User’s Guide

This manual provides reference documentation to SfePy from a user’s perspective.

Running a Simulation

The following should be run in the top-level directory of the SfePy source tree after compiling the C extension files. See Installation for full installation instructions info. The $ indicates the command prompt of your terminal.

Basic Usage

  • $ ./ examples/diffusion/
    • Creates cylinder.vtk
  • $ ./ examples/navier_stokes/
    • Creates channels_symm944t.vtk
  • $ ./


  • Phononic Materials

    • $ ./ -p examples/phononic/
      • see examples/phononic/output/

    • (order is important below):

      1. $ ./ --2d --create-mesh
      2. $ ./ --2d --hydrogen
      3. $ ./ mesh.vtk

Using Command Wrapper

All top-level SfePy scripts (applications) can be run via single sfepy-run wrapper:

$ ./sfepy-run
usage: sfepy-run [command] [options]

Simple wrapper for main SfePy commands.

positional arguments:
                      Available SfePy command(s).
options               Additional options passed directly to selected

optional arguments:
-h, --help            show this help message and exit
-v, --version         show program's version number and exit
-w, --window          use alternative (pythonw) interpreter


  • This is a “new” supported method. Any SfePy script can be still run as stand-alone (as mentioned above).
  • Both “inplace” and “system-wide” installations are supported.

Stand-Alone Examples

  • $ python examples/
  • $ python examples/
  • $ python examples/

Running Tests

The tests are run by the script. Run

$ ./ -h

to get help.

Common Tasks

  • Run all tests, filter output; result files related to the tests can be found in output-tests directory:

    ./ --filter-more
    ./ --filter-less
  • Run a particular test file, filter output:

    # Test if linear elasticity input file works.
    ./ tests/
  • Debug a failing test by automatically starting a debugger when/if an exception is raised

    ./ tests/ --debug
  • Raise silenced exceptions that could have occurred in a failing test:

    ./ tests/ --raise

Computations and Examples

The example problems in the examples directory can be computed by the script which is in the top-level directory of the SfePy distribution. If it is run without arguments, a help message is printed:

$ ./
Usage: [options] filename_in

Solve partial differential equations given in a SfePy problem definition file.

Example problem definition files can be found in ``examples/`` directory of the
SfePy top-level directory. This script works with all the examples except those
in ``examples/standalone/``.

Both normal and parametric study runs are supported. A parametric study allows
repeated runs for varying some of the simulation parameters - see
``examples/diffusion/`` file.

  --version             show program's version number and exit
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -c "key : value, ...", --conf="key : value, ..."
                        override problem description file items, written as
                        python dictionary without surrounding braces
  -O "key : value, ...", --options="key : value, ..."
                        override options item of problem description, written
                        as python dictionary without surrounding braces
  -d "key : value, ...", --define="key : value, ..."
                        pass given arguments written as python dictionary
                        without surrounding braces to define() function of
                        problem description file
  -o filename           basename of output file(s) [default: <basename of
                        input file>]
  --format=format       output file format, one of: {vtk, h5} [default: vtk]
  --save-restart=mode   if given, save restart files according to the given
                        if given, load the given restart file
  --log=file            log all messages to specified file (existing file will
                        be overwritten!)
  -q, --quiet           do not print any messages to screen
  --save-ebc            save a zero solution with applied EBCs (Dirichlet
                        boundary conditions)
  --save-ebc-nodes      save a zero solution with added non-zeros in EBC
                        (Dirichlet boundary conditions) nodes - scalar
                        variables are shown using colors, vector variables
                        using arrows with non-zero components corresponding to
                        constrained components
  --save-regions        save problem regions as meshes
                        save problem regions in a single mesh but mark them by
                        using different element/node group numbers
  --save-field-meshes   save meshes of problem fields (with extra DOF nodes)
  --solve-not           do not solve (use in connection with --save-*)
  --list=what           list data, what can be one of: {terms, solvers}

Additional (stand-alone) examples are in the examples/ directory, e.g.:

$ python examples/

Parametric study example:

$ ./ examples/diffusion/

Common Tasks

  • Run a simulation:

    ./ examples/diffusion/
    ./ examples/diffusion/ -o some_results # -> produces some_results.vtk
  • Print available terms:

    ./ --list=terms
  • Run a simulation and also save Dirichlet boundary conditions:

    ./ --save-ebc examples/diffusion/ # -> produces an additional .vtk file with BC visualization
  • Use a restart file to continue an interrupted simulation:

    • Warning: This feature is preliminary and does not support terms with internal state.

    • Run:

      ./ examples/large_deformation/ --save-restart=-1

      and break the computation after a while (hit Ctrl-C). The mode --save-restart=-1 is currently the only supported mode. It saves a restart file for each time step, and only the last computed time step restart file is kept.

    • A file named 'unit_ball.restart-??.h5' should be created, where '??' indicates the last stored time step. Let us assume it is 'unit_ball.restart-04.h5', i.e. the fifth step.

    • Restart the simulation by:

      ./ examples/large_deformation/ --load-restart=unit_ball.restart-04.h5

      The simulation should continue from the next time step. Verify that by running:

      ./ examples/large_deformation/

      and compare the residuals printed in the corresponding time steps.

Visualization of Results

The script can be used for quick postprocessing and visualization of the SfePy results. It requires mayavi2 installed on your system. Running without arguments produces:

$ ./
Usage: [options] filename

This is a script for quick Mayavi-based visualizations of finite element
computations results.

  The examples assume that has been run successfully and the
  resulting data files are present.

  - view data in output-tests/test_navier_stokes.vtk

    $ python output-tests/test_navier_stokes.vtk
    $ python output-tests/test_navier_stokes.vtk --3d

  - create animation (forces offscreen rendering) from

    $ python output-tests/test_time_poisson.*.vtk -a mov

  - create animation (forces offscreen rendering) from

    The range specification for the displacements 'u' is required, as
    output-tests/test_hyperelastic.00.vtk contains only zero
    displacements which leads to invisible glyph size.

    $ python output-tests/test_hyperelastic.*.vtk                          --ranges=u,0,0.02 -a mov

  - same as above, but slower frame rate

    $ python output-tests/test_hyperelastic.*.vtk                          --ranges=u,0,0.02 -a mov --ffmpeg-options="-r 2 -sameq"

  --version             show program's version number and exit
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -l, --list-ranges     do not plot, only list names and ranges of all data
  -n, --no-show         do not call
  --no-offscreen        force no offscreen rendering for --no-show
  --3d                  3d plot mode
                        camera azimuth, elevation angles, and optionally also
                        distance and focal point coordinates (without []) as
                        in `mlab.view()` [default: if --3d is True: "45,45",
                        else: "0,0"]
  --roll=angle          camera roll angle [default: 0.0]
  --fgcolor=R,G,B       foreground color, that is the color of all text
                        annotation labels (axes, orientation axes, scalar bar
                        labels) [default: 0.0,0.0,0.0]
  --bgcolor=R,G,B       background color [default: 1.0,1.0,1.0]
  --layout=layout       layout for multi-field plots, one of: rowcol, colrow,
                        row, col [default: rowcol]
  --scalar-mode=mode    mode for plotting scalars with --3d, one of:
                        cut_plane, iso_surface, both [default: iso_surface]
  --vector-mode=mode    mode for plotting vectors, one of: arrows, norm,
                        arrows_norm, warp_norm [default: arrows_norm]
  -s scale, --scale-glyphs=scale
                        relative scaling of glyphs (vector field
                        visualization) [default: 0.05]
  --clamping            glyph clamping mode
                        force data ranges [default: automatic from data]
  -b, --scalar-bar      show scalar bar for each data
  --wireframe           show wireframe of mesh surface for each data
  --opacity=opacity     global surface and wireframe opacity in [0.0, 1.0]
                        [default: 1.0]
                        relative text annotation width [default: 0.02]
  -w, --watch           watch the results file for changes (single file mode
  -o filename, --output=filename
                        view image file name [default: 'view.png']
                        output directory for saving view images; ignored when
                        -o option is given, as the directory part of the
                        filename is taken instead [default: '.']
  -a <ffmpeg-supported format>, --animation=<ffmpeg-supported format>
                        if set to a ffmpeg-supported format (e.g. mov, avi,
                        mpg), ffmpeg is installed and results of multiple time
                        steps are given, an animation is created in the same
                        directory as the view images
  --ffmpeg-options="<ffmpeg options>"
                        ffmpeg animation encoding options (enclose in "")
                        [default: -r 10 -sameq]
  -r resolution, --resolution=resolution
                        image resolution in NxN format [default: shorter axis:
                        600; depends on layout: for rowcol it is 800x600]
  --all                 draw all data (normally, node_groups and mat_id are
  --only-names=list of names
                        draw only named data
                        superimpose plots of data in each group
                        superimpose surfaces of subdomains over each data;
                        example value: mat_id,0,None,True
  --step=step           set the time step [default: 0]
                        value of anti-aliasing [default: mayavi2 default]
  -d 'var_name0,function_name0,par0=val0,par1=val1,...:var_name1,...', --domain-specific='var_name0,function_name0,par0=val0,par1=val1,...:var_name1,...'
                        domain specific drawing functions and configurations

As a simple example, try:

$ ./ examples/diffusion/
$ ./ cylinder.vtk

The following window should display:


The -l switch lists information contained in a results file, e.g.:

$ ./ -l cylinder.vtk
sfepy: 0: cylinder.vtk
point scalars
  "node_groups" (354,) range: 0 0 l2_norm_range: 0.0 0.0
    "t" (354,) range: -2.0 2.0 l2_norm_range: 0.0106091 2.0
    cell scalars
      "mat_id" (1348,) range: 6 6 l2_norm_range: 6.0 6.0

Problem Description File

Here we discuss the basic items that users have to specify in their input files. For complete examples, see the problem description files in the examples/ directory of SfePy.

Long Syntax

Besides the short syntax described below there is (due to history) also a long syntax which is explained in Problem Description File - Long Syntax. The short and long syntax can be mixed together in one description file.

FE Mesh

A FE mesh defining a domain geometry can be stored in several formats:

  • legacy VTK (.vtk)
  • custom HDF5 file (.h5)
  • medit mesh file (.mesh)
  • tetgen mesh files (.node, .ele)
  • comsol text mesh file (.txt)
  • abaqus text mesh file (.inp)
  • avs-ucd text mesh file (.inp)
  • hypermesh text mesh file (.hmascii)
  • hermes3d mesh file (.mesh3d)
  • nastran text mesh file (.bdf)
  • gambit neutral text mesh file (.neu)
  • salome/pythonocc med binary mesh file (.med)


filename_mesh = 'meshes/3d/cylinder.vtk'

The VTK and HDF5 formats can be used for storing the results. The format can be selected in options, see Miscellaneous.

The following geometry elements are supported:



Regions serve to select a certain part of the computational domain using topological entities of the FE mesh. They are used to define the boundary conditions, the domains of terms and materials etc.

Let us denote D the maximal dimension of topological entities. For volume meshes it is also the dimension of space the domain is embedded in. Then the following topological entities can be defined on the mesh (notation follows [Logg2012]):

  1. Logg: Efficient Representation of Computational Meshes. 2012
topological entity dimension co-dimension
vertex 0 D
edge 1 D - 1
face 2 D - 2
facet D - 1 1
cell D 0

If D = 2, faces are not defined and facets are edges. If D = 3, facets are faces.

Following the above definitions, a region can be of different kind:

  • cell, facet, face, edge, vertex - entities of higher dimension are not included.
  • cell_only, facet_only, face_only, edge_only, vertex_only - only the specified entities are included, other entities are empty sets, so that set-like operators still work, see below.
  • The cell kind is the most general and should be used with volume terms. It is also the default if the kind is not specified in region definition.
  • The facet kind (same as edge in 2D and face in 3D) is to be used with boundary (surface integral) terms.
  • The vertex (same as vertex_only) kind can be used with point-wise defined terms (e.g. point loads).

The kinds allow a clear distinction between regions of different purpose (volume integration domains, surface domains, etc.) and could be uses to lower memory usage.

A region definition involves topological entity selections combined with set-like operators. The set-like operators can result in intermediate regions that have the cell kind. The desired kind is set to the final region, removing unneeded entities. Most entity selectors are defined in terms of vertices and cells - the other entities are computed as needed.

topological entity selection explanation
all all entities of the mesh
vertices of surface surface of the mesh
vertices of group <integer> vertices of given group
vertices of set <str> vertices of a given named vertex set [2]
vertices in <expr> vertices given by an expression [3]
vertices by <function> vertices given by a function of coordinates [4]
vertex <id>[, <id>, ...] vertices given by their ids
vertex in r.<name of another region> any single vertex in the given region
cells of group <integer> cells of given group
cells by <efunction> cells given by a function of coordinates [5]
cell <id>[, <id>, ...], cells given by their ids
copy r.<name of another region> a copy of the given region
r.<name of another region> a reference to the given region

topological entity selection footnotes

[2]Only if mesh format supports reading boundary condition vertices as vertex sets.
[3]<expr> is a logical expression like (y <= 0.1) & (x < 0.2). In 2D use x, y, in 3D use x, y and z. & stands for logical and, | stands for logical or.
[4]<function> is a function with signature fun(coors, domain=None), where coors are coordinates of mesh vertices.
[5]<efunction> is a function with signature fun(coors, domain=None), where coors are coordinates of mesh cell centroids.
set-like operator explanation
+v vertex union
+e edge union
+f face union
+s facet union
+c cell union
-v vertex difference
-e edge difference
-f face difference
-s facet difference
-c cell difference
*v vertex intersection
*e edge intersection
*f face intersection
*s facet intersection
*c cell intersection

Region Definition Syntax

Regions are defined by the following Python dictionary:

regions = {
    <name> : (<selection>, [<kind>], [<parent>]),


regions = {
    <name> : <selection>,

Example definitions:

regions = {
    'Omega' : 'all',
    'Right' : ('vertices in (x > 0.99)', 'facet'),
    'Gamma1' : ("""(cells of group 1 *v cells of group 2)
                   +v r.Right""", 'facet', 'Omega'),


Fields correspond to FE spaces:

fields = {
    <name> : (<data_type>, <shape>, <region_name>, <approx_order>)
  • <data_type> is a numpy type (float64 or complex128) or ‘real’ or ‘complex’
  • <shape> is the number of DOFs per node: 1 or (1,) or ‘scalar’, space dimension (2, or (2,) or 3 or (3,)) or ‘vector’; it can be other positive integer than just 1, 2, or 3
  • <region_name> is the name of region where the field is defined
  • <approx_order> is the FE approximation order, e.g. 0, 1, 2, ‘1B’ (1 with bubble)

Example: scalar P1 elements in 2D on a region Omega:

fields = {
    'temperature' : ('real', 1, 'Omega', 1),

The following approximation orders can be used:

  • simplex elements: 1, 2, ‘1B’, ‘2B’
  • tensor product elements: 0, 1, ‘1B’

Optional bubble function enrichment is marked by ‘B’.


Variables use the FE approximation given by the specified field:

variables = {
    <name> : (<kind>, <field_name>, <spec>, [<history>])
  • <kind> - ‘unknown field’, ‘test field’ or ‘parameter field’
  • <spec> - in case of: primary variable - order in the global vector of unknowns, dual variable - name of primary variable
  • <history> - number of time steps to remember prior to current step


variables = {
    't' : ('unknown field', 'temperature', 0, 1),
    's' : ('test field', 'temperature', 't'),


Define the integral type and quadrature rule. This keyword is optional, as the integration orders can be specified directly in equations (see below):

integrals = {
    <name> : <order>
  • <name> - the integral name - it has to begin with ‘i’!
  • <order> - the order of polynomials to integrate, or ‘custom’ for integrals with explicitly given values and weights


import numpy as nm
N = 2
integrals = {
    'i1' : 2,
    'i2' : ('custom', zip(nm.linspace( 1e-10, 0.5, N ),
                          nm.linspace( 1e-10, 0.5, N )),
            [1./N] * N),

Essential Boundary Conditions and Constraints

The essential boundary conditions set values of DOFs in some regions, while the constraints constrain or transform values of DOFs in some regions.

Dirichlet Boundary Conditions

The Dirichlet, or essential, boundary conditions apply in a given region given by its name, and, optionally, in selected times. The times can be given either using a list of tuples (t0, t1) making the condition active for t0 <= t < t1, or by a name of a function taking the time argument and returning True or False depending on whether the condition is active at the given time or not.

Dirichlet (essential) boundary conditions:

ebcs = {
    <name> : (<region_name>, [<times_specification>,]
              {<dof_specification> : <value>[,
               <dof_specification> : <value>, ...]})


ebcs = {
    'u1' : ('Left', {'u.all' : 0.0}),
    'u2' : ('Right', [(0.0, 1.0)], {'u.0' : 0.1}),
    'phi' : ('Surface', {'phi.all' : 0.0}),

Periodic Boundary Conditions

The periodic boundary conditions tie DOFs of a single variable in two regions that have matching nodes. Can be used with functions in sfepy.discrete.fem.periodic.

Periodic boundary conditions:

epbcs = {
    <name> : ((<region1_name>, <region2_name>), [<times_specification>,]
              {<dof_specification> : <dof_specification>[,
               <dof_specification> : <dof_specification>, ...]},


epbcs = {
    'up1' : (('Left', 'Right'), {'u.all' : 'u.all', 'p.0' : 'p.0'},

Linear Combination Boundary Conditions

The linear combination boundary conditions (LCBCs) are more general than the Dirichlet BCs or periodic BCs. They can be used to substitute one set of DOFs in a region by another set of DOFs, possibly in another region and of another variable. The LCBCs can be used only in FEM with nodal (Lagrange) basis.

Available LCBC kinds:

  • 'rigid' - in linear elasticity problems, a region moves as a rigid body;
  • 'no_penetration' - in flow problems, the velocity vector is constrained to the plane tangent to the surface;
  • 'normal_direction' - the velocity vector is constrained to the normal direction;
  • 'edge_direction' - the velocity vector is constrained to the mesh edge direction;
  • 'integral_mean_value' - all DOFs in a region are summed to a single new DOF;
  • 'shifted_periodic' - generalized periodic BCs that work with two different variables and can have a non-zero mutual shift.

Only the 'shifted_periodic' LCBC needs the second region and the DOF mapping function, see below.

Linear combination boundary conditions:

lcbcs = {
    'shifted' : (('Left', 'Right'),
                 {'u1.all' : 'u2.all'},
                 'match_y_line', 'shifted_periodic',
    'mean' : ('Middle', {'u1.all' : None}, None, 'integral_mean_value'),

Initial Conditions

Initial conditions are applied prior to the boundary conditions - no special care must be used for the boundary dofs:

ics = {
    <name> : (<region_name>, {<dof_specification> : <value>[,
                              <dof_specification> : <value>, ...]},...)


ics = {
    'ic' : ('Omega', {'T.0' : 5.0}),


Materials are used to define constitutive parameters (e.g. stiffness, permeability, or viscosity), and other non-field arguments of terms (e.g. known traction or volume forces). Depending on a particular term, the parameters can be constants, functions defined over FE mesh nodes, functions defined in the elements, etc.


material = {
    'm' : ({'val' : [0.0, -1.0, 0.0]},),
    'm2' : 'get_pars',
    'm3' : (None, 'get_pars'), # Same as the above line.

Example: different material parameters in regions ‘Yc’, ‘Ym’:

from sfepy.mechanics.matcoefs import stiffness_from_youngpoisson
dim = 3
materials = {
    'mat' : ({'D' : {
        'Ym': stiffness_from_youngpoisson(dim, 7.0e9, 0.4),
        'Yc': stiffness_from_youngpoisson(dim, 70.0e9, 0.2)}

Equations and Terms

Equations can be built by combining terms listed in Term Table.


  • Laplace equation, named integral:

    equations = {
        'Temperature' : """dw_laplace.i.Omega( coef.val, s, t ) = 0"""
  • Laplace equation, simplified integral given by order:

    equations = {
        'Temperature' : """dw_laplace.2.Omega( coef.val, s, t ) = 0"""
  • Laplace equation, automatic integration order (not implemented yet!):

    equations = {
        'Temperature' : """dw_laplace.a.Omega( coef.val, s, t ) = 0"""
  • Navier-Stokes equations:

    equations = {
        'balance' :
        """+ dw_div_grad.i2.Omega( fluid.viscosity, v, u )
           + dw_convect.i2.Omega( v, u )
           - dw_stokes.i1.Omega( v, p ) = 0""",
        'incompressibility' :
        """dw_stokes.i1.Omega( u, q ) = 0""",

Configuring Solvers

In SfePy, a non-linear solver has to be specified even when solving a linear problem. The linear problem is/should be then solved in one iteration of the nonlinear solver.

Linear and nonlinear solver:

solvers = {
    'ls' : ('ls.scipy_direct', {}),
    'newton' : ('nls.newton',
                {'i_max'   : 1}),

Solver selection:

options = {
    'nls' : 'newton',
    'ls' : 'ls',


Functions are a way of customizing SfePy behavior. They make it possible to define material properties, boundary conditions, parametric sweeps, and other items in an arbitrary manner. Functions are normal Python functions declared in the Problem Definition file, so they can invoke the full power of Python. In order for SfePy to make use of the functions, they must be declared using the function keyword. See the examples below.

Defining Material Parameters

The functions for defining material parameters can work in two modes, distinguished by the mode argument. The two modes are ‘qp’ and ‘special’. The first mode is used for usual functions that define parameters in quadrature points (hence ‘qp’), while the second one can be used for special values like various flags.

The shape and type of data returned in the ‘special’ mode can be arbitrary (depending on the term used). On the other hand, in the ‘qp’ mode all the data have to be numpy float64 arrays with shape (n_coor, n_row, n_col), where n_coor is the number of quadrature points given by the coors argument, n_coor = coors.shape[0], and (n_row, n_col) is the shape of a material parameter in each quadrature point. For example, for scalar parameters, the shape is (n_coor, 1, 1).


See examples/diffusion/ for a complete problem description file demonstrating how to use different kinds of functions.

  • functions for defining regions:

    def get_circle(coors, domain=None):
        r = nm.sqrt(coors[:,0]**2.0 + coors[:,1]**2.0)
        return nm.where(r < 0.2)[0]
    functions = {
        'get_circle' : (get_circle,),
  • functions for defining boundary conditions:

    def get_p_edge(ts, coors, bc=None, problem=None):
        if == 'p_left':
            return nm.sin(nm.pi * coors[:,1])
            return nm.cos(nm.pi * coors[:,1])
    functions = {
        'get_p_edge' : (get_p_edge,),
    ebcs = {
        'p' : ('Gamma', {'p.0' : 'get_p_edge'}),

    The values can be given by a function of time, coordinates and possibly other data, for example:

    ebcs = {
        'f1' : ('Gamma1', {'u.0' : 'get_ebc_x'}),
        'f2' : ('Gamma2', {'u.all' : 'get_ebc_all'}),
    def get_ebc_x(coors, amplitude):
        z = coors[:, 2]
        val = amplitude * nm.sin(z * 2.0 * nm.pi)
        return val
    def get_ebc_all(ts, coors):
        val = ts.step * coors
        return val
    functions = {
        'get_ebc_x' : (lambda ts, coors, bc, problem, **kwargs:
                       get_ebc_x(coors, 5.0),),
        'get_ebc_all' : (lambda ts, coors, bc, problem, **kwargs:
                         get_ebc_all(ts, coors),),

    Note that when setting more than one component as in get_ebc_all() above, the function should return either an array of shape (coors.shape[0], n_components), or the same array flattened to 1D row-by-row (i.e. node-by-node), where n_components corresponds to the number of components in the boundary condition definition. For example, with ‘u.[0, 1]’, n_components is 2.

  • function for defining usual material parameters:

    def get_pars(ts, coors, mode=None, **kwargs):
        if mode == 'qp':
            val = coors[:,0]
            val.shape = (coors.shape[0], 1, 1)
            return {'x_coor' : val}
    functions = {
        'get_pars' : (get_pars,),

    The keyword arguments contain both additional use-specified arguments, if any, and the following: equations, term, problem, for cases when the function needs access to the equations, problem, or term instances that requested the parameters that are being evaluated. The full signature of the function is:

    def get_pars(ts, coors, mode=None,
                 equations=None, term=None, problem=None, **kwargs)
  • function for defining special material parameters, with an extra argument:

    def get_pars_special(ts, coors, mode=None, extra_arg=None):
        if mode == 'special':
            if extra_arg == 'hello!':
                ic = 0
                ic = 1
            return {('x_%s' % ic) : coors[:,ic]}
    functions = {
        'get_pars1' : (lambda ts, coors, mode=None, **kwargs:
                       get_pars_special(ts, coors, mode,
    # Just another way of adding a function, besides 'functions' keyword.
    function_1 = {
        'name' : 'get_pars2',
        'function' : lambda ts, coors, mode=None, **kwargs:
            get_pars_special(ts, coors, mode, extra_arg='hi!'),
  • function combining both kinds of material parameters:

    def get_pars_both(ts, coors, mode=None, **kwargs):
        out = {}
        if mode == 'special':
            out['flag'] = coors.max() > 1.0
        elif mode == 'qp':
            val = coors[:,1]
            val.shape = (coors.shape[0], 1, 1)
            out['y_coor'] = val
        return out
    functions = {
        'get_pars_both' : (get_pars_both,),
  • function for setting values of a parameter variable:

    variable_1 = {
        'name' : 'p',
        'kind' : 'parameter field',
        'field' : 'temperature',
        'like' : None,
        'special' : {'setter' : 'get_load_variable'},
    def get_load_variable(ts, coors, region=None):
        y = coors[:,1]
        val = 5e5 * y
        return val
    functions = {
        'get_load_variable' : (get_load_variable,)


The options can be used to select solvers, output file format, output directory, to register functions to be called at various phases of the solution (the hooks), and for other settings.

Additional options (including solver selection):

options = {
    # int >= 0, uniform mesh refinement level
    'refinement_level : 0',

    # string, output directory
    'output_dir'        : 'output/<output_dir>',

    # 'vtk' or 'h5', output file (results) format
    'output_format'     : 'h5',

    # string, nonlinear solver name
    'nls' : 'newton',

    # string, linear solver name
    'ls' : 'ls',

    # string, time stepping solver name
    'ts' : 'ts',

    # int, number of time steps when results should be saved (spaced
    # regularly from 0 to n_step), or -1 for all time steps
    'save_steps' : -1,

    # save a restart file for each time step, only the last computed time
    # step restart file is kept.
    'save_restart' : -1,

    # string, a function to be called after each time step
    'step_hook'  : '<step_hook_function>',

    # string, a function to be called after each time step, used to
    # update the results to be saved
    'post_process_hook' : '<post_process_hook_function>',

    # string, as above, at the end of simulation
    'post_process_hook_final' : '<post_process_hook_final_function>',

    # string, a function to generate probe instances
    'gen_probes'        : '<gen_probes_function>',

    # string, a function to probe data
    'probe_hook'        : '<probe_hook_function>',

    # string, a function to modify problem definition parameters
    'parametric_hook' : '<parametric_hook_function>',
  • post_process_hook enables computing derived quantities, like stress or strain, from the primary unknown variables. See the examples in examples/large_deformation/ directory.
  • parametric_hook makes it possible to run parametric studies by modifying the problem description programmatically. See examples/diffusion/ for an example.
  • output_dir redirects output files to specified directory

Building Equations in SfePy

Equations in SfePy are built using terms, which correspond directly to the integral forms of weak formulation of a problem to be solved. As an example, let us consider the Laplace equation in time interval t \in [0, t_{\rm

(1)\pdiff{T}{t} + c \Delta T = 0 \mbox{ in }\Omega,\quad T(t) = \bar{T}(t)
 \mbox{ on } \Gamma \;.

The weak formulation of (1) is: Find T \in V, such that

(2)\int_{\Omega} s \pdiff{T}{t} + \int_{\Omega} c\ \nabla T : \nabla s = 0,
 \quad \forall s \in V_0 \;,

where we assume no fluxes over \partial \Omega \setminus \Gamma. In the syntax used in SfePy input files, this can be written as:

dw_volume_dot.i.Omega( s, dT/dt ) + dw_laplace.i.Omega( coef, s, T) = 0

which directly corresponds to the discrete version of (2): Find \bm{T} \in V_h, such that

\bm{s}^T (\int_{\Omega_h} \bm{\phi}^T \bm{\phi}) \pdiff{\bm{T}}{t} +
\bm{s}^T (\int_{\Omega_h} c\ \bm{G}^T \bm{G}) \bm{T} = 0, \quad \forall
\bm{s} \in V_{h0} \;,

where u \approx \bm{\phi} \bm{u}, \nabla u \approx \bm{G}
\bm{u} for u \in \{s, T\}. The integrals over the discrete domain \Omega_h are approximated by a numerical quadrature, that is named \verb|i| in our case.

Syntax of Terms in Equations

The terms in equations are written in form:

<term_name>.<i>.<r>( <arg1>, <arg2>, ... )

where <i> denotes an integral name (i.e. a name of numerical quadrature to use) and <r> marks a region (domain of the integral). In the following, <virtual> corresponds to a test function, <state> to a unknown function and <parameter> to a known function arguments.

When solving, the individual terms in equations are evaluated in the ‘weak’ mode. The evaluation modes are described in the next section.

Term Evaluation

Terms can be evaluated in two ways:

  1. implicitly by using them in equations;
  2. explicitly using Problem.evaluate(). This way is mostly used in the postprocessing.

Each term supports one or more evaluation modes:

  • ‘weak’ : Assemble (in the finite element sense) either the vector or matrix depending on diff_var argument (the name of variable to differentiate with respect to) of Term.evaluate(). This mode is usually used implicitly when building the linear system corresponding to given equations.
  • ‘eval’ : The evaluation mode integrates the term (= integral) over a region. The result has the same dimension as the quantity being integrated. This mode can be used, for example, to compute some global quantities during postprocessing such as fluxes or total values of extensive quantities (mass, volume, energy, …).
  • ‘el_eval’ : The element evaluation mode results in an array of a quantity integrated over each element of a region.
  • ‘el_avg’ : The element average mode results in an array of a quantity averaged in each element of a region. This is the mode for postprocessing.
  • ‘qp’ : The quadrature points mode results in an array of a quantity interpolated into quadrature points of each element in a region. This mode is used when further point-wise calculations with the result are needed. The same element type and number of quadrature points in each element are assumed.

Not all terms support all the modes - consult the documentation of the individual terms. There are, however, certain naming conventions:

  • ‘dw_*’ terms support ‘weak’ mode
  • ‘dq_*’ terms support ‘qp’ mode
  • ‘d_*’, ‘di_*’ terms support ‘eval’ and ‘el_eval’ modes
  • ‘ev_*’ terms support ‘eval’, ‘el_eval’, ‘el_avg’ and ‘qp’ modes

Note that the naming prefixes are due to history when the mode argument to Problem.evaluate() and Term.evaluate() was not available. Now they are often redundant, but are kept around to indicate the evaluation purpose of each term.

Several examples of using the Problem.evaluate() function are shown below.

Solution Postprocessing

A solution to equations given in a problem description file is given by the variables of the ‘unknown field’ kind, that are set in the solution procedure. By default, those are the only values that are stored into a results file. The solution postprocessing allows computing additional, derived, quantities, based on the primary variables values, as well as any other quantities to be stored in the results.

Let us illustrate this using several typical examples. Let us assume that the postprocessing function is called ‘post_process()’, and is added to options as discussed in Miscellaneous, see ‘post_process_hook’ and ‘post_process_hook_final’. Then:

  • compute stress and strain given the displacements (variable u):

    def post_process(out, problem, state, extend=False):
        This will be called after the problem is solved.
        out : dict
            The output dictionary, where this function will store additional
        problem : Problem instance
            The current Problem instance.
        state : State instance
            The computed state, containing FE coefficients of all the unknown
        extend : bool
            The flag indicating whether to extend the output data to the whole
            domain. It can be ignored if the problem is solved on the whole
            domain already.
        out : dict
            The updated output dictionary.
        from sfepy.base.base import Struct
        # Cauchy strain averaged in elements.
        strain = problem.evaluate('ev_cauchy_strain.i.Omega(u)',
        out['cauchy_strain'] = Struct(name='output_data',
                                      mode='cell', data=strain,
        # Cauchy stress averaged in elements.
        stress = problem.evaluate('ev_cauchy_stress.i.Omega(solid.D, u)',
        out['cauchy_stress'] = Struct(name='output_data',
                                      mode='cell', data=stress,
        return out

    The full example is linear_elasticity-linear_elastic_probes.

  • compute diffusion velocity given the pressure:

    def post_process(out, pb, state, extend=False):
        from sfepy.base.base import Struct
        dvel = pb.evaluate('ev_diffusion_velocity.i.Omega(m.K, p)',
        out['dvel'] = Struct(name='output_data',
                             mode='cell', data=dvel, dofs=None)
        return out

    The full example is biot-biot_npbc.

  • store values of a non-homogeneous material parameter:

    def post_process(out, pb, state, extend=False):
        from sfepy.base.base import Struct
        mu = pb.evaluate('ev_integrate_mat.2.Omega(, u)',
                         mode='el_avg', copy_materials=False, verbose=False)
        out['mu'] = Struct(name='mu', mode='cell', data=mu, dofs=None)
        return out

    The full example is linear_elasticity/

  • compute volume of a region (u is any variable defined in the region Omega):

    volume = problem.evaluate('d_volume.2.Omega(u)')


Probing applies interpolation to output the solution along specified paths. There are two ways of probing:

  • VTK probes: It is the simple way of probing using the ‘post_process_hook’. It generates matplotlib figures with the probing results and previews of the mesh with the probe paths. See Primer or linear_elasticity-its2D_5 example.

  • SfePy probes: As mentioned in Miscellaneous, it relies on defining two additional functions, namely the ‘gen_probes’ function, that should create the required probes (see sfepy.discrete.probes), and the ‘probe_hook’ function that performs the actual probing of the results for each of the probes. This function can return the probing results, as well as a handle to a corresponding matplotlib figure. See linear_elasticity/ for additional explanation.

    Using sfepy.discrete.probes allows correct probing of fields with the approximation order greater than one, see Interactive Example in Primer or linear_elasticity/ for an example of interactive use.

Postprocessing filters

The following postprocessing functions based on the VTK filters are available:

  • ‘get_vtk_surface’: extract mesh surface
  • ‘get_vtk_edges’: extract mesh edges
  • ‘get_vtk_by_group’: extract domain by a material ID
  • ‘tetrahedralize_vtk_mesh’: 3D cells are converted to tetrahedral meshes, 2D cells to triangles

The following code demonstrates the use of the postprocessing filters:

mesh = problem.domain.mesh
mesh_name =[ + 1:]

vtkdata = get_vtk_from_mesh(mesh, out, 'postproc_')
matrix = get_vtk_by_group(vtkdata, 1, 1)

matrix_surf = get_vtk_surface(matrix)
matrix_surf_tri = tetrahedralize_vtk_mesh(matrix_surf)
write_vtk_to_file('%s_mat1_surface.vtk' % mesh_name, matrix_surf_tri)

matrix_edges = get_vtk_edges(matrix)
write_vtk_to_file('%s_mat1_edges.vtk' % mesh_name, matrix_edges)

Available Solvers

This Section describes solvers available in SfePy from user’s perspective. There internal/external solvers include linear, nonlinear, eigenvalue, optimization and time stepping solvers.

Nonlinear Solvers

Almost every problem, even linear, is solved in SfePy using a nonlinear solver that calls a linear solver in each iteration. This approach unifies treatment of linear and non-linear problems, and simplifies application of Dirichlet (essential) boundary conditions, as the linear system computes not a solution, but a solution increment, i.e., it always has zero boundary conditions.

The following solvers are available:

  • ‘nls.newton’: Newton solver with backtracking line-search - this is the default solver, that is used for almost all examples.
  • ‘nls.oseen’: Oseen problem solver tailored for stabilized Navier-Stokes equations (see navier_stokes/
  • ‘nls.scipy_broyden_like’: interface to Broyden and Anderson solvers from scipy.optimize.
  • ‘nls.semismooth_newton’: Semismooth Newton method for contact/friction problems.
  • ‘nls.petsc’: Interface to PETSc SNES (Scalable Nonlinear Equations Solvers)
    supporting parallel use.

Linear Solvers

A good linear solver is key to solving efficiently stationary as well as transient PDEs with implicit time-stepping. The following solvers are available:

  • ‘ls.scipy_direct’: direct solver from SciPy - this is the default solver for all examples. It is strongly recommended to install umfpack and its SciPy wrappers to get good performance.
  • ‘ls.scipy_iterative’: Interface to SciPy iterative solvers.
  • ‘ls.pyamg’: Interface to PyAMG solvers.
  • ‘ls.petsc’: Interface to Krylov subspace solvers of PETSc supporting parallel use.
  • ‘ls.petsc_parallel’: Interface to Krylov subspace solvers of PETSc able to run in parallel by storing the system to disk and running a separate script via mpiexec.
  • ‘ls.schur_complement’: Schur complement problem solver.

Solving Problems in Parallel

The PETSc-based nonlinear equations solver ‘nls.petsc’ and linear system solver ‘ls.petsc’ can be used for parallel computations, together with the modules in sfepy.parallel package. This feature is very preliminary, and can be used only with the commands for interactive use - problem description files are not supported (yet). The key module is sfepy.parallel.parallel that takes care of the domain and field DOFs distribution among parallel tasks, as well as parallel assembling to PETSc vectors and matrices.

Current Implementation Drawbacks

  • The partitioning of the domain and fields DOFs is not done in parallel and all tasks need to load the whole mesh and define the global fields - those must fit into memory available to each task.
  • While all KSP and SNES solver are supported, in principle, most of their options have to be passed using the command-line parameters of PETSc - they are not supported yet in the SfePy solver parameters.
  • There are no performance statistics yet. The code was tested on a single multi-cpu machine only.
  • The global solution is gathered to task 0 and saved to disk serially.
  • The vertices of surface region selector does not work in parallel, because the region definition is applied to a task-local domain.


The examples demonstrating the use parallel problem solving in SfePy are:

See their help messages for further information.

Isogeometric Analysis

Isogeometric analysis (IGA) is a recently developed computational approach that allows using the NURBS-based domain description from CAD design tools also for approximation purposes similar to the finite element method.

The implementation is SfePy is based on Bezier extraction of NURBS as developed in [1]. This approach allows reusing the existing finite element assembling routines, as still the evaluation of weak forms occurs locally in “elements” and the local contributions are then assembled to the global system.

Current Implementation

The IGA code is still very preliminary and some crucial components are missing. The current implementation is also very slow, as it is in pure Python.

The following already works:

  • single patch tensor product domain support in 2D and 3D
  • region selection based on topological Bezier mesh, see below
  • Dirichlet boundary conditions using projections for non-constant values
  • evaluation in arbitrary point in the physical domain
  • both scalar and vector volume terms work
  • term integration over the whole domain as well as a volume subdomain
  • simple linearization (output file generation) based on sampling the results with uniform parametric vectors
  • basic domain generation with script/ based on igakit

The following is not implemented yet:

  • tests
  • theoretical convergence rate verification
  • surface terms
  • other boundary conditions
  • proper (adaptive) linearization for post-processing
  • support for multiple NURBS patches

Domain Description

The domain description is in custom HDF5-based files with .iga extension. Such a file contains:

  • NURBS patch data (knots, degrees, control points and weights). Those can either be generated using igakit, created manually or imported from other tools.
  • Bezier extraction operators and corresponding DOF connectivity (computed by SfePy).
  • Bezier mesh control points, weights and connectivity (computed by SfePy).

The Bezier mesh is used to create a topological Bezier mesh - a subset of the Bezier mesh containing the Bezier element corner vertices only. Those vertices are interpolatory (are on the exact geometry) and so can be used for region selections.

Region Selection

The domain description files contain vertex sets for regions corresponding to the patch sides, named 'xiIJ', where I is the parametric axis (0, 1, or 2) and J is 0 or 1 for the beginning and end of the axis knot span. Other regions can be defined in the usual way, using the topological Bezier mesh entities.


The examples demonstrating the use of IGA in SfePy are:

Their problem description files are almost the same as their FEM equivalents, with the following differences:

  • There is filename_domain instead of filename_mesh.

  • Fields are defined as follows:

    fields = {
        't1' : ('real', 1, 'Omega', None, 'H1', 'iga'),
        't2' : ('real', 1, 'Omega', 'iga', 'H1', 'iga'),
        't3' : ('real', 1, 'Omega', 'iga+%d', 'H1', 'iga'),

    The approximation order in the first definition is None as it is given by the NURBS degrees in the domain description. The second definition is equivalent to the first one. The third definition, where %d should be a non-negative integer, illustrates how to increase the field’s NURBS degrees (while keeping the continuity) w.r.t. the domain NURBS description. It is applied in the navier_stokes/ example to the velocity field.

[1]Michael J. Borden, Michael A. Scott, John A. Evans, Thomas J. R. Hughes: Isogeometric finite element data structures based on Bezier extraction of NURBS, Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, March 2010.