained by modifying the definition (1) of determinant to remove the (-1)^{\mathop{\mathrm{sgn}}j} term is the permanent. The permanent arises in combinatorics and quantum mechanics and is much harder to compute than the determinant: no algorithm is known for computing the permanent in p(n) operations for a polynomial p.


This is a minimal set of references, which contain further useful references within.

Related Blog Posts

This article is part of the “What Is” series, available from and in PDF form from the GitHub repository

What Is a Vandermonde Matrix?

A Vandermonde matrix is defined in terms of scalars x_1, x_2, …, x_n\in\mathbb{C} by

\notag     V = V(x_1,x_2,\dots,x_n)       = \begin{bmatrix}                 1      &   1    & \dots & 1     \\                 x_1   & x_2   & \dots & x_n  \\                 \vdots &\vdots  &       & \vdots \\                 x_1^{n-1} & x_2^{n-1} & \dots & x_n^{n-1}    \end{bmatrix}       \in \mathbb{C}^{n\times n}.

The x_i are called points or nodes. Note that while we have indexed the nodes from 1, they are usually indexed from 0 in papers concerned with algorithms for solving Vandermonde systems.

Vandermonde matrices arise in polynomial interpolation. Suppose we wish to find a polynomial p_{n-1}(x) = a_nx^{n-1} + a_{n-1}x^{n-2} + \cdots + a_1 of degree at most n-1 that interpolates to the data (x_i,f_i)_{i=1}^n, that is, p_{n-1}(x_i) = f_i, i=1\colon n. These equations are equivalent to

\notag          V^Ta = f \quad \mathrm{(dual)},

where a = [a_1,a_2,\dots,a_n]^T is the vector of coefficients. This is known as the dual problem. We know from polynomial interpolation theory that there is a unique interpolant if the x_i are distinct, so this is the condition for V to be nonsingular.

The problem

\notag          Vy = b \quad \mathrm{(primal)}

is called the primal problem, and it arises when we determine the weights for a quadrature rule: given moments b_i find weights y_i such that \sum_{j=1}^n y_j^{} x_j^{\,i-1} = b_i, i=1\colon n.


The determinant of V is a function of the n points x_i. If x_i = x_j for some i\ne j then V has identical ith and jth columns, so is singular. Hence the determinant must have a factor x_i - x_j. Consequently, we have

\notag  \det( V(x_1,x_2,\dots,x_n) ) = c \displaystyle\prod_{i,j = 1\atop i > j}^n (x_i - x_j),

where, since both sides have degree n(n-1)/2 in the x_i, c is a constant. But \det(V) contains a term x_2 x_3^2 \dots x_n^{n-1} (from the main diagonal), so c = 1. Hence

\notag   \det(V) = \displaystyle\prod_{i,j = 1\atop i > j}^n (x_i - x_j). \qquad (1)

This formula confirms that V is nonsingular precisely when the x_i are distinct.


Now assume that V is nonsingular and let V^{-1} = W = (w_{ij})_{i,j=1}^n. Equating elements in the ith row of WV = I gives

\sum_{j=1}^n w_{ij} x_k^{\mskip1mu j-1} = \delta_{ik},    \quad k=1\colon n,

where \delta_{ij} is the Kronecker delta (equal to 1 if i=j and 0 otherwise). These equations say that the polynomial \sum_{j=1}^n w_{ij} x^{\mskip1mu j-1} takes the value 1 at x = x_i and 0 at x = x_k, k\ne i. It is not hard to see that this polynomial is the Lagrange basis polynomial:

\notag    \sum_{j=1}^n w_{ij} x^{j-1} = \displaystyle\prod_{k=1\atop k\ne i}^n    \left( \frac{x-x_k}{x_i-x_k} \right) =: \ell_i(x). \qquad (2)

We deduce that

\notag    w_{ij} = \displaystyle\frac{ (-1)^{n-j}                    \sigma_{n-j}(x_1,\dots,x_{i-1},x_{i+1},\dots,x_n) }    { \displaystyle\prod_{k=1 \atop k\ne i}^n (x_i-x_k) }, \qquad (3)

where \sigma_k(y_1,\dots,y_n) denotes the sum of all distinct products of k of the arguments y_1,\dots,y_n (that is, \sigma_k is the kth elementary symmetric function).

From (1) and (3) we see that if the x_i are real and positive and arranged in increasing order 0 < x_1 < x_2 < \cdots  0 and V^{-1} has a checkerboard sign pattern: the (i,j) element has sign (-1)^{i+j}.

Note that summing (2) over i gives

\notag    \displaystyle\sum_{j=1}^n x^{j-1} \sum_{i=1}^n w_{ij} = \sum_{i=1}^n \ell_i(x) = 1,

where the second equality follows from the fact that \sum_{i=1}^n \ell_i(x) is a degree n-1 polynomial that takes the value 1 at the n distinct points x_i. Hence

\notag   \displaystyle\sum_{i=1}^n w_{ij} = \delta_{j1},

so the elements in the jth column of the inverse sum to 1 for j = 1 and 0 for j\ge 2.


To illustrate the formulas above, here is an example, with x_i = (i-1)/(n-1) and n = 5:

\notag V = \left[\begin{array}{ccccc} 1 & 1 & 1 & 1 & 1\\ 0 & \frac{1}{4} & \frac{1}{2} & \frac{3}{4} & 1\\[\smallskipamount] 0 & \frac{1}{16} & \frac{1}{4} & \frac{9}{16} & 1\\[\smallskipamount] 0 & \frac{1}{64} & \frac{1}{8} & \frac{27}{64} & 1\\[\smallskipamount] 0 & \frac{1}{256} & \frac{1}{16} & \frac{81}{256} & 1 \end{array}\right], \quad V^{-1} = \left[\begin{array}{ccccc} 1 & -\frac{25}{3} & \frac{70}{3} & -\frac{80}{3} & \frac{32}{3}\\[\smallskipamount] 0 & 16 & -\frac{208}{3} & 96 & -\frac{128}{3}\\ 0 & -12 & 76 & -128 & 64\\[\smallskipamount] 0 & \frac{16}{3} & -\frac{112}{3} & \frac{224}{3} & -\frac{128}{3}\\[\smallskipamount] 0 & -1 & \frac{22}{3} & -16 & \frac{32}{3} \end{array}\right],

for which \det(V) = 9/32768.


Vandermonde matrices are notorious for being ill conditioned. The ill conditioning stems from the monomials being a poor basis for the polynomials on the real line. For arbitrary distinct points x_i, Gautschi showed that V_n = V(x_1, x_2, \dots, x_n) satisfies

\notag    \displaystyle\max_i \displaystyle\prod_{j\ne i} \frac{ \max(1,|x_j|) }{ |x_i-x_j| }    \le \|V_n^{-1}\|_{\infty}    \le  \displaystyle\max_i \prod_{j\ne i} \frac{ 1+|x_j| }{ |x_i-x_j| },

with equality on the right when x_j = |x_j| e^{\mathrm{i}\theta} for all j with a fixed \theta (in particular, when x_j\ge0 for all j). Note that the upper and lower bounds differ by at most a factor 2^{n-1}. It is also known that for any set of real points x_i,

\notag        \kappa_2(V_n) \ge         \Bigl(\displaystyle\frac{2}{n}\Bigr)^{1/2} \,         (1+\sqrt{2})^{n-2}

and that for x_i = 1/i we have \kappa_{\infty}(V_n) > n^{n+1}, where the lower bound is an extremely fast growing function of the dimension!

These exponential lower bounds are alarming, but they do not necessarily rule out the use of Vandermonde matrices in practice. One of the reasons is that there are specialized algorithms for solving Vandermonde systems whose accuracy is not dependent on the condition number \kappa, and which in some cases can be proved to be highly accurate. The first such algorithm is an O(n^2) operation algorithm for solving V_ny =b of Björck and Pereyra (1970). There is now a long list of generalizations of this algorithm in various directions, including for confluent Vandermonde-like matrices (Higham, 1990), as well as for more specialized problems (Demmel and Koev, 2005) and more general ones (Bella et al., 2009). Another important observation is that the exponential lower bounds are for real nodes. For complex nodes V_n can be much better conditioned. Indeed when the x_i are the roots of unity, V_n/\sqrt{n} is the unitary Fourier matrix and so V_n is perfectly conditioned.


Two ways in which Vandermonde matrices have been generalized are by allowing confluency of the points x_i and by replacing the monomials by other polynomials. Confluency arises when the x_i are not distinct. If we assume that equal x_i are contiguous then a confluent Vandermonde matrix is obtained by “differentiating” the previous column for each of the repeated points. For example, with points x_1, x_1, x_1, x_2, x_2 we obtain

\notag   \begin{bmatrix}   1      &  0     &   0     &   1          &   0    \\   x_1    &  1     &   0     &  x_2    &   1    \\   x_1^2  & 2x_1   &   2     &  x_2^2  & 2x_2  \\   x_1^3  & 3x_1^2 & 6x_1    & x_2^3   & 3x_2^2 \\   x_1^4  & 4x_1^3 & 12x_1^2 & x_2^4   & 4x_2^3   \end{bmatrix}. \qquad (4)

The transpose of a confluent Vandermonde matrix arises in Hermite interpolation; it is nonsingular if the points corresponding to the “nonconfluent columns” are distinct (that is, if x_1 \ne x_2 in the case of (4)).

A Vandermonde-like matrix is defined in terms of a set of polynomials \{p_i(x)\}_{i=0}^n with p_i having degree i:

\notag     \begin{bmatrix}     p_0(x_1) & p_0(x_2) & \dots & p_0(x_n)\\     p_1(x_1) & p_1(x_2) & \dots & p_1(x_n)\\    \vdots & \vdots & \dots & \vdots\\     p_{n-1}(x_1) & p_{n-1}(x_2) & \dots & p_{n-1}(x_n)\\    \end{bmatrix}.

Of most interest are polynomials that satisfy a three-term recurrence, in particular, orthogonal polynomials. Such matrices can be much better conditioned than general Vandermonde matrices.


Algorithms for solving confluent Vandermonde-like systems and their rounding error analysis are described in the chapter “Vandermonde systems” of Higham (2002).

Gautschi has written many papers on the conditioning of Vandermonde matrices, beginning in 1962. We mention just his most recent paper on this topic: Gautschi (2011).


This is a minimal set of references, which contain further useful references within.

Related Blog Posts

This article is part of the “What Is” series, available from and in PDF form from the GitHub repository

Bounds for the Matrix Condition Number

We present a selection of bounds for the condition number \kappa(A) = \|A\| \|A^{-1}\| of a nonsingular matrix A\in\mathbb{C}^{n\times n} in terms of quantities that might be known or can be estimated.

General Matrices

From the inequality \|A\| \ge \rho(A), for any matrix norm, where \rho(A) is the spectral radius (the largest magnitude of any eigenvalue of A) we have

\notag       \kappa(A) \ge \rho(A) \rho(A^{-1}).  \qquad (1)

Fir the 2-norm, this bound is an equality for a normal matrix (one for which A^*A = AA^*), but it can be arbitrarily weak for nonnormal matrices.

Guggenheimer, Edelman, and Johnson (1995) obtain the bound

\notag       \kappa_2(A) < \displaystyle\frac{2}{|\det(A)|}                  \left( \frac{\|A\|_F}{n^{1/2}} \right)^n. \qquad (2)

The proof of the bound applies the arithmetic–geometric mean inequality to the n numbers \sigma_1^2/2, \sigma_1^2/2,  \sigma_2^2, \sigma_3^2, \dots, \sigma_{n-1}^2, where the \sigma_i are the singular values of A. This bound can be arbitrarily weak but it is an approximate equality when \sigma_1,\sigma_2, \dots \sigma_{n-1} are of similar order of magnitude.

Merikoski, Urpala, Virtanen, Tam, and Uhlig (1997) obtain the bound

\notag  \kappa_2(A) \le  \left(\displaystyle\frac{1+x}{1-x}\right)^{1/2}, \quad      x = \sqrt{1 - (n/\|A\|_F^2)^n |\det(A)|^2 }. \qquad (3)

Their proof uses a more refined application of the arithmetic–geometric mean inequality, and they show that this bound is the smallest that can be obtained based on \|A\|_F, \det(A), and n only. Hence (3) is no larger than (2), and they show that it can be smaller by no more than 1.5. Equality holds in (3) if and only if \sigma_2 = \sigma_3 = \cdots = \sigma_{n-1} = (\sigma_1 + \sigma_n)/2.

As an example, for three random 25\times 25 matrices with \kappa_2(A) = 10, generated by gallery('randsvd') with three different singular value dsitributions:

Mode (2) (3)
One large singular value 9.88e+07 9.88e+07
One small singular value 1.21e+01 1.20e+01
Geometrically distributed singular values 5.71e+04 5.71e+04

We note that for larger \kappa_2(A) the formula (3) is prone to overflow, which can be avoided by evaluating it in higher precision arithmetic.

Hermitian Positive Definite Matrices

Merikoski et al. (1997) also give a version of (3) for Hermitian positive definite A\in\mathbb{C}^{n\times n}:

\kappa_2(A) \le \displaystyle\frac{1+x}{1-x}, \quad      x = \sqrt{1 - (n/\mathrm{trace}(A))^n \det(A) }.     \qquad (4)

This is the smallest bound that can be obtained based on \mathrm{trace}(A), \det(A), and n only. Equality holds in (4) if and only if the eigenvalues \lambda_1 \ge \lambda_2 \ge \cdots \ge \lambda_n of A satisfy \lambda_2 = \lambda_3 = \cdots = \lambda_{n-1} = (\lambda_1 + \lambda_n)/2. We can rewrite this upper bound as

\displaystyle\frac{1+x}{1-x} = \frac{(1+x)^2}{1-x^2}                < \frac{4}{1-x^2},

which gives the weaker bound

\notag   \kappa_2(A) < \displaystyle\frac{4}{\det(A)} \Bigl(\displaystyle\frac{\mathrm{trace}(A)}{n}\Bigr)^n.     \qquad (5)

This bound is analogous to (2) and is up to a factor 4 larger than (4), this factor being attained for A = I.

If \mathrm{trace}(A) = n then (4) reduces to

\notag \begin{aligned}   \kappa_2(A) &< \displaystyle\frac{1 + \sqrt{1-\det(A)}}{1 - \sqrt{1-\det(A)}}                =\displaystyle\frac{\bigl(1 + \sqrt{1-\det(A)}\,\bigr)^2}{\det(A)}   \qquad(6)\\               &< \displaystyle\frac{4}{\det(A)}. \end{aligned}

These bounds hold for any positive definite matrix with unit diagonal, that is, any nonsingular correlation matrix.

We can sometimes get a sharper bound than (4) and (5) by writing A = DCD, where D = \mathrm{diag}(a_{ii}^{1/2}) and c_{ii} \equiv 1 (thus C is a correlation matrix), using

\notag \kappa_2(A) \le \kappa_2(D)^2 \kappa_2(C)           = \displaystyle\frac{\max_i a_{ii}}{\min_i a_{ii}} \kappa_2(C), \qquad (7)

and bounding \kappa_(C) using (6). For example, for the 5\times 5 Pascal matrix

\notag P_5 = \left[\begin{array}{ccccc} 1 & 1 & 1 & 1 & 1\\ 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5\\ 1 & 3 & 6 & 10 & 15\\ 1 & 4 & 10 & 20 & 35\\ 1 & 5 & 15 & 35 & 70 \end{array}\right]

the condition number is \kappa_1(P_5) = 8.52 \times 10^3. The bounds from (4) and (5) are both 1.22 \times 10^7, whereas combining (4) and (7) gives a bound of 4.70 \times 10^6.


Many other condition number bounds are available in the literature. All have their pros and cons and any bound based on limited information such as traces of powers of A and the determinant will be potentially very weak.

A drawback of the bounds (3)–(6) is that they require \det(A). Sometimes the determinant is easily computable, as for a Vandermonde matrix, or can be bounded: for example, |\det(A)| \ge 1 for a matrix with integer entries. If a Cholesky, LU, or QR factorization of A is available then |\det(A)| is easily computable, but in this case a good order of magnitude estimate of the condition number can be cheaply computed using condition estimation techniques (Higham, 2002, Chapter 15).

The bounds (3) and (4) are used by Higham and Lettington (2021) in investigating the most ill conditioned 4\times 4 symmetric matrices with integer elements bounded by 10; see What Is the Wilson Matrix?


This is a minimal set of references, which contain further useful references within.

What Is the Wilson Matrix?

The 4\times 4 matrix

\notag   W = \begin{bmatrix}      5 & 7  & 6  & 5 \\      7 & 10 & 8  & 7 \\      6 & 8  & 10 & 9 \\      5 & 7  & 9  & 10   \end{bmatrix}

appears in a 1946 paper by Morris, in which it is described as having been “devised by Mr. T. S. Wilson.” The matrix is symmetric positive definite with determinant 1 and inverse

\notag    W^{-1} =   \begin{bmatrix}    68 & -41 & -17 & 10\\   -41 &  25 &  10 & -6\\   -17 &  10 &   5 & -3\\    10 &  -6 &  -3 &  2    \end{bmatrix},

so it is moderately ill conditioned with \kappa_2(W) = \|W\|_2 \|W^{-1}\|_2 \approx 2.98409\times 10^3. This little matrix has been used as an example and for test purposes in many research papers and books over the years, in particular by John Todd, who described it as “the notorious matrix W of T. S. Wilson”.

Rutishauser (1968) stated that “the famous Wilson matrix is not a very striking example of an ill-conditioned matrix”, on the basis that \kappa_2(A)\le 40{,}000 for a “positive definite symmetric 4\times 4 matrix with integer elements not exceeding 10” and he gave the positive definite matrix

\notag   A_0 = \begin{bmatrix}      10 & 1  & 4  &  0 \\      1  & 10 & 5  & -1 \\      4  & 5  & 10 &  7 \\      0  & -1 & 7  &  9   \end{bmatrix}, \quad    A_0^{-1} =\begin{bmatrix}       105& 167 & -304 & 255\\       167 & 266 & -484 & 406\\      -304 & -484 & 881 & -739\\       255 & 406 & -739 & 620       \end{bmatrix},

for which \kappa_2(A_0) = 3.57924\times 10^4. The matrix A_0 is therefore a factor 12 more ill conditioned than W. Rutishauser did not give a proof of the stated bound.

Moler (2018) asked how ill-conditioned W is relative to matrices in the set

\notag \begin{aligned}    \mathcal{S} &= \{\, A\in\mathbb{R}^{4\times 4}: A=A^T       \mathrm{~is~nonsingular~with~integer~entries}\nonumber\\       & \hspace{2.9cm} \mathrm{between~1~and~10} \,\}. \end{aligned}

He generated one million random matrices from \mathcal{S} and found that about 0.21 percent of them had a larger condition number than W. The matrix with the largest condition number was the indefinite matrix

\notag    A_1 = \begin{bmatrix}             1  &  3  & 10  & 10\\             3  &  4  &  8  &  9\\             10 &   8 &   3 &  9\\             10 &   9 &   9 &  3           \end{bmatrix},    \quad      A_1^{-1} =       \begin{bmatrix}       573 & -804 &  159 &  25\\     -804 & 1128 & -223 & -35\\       159 & -223 &   44 &   7\\        25 &  -35 &    7 &   1        \end{bmatrix},

for which \kappa_2(A_1) \approx 4.80867\times 10^4. How far is this matrix from being a worst case?

As the Wilson matrix is positive definite, we are also interested in how ill conditioned a matrix in the set

\notag \begin{aligned}    \mathcal{P} &= \{\, A\in\mathbb{R}^{4\times 4}: A=A^T    \mathrm{~is~symmetric~positive~definite ~with~integer~entries}\nonumber\\       & \hspace{2.9cm} \mathrm{between~1~and~10} \,\} \end{aligned}

can be.

Condition Number Bounds

We first consider bounds on \kappa_2(A) for A \in \mathcal{S}. It is possible to obtain a bound from first principles by using the relation A^{-1} = \mathrm{adj}(A)/\det(A), where \mathrm{adj}(A) is the adjugate matrix, along with the fact that |\det(A)| \ge 1 since A has integer entries. Higham and Lettington (2021) found that the smallest bound they could obtain came from a bound of Merikoski et al. (1997): for nonsingular B\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n},

\notag  \kappa_2(B) \le  \left(\displaystyle\frac{1+x}{1-x}\right)^{1/2}, \quad      x = \sqrt{1 - (n/\|B\|_F^2)^n |\det(B)|^2 }.

Applying this bound to A\in\mathcal{S}, using the fact that (1+x)/(1-x) is monotonically increasing for x\in(0,1), gives

\notag     \kappa_2(A) \le 2.97606\dots \times 10^5 =: \beta_S, \quad A\in\mathcal{S}.      \qquad (1)

Another result from Merikoski et al. (1997) gives, for symmetric positive definite C\in\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n},

\notag      \kappa_2(C) \le \displaystyle\frac{1+x}{1-x}, \quad      x = \sqrt{1 - (n/\mathrm{trace}(C))^n \det(C) }.

For A\in\mathcal{P}, since \det(A) \ge 1 we have x \le \sqrt{1 - (1/10)^4}, and hence

\notag   \kappa_2(A) \le 3.99980 \times 10^4 =: \beta_P, \quad A\in\mathcal{P}.      \qquad (2)

Recall that Rutishauser’s bound is 4\times 10^4. The bounds (1) and (2) remain valid if we modify the definitions of \mathcal{S} and \mathcal{P} to allow zero elements (note that Rutishauser’s matrix A_0 has a zero element).


The sets \mathcal{S} and \mathcal{P} are large: \mathcal{S} has on the order of 10^{10} elements. Exhaustively searching over the sets in reasonable time is possible with a carefully optimized code. Higham and Lettington (2021) use a MATLAB code that loops over all symmetric matrices with integer elements between 1 and 10 and

  • evaluates \det(A) from an explicit expression (exactly computed for such matrices) and discards A if the matrix is singular;
  • computes the eigenvalues \lambda_i of A and obtains the condition number as \kappa_2(A) = \max_i |\lambda_i|/\min_i |\lambda_i| (since A is symmetric); and
  • for \mathcal{P}, checks whether A is positive definite by checking whether the smallest eigenvalue is positive.

The code is available at

The maximum over \mathcal{S} is attained for

\notag   A_2 = \begin{bmatrix}                2 & 7  & 10 & 10\\                7 & 10 & 10 & 9\\               10 & 10 & 10 & 1\\               10 & 9  & 1  & 9             \end{bmatrix},   \quad   A_2^{-1} =   \begin{bmatrix}   640 & -987 &  323 &  240\\  -987 & 1522 & -498 & -370\\   323 & -498 &  163 &  121\\   240 & -370 &  121 &   90   \end{bmatrix},

which has \kappa_2(A_2) \approx 7.6119 \times 10^4. and determinant -1. The maximum over \mathcal{P} is attained for

\notag   A_3 =     \begin{bmatrix}      9  &   1 &    1 &    5\\      1  &  10 &    1 &    9\\      1  &   1 &   10 &    1\\      5  &   9 &    1 &   10  \end{bmatrix}, \quad    A_3^{-1} =   \begin{bmatrix}   188 &  347 & -13 & -405\\   347 &  641 & -24 & -748\\   -13 &  -24 &   1 &   28\\  -405 & -748 &  28 &  873  \end{bmatrix}.

which has \kappa_2(A_3) \approx 3.5529 \times 10^4 and determinant 1. Obviously, symmetric permutations of these matrices are also optimal.

The following table summarizes the condition numbers of the matrices discussed and how close they are to the bounds.

Matrix A Comment \kappa_2(A) \beta_S/\kappa_2(A) \beta_P/\kappa_2(A)
W Wilson matrix 2.98409\times 10^3 99.73 13.40
A_9 Rutishauser’s matrix 3.57924\times 10^4 8.31 1.12
A_1 By random sampling 4.80867\times 10^4 6.19
A_2 Optimal matrices in \mathcal{S} 7.61190\times 10^4 3.91
A_3 Optimal matrices in \mathcal{P} 3.55286\times 10^4 8.38 1.13

Clearly, the bounds are reasonably sharp.

We do not know how Wilson constructed his matrix or to what extent he tried to maximize the condition number subject to the matrix entries being small integers. One possibility is that he constructed it via the factorization in the next section.

Integer Factorization

The Cholesky factor of the Wilson matrix is

\notag R = \begin{bmatrix} \sqrt{5} & \frac{7\,\sqrt{5}}{5} & \frac{6\,\sqrt{5}}{5} & \sqrt{5}\\[\smallskipamount] 0 & \frac{\sqrt{5}}{5} & -\frac{2\,\sqrt{5}}{5} & 0\\[\smallskipamount] 0 & 0 & \sqrt{2} & \frac{3\,\sqrt{2}}{2}\\[\smallskipamount] 0 & 0 & 0 & \frac{\sqrt{2}}{2} \end{bmatrix} \quad (W = R^TR).

Apart from the zero (2,4) element, it is unremarkable. If we factor out the diagonal then we obtain the LDL^T factorization, which has rational elements:

\notag L = \begin{bmatrix}1 & 0 & 0 & 0\\ \frac{7}{5} & 1 & 0 & 0\\ \frac{6}{5} & -2 & 1 & 0\\ 1 & 0 & \frac{3}{2} & 1 \end{bmatrix}, \quad D = \begin{bmatrix}5 & 0 & 0 & 0\\ 0 & \frac{1}{5} & 0 & 0\\ 0 & 0 & 2 & 0\\ 0 & 0 & 0 & \frac{1}{2} \end{bmatrix}  \quad (W = LDL^T).

Suppose we drop the requirement of triangularity and ask whether the Wilson matrix has a factorization W = Z^T\!Z with a 4\times4 matrix Z of integers. It is known that every symmetric positive definite n\times n matrix A of integers with determinant 1 has a factorization A = Z^T\!Z with Z an n\times n matrix of integers as long as n \le 7, but examples are known for n = 8 for which the factorization does not exist. This result is mentioned by Taussky (1961) and goes back to Hermite, Minkowski, and Mordell. Higham and Lettington (2021) found the integer factor

\notag Z_0 = \begin{bmatrix}      2 &   3  &   2  &    2\\      1  &   1   &  2   &  1\\      0  &   0   &  1   &  2\\      0  &   0   &  1   &  1      \end{bmatrix}

of W, which is block upper triangular so can be thought of as a block Cholesky factor. Higham, Lettington, and Schmidt (2021) draw on recent research that links the existence of such factorizations to number-theoretic considerations of quadratic forms to show that for the existence of an integer solution Z to A = Z^TZ it is necessary that a certain quadratic equation in n variables has an integer solution. In the case of the Wilson matrix the equation is

2 w^2+x_1^2+x_1 x_2+x_1 x_3+x_2^2+x_2 x_3+x_3^2=952.

The authors solve this equation computationally and find Z_1 and two rational factors:

\notag Z_1=\left[ \begin{array}{cccc}  \frac{1}{2} & 1 & 0 & 1 \\  \frac{3}{2} & 2 & 3 & 3 \\  \frac{1}{2} & 1 & 0 & 0 \\  \frac{3}{2} & 2 & 1 & 0 \\ \end{array} \right], \quad Z_2=\left[ \begin{array}{@{\mskip2mu}rrrr}  \frac{3}{2} & 2 & 2 & 2 \\  \frac{3}{2} & 2 & 2 & 1 \\  \frac{1}{2} & 1 & 1 & 2 \\  -\frac{1}{2} & -1 & 1 & 1 \\ \end{array} \right].

They show that these matrices are the only factors Z\in\frac{1}{16}\mathbb{Z} of W up to left multiplication by integer orthogonal matrices.


The Wilson matrix has provided sterling service throughout the digital computer era as a convenient symmetric positive definite matrix for use in textbook examples and for testing algorithms. The recent discovery of its integer factorization has led to the development of new theory on when general n\times n integer matrices A can be factored as A = Z^TZ (when A is symmetric positive definite) or A = Z^2 (a problem also considered in Higham, Lettington, and Schmidt (2021)), with integer Z.

Olga Taussky Todd wrote in 1961 that “matrices with integral elements have been studied for a very long time and an enormous number of problems arise, both theoretical and practical.” We wonder what else can be learned from the Wilson matrix and other integer test matrices.


This is a minimal set of references, which contain further useful references within.

Related Blog Posts

This article is part of the “What Is” series, available from and in PDF form from the GitHub repository

What Is a Rank-Revealing Factorization?

In many applications a matrix A\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n} has less than full rank, that is, r = \mathrm{rank}(A) < \min(m,n). Sometimes, r is known, and a full-rank factorization A = GH with G\in\mathbb{R}^{m \times r} and H\in\mathbb{R}^{r \times n}, both of rank r, is given—especially when r = 1 or r = 2. Often, though, the rank r is not known. Moreover, rather than being of exact rank r, A is merely close to a rank r matrix because of errors from various possible sources.

What is usually wanted is a factorization that displays how close A is to having particular ranks and provides an approximation to the range space of a lower rank matrix. The ultimate tool for providing this information is the singular value decomposition (SVD)

\notag     A = U\Sigma V^T, \quad    \Sigma = \mathrm{diag}(\sigma_1,\dots, \sigma_p)\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n},

where p = \min(m,n), \sigma_1\ge \sigma_2\ge \cdots \ge \sigma_p \ge 0, and U\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times m} and V\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} are orthogonal. The Eckart–Young theorem says that

\notag  \min_{\mathrm{rank}(B) = k} \|A-B\|_q =  \begin{cases}      \sigma_{k+1},                                & q = 2,  \\      \Bigl(\sum_{i=k+1}^r \sigma_i^2\Bigr)^{1/2}, & q = F,   \end{cases}

and that the minimum is attained at

\notag    A_k = U \Sigma_k V^T, \quad    \Sigma_k = \mathrm{diag}(\sigma_1, \dots, \sigma_k, 0, \dots, 0),

so A_k is the best rank-k approximation to A in both the 2-norm and the Frobenius norm.

Although the SVD is expensive to compute, it may not be significantly more expensive than alternative factorizations. However, the SVD is expensive to update when a row or column is added to or removed from the matrix, as happens repeatedly in signal processing applications.

Many different definitions of a rank-revealing factorization have been given, and they usually depend on a particular matrix factorization. We will use the following general definition.

Definition 1. A rank-revealing factorization (RRF) of A\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n} is a factorization

\notag   A = XDY^T, \quad   X\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times p}, \quad   D\in\mathbb{R}^{p\times p}, \quad   Y\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times p},

where p \le \min(m,n), D is diagonal and nonsingular, and X and Y are well conditioned.

An RRF concentrates the rank deficiency and ill condition of A into the diagonal matrix D. An RRF clearly exists, because the SVD is one, with X and Y having orthonormal columns and hence being perfectly conditioned. Justification for this definition comes from a version of Ostrowski’s theorem, which shows that

\notag     \sigma_i(A) = \theta_i \sigma_i(D), \quad i = 1\colon \min(m,n),      \qquad (1)

where \sigma_p(X)\sigma_p(Y) \le \theta_i \le \sigma_1(X) \sigma_1(Y). Hence as long as X and Y are well conditioned, the singular values are good order of magnitude approximations to those of A up a scale factor.

Without loss of generality we can assume that

\notag   D = \mathrm{diag}(d_i), \quad   |d_1| \ge |d_2| \ge \cdots \ge |d_p|

(since XDY^T = XP\cdot P^TDP \cdot P^T Y^T for any permutation matrix P and the second expression is another RRF). For \widetilde{A}_k = X \mathrm{diag}(d_1,\dots,d_k,0,\dots,0)Y^T we have

\notag   \|A - \widetilde{A}_k\| \le \|X\| \|Y\|   \|\mathrm{diag}(0,\dots,0,d_{k+1},\dots,d_p)\|,

so A is within distance of order |d_{k+1}| from the rank-k matrix \widetilde{A}_k, which is the same order as the distance to the nearest rank-k matrix if |d_{k+1}| \approx \sigma_{k+1}.

Definition 2 is a strong requirement, since it requires all the singular values of A to be well approximated by the (scaled) diagonal elements of D. We will investigate below how it compares with another definition of RRF.

Numerical Rank

An RRF helps to determine the numerical rank, which we now define.

Definition 2. For a given \epsilon > 0 the numerical rank of A is the largest integer k such that \sigma_k > \epsilon.

By the Eckart–Young theorem, the numerical rank is the smallest rank attained over all A+E with \|E\|_2 \le \epsilon. For the numerical rank to be meaningful in the sense that it is unchanged if \epsilon is perturbed slightly, we need \epsilon not to be too close to \sigma_k or \sigma_{k+1}, which means that there must be a significant gap between these two singular values.

QR Factorization

One might attempt to compute an RRF by using a QR factorization A = QR, where Q\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n} has orthonormal columns, R\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is upper triangular, and we assume that m\ge n. In Definition 1, we can take

\notag   X = I, \quad D = \mathrm{diag}(R), \quad Y^T = D^{-1}R. \qquad (*)

However, it is easy to see that QR factorization in its basic form is flawed as a means for computing an RRF. Consider the matrix

\notag   A = \begin{bmatrix}        0 & 1  & 0 &0\\        0 & 0  & 1 &0 \\        0 & 0  & 0 &1\\        0 & 0  & 0 &0   \end{bmatrix},

which is a Jordan block with zero eigenvalue. This matrix is its own QR factorization (R = A), and the prescription (*) gives D = 0, so A \ne XDY^T. The essential problem is that the diagonal of R has no connection with the nonzero singular values of A. What is needed are column permutations: A\Pi = \mathrm{diag}(1,1,1,0) for the permutation matrix \Pi that reorders [a_1,a_2,a_3,a_4] to [a_2,a_3,a_4,a_1], and this is a perfect RRF with X = Y = I.

For a less trivial example, consider the matrix

\notag   A = \left[\begin{array}{rrrr}        1 & 1  &\theta &0\\        1 & -1 & 2 &1 \\        1 & 0  &1+\theta &-1\\        1 &-1  & 2 &-1   \end{array}\right], \quad \theta = 10^{-8}. \qquad (\dagger)

Computing the QR factorization we obtain

R =
  -2.0000e+00   5.0000e-01  -2.5000e+00   5.0000e-01
            0   1.6583e+00  -1.6583e+00  -1.5076e-01
            0            0  -4.2640e-09   8.5280e-01
            0            0            0  -1.4142e+00

The (3,3) element tells us that A is within distance about 4\times 10^{-9} of being rank deficient and so has a singular value bounded above by this quantity, but it does not provide any information about the next larger singular value. Moreover, in (*), \kappa_2(Y) is of order 10^{16} for this factorization. We need any small diagonal elements to be in the bottom right-hand corner, and to achieve this we need to introduce column permutations to move the “dependent columns” to the end.

QR Factorization With Column Pivoting

A common method for computing an RRF is QR factorization with column pivoting, which for a matrix A\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n} with m\ge n computes a factorization A\Pi = QR, where \Pi is a permutation matrix, Q\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n} has orthonormal columns, and R\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} is upper triangular and satisfies the inequalities

\notag    |r_{kk}|^2 \ge \displaystyle\sum_{i=k}^j |r_{ij}|^2,     \quad j=k+1\colon n, \quad k=1\colon n. \qquad (2)

In particular,

\notag   |r_{11}| \ge |r_{22}| \ge \cdots \ge |r_{nn}|.   \qquad(3)

If |r_{kk}| \ge \epsilon \ge |r_{k+1,k+1}| with \epsilon > 0 then we can write

\notag    R =    \begin{array}[b]{@{\mskip33mu}c@{\mskip-16mu}c@{\mskip-10mu}c@{}}    \scriptstyle k &    \scriptstyle n-k &    \\    \multicolumn{2}{c}{        \left[\begin{array}{c@{~}c@{~}}                  R_{11}& R_{12} \\                    0   & R_{22} \\              \end{array}\right]}    & \mskip-12mu\          \begin{array}{c}              \scriptstyle k \\              \scriptstyle n-k              \end{array}    \end{array},  \qquad(4)


\notag   \|R_{22}\|_2 \le \|R_{22}\|_F \le 2^{-1/2}(n-k+1)\epsilon.

Hence R is within 2-norm distance 2^{-1/2}(n-k+1)\epsilon of the rank-k matrix \left[\begin{smallmatrix} R_{11} & R_{12} \\ 0 & 0 \end{smallmatrix}\right]. Note that if Q = [Q_1~Q_2] is partitioned conformally with Q in (4) then

\notag   A\Pi =   \begin{bmatrix}    Q_1 & Q_2   \end{bmatrix}   \begin{bmatrix}    R_{11} & R_{12} \\     0     & R_{22} \\   \end{bmatrix}    = Q_1   \begin{bmatrix}    R_{11} & R_{12}   \end{bmatrix}   + \begin{bmatrix}    0 & Q_2 R_{22}   \end{bmatrix},

so \| A\Pi - Q_1 [R_{11}~R_{12}]\|_2 \le \|R_{22}\|_2, which means that Q_1 provides an O(\epsilon) approximation to the range of A.

To assess how good an RRF this factorization is (with p = n) we write it as

\notag   A = QR\Pi^T = Q D Y^T, \quad D = \mathrm{diag}(r_{ii}),                          \quad Y^T = D^{-1}R \Pi^T. \quad (\#)

Applying (1) gives

\notag     \sigma_i(A) = \theta_i \sigma_i(D), \quad i = 1\colon p, \qquad (5)

where \sigma_n(Y)\le \theta_i \le \sigma_1(Y), since Q has orthonormal columns and so has unit singular values. Now D^{-1}R has unit diagonal and, in view of (2), its off-diagonal elements are bounded by 1. Therefore \sigma_1(Y) = \|Y\|_2 \le \|Y\|_F \le (n(n+1)/2)^{1/2}. On the other hand, \sigma_p(Y)^{-1} \le 2^{n-1} by Theorem 1 in Bounds for the Norm of the Inverse of a Triangular Matrix. Therefore

\notag    2^{1-n} \le \theta_i \le (n(n+1)/2)^{1/2}.

The lower bound is an approximate equality for small \tau for the triangular matrix

\notag        R_n(\theta) = \mathrm{diag}(1,s,\dots,s^{n-1})             \begin{bmatrix} 1 & -c & -c     & \dots & -c \\                               & 1  & -c     & \dots & -c \\                               &    & \ddots &\ddots & \vdots \\                               &    &        &\ddots & -c \\                               &    &        &       &  1 \end{bmatrix},      \quad c=\cos\tau, \quad s=\sin\tau,

devised by Kahan, which is invariant under QR factorization with column pivoting. Therefore QR factorization with column pivoting is not guaranteed to reveal the rank, and indeed it can fail to do so by an exponentially large factor.

For the matrix (\dagger), QR with column pivoting reorders A to A\Pi = [a_3,~a_4,~a_2,~a_1] and yields

R =
  -3.0000e+00   3.3333e-01   1.3333e+00  -1.6667e+00
            0  -1.6997e+00   2.6149e-01   2.6149e-01
            0            0   1.0742e+00   1.0742e+00
            0            0            0   3.6515e-09

This R suggests a numerical rank of 3 for \epsilon = 10^{-8} (say). In fact, this factorization provides a very good RRF, as in (\#) we have \kappa_2(Y) \approx 3.4.

QR Factorization with Other Pivoting Choices

Consider a QR factorization A\Pi = QR with triangular factor partitioned as

\notag    R =    \begin{array}[b]{@{\mskip33mu}c@{\mskip-16mu}c@{\mskip-10mu}c@{}}    \scriptstyle k &    \scriptstyle n-k &    \\    \multicolumn{2}{c}{        \left[\begin{array}{c@{~}c@{~}}                  R_{11}& R_{12} \\                    0   & R_{22} \\              \end{array}\right]}    & \mskip-12mu\          \begin{array}{c}              \scriptstyle k \\              \scriptstyle n-k              \end{array}    \end{array}. \qquad (6)

We have

\notag    \begin{aligned}      \sigma_{\min}(R_{11}) &\le \sigma_k(A),    \quad \qquad (7)\\      \sigma_{\max}(R_{22}) &\ge \sigma_{k+1}(A), ~\qquad (8)    \end{aligned}

where (7) is from singular value interlacing inequalities and (8) follows from the Eckart-Young theorem, since setting R_{22} to zero gives a rank-k matrix. Suppose A has numerical rank k and \sigma_{k+1} \ll \sigma_k. We would like to be able to detect this situation from R, so clearly we need

\notag  \sigma_{\min}(R_{11}) \approx \sigma_k(A), \quad  \sigma_{\max}(R_{22}) \approx \sigma_{k+1}(A). \qquad (9)

In view of the inequalities (7) and (8) this means that we wish to choose \Pi maximize \sigma_{\min}(R_{11}) and minimize \sigma_{\max}(R_{22}).

Some theoretical results are available on the existence of such QR factorizations. First, we give a result that shows that for k = n-1 the approximations in (9) can hold to within a factor n^{1/2}.

Theorem 1. For A\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n} with m\ge n there exists a permutation \Pi such that A has the QR factorization A\Pi = QR with |r_{nn}| \le n^{1/2}\sigma_n(A) and \sigma_{\min}(R_{11}) \ge n^{-1/2} \sigma_{n-1}(A), where R_{11} = R(1\colon n-1, 1\colon n-1).

Proof. Let Av = \sigma_n u, with \|v\|_2 = \|u\|_2 = 1 and let \Pi^T be such that \widetilde{v}  = \Pi^Tv satisfies |\widetilde{v}_n| = \|\widetilde{v}\|_{\infty}. Then if A\Pi = QR is a QR factorization,

\notag \begin{aligned}    \sigma_n = \| \sigma_n u \|_2             = \| Av \|_2             = \| QR\Pi^Tv \|_2             = \| R\mskip1mu \widetilde{v} \|_2             \ge | r_{nn} \widetilde{v}_n |             \ge n^{-1/2} | r_{nn} |, \end{aligned}

since \|\widetilde{v}\|_2 = 1, which yields the result.

Next, we write \Pi = [\Pi_1~\pi], where \pi\in\mathbb{R}^n, and partition

\notag   R = \begin{bmatrix}    R_{11} & R_{12} \\     0     & R_{22} \\   \end{bmatrix}

with R_{11}\in\mathbb{R}^{(n-1)\times (n-1)}. Then

A\Pi_1 = Q \begin{bmatrix} R_{11} \\ 0 \end{bmatrix}

implies \sigma_{\min}(A\Pi_1) = \sigma_{\min}(R_{11}). On the other hand, if A = U\Sigma V^T is an SVD with U\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n}, \Sigma = \mathrm{diag}(D_1,\sigma_n)\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n}, and V = [V_1~v] then

\notag  A\Pi_1 = U\Sigma V^T \Pi_1 =    U    \begin{bmatrix}    D_1    & 0 \\     0     & \sigma_n \\   \end{bmatrix}   \begin{bmatrix}    V_1^T \\ v^T   \end{bmatrix} \Pi_1   = U   \begin{bmatrix}    D_1V_1^T \\ \sigma_n v^T   \end{bmatrix} \Pi_1,


\notag   \sigma_{\min}(A\Pi_1) =   \sigma_{\min}\left(   \begin{bmatrix}    D_1V_1^T \\ \sigma_n v^T   \end{bmatrix} \Pi_1 \right)    \ge \sigma_{\min}(D_1V^T\Pi_1)    \ge \sigma_{n-1}\sigma_{\min}(V^T\Pi_1).

Finally, we note that we can partition the orthogonal matrix V^T\Pi_1 as

\notag  V^T\Pi =    \begin{bmatrix}    V_1^T\Pi_1  & V_1^T\pi \\    v^T\Pi_1    & v^T\pi   \end{bmatrix},

and the CS decomposition implies that

\notag    \sigma_{\min}(V_1^T\Pi_1) =    \sigma_{\min}(v^T\pi) =    |v^T\pi| = |\widetilde{v}_n| \ge n^{-1/2}.

Hence \sigma_{\min}(R_{11}) \ge n^{-1/2} \sigma_{n-1}, as required. ~\square

Theorem 1 is a special case of the next result of Hong and Pan (1992).

Theorem 2. For A\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n} with m\ge n and any k there exists a permutation matrix \Pi such that A has the QR factorization A\Pi = QR where, with R partitioned as in (6),

\notag    \sigma_{\max}(R_{22}) \le f(k,n) \sigma_{k+1}(A), \quad    \sigma_{\min}(R_{11}) \ge f(k,n)^{-1} \sigma_k(A),

where f(k,n) = (k(n-k) + \min(k,n-k))^{1/2}.

The proof of Theorem 2 is constructive and chooses \Pi to move a submatrix of maximal determinant of V_2 to the bottom of V_2, where V_2 comprises the last n-k columns of the matrix of right singular vectors.

Theorem 2 shows the existence of an RRF up to the factor f(k,n) \le (n+1)/2, but it does not provide an efficient algorithm for computing one.

How do the conditions (9) relate to Definition 1? Since algorithms for computing an RRF are usually not specialized to any particular k, it is reasonable to ask that (9) holds for all k. We consider what can be said if the first condition in (9) holds as an equality for all k.

Lemma 3. If R\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n} is upper triangular and satisfies \sigma_{\min}(R_{11}) = \sigma_k(R) for k=1\colon n-1 in the partitioning (6) then R is diagonal.

Proof. The proof is by induction. Assume that R_{k-1} = \mathrm{diag}(\sigma_1(R),\dots,\sigma_{k-1}(R)). This is clearly true for k = 2, since |r_{11}| = \sigma_1(R). Write

\notag       R_k =       \begin{bmatrix}       R_{k-1} & z \\         0     & \rho       \end{bmatrix}.

Then |\rho| \ge \sigma_{\min}(R_k) by (8). Also \sigma_i(R_k) \le \sigma_i(R) for i = 1\colon k by standard singular value inequalities. We therefore have

\notag \begin{aligned}    \sum_{i=1}^k \sigma_i(R)^2    \ge \sum_{i=1}^k \sigma_i(R_k)^2     = \|R_k\|_F^2     = \|R_{k-1}\|_F^2  + \|z\|_2^2 + \rho^2\\     = \sum_{i=1}^{k-1} \sigma_i(R)^2 + \|z\|_2^2 + \rho^2     \ge \sum_{i=1}^k \sigma_i(R)^2 + \|z\|_2^2. \end{aligned}

It follows that z = 0, and so R_k is diagonal, which completes the induction.

We conclude from the lemma that if the first condition in (9) is an equality for all k then we have a perfect RRF A\Pi = QR with R diagonal. Therefore if the approximations in (9) are reasonably good for all k we should have a reasonably good RRF.

Much work has been done on algorithms that choose the permutation matrix \Pi in a different way to column pivoting or post-process a QR factorization with column pivoting, with the aim of satisfying (9) at reasonable cost. Typically, these algorithms involve estimating singular values and singular vectors. We are not aware of any algorithm that is guaranteed to satisfy (9) and requires only O(n^3) flops.

UTV Decomposition

By applying Householder transformations on the right, a QR factorization with column pivoting can be turned into a complete orthogonal decomposition of A\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n}, which has the form

\notag      A = U \begin{bmatrix} T & 0 \\ 0 & 0 \end{bmatrix} V^T, \qquad (10)

where T\in\mathbb{R}^{r \times r} is upper triangular and U\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times m} and V\in\mathbb{R}^{n\times n} are orthogonal. Stewart (1998) calls (6) with T upper triangular or lower triangular a UTV decomposition and he defines a rank-revealing UTV decomposition of numerical rank r by

\notag \begin{aligned}      A &= U \begin{bmatrix} T & F \\ 0 & G  \end{bmatrix} V^T,          \qquad T\in\mathbb{R}^{r \times r}, \\         &          \sigma_r(T) \approx \sigma_r(A), \quad          \|F\|_F^2 + \|G\|_F^2 \approx \sigma_{r+1}^2 + \cdots + \sigma_n^2. \end{aligned}

The UTV decomposition is easy to update (when a row is added) and downdate (when a row is removed) using Givens rotations and it is suitable for parallel implementation. Initial determination of the UTV decomposition can be done by applying the updating algorithm as the rows are brought in one at a time.

LU Factorization

Instead of QR factorization we can build an RRF from an LU factorization with pivoting. For A\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n} with m\ge n, let

\notag     \Pi_1 A \Pi_2 = LU =     \begin{bmatrix}       L_{11} & 0 \\       L_{12} & L_{22}     \end{bmatrix}     \begin{bmatrix}     U_{11} & U_{12}\\       0    & U_{22}     \end{bmatrix},

where \Pi_1 and \Pi_2 are permutation matrices, L and U are m\times n lower and n\times n upper triangular, respectively, and L_{11} and U_{11} are k\times k. Analogously to (7) and (8), we always have \sigma_{\min}(L_{11}U_{11}) \le \sigma_k(A) and \sigma_{\max}(L_{22}U_{22}) \ge \sigma_{k+1}(A). With a suitable pivoting strategy we can hope that \sigma_{\min}(L_{11}U_{11}) \approx \sigma_k(A) and \sigma_{\max}(L_{22}U_{22}) \approx \sigma_{k+1}(A).

A result of Pan (2000) shows that an RRF based on LU factorization always exists up to a modest factor f(k,n). This is analogue for LU factorization of Theorem 2.

Theorem 3 For A\in\mathbb{R}^{m\times n} with m\ge n and any k there exist permutation matrices \Pi_1 and \Pi_2 such that

\notag     \Pi_1 A \Pi_2 = LU =     \begin{bmatrix}     L_{11} &  0    \\     L_{12} & I_{m-k,n-k}     \end{bmatrix}    \begin{array}[b]{@{\mskip33mu}c@{\mskip-16mu}c@{\mskip-10mu}c@{}}    \scriptstyle k &    \scriptstyle n-k &    \\    \multicolumn{2}{c}{        \left[\begin{array}{c@{~}c@{~}}                  U_{11}& U_{12} \\                    0   & U_{22} \\              \end{array}\right]}    & \mskip-12mu\          \begin{array}{c}              \scriptstyle k \\              \scriptstyle n-k              \end{array}    \end{array},

where L_{11} is unit lower triangular, U_{11} is upper triangular, and

\notag    \sigma_{\max}(U_{22}) \le f(k,n) \sigma_{k+1}(A), \quad    \sigma_{\min}(L_{11}U_{11}) \ge f(k,n)^{-1} \sigma_k(A),

where f(k,n) = k(n-k) + 1.

Again the proof is constructive, but the permutations it chooses are too expensive to compute. In practice, complete pivoting often yields a good RRF.

In terms of Definition 1, an RRF has

\notag     X = \Pi_1^TL D, \quad D = \mathrm{diag}(u_{ii}), \quad     Y^T = D^{-1}U\Pi_2. \qquad (\ddagger)

For the matrix (\dagger), the U factor for LU factorization without pivoting is

U =
   1.0000e+00   1.0000e+00   1.0000e-08            0
            0  -2.0000e+00   2.0000e+00   1.0000e+00
            0            0   5.0000e-09  -1.5000e+00
            0            0            0  -2.0000e+00

As for QR factorization without pivoting, an RRF is not obtained from (\ddagger).. However, with complete pivoting we obtain

U =
   2.0000e+00   1.0000e+00  -1.0000e+00   1.0000e+00
            0  -2.0000e+00            0            0
            0            0   1.0000e+00   1.0000e+00
            0            0            0  -5.0000e-09

which yields a very good RRF (\ddagger) with \kappa_2(X) = 3.5 and \kappa_2(Y) = 3.4.


QR factorization with column pivoting is difficult to implement efficiently, as the criterion for choosing the pivots requires the norms of the active parts of the remaining columns and this requires a significant amount of data movement. In recent years, randomized RRF algorithms have been developed that use projections with random matrices to make pivot decisions based on small sample matrices and thereby reduce the amount of data movement. See, for example, Martinsson et al. (2019).


This is a minimal set of references, which contain further useful references within.

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