Stiff equation

In mathematics, a stiff equation is a differential equation for which certain numerical methods for solving the equation are numerically unstable, unless the step size is taken to be extremely small. It has proven difficult to formulate a precise definition of stiffness, but the main idea is that the equation includes some terms that can lead to rapid variation in the solution.

When integrating a differential equation numerically, one would expect the requisite step size to be relatively small in a region where the solution curve displays much variation and to be relatively large where the solution curve straightens out to approach a line with slope nearly zero. For some problems this is not the case. In order for a numerical method to give a reliable solution to the differential system sometimes the step size is required to be at an unacceptably small level in a region where the solution curve is very smooth. The phenomenon is known as stiffness. In some cases there may be two different problems with the same solution, yet one is not stiff and the other is. The phenomenon cannot therefore be a property of the exact solution, since this is the same for both problems, and must be a property of the differential system itself. Such systems are thus known as stiff systems.

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