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Mathematical Optimization Problems

A mathematical optimization problem consists of maximizing or minimizing a real valued function under a set of constraints. We shall assume \(\VV\) to denote a finite dimensional real vector space. Typical examples of \(\VV\) are \(\RR^n\) and \(\SS^n\).

Formally, we express a mathematical optimization problem as:

\[\begin{split} \begin{aligned} & \text{minimize} & & f_0(\bx) & & \\ & \text{subject to} & & f_i(\bx) \leq b_i, & & i = 1, \dots, m. \end{aligned} \end{split}\]
  • \(\bx \in \VV\) is the optimization variable of the problem.

  • \(f_0 : \VV \to \RR\) is the objective function.

  • The functions \(f_i : \VV \to \RR, \; i=1,\dots, m\) are the (inequality) constraint functions.

  • The (real scalar) constants \(b_1, \dots, b_m\) are the limits for the inequality constraints.

  • A vector \(\bx \in \VV\) is called feasible if it belongs to the domains of \(f_0, f_1, \dots, f_m\) and satisfies all the constraints.

  • A vector \(\bx^*\) is called optimal if is feasible and has the smallest objective value; i.e. for any feasible \(\bz\), we have \(f_0(\bz)\geq f_0(\bx^*)\).

  • An optimal vector is also called a solution to the optimization problem.

  • An optimization problem is called infeasible if there is no feasible vector. i.e. there is no vector \(\bx \in \VV\) which satisfies the inequality constraints.

  • An infeasible problem doesn’t have a solution.

  • A feasible problem may not have a solution if the objective function is unbounded below. i.e. for every feasible \(\bx\), there exists another feasible \(\bz\) such that \(f_0(\bz) < f_0(\bx)\).

  • If a feasible problem is not unbounded below, then it may have one or more solutions.

Convex Optimization focuses on a special class of mathematical optimization problems where:

  • The real valued function being optimized (maximized or minimized) is convex.

  • The feasible set of values for the function is a closed convex set.


Fig. 1 For a convex function, the line segment between any two points on the graph of the function does not lie below the graph between the two points. Its epigraph is a convex set. A local minimum of a convex function is also a global minimum.

Convex Optimization Problems

Convex optimization problems are usually further classified into

  • Least squares

  • Linear programming

  • Quadratic minimization with linear constraints

  • Quadratic minimization with convex quadratic constraints

  • Conic optimization

  • Geometric programming

  • Second order cone programming

  • Semidefinite programming

There are specialized algorithms available for each of these classes.


Some of the applications of convex optimization include:

  • Portfolio optimization

  • Worst case risk analysis

  • Compressive sensing

  • Statistical regression

  • Model fitting

  • Combinatorial Optimization