Linear parabolic partial differential equation and system

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A partial differential equation (system) of the form


where , are natural numbers, is an integer, , , considered in a region of the variables . The system (1) is said to be (Petrovskii) parabolic at a point if the roots , , of the polynomial (in )

satisfy the inequality


Here with imaginary unit , and is the Kronecker symbol.

The system (1) is parabolic in if the inequality (2) is satisfied for all , and uniformly parabolic in if

for some constant .

For the case of a second-order equation


one can give another definition of parabolicity. For a given point there is an affine transformation that takes (3) to the form

with for . Equation (3) is parabolic at if one of the (say ) is equal to zero, the other , , have the same sign and . Equation (3) is parabolic in if it is parabolic at every point of . If the coefficients of an equation (3) that is parabolic in are sufficiently smooth, then in a neighbourhood of any point by a non-singular change of variables it can be reduced to the form


with a positive-definite form .

A typical representative of a parabolic equation is the thermal-conductance equation (or heat equation)


the main properties of which are preserved for general parabolic equations.

The following problems are fundamental for equation (4).

The Cauchy–Dirichlet problem: To find a function that satisfies (4) for , , and at satisfies the initial condition

The first boundary value problem, in which (4) is specified in a cylinder

where is a region in . It is required to find a function satisfying the initial condition

and the boundary condition


The second and third boundary value problems differ from the first only in condition (6), which is replaced by the second boundary value condition

or the third

where , , are the components of the outward normal.

The classical formulation of these problems requires that the solution is continuous in the closed domain, that the derivatives with respect to the spatial variables up to the second order are continuous inside the domain, and in the case of the second and third boundary value problems that the first derivatives are continuous up to the lateral surface of the cylinder . Also, for the Cauchy–Dirichlet problem, or if is unbounded for the boundary value problems, it is also required that the solution is bounded as (or, more generally, that the growth of is specified in a suitable way).

Suppose that equation (4) is uniformly parabolic and that the coefficients of the equation, the initial and boundary conditions and the boundary of the domain are sufficiently smooth, and that for unbounded domains appropriate growth conditions are satisfied by the initial data. Then the solutions of the Cauchy–Dirichlet problem and the first boundary value problem exist and are unique. If , and if the necessary compatibility conditions are satisfied, then a similar result also holds for the second and third boundary value problems.

Uniqueness in these problems follows from the maximum principle. Suppose that the coefficients of (4) are continuous in and that is bounded; let

and let

Then for any solution

of equation (4) the estimate

holds. The maximum principle can also be extended to the case of unbounded domains. In addition, for parabolic equations an analogue of the Zaremba–Giraud principle holds, concerning the sign of the inclined derivative at an extremum, which is well known in the theory of elliptic equations.

In the theory of parabolic equations an important role is played by fundamental solutions. In the case of the heat equation (5) such is the function

satisfying (5) for , and, for any function bounded and continuous in ,

uniformly on compact subsets of points . In particular, for one obtains the solution


of the Cauchy–Dirichlet problem. All values of the function influence the value of the solution at a point , . This is an expression of the fact that perturbations of the Cauchy–Dirichlet problem are propagated with infinite speed. This is the essential difference between parabolic equations and hyperbolic equations, where the speed of propagation of perturbations is finite.

Fundamental solutions can also be constructed for general parabolic equations and systems under very general assumptions about the smoothness of the coefficients.


[1] A.V. Bitsadze, "Equations of mathematical physics" , MIR (1980) (Translated from Russian)
[2] O.A. Ladyzhenskaya, V.A. Solonnikov, N.N. Ural'tseva, "Linear and quasi-linear equations of parabolic type" , Amer. Math. Soc. (1968) (Translated from Russian)
[3] A. Friedman, "Partial differential equations of parabolic type" , Prentice-Hall (1964)
[4] S.D. Eidel'man, "Parabolic systems" , North-Holland (1969) (Translated from Russian)
[5] A.M. Il'in, A.S. Kalashnikov, O.A. Oleinik, "Linear equations of the second order of parabolic type" Russian Math. Surveys , 17 : 3 (1962) pp. 1–143 Uspekhi Mat. Nauk , 17 : 3 (1962) pp. 3–146


It must be stressed that the name "Cauchy–Dirichlet problem" is usually attached to the first boundary value problem. The initial value problem in the whole space is called the Cauchy or the characteristic Cauchy problem (because the data are prescribed on a characteristic; cf. also Cauchy characteristic problem; Cauchy problem).

Also, the distinction made in the text between the second and the third boundary value problem is not the one usually found: In the Western literature the two problems are discriminated not by the presence of the term , but by the fact that the directional derivative appearing in the boundary condition is in the direction of the conormal (the second boundary value or Neumann problem) or in a different direction (the third boundary value problem).

The fourth and fifth boundary value problems are also of some importance (see [a1], [a5]).

A basic role in the theory of linear parabolic equations is played by estimates of Schauder type, which were obtained in [a3]. The classical works by M. Gevrey [a4] are a milestone in the theory of parabolic equations.


[a1] E.A. Baderko, "Solution of a heat conduction problem for concentrated heat capacities by the method of parabolic potentials" Differential Eq. , 8 (1972) pp. 940–947 Differentsial. Uravn. , 8 (1972) pp. 1225–1234
[a2] J.R. Cannon, "The one-dimensional heat equation" , Addison-Wesley (1984)
[a3] C. Ciliberto, "Formule di maggiorazione e teoremi di esistenza per le soluzioni delle equazioni paraboliche in due variabili" Richerche di Mat. , 3 (1954) pp. 1234–1249
[a4] M. Gevrey, "Oeuvres" , C.N.R.S. (1970)
[a5] M. Ughi, "Stime a priori la soluzioni di problemi al contorno di quarto e quinto tipo per una equazione parabolica lineare" Atti Sem. Mat. Fis. Univ. Modena , 26 (1977) pp. 304–328
[a6] M. Flato, "Deformation view of physical theories" Czechoslovak J. Phys. , B32 (1982) pp. 472–475
How to Cite This Entry:
Linear parabolic partial differential equation and system. Encyclopedia of Mathematics. URL:
This article was adapted from an original article by A.P. Soldatov (originator), which appeared in Encyclopedia of Mathematics - ISBN 1402006098. See original article