Author odow
21 Stars
Updated Last
1 Year Ago
Started In
March 2022


This package implements an experimental symbolic automatic differentiation backend for JuMP.

For more details, see Oscar's JuMP-dev 2022 talk.


Install MathOptSymbolicAD as follows:

import Pkg

Use with JuMP

using JuMP
import Ipopt
import MathOptSymbolicAD
model = Model(Ipopt.Optimizer)
@variable(model, x[1:2])
@NLobjective(model, Min, (1 - x[1])^2 + 100 * (x[2] - x[1]^2)^2)
optimize!(model; _differentiation_backend = MathOptSymbolicAD.DefaultBackend())


MathOptSymbolicAD is inspired by Hassan Hijazi's work on coin-or/gravity, a high-performance algebraic modeling language in C++.

Hassan made the following observations:

  • For large scale models, symbolic differentiation is slower than other automatic differentiation techniques.
  • However, most large-scale nonlinear programs have a lot of structure.
  • Gravity asks the user to provide structure in the form of template constraints, where the user gives the symbolic form of the constraint as well as a set of data to convert from a symbolic form to the numerical form.
  • Instead of differentiating each constraint in its numerical form, we can compute one symbolic derivative of the constraint in symbolic form, and then plug in the data in to get the numerical derivative of each function.
  • As a final step, if users don't provide the structure, we can still infer it --perhaps with less accuracy--by comparing the expression tree of each constraint.

The symbolic differentiation approach of Gravity works well when the problem is large with few unique constraints. For example, a model like:

model = Model()
@variable(model, 0 <= x[1:10_000] <= 1)
@NLconstraint(model, [i=1:10_000], sin(x[i]) <= 1)
@objective(model, Max, sum(x))

is ideal, because although the Jacobian matrix has 10,000 rows, we can compute the derivative of sin(x[i]) as cos(x[i]), and then fill in the Jacobian by evaluating the derivative function instead of having to differentiation 10,000 expressions.

The symbolic differentiation approach of Gravity works poorly if there are a large number of unique constraints in the model (which would require a lot of expressions to be symbolically differentiated), or if the nonlinear functions contain a large number of nonlinear terms (which would make the symbolic derivative expensive to compute).

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