Integral of a differential equation

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A solution of the differential equation. By an integral of a differential equation is primarily meant a relation of the form defining a solution of an ordinary differential equation


as an implicit function of the independent variable . The solution is in this case also said to be a particular integral, in contrast to the general integral of equation (1), that is, a relation


from which one can obtain by an appropriate choice of the constants any integral curve of (1) lying in some given region of the -plane. If the arbitrary constants are eliminated from equation (2) and the relations obtained from it by repeated differentiation with respect to (where is regarded as a function of ), then equation (1) results. A relation of the form


containing derivatives up to order , , and arbitrary constants, arising from the process of integrating equation (1), is sometimes called an intermediate integral of equation (1). If an intermediate integral (3) is known, then the solution of equation (1) of order is reduced to the solution of equation (3) of order . If (3) contains just one arbitrary constant, that is, if , then it is called a first integral of (1). This equation has exactly independent first integrals; knowledge of such integrals enables one to obtain the general solution of (1) by eliminating the quantities from them.

If one considers a first-order system of ordinary differential equations,


then by a general integral of it is meant a set of relations


where the are arbitrary constants, which describes in implicit form all the solutions of the system (4) in some region of the -space. Each of the relations (5) is itself called a first integral of the system (4). More often, by a first integral of the system (4) one means a function with the property that it is constant along any solution of the system (4) in a region . The system (4) has exactly independent first integrals, knowledge of which enables one to find the general solution without integrating the system; knowledge of independent first integrals enables one to reduce the solution of the system (4) of order to the solution of a system of order . A smooth function is a first integral of the system (4) with smooth right-hand side if and only if it satisfies the equation

Similar terminology is sometimes used in the theory of first-order partial differential equations. Thus, by an integral of the differential equation


or by a particular integral of it, is meant a solution of this equation (an integral surface). By a complete integral of (6) is meant a family of solutions depending on two arbitrary constants. A general integral of equation (6) is a relation containing one arbitrary function and giving a solution of the equation for each choice of this function.


[1] W.W. [V.V. Stepanov] Stepanow, "Lehrbuch der Differentialgleichungen" , Deutsch. Verlag Wissenschaft. (1956) (Translated from Russian)



[a1] K. Rektorys (ed.) , Survey of applicable mathematics , Iliffe (1969) pp. Sects. 17.2, 17.8, 17.18, 17.20
[a2] E.L. Ince, "Integration of ordinary differential equations" , Oliver & Boyd (1956)
How to Cite This Entry:
Integral of a differential equation. Encyclopedia of Mathematics. URL:
This article was adapted from an original article by N.Kh. Rozov (originator), which appeared in Encyclopedia of Mathematics - ISBN 1402006098. See original article