$$ \newcommand{\dt}{\Delta t} \newcommand{\tp}{\thinspace .} \newcommand{\uex}{{u_{\small\mbox{e}}}} \newcommand{\x}{\boldsymbol{x}} \newcommand{\dx}{\, \mathrm{d}x} \newcommand{\ds}{\, \mathrm{d}s} \newcommand{\Real}{\mathbb{R}} \newcommand{\uI}{u_{_0}} \newcommand{\ub}{u_{_\mathrm{D}}} \newcommand{\GD}{\Gamma_{_\mathrm{D}}} \newcommand{\GN}{\Gamma_{_\mathrm{N}}} \newcommand{\GR}{\Gamma_{_\mathrm{R}}} \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle} $$




Degrees of freedom and function evaluation

Examining the degrees of freedom

We have seen before how to grab the degrees of freedom array from a finite element function u:

nodal_values = u.vector().array()

For a finite element function from a standard continuous piecewise linear function space (\( \mathsf{P}_1 \) Lagrange elements), these values will be the same as the values we get by the following statement:

vertex_values = u.compute_vertex_values(mesh)

Both nodal_values and vertex_values will be numpy arrays and they will be of the same length and contain the same values (for \( \mathsf{P}_1 \) elements), but with possibly different ordering. The array vertex_values will have the same ordering as the vertices of the mesh, while nodal_values will be ordered in a way that (nearly) minimizes the bandwidth of the system matrix and thus improves the efficiency of linear solvers.

A fundamental question is: what are the coordinates of the vertex whose value is nodal_values[i]? To answer this question, we need to understand how to get our hands on the coordinates, and in particular, the numbering of degrees of freedom and the numbering of vertices in the mesh.

The function mesh.coordinates returns the coordinates of the vertices as a numpy array with shape \( (M,d) \), \( M \) being the number of vertices in the mesh and \( d \) being the number of space dimensions:

>>> from fenics import *
>>> mesh = UnitSquareMesh(2, 2)
>>> coordinates = mesh.coordinates()
>>> coordinates
array([[ 0. ,  0. ],
       [ 0.5,  0. ],
       [ 1. ,  0. ],
       [ 0. ,  0.5],
       [ 0.5,  0.5],
       [ 1. ,  0.5],
       [ 0. ,  1. ],
       [ 0.5,  1. ],
       [ 1. ,  1. ]])

We see from this output that for this particular mesh, the vertices are first numbered along \( y=0 \) with increasing \( x \) coordinate, then along \( y=0.5 \), and so on.

Next we compute a function u on this mesh. Let's take \( u=x+y \):

>>> V = FunctionSpace(mesh, 'P', 1)
>>> u = interpolate(Expression('x[0] + x[1]', degree=1), V)
>>> plot(u, interactive=True)
>>> nodal_values = u.vector().array()
>>> nodal_values
array([ 1. ,  0.5,  1.5,  0. ,  1. ,  2. ,  0.5,  1.5,  1. ])

We observe that nodal_values[0] is not the value of \( x+y \) at vertex number 0, since this vertex has coordinates \( x=y=0 \). The numbering of the nodal values (degrees of freedom) \( U_1,\ldots,U_{N} \) is obviously not the same as the numbering of the vertices.

The vertex numbering may be examined by using the FEniCS plot command. To do this, plot the function u, press w to turn on wireframe instead of a fully colored surface, m to show the mesh, and then v to show the numbering of the vertices.

Let's instead examine the values by calling u.compute_vertex_values:

>>> vertex_values = u.compute_vertex_values()
>>> for i, x in enumerate(coordinates):
...     print('vertex %d: vertex_values[%d] = %g\tu(%s) = %g' %
...           (i, i, vertex_values[i], x, u(x)))
vertex 0: vertex_values[0] = 0          u([ 0.  0.]) = 8.46545e-16
vertex 1: vertex_values[1] = 0.5        u([ 0.5  0. ]) = 0.5
vertex 2: vertex_values[2] = 1          u([ 1.  0.]) = 1
vertex 3: vertex_values[3] = 0.5        u([ 0.   0.5]) = 0.5
vertex 4: vertex_values[4] = 1          u([ 0.5  0.5]) = 1
vertex 5: vertex_values[5] = 1.5        u([ 1.   0.5]) = 1.5
vertex 6: vertex_values[6] = 1          u([ 0.  1.]) = 1
vertex 7: vertex_values[7] = 1.5        u([ 0.5  1. ]) = 1.5
vertex 8: vertex_values[8] = 2          u([ 1.  1.]) = 2

We can ask FEniCS to give us the mapping from vertices to degrees of freedom for a certain function space \( V \):

v2d = vertex_to_dof_map(V)

Now, nodal_values[v2d[i]] will give us the value of the degree of freedom corresponding to vertex i (v2d[i]). In particular, nodal_values[v2d] is an array with all the elements in the same (vertex numbered) order as coordinates. The inverse map, from degrees of freedom number to vertex number is given by dof_to_vertex_map(V). This means that we may call coordinates[dof_to_vertex_map(V)] to get an array of all the coordinates in the same order as the degrees of freedom. Note that these mappings are only available in FEniCS for \( \mathsf{P}_1 \) elements.

For Lagrange elements of degree larger than 1, there are degrees of freedom (nodes) that do not correspond to vertices. For these elements, we may get the vertex values by calling u.compute_vertex_values(mesh), and we can get the degrees of freedom by the call u.vector().array(). To get the coordinates associated with all degrees of freedom, we need to iterate over the elements of the mesh and ask FEniCS to return the coordinates and dofs associated with each element (cell). This information is stored in the FiniteElement and DofMap object of a FunctionSpace. The following code illustrates how to iterate over all elements of a mesh and print the coordinates and degrees of freedom associated with the element.

element = V.element()
dofmap = V.dofmap()
for cell in cells(mesh):

Setting the degrees of freedom

We have seen how to extract the nodal values in a numpy array. If desired, we can adjust the nodal values too. Say we want to normalize the solution such that \( \max_j |U_j| = 1 \). Then we must divide all \( U_j \) values by \( \max_j |U_j| \). The following function performs the task:

def normalize_solution(u):
    "Normalize u: return u divided by max(u)"
    u_array = u.vector().array()
    u_max = np.max(np.abs(u_array))
    u_array /= u_max
    u.vector()[:] = u_array
    #u.vector().set_local(u_array)  # alternative
    return u

When using Lagrange elements, this (approximately) ensures that the maximum value of the function \( u \) is \( 1 \).

The /= operator implies an in-place modification of the object on the left-hand side: all elements of the array nodal_values are divided by the value u_max. Alternatively, we could do nodal_values = nodal_values / u_max, which implies creating a new array on the right-hand side and assigning this array to the name nodal_values.

Be careful when manipulating degrees of freedom. A call like u.vector().array() returns a copy of the data in u.vector(). One must therefore never perform assignments like u.vector.array()[:] = ..., but instead extract the numpy array (i.e., a copy), manipulate it, and insert it back with u.vector()[:] = or use u.set_local(...).

Function evaluation

A FEniCS Function object is uniquely defined in the interior of each cell of the finite element mesh. For continuous (Lagrange) function spaces, the function values are also uniquely defined on cell boundaries. A Function object u can be evaluated by simply calling


where x is either a Point or a Python tuple of the correct space dimension. When a Function is evaluated, FEniCS must first find which cell of the mesh that contains the given point (if any), and then evaluate a linear combination of basis functions at the given point inside the cell in question. FEniCS uses efficient data structures (bounding box trees) to quickly find the point, but building the tree is a relatively expensive operation so the cost of evaluating a Function at a single point is costly. Repeated evaluation will reuse the computed data structures and thus be relatively less expensive.

Cheap vs expensive function evaluation. A Function object u can be evaluated in various ways:
  1. u(x) for an arbitrary point x
  2. u.vector().array()[i] for degree of freedom number i
  3. u.compute_vertex_values()[i] at vertex number i
The first method, though very flexible, is in general expensive while the other two are very efficient (but limited to certain points).

To demonstrate the use of point evaluation of Function objects, we print the value of the computed finite element solution u for the Poisson problem at the center point of the domain and compare it with the exact solution:

center = (0.5, 0.5)
error = u_D(center) - u(center)
print('Error at %s: %g' % (center, error))

For a \( 2\times(3\times 3) \) mesh, the output from the previous snippet becomes

Error at (0.5, 0.5): -0.0833333

The discrepancy is due to the fact that the center point is not a node in this particular mesh, but a point in the interior of a cell, and u varies linearly over the cell while u_D is a quadratic function. When the center point is a node, as in a \( 2\times(2\times 2) \) or \( 2\times(4\times 4) \) mesh, the error is of the order \( 10^{-15} \).