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Nonlinear Modeling

JuMP has support for general smooth nonlinear (convex and nonconvex) optimization problems. JuMP is able to provide exact, sparse second-order derivatives to solvers. This information can improve solver accuracy and performance.

Nonlinear objectives and constraints are specified by using the @NLobjective and @NLconstraint macros. The familiar sum() syntax is supported within these macros, as well as prod() which analogously represents the product of the terms within. Note that the @objective and @constraint macros (and corresponding functions) do not currently support nonlinear expressions. However, a model can contain a mix of linear, quadratic, and nonlinear constraints or objective functions. Starting points may be provided by using the start keyword argument to @variable. If a starting value is not provided for a variable, it will be set to the projection of zero onto the interval defined by the variable bounds. For nonconvex problems, the returned solution is only guaranteed to be locally optimal. Convexity detection is not currently provided.

For example, we can solve the classical Rosenbrock problem (with a twist) as follows:

using JuMP
m = Model()
@variable(m, x, start = 0.0)
@variable(m, y, start = 0.0)

@NLobjective(m, Min, (1-x)^2 + 100(y-x^2)^2)

println("x = ", getvalue(x), " y = ", getvalue(y))

# adding a (linear) constraint
@constraint(m, x + y == 10)
println("x = ", getvalue(x), " y = ", getvalue(y))

Examples: optimal control, maximum likelihood estimation, and Hock-Schittkowski tests.

Syntax notes

The syntax accepted in nonlinear expressions is more restricted than the syntax for linear and quadratic expressions. We note some important points below.

  • All expressions must be simple scalar operations. You cannot use dot, matrix-vector products, vector slices, etc. Translate vector operations into explicit sum() operations or use the AffExpr plus auxiliary variable trick described below.

  • There is no operator overloading provided to build up nonlinear expressions. For example, if x is a JuMP variable, the code 3x will return an AffExpr object that can be used inside of future expressions and linear constraints. However, the code sin(x) is an error. All nonlinear expressions must be inside of macros.

  • User-defined functions may be used within nonlinear expressions only after they are registered. For example:

    myfunction(a,b) = exp(a)*b
    @variable(m, x); @variable(m, y)
    @NLobjective(m, Min, myfunction(x,y)) # ERROR. Needs JuMP.register() first.
    @NLobjective(m, Min, exp(x)*y) # Okay
  • AffExpr and QuadExpr objects cannot currently be used inside nonlinear expressions. Instead, introduce auxiliary variables, e.g.:

    myexpr = dot(c,x) + 3y # where x and y are variables
    @variable(m, aux)
    @constraint(m, aux == myexpr)
    @NLobjective(m, Min, sin(aux))
  • You can declare embeddable nonlinear expressions with @NLexpression. For example:

    @NLexpression(m, myexpr[i=1:n], sin(x[i]))
    @NLconstraint(m, myconstr[i=1:n], myexpr[i] <= 0.5)
  • Anonymous syntax is supported in @NLexpression and @NLconstraint:

    myexpr = @NLexpression(m, [i=1:n], sin(x[i]))
    myconstr = @NLconstraint(m, [i=1:n], myexpr[i] <= 0.5)

Nonlinear Parameters

For nonlinear models only, JuMP offers a syntax for explicit “parameter” objects which can be used to modify a model in-place just by updating the value of the parameter. Nonlinear parameters are declared by using the @NLparameter macro and may be indexed by arbitrary sets analogously to JuMP variables and expressions. The initial value of the parameter must be provided on the right-hand side of the == sign as seen below:

@NLparameter(m, x == 10)
@NLparameter(m, y[i=1:10] == my_data[i]) # set of parameters indexed from 1 to 10

You may use getvalue and setvalue to query or update the value of a parameter:

getvalue(x) # 10, from above
setvalue(y[4], 54.3) # y[4] now holds the value 54.3

Nonlinear parameters can be used within nonlinear expressions only:

@variable(m, z)
@objective(m, Max, x*z)       # error: x is a nonlinear parameter
@NLobjective(m, Max, x*z)     # ok
@expression(m, my_expr, x*z^2)      # error: x is a nonlinear parameter
@NLexpression(m, my_nl_expr, x*z^2) # ok

Nonlinear parameters are useful when solving nonlinear models in a sequence:

m = Model()
@variable(m, z)
@NLparameter(m, x == 1.0)
@NLobjective(m, Min, (z-x)^2)
getvalue(z) # equals 1.0

# Now, update the value of x to solve a different problem
setvalue(x, 5.0)
getvalue(z) # equals 5.0

Using nonlinear parameters can be faster than creating a new model from scratch with updated data because JuMP is able to avoid repeating a number of steps in processing the model before handing it off to the solver.

User-defined functions

JuMP’s library of recognized univariate functions is derived from the Calculus.jl package. If you encounter a standard special function not currently supported by JuMP, consider contributing to the list of derivative rules there. In addition to this built-in list of functions, it is possible to register custom (user-defined) nonlinear functions to use within nonlinear expressions. JuMP does not support black-box optimization, so all user-defined functions must provide derivatives in some form. Fortunately, JuMP supports automatic differentiation of user-defined functions, a feature to our knowledge not available in any comparable modeling systems.


Automatic differentiation is not finite differencing. JuMP’s automatically computed derivatives are not subject to approximation error.

JuMP uses ForwardDiff.jl to perform automatic differentiation; see the ForwardDiff.jl documentation for a description of how to write a function suitable for automatic differentiation. The general guideline is to write code that is generic with respect to the number type; don’t assume that the input to the function is Float64. To register a user-defined function with derivatives computed by automatic differentiation, use the JuMP.register method as in the following example:

mysquare(x) = x^2
myf(x,y) = (x-1)^2+(y-2)^2

m = Model()

JuMP.register(m, :myf, 2, myf, autodiff=true)
JuMP.register(m, :mysquare, 1, mysquare, autodiff=true)

@variable(m, x[1:2] >= 0.5)
@NLobjective(m, Min, myf(x[1],mysquare(x[2])))

The above code creates a JuMP model with the objective function (x[1]-1)^2 + (x[2]^2-2)^2. The first argument to JuMP.register the model for which the functions are registered. The second argument is a Julia symbol object which serves as the name of the user-defined function in JuMP expressions; the JuMP name need not be the same as the name of the corresponding Julia method. The third argument specifies how many arguments the function takes. The fourth argument is the name of the Julia method which computes the function, and autodiff=true instructs JuMP to compute exact gradients automatically.


All arguments to user-defined functions are scalars, not vectors. To define a function which takes a large number of arguments, you may use the splatting syntax f(x...) = ....

Forward-mode automatic differentiation as implemented by ForwardDiff.jl has a computational cost that scales linearly with the number of input dimensions. As such, it is not the most efficient way to compute gradients of user-defined functions if the number of input arguments is large. In this case, users may want to provide their own routines for evaluating gradients. The more general syntax for JuMP.register which accepts user-provided derivative evaluation routines is:

JuMP.register(m::Model, s::Symbol, dimension::Integer, f::Function, ∇f::Function, ∇²f::Function)

The input differs for functions which take a single input argument and functions which take more than one. For univariate functions, the derivative evaluation routines should return a number which represents the first and second-order derivatives respectively. For multivariate functions, the derivative evaluation routines will be passed a gradient vector which they must explicitly fill. Second-order derivatives of multivariate functions are not currently supported; this argument should be omitted. The following example sets up the same optimization problem as before, but now we explicitly provide evaluation routines for the user-defined functions:

mysquare(x) = x^2
mysquare_prime(x) = 2x
mysquare_primeprime(x) = 2

myf(x,y) = (x-1)^2+(y-2)^2
function ∇f(g,x,y)
    g[1] = 2*(x-1)
    g[2] = 2*(y-2)

m = Model()

JuMP.register(m, :myf, 2, myf, ∇f)
JuMP.register(m, :mysquare, 1, mysquare, mysquare_prime, mysquare_primeprime)

@variable(m, x[1:2] >= 0.5)
@NLobjective(m, Min, myf(x[1],mysquare(x[2])))

Factors affecting solution time

The execution time when solving a nonlinear programming problem can be divided into two parts, the time spent in the optimization algorithm (the solver) and the time spent evaluating the nonlinear functions and corresponding derivatives. Ipopt explicitly displays these two timings in its output, for example:

Total CPU secs in IPOPT (w/o function evaluations)   =      7.412
Total CPU secs in NLP function evaluations           =      2.083

For Ipopt in particular, one can improve the performance by installing advanced sparse linear algebra packages, see Installation Guide. For other solvers, see their respective documentation for performance tips.

The function evaluation time, on the other hand, is the responsibility of the modeling language. JuMP computes derivatives by using the ReverseDiffSparse package, which implements, in pure Julia, reverse-mode automatic differentiation with graph coloring methods for exploiting sparsity of the Hessian matrix [1]. As a conservative bound, JuMP’s performance here currently may be expected to be within a factor of 5 of AMPL’s.

Querying derivatives from a JuMP model

For some advanced use cases, one may want to directly query the derivatives of a JuMP model instead of handing the problem off to a solver. Internally, JuMP implements the AbstractNLPEvaluator interface from MathProgBase. To obtain an NLP evaluator object from a JuMP model, use JuMP.NLPEvaluator. The linearindex method maps from JuMP variables to the variable indices at the MathProgBase level.

For example:

m = Model()
@variable(m, x)
@variable(m, y)

@NLobjective(m, Min, sin(x) + sin(y))
values = zeros(2)
values[linearindex(x)] = 2.0
values[linearindex(y)] = 3.0

d = JuMP.NLPEvaluator(m)
MathProgBase.initialize(d, [:Grad])
objval = MathProgBase.eval_f(d, values) # == sin(2.0) + sin(3.0)

∇f = zeros(2)
MathProgBase.eval_grad_f(d, ∇f, values)
# ∇f[linearindex(x)] == cos(2.0)
# ∇f[linearindex(y)] == cos(3.0)

The ordering of constraints in a JuMP model corresponds to the following ordering at the MathProgBase nonlinear abstraction layer. There are three groups of constraints: linear, quadratic, and nonlinear. Linear and quadratic constraints, to be recognized as such, must be added with the @constraint macros. All constraints added with the @NLconstraint macros are treated as nonlinear constraints. Linear constraints are ordered first, then quadratic, then nonlinear. The linearindex method applied to a constraint reference object returns the index of the constraint within its corresponding constraint class. For example:

m = Model()
@variable(m, x)
@constraint(m, cons1, x^2 <= 1)
@constraint(m, cons2, x + 1 == 3)
@NLconstraint(m, cons3, x + 5 == 10)

typeof(cons1) # JuMP.ConstraintRef{JuMP.Model,JuMP.GenericQuadConstraint{JuMP.GenericQuadExpr{Float64,JuMP.Variable}}} indicates a quadratic constraint
typeof(cons2) # JuMP.ConstraintRef{JuMP.Model,JuMP.GenericRangeConstraint{JuMP.GenericAffExpr{Float64,JuMP.Variable}}} indicates a linear constraint
typeof(cons3) # JuMP.ConstraintRef{JuMP.Model,JuMP.GenericRangeConstraint{JuMP.NonlinearExprData}} indicates a nonlinear constraint
linearindex(cons1) == linearindex(cons2) == linearindex(cons3) == 1

When querying derivatives, cons2 will appear first, because it is the first linear constraint, then cons1, because it is the first quadratic constraint, then cons3, because it is the first nonlinear constraint. Note that for one-sided nonlinear constraints, JuMP subtracts any values on the right-hand side when computing expressions. In other words, one-sided nonlinear constraints are always transformed to have a right-hand side of zero.

The JuMP.constraintbounds(m::Model) method returns the lower and upper bounds of all the constraints in the model, concatenated in the order discussed above.

This method of querying derivatives directly from a JuMP model is convenient for interacting with the model in a structured way, e.g., for accessing derivatives of specific variables. For example, in statistical maximum likelihood estimation problems, one is often interested in the Hessian matrix at the optimal solution, which can be queried using the JuMP.NLPEvaluator.

If you are writing a “solver”, we highly encourage use of the MathProgBase nonlinear interface over querying derivatives using the above methods. These methods are provided for convenience but do not fully integrate with JuMP’s solver infrastructure. In particular, they do not allow users to specify your solver to the Model() constructor nor to call it using solve() nor to populate the solution back into the model. Use of the MathProgBase interface also has the advantage of being independent of JuMP itself; users of MathProgBase solvers are free to implement their own evaluation routines instead of expressing their model in JuMP. You may use the JuMP.build method to ask JuMP to populate the “solver” without calling optimize!.

Raw expression input

In addition to the @NLobjective and @NLconstraint macros, it is also possible to provide Julia Expr objects directly by using JuMP.setNLobjective and JuMP.addNLconstraint. This input form may be useful if the expressions are generated programmatically. JuMP variables should be spliced into the expression object. For example:

@variable(m, 1 <= x[i=1:4] <= 5)
JuMP.setNLobjective(m, :Min, :($(x[1])*$(x[4])*($(x[1])+$(x[2])+$(x[3])) + $(x[3])))
JuMP.addNLconstraint(m, :($(x[1])*$(x[2])*$(x[3])*$(x[4]) >= 25))

# Equivalent form using traditional JuMP macros:
@NLobjective(m, Min, x[1]*x[4]*(x[1]+x[2]+x[3]) + x[3])
@NLconstraint(m, x[1]*x[2]*x[3]*x[4] >= 25)

See the Julia documentation for more examples and description of Julia expressions.

[1]Dunning, Huchette, and Lubin, “JuMP: A Modeling Language for Mathematical Optimization”, arXiv.