dune-functions (dune-functions)

Abstractions for functions and discrete function space bases

dune-localfunctions dune-grid dune-typetree dune-istl
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The dune-functions module


The dune-functions module provides an abstraction layer for global finite element functions. Its two main concepts are functions implemented as callable objects, and bases of finite element spaces.


dune-functions provides an interface to “functions” in the mathematical sense, in particular to finite element functions defined on a grid, but going far beyond that.

The interface revolves around the concept of a “callable”. This encompasses any type of C++ object that can be evaluated with operator(), like free functions, function objects, and lambdas. Dynamic polymorphism is realized using type erasure and the std::function class, which does not sacrifice efficiency in purely static code.

dune-functions extends the “callable” concept into several directions. First, it allows for differentiable functions. Such functions can hand out their derivative as new function objects. Second, for functions defined piecewisely on a finite element grid, the concept of local function is introduced. Local functions can be bound to grid elements. All further evaluations of a function bound to an element are in local coordinates of that element. This approach allows to avoid overhead when there are many consecutive evaluations of a function on a single element.

Function space bases

The second part of dune-functions provides a well-defined interface to bases of finite element function spaces. For this interface, a finite element basis is a set of functions with a prescribed ordering, and a way to index them. The core functionality has three parts:

  1. For a given grid element, obtain the restrictions of all basis functions to this element, except for those functions where the restriction is zero. In other words: get the shape functions for the element.
  2. Get a local numbering for these shape functions. This is needed to index the element stiffness matrix.
  3. Get a global numbering for the shape functions. This is needed to index the global stiffness matrix.

While local numbers are always integers, global numbers can be multi-indices, if appropriate.

A central feature of dune-functions is the construction of finite element bases for vector-valued and mixed spaces by tensor multiplication of simpler bases. The resulting tensor multiplication expressions can be interpreted as rooted trees. For example, the tree for the three-dimensional Taylor-Hood basis is shown below. This tree structure is directly exposed in the dune-functions interface.

Sketch of a Taylor-Hood space in tree representation

Implementations of Function Space Bases

Some of the finite element bases currently available are:

  • LagrangeBasis: A k-th order Lagrangian bases, with k a run-time or compile-time parameter.
  • LagrangeDGBasis: A k-th order DG basis, using Lagrangian shape functions.
  • NedelecBasis: For H(curl)-conforming problems
  • RaviartThomasBasis: For H(div)-conforming problems
  • BrezziDouglasMariniBasis: The Brezzi-Douglas-Marini-Element
  • RannacherTurekBasis: Combines the Rannacher-Turek element on quadrilateral elements with the Crouzeix-Raviart element on simplices
  • BSplineBasis: A basis of B-Spline functions of given arbitrary order on a structured grid.


Class documentation

The module contains a class documentation which can be build using doxygen. After the module has been build, you can build the documentation using make doc Additionally the pre-build doxygen documentation for the master and release branches is also hosted on the documentation section of the Dune website.


There are two documents describing the concepts and use of dune-functions. The interface for functions is described in the article

C. Engwer, C. Gräser, S. Müthing, and O. Sander.
The interface for functions in the dune-functions module.
Archive of Numerical Software, 5(1):95--109, 2017.

This is freely available via the website of the journal and as arXiv:1512.06136 preprint. The interface for the function space bases is described in the article

C. Engwer, C. Gräser, S. Müthing, and O. Sander.
Function space bases in the dune-functions module.
Preprint, arxiv:1806.09545, 2018.

This is freely available as arXiv:1806.09545 preprint. The LaTeX source code for both is also contained in the module. Like the class documentation, it is build by make doc.

Finally, the Dune book also contains a chapter on dune-functions, which is, however, mainly an improved presentation of the two articles.


Several example applications demonstrate how to use the module. These example applications are contained in the examples/ directory and they are built with make examples. The stokes-taylorhood example is described in detail in the book.

Communication channels

dune-functions development and discussions happen mainly on the dune-functions GitLab page. There is also a dune-functions mailing list, but it has very little traffic these days.

Using dune-functions and licensing

The module is licensed by different variants of the GPL licence. Please have a look at the COPYING file for more information and a list of all contributors. When using dune-functions please cite the publications on the functions interface and the bases interface listed above.

Building dune-functions

Dune-functions integrates into the cmake-based Dune build system. Hence it can be build (like any other module) using the dunecontrol script of the dune-common module. For details on how to use this build system and how to specify build options have a look at the book or the documentation in the dune-common module.


Dune-functions depends on the dune core modules and the dune-typetree module. All of them are available in major Linux distributions. If you want their source codes you can find them at:

Release of dune-functions happen together with releases of the Dune core modules, and use the same numbering.

Unless explicitly stated otherwise for a specific version, dune-functions supports/requires the same build tools (compilers, cmake) as the corresponding version of the core modules.


dune-functions has been originally written by

  1. Christian Engwer
  2. Carsten Gräser
  3. Steffen Müthing
  4. Oliver Sander

Additionally, significant contributions came from Ansgar Burchardt, Simon Praetorius, and many others.

See the git history for a complete list.

We welcome interest and contributions by additional developers.

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