This section contains some practical information about the available solver algorithms in ADflow, along with best practices. Here, we assume that users started experimenting with ADflow, following the tutorial section. The additional options we mention here can be added to the baseline runscripts users have to improve performance.

ADflow is capable of switching between solver algorithms during a solution procedure. This process is controlled with the relative convergence metric, which is the ratio of current residual norm and the initial residual norm. A 2 orders of magnitude relative convergence in this sense refers to converging the simulations such that the L2 norm of the current residual vector is two orders of magnitude lower the initial norm. Technically, all three solver algorithms can be used in a single simulation, however, users will typically use either the multigrid or approximate Newton–Krylov (ANK) for the startup, combined with the Newton–Krylov (NK) for the final stages of convergence.

If all three solvers are used, ADflow uses the multigrid method until the relative convergence reaches ANKSwitchTol. Then the ANK method is used to reach NKSwitchTol, and after this relative convergence is reached, the solver switches to the NK solver. Besides setting the switch tolerances for the ANK and NK solvers, users need to set the options useANKSolver, and useNKSolver respectively to True in their runscripts.

With RANS simulations, the startup stage can be defined as the initial 4-6 orders of magnitude of convergence, while the terminal stage is the rest of the convergence until L2Convergence is reached. For a RANS simulation, reaching steady state is equivalent to reducing the residual norm by 6-12 orders of magnitude. The final relative convergence users prescribe is case dependent, however tighter tolerances (i.e. 'L2Convergence': 1e-12) will yield more accurate solutions and gradients, at the cost of higher computational effort.


Multigrid is the baseline solver algorithm available in ADflow. This method uses either the Runge–Kutta (RK), or the Diagonalized Diagonally-Dominant Alternating Direction Implicit (D3ADI) algorithm as the smoother. The smoother algorithms only update the flow variables (i.e. density, momentum components, energy), and a Diagonalized Alternating Direction Implicit (DADI) method is used to update the turbulence model with RANS simulations.

Within a full multigrid solution process, the solution is initialized on the coarsest grid level, and the smoothers are used to reach the prescribed L2ConvergenceCoarse relative convergence is reached. Once this target is reached, the solver moves to the next finer level, and repeats this process until the finest grid level is reached. When the solver reaches to the finest grid level, it performs the prescribed multigrid cycle, that is set with the option MGCycle.

Performance of the multigrid algorithm depends on a few critical options. First of all, as the number of coarse grid levels are increased, the solver performance will generally improve. However for practical cases, this is typically around 3-5, and coarser levels than these might not be available. The number of grid levels is represented by the leading number with the MGCycle option (e.g. '3w' means performing a w multigrid cycle with 3 grid levels).

The second critical parameter is the CFL numbers selected. CFL number is representative of the time-step size used with the smoother methods. Larger CFL numbers translate into larger time steps, which in turn yield faster convergence to steady state. However, both of the smoother algorithms are conditionally stable, meaning that there is a limit CFL number that can be used before the solution goes unstable. A more stable solver can be achieved by reducing the CFL number, at the cost of higher computational effort, as the solver will take more iterations to reach the steady state.

The user can prescribe two different CFL numbers within ADflow. The option CFL sets the CFL number used for operations on the finest grid level, while CFLCoarse is used to set the CFL number used with the coarser grid levels. The RK smoother is a fully explicit method, and the default values of 'CFL': 1.7 and 'CFLCoarse': 1.0 should be reasonable. When the D3ADI method is used by setting 'smoother': 'DADI', the solver will benefit from a higher CFL value. Even though the D3ADI smoother is an implicit method, the performance does not generally improve with higher CFL numbers, as the underlying factorization breaks down as the CFL number is increased. Therefore, for practical cases, the CFL number used with the D3ADI implementation in ADflow is around 3-5.

Multigrid startup works well with multiblock meshes, as coarser levels of the grid is usually available. However with overset meshes, coarser levels might not be available, and we recommend using the ANK solver for startup instead. Furthermore, if the flowfield contains separated regions, the multigrid solver will likely stall, and not be able to complete the startup stage. With these cases, we again recommend using the ANK solver.

Approximate Newton–Krylov

The approximate Newton–Krylov (ANK) solver is one of the fully implicit methods within ADflow. It was developed based on the need for an efficient startup method for overset meshes, and it can also be used to converge difficult cases with heavy separation. To use the ANK solver, users need to set 'useANKSolver': True in their scripts. The default switch tolerance for the ANK solver (i.e. 'ANKSwitchTol') is set to 1.0, therefore ADflow will start the simulations with the ANK solver if the solver is enabled. However, if the coarser levels of the grid is available, and the :py:data:`MGCycle option is not set to 'sg' (which stands for single grid), the solver might start with a full multigrid startup, and the ANK solver will only be activated once the finest grid level is reached. This behavior can also be controlled with the MGStartLevel option, which controls the grid level that is used to initialize the simulations. The default value for this option is set to -1, which means that the solver will start with the coarsest grid level available. See ADflow options for a more detailed explanation of these parameters. The ANK method can also be used after the multigrid method. For example, if the user wants to obtain 2 orders of magnitude convergence with the multigrid, then switch to the ANK solver, the option ANKSwitchTol can be set to 1e-2, and the solver will switch to the ANK solver after this relative convergence value is reached.

The ANK solver has a large number of tunable parameters, and a few different modes. The default set of tunings works well for a typical aeronautical application with transonic conditions, but there is always room for improvement. For a quick solution, simply include 'useANKSolver': True option in the runscripts. Furthermore, we recommend setting a relatively high turbulence sub-iteration number for RANS simulations, i.e. set nSubiterTurb to somewhere between 3 and 7. However, there will be cases where the default set of parameters will not yield good performance, and some tuning might be required. To be able to understand why the solver is not working well, or even failing, the users need to understand the underlying algorithm to some level. In the following subsections, we describe the main components within the ANK solver algorithm, and lay down the best practices for troubleshooting.

Solver Algorithm

The ANK solver uses the backward Euler method to iteratively solve the system of equations. As the method is fully implicit, the solver is unconditionally stable, meaning that there is not a stability limit for the CFL number. In the context of backward Euler scheme, the CFL number used in the solver has very important outcomes. Relatively small CFL numbers (around 1-10) translate into small time steps, and the solver yields very favorable stability properties. However, convergence with low CFL numbers stagnate quickly after the first few orders of magnitude relative convergence. At high CFL numbers (around 100-1e5), the solver approaches the Newton’s method, and yields very favorable nonlinear convergence properties. However, if the current state is far away from the solution, high CFL numbers might cause the solver to stagnate. Keeping these outcomes in mind, we start the solver algorithm with a relatively small CFL number ('ANKCFL0': 5.0), and adaptively ramp the CFL number to higher values as the simulation converges to steady state. This process is called pseudo-transient continuation. This continuation process is what enables the ANK solver to be used as a startup strategy, while yielding favorable convergence rates later on in the simulation.

During each nonlinear iteration, we determine the updates to the state variables by inexactly solving a large linear system. In this context, inexactly solving the linear system refers to reducing the linear residual norm by a factor of ANKLinearSolveTol, and the default value we use is 0.05. We avoid exactly solving the linear system because it is often more beneficial to take a large number of cheaper nonlinear iterations, because the startup of RANS simulations often require tens or sometimes hundreds of nonlinear iterations. Prescribing a higher linear solution tolerance on the other hand might destabilize the solver, because in this case the solution vector is too far from the actual solution. The linear systems we solve with the ANK solver contains two components: the Jacobian and a time-stepping term. This is simply a result of using the backward Euler method. The time stepping term is calculated by selecting a global CFL number that is applied to each cell in the domain, while the Jacobian matrix contains the partial derivatives of residuals with respect to states in each cell.

The linear solver algorithm we use is called generalized minimal residual method (GMRES). We use a matrix-based preconditioner to improve the convergence rate of the GMRES algorithm, while the actualy linear system we solve is never formed; instead we use a matrix-free approach. This is enabled by the fact that the GMRES algorithm only requires matrix-vector products, rather than the full matrix itself. The preconditioner we use is based on a first order Jacobian, that contains some approximations that are useful in reducing the memory requirements while storing the matrix. Compared to the 33-cell stencil of the second order accurate scheme, this first order accurate Jacobian only requires a 7-cell stencil. The matrix-free operations themselves also contain some approximations. The resulting Jacobian we obtain with the matrix-free operations is somewhere between the full second, and first order accurate schemes. We call the solver approximate Newton–Krylov because of this reason; the matrix-free operations contain some approximations.

The use of matrix-free operations enable the approximate Jacobian used in the solution process to be up to date on every nonlinear iteration. However, keeping an up to date preconditioner for every nonlinear iteration is not a practical approach. This is because forming and factorizing the preconditioner matrix is very expensive. To alleviate this cost, we lag the preconditioner between nonlinear iterations. The lagging process is done automatically, and user input is not required. However, users should be aware that the CFL number for the ANK solver is only updated during iterations where we update the preconditioners. These iterations are marked with a * leading the iteration type output.

After inexactly solving the linear system, we obtain an update vector for the state variables, however we usually do not take the full update vector. Instead, we relax the update by a certain factor between 0 and 1. This is similar to taking full or partial steps within an optimization. A full step is equivalent to taking the update vector as it is, and a limited step is equivalent to multiplying each entry of the update vector with a relaxation parameter.

To determine this relaxation parameter, we first check the total physical change that the update yields. We limit the step size such that the density and energy of each cell do not change more than ANKPhysicalLSTol fraction of the original value. The default value is 0.2, which translates to limiting the physical change in these variables to 20% of the original value. For the turbulence model, we follow a similar approach, however we only check the updates that reduce the value of the turbulence model variable, and limit the change to 99%, by using 'ANKPhysicalLSTolTurb': 0.99. We refer to to this process as the physicality check.

After the physicality check, we go into a backtracking line search, where the goal is to find a step size that yields a reduction in the unsteady residual norm. This unsteady residual norm is different from the steady residual norm printed in the output. As a result, the steady (or total) residual norm can actually increase, while the unsteady residual norm decreases. This backtracking search starts with the step size calculated with the physicality check, and then traces this step back until it finds a step size that gives a reduction in the unsteady residual norm. After the backtracking line search, the solver multiplies the update vector with the step size and updates the state vector. We repeat this process until the simulation converges, or we reach NKSwitchTol relative convergence.

Matrix-Free Operations

The use of matrix-free operations for the actual linear system gives us the flexibility to be able to modify the Jacobian formulation on the go without any increased memory cost. The default matrix-free operations contain some approximations compared to the exact residual routines. However, users can switch to an exact Jacobian during runtime to improve nonlinear convergence. This is achieved by using the ANKSecondOrdSwitchTol option. This option prescribes a relative convergence limit, above which the solver uses the default approximate Jacobian. However, this relative convergence value is reached, the solver switches to using an exact Jacobian formulation for the matrix-free operations. For example, setting 'ANKSecondOrdSwitchTol': 1e-2 would cause the solver to use the approximate formulation for the initial 2 orders of magnitude convergence, and then switch to the exact formulation for the rest of convergence. Note that this modification only changes how the implicit system is handled, and does not alter the baseline residual formulations. Therefore the only effect will be in nonlinear convergence rate, and cost of each nonlinear iteration.

The approximate Jacobian is designed to have better conditioning properties, i.e. it is easier to solve numerically. However, these approximations reduce the accuracy of the update vector, and nonlinear convergence rate suffers from this. On the other hand, the exact Jacobian would be more difficult to solve compared to the approximate one, however the update vector obtained this way is expected to yield better nonlinear convergence. As a result, the tradeoff is between cost of each nonlinear iteration, and rate of nonlinear convergence.

The second order switch is set to 1e-16 by default, meaning it is disabled. However it can be manually set to improve performance. For many practical cases, default approximate Jacobian is faster in the first 3-4 orders of magnitude convergence. The solver can benefit from switching to second order formulation after this point. However, the users should keep an eye on the linear residual during each nonlinear iteration. As the second order Jacobian creates a more difficult linear system, the linear solver might fail and this might cause the solver to go unstable. In cases where the prescribed linear solution tolerance cannot be met (e.g. linear residual above the 0.05 default value), the users are better off with just using the approximate formulation and disabling the second order switch. The optimal switching point is case dependent, and users are encouraged to experiment with it. Finally, the solver will print an S before the ANK identifier to state that it is using the second order Jacobian formulation.

Turbulence Coupling

The turbulence models used with RANS equations can be notoriously difficult to converge. To prevent issues in convergence, we solve the turbulence model separately from the flow variables. In this context, the flow variables refer to the density, momentum components and energy, while the turbulence variable is typically the SA model working variable. A decoupled algorithm updates the flow variables with the algorithms described above, and after updating the flow variables in each nonlinear iteration, we perform sub-iterations for the turbulence model before moving onto the next iteration. Best way to diagnose if the turbulence model is causing problems with convergence is to print the turbulence residual norm with the output. This can be done with including 'resturb' in the list passed with the option monitorVariables.

In the decoupled mode, the ANK solver has two turbulence solvers available. The first one is the DADI based solver, which we refer to as turbDADI. This solver algorithm calculates the update vector for the turbulence model by using the diagonalized alternating direction implicit algorithm. We typically use this algorithm with a large number of sub iterations. The option nSubiterTurb can be used to set the number of sub-iterations for the turbulence model to be performed after each flow update. We typically recommend a value between 3 and 7, however more difficult cases might require up to 10 sub-iterations for the turbulence model.

The second turbulence solver available is called turbKSP. This is practically an isolated ANK algorithm just for the turbulence model. We use the exact same options, and algorithms with the ANK solver, however the turbKSP solver has its own matrices, and linear system. After each flow update, we repeat the similar ANK process for the turbulence model, and compute an update vector just for the turbulence model variable. To use the turbKSP solver with ANK, users can set 'ANKUseTurbDADI': False, which implies that the solver will use the turbKSP solver instead of the default turbDADI solver. To print useful debugging information about the turbulence solver, users can include 'ANKTurbKSPDebug': True in their runscripts. The solver will then print some diagnostics about the turbulence solver in each iteration, such as linear convergence, step size, number of iterations GMRES algorithm takes etc. This output will not look pretty but can be very useful while debugging. We recommend using only 1 sub-iteration for this solver, as it is much more expensive, but more powerful at the same time compared to the turbDADI solver. To use larger number of sub-iterations, users can set ANKNSubiterTurb option to any integer larger than 1.

For smaller cases (<1M Cells) with multiblock meshes, we recommend using the turbDADI solver. However, the performance of the turbDADI solver will deteriorate with overset meshes, therefore users can get better performance by switching to the turbKSP solver with more realistic cases (>1M Cells) with overset meshes.

Instead of the decoupled mode, the ANK solver is also capable of coupling the turbulence model to the flow variables. We call this coupled ANK, and iterations in this mode is denoted with a C character before the ANK identifier. The coupled mode can be beneficial because the solver now considers the coupling between the turbulence model and the flow variables, and this mode is expected to yield better convergence during the final stages of startup. However, running in decoupled mode for the initial 4-5 orders of magnitude convergence is almost always going to yield better performance. To start with the decoupled algorithm, and switch to the coupled algorithm, users can set a target relative convergence value with the ANKCoupledSwitchTol option. Similar to the second order switch, the default for coupled switch tolerance is set to 1e-16. To enable the coupled solver, users can pick a relative convergence value, e.g. setting 'ankcoupledswitchtol': 1e-4 will cause the solver to switch to the coupled formulation after 4 orders of magnitude of relative convergence is reached. In this mode, the turbulence model and the flow variables are updated together with the ANK algorithm described above, and no sub-iterations for the turbulence model is performed.

There are two important aspects of converging the SA turbulence model. First of all, with almost every case, the turbulence model residual norm will drop a few orders of magnitude within the initial 1-2 orders of magnitude relative convergence. After this, the turbulence model residual will start increasing, until about 4 orders of magnitude relative convergence. After this hill, the turbulence model residuals usually goes down monotonically. Users should be aware that if coupled switch happens before the turbulence model goes over the hill, the solver might stall, or yield very bad performance. It is usually better to use a decoupled method before this hill, and a coupled method after.

Second important aspect is related to the scaling of the turbulence model residuals. The flow variables in ADflow are normalized with respect to the free stream reference values. For example, density and velocity values of 1 represent the values that would be obtained in the free stream. This is done to prevent precision loss with numerical algorithms, and with this normalization, the residuals of density, momentum and energy are typically around similar orders of magnitude. However, performing the same normalization for the turbulence model is not straightforward, as the turbulence model variable can span a few orders of magnitude even after normalization. As a result, the turbulence model variable is not normalized in the same way, and the turbulence residual norm is usually 4-5 orders of magnitude lower than the flow variables’ residual norms. To prevent numerical difficulties with the coupled ANK (and the NK) solver, we scale the turbulence model residual norm by ‘’1e4``. This scaling has implications with the coupled solvers. The coupled solvers will only yield good performance when the printed turbulence model residual norm is about 3-5 orders of magnitude lower than the flow variable residual norms (e.g. density). When the difference is between 3-5 orders of mangitude, the scaling works as expected, and we can successfully solve the coupled linear systems. However, if the difference is much larger, or smaller than 1e4, the scaling will be off, and the solver will encounter difficulties while solving the coupled linear systems. In cases where the scaling differs greatly, users can manually set the turbulence scaling constant by setting the turbResScale option in their runscripts. However, we recommend not modifying this variable, and using the decoupled ANK mode further, as the solver will eventually achieve this scaling where the default parameters work as expected.

Interpreting the Output

ADflow prints a number of useful metrics for every nonlinear iteration within a simulation. Understanding what these mean can be critical, especially with the ANK and NK solvers. Here, we describe each relevant output with the ANK solver.

  • Iter Tot: The cumulative number of linear iterations, and residual evaluations. With the ANK solver, this number is calculated with the total number of GMRES iterations with the linear system for the flow variables in the decoupled mode (or the coupled linear system in the coupled mode), plus the residual evaluations required for the line search algorithm during each nonlinear iteration.

  • Iter Type: Solver type used. With the ANK solver, last three characters will always read ANK. The leading characters determine what exactly the solver is doing. A * indicates that the solver updated the preconditioner during that nonlinear iteration. The additional characters C and S stand for coupled and second order modes respectively.

  • CFL: CFL number used for this nonlinear iteration. This parameter is only updated with the iterations where we update the preconditioner.

  • Step: The relaxation factor used. A step of 1.0 means the full update is taken, and any number less than this means that the update was relaxed using that factor.

  • Lin Res: The relative convergence achieved with the linear solver. The default linear convergence desired is 0.05. However, we limit the number of GMRES iterations for the sake of computational cost, and if the solver runs out of iterations, this number will go above the default value. This means that the linear solution failed, however as long as we solve the linear system to some degree, we can still use the update.

Furthermore, users can print some useful information if they are using the turbKSP solver with the decoupled ANK solver. To enable this output, users can use the option 'ANKTurbKSPDebug': True. When enabled, the solver will print information related to the turbulence solver between nonlinear iteration outputs. The turbulence information is printed first, then ADflow prints the default output. So the turbulence output, and the following default output belong to the same nonlinear iteration. The turbulence output will print LIN RES, ITER, INITRES, REASON, STEP, followed by 5 numbers. The numbers correspond to these variables at each turbKSP iteration.

  • LIN RES: Relative convergence of the linear solver. Note this is only the convergence of the linear system for the turbulence.

  • ITER: Number of iterations the linear solver took to reach the prescribed tolerance.

  • INITRES: Initial norm of the linear residual. This is only useful for developers.

  • REASON: The reason for terminating the linear solver. 2 means the desired relative convergence is reached, -3 means the solver ran out of iterations. See KSPConvergedReason for more details.

  • STEP: Relaxation factor used for the update. Similar to the value printed with the default output. Note that this is only the relaxation for the turbulence update, and has nothing to do with the flow update.

Expected Performance

Here, we give a few rules of thumb that users can use to determine if the ANK solver is performing at sub-optimal levels. The metrics we are concerned are nonlinear convergence, number of nonlinear iterations, and cumulative number of linear iterations, along with the step size and linear residual during each nonlinear iteration.

The ANK solver should be able to reduce the total residual norm by 4-5 orders of magnitude in about 100 iterations for simple cases, such as a wing-only, or even a wing-body geometry. More complex geometries such as a wing-body-tail, or even geometries with nacelles, the ANK solver might take quite a few more nonlinear iterations, reaching 200 levels. If the ANK solver is taking more than a few hundred nonlinear iterations to achieve 4-5 orders of magnitude relative convergence, users should try to diagnose the reason and consult to the next section for troubleshooting.

Similarly, the cumulative number of linear iterations at 4-5 orders of magnitude relative convergence should be around a few thousand. If the solver is maxing out of linear iterations at each nonlinear iteration, this will possibly cause an additional computational load. Simple cases can achieve 4-5 orders of magnitude convergence with 2-3 thousand linear iterations, while more complex cases can go up to 5 thousands.

The last two metrics we are concerned with are the step size, and the linear residual. If the ANK solver is repeatedly taking very small steps (<0.1), the nonlinear convergence will suffer greatly. It is okay for the solver to start with small step sizes, or even go through transients where it takes a few nonlinear iterations with limited steps. However, the solver taking tens of nonlinear iterations with small step sizes usually indicates a problem with the solver.

The target linear residual at each nonlinear iteration is 0.05, however the solver might not achieve this level of linear convergence due to many reasons. Similar to the step size, it is okay if the solver is not matching this tolerance, or even getting stuck at 0.1 relative tolerance for the most of the nonlinear iterations. However, if the linear residual during iterations are repeatedly above 0.5 levels, then this indicates that either the linear system is too stiff, the preconditioner and the linear solver is not strong enough, or both. Successive iterations with high linear residuals usually indicate a problem with the solver algorithm that the users can usually fix.


The ANK solver is tuned for a typical aeronautical application with transonic conditions. However, for many cases the solver performance can be improved. Besides performance improvements, the solver might fail for a range of critical cases, and some troubleshooting might be required. In this section, we talk about the common failure modes and how to fix them. Before reading here, users should be familiar with the content presented in Interpreting the Output, as this will be the main source of information for our decisions.

It is practically impossible for us to write fixes for every failure mode, therefore, we will keep this section updated as we encounter new issues and respective fixes. Below, we list a number of failure modes that we have encountered so far.

Very Small Step Sizes

This case usually happens when the coupled ANK solver is used. If this is the case, simply reduce the coupled switch tolerance so that the solver can converge tighter before it switches to the coupled algorithm.

If the step size is small even with the default ANK solver (de-coupled mode for turbulence), and the CFL number has reached the upper limit, then a quick fix can be reducing the ANKCFLLimit option from its default value of 1e5. Lower CFL limits will yield a slower convergence, however the solver is usually more stable. Try not to set the CFL limit below a few hundreds, otherwise convergence may be very slow.

If this solution still does not help, the users can try switching to the second order implicit formulation right before the solver starts taking small steps by modifying ANKSecondOrdSwitchTol. This mode will use an exact implicit formulation, and therefore the updates will be more accurate.

If the problem occurs before the maximum CFL number is reached, and switching to the second order implicit formulation does not help, users can try relaxing the algorithms that determine the step size. To do this, the users can either increase the ANKUnsteadyLSTol from its default value of 1.0, e.g. 1.5, or set a larger ANKPhysicalLSTol from its default value 0.2 to a value between 0 and 1. The first modification will allow the unsteady residual norm to increase during the line search algorithm. This could potentially cause the solver the diverge, however it might also help it go over the hills easier. The second modification is related to the fraction of the change that is allowed for density and energy to change within a nonlinear update. Setting a higher value will enable more aggressive updates, however this might reduce robustness. Users should not set this value greater than 1, as this would enable updates to obtain negative density or energy values in some cells.

If the problem continues, congratulations, you have found a problem that we have not solved yet. Reporting this case to the developers will be greatly appreciated, so that we can develop a fix for it.

High Linear Residuals

The solver might not reach the target linear convergence of 0.05, and as stated above, this is usually okay. Problems tend to occur when this value goes above 0.5, and above 0.9 relative convergence levels, the solver will practically stall. However, we have added an automatic way to avoid this problem. If the linear residual goes above the ANKLinResMax value, the solver will reduce the CFL until the linear solver convergence goes below this value.

Large Number of Nonlinear Iterations

With some cases, the solver converges the linear systems to the target value of 0.05, and takes full steps at each nonlinear iteration. However, despite these healthy signs, the nonlinear convergence either is very slow or has completely stalled. To solve this problem, users can try activating either second order, coupled, or both modes of the solver, to modify the implicit formulation. The point where nonlinear convergence starts to stall is a good initial guess. Simply record the relative convergence where the solver stalls and use a bit higher value to use for the second order or coupled switches.

Turbulence Residuals not Converging

In some cases, the flow variables may be converging well, while the turbulence residual norm stalls at a high value. As previously mentioned, we typically want the turbulence residual norm to be around 4 orders of magnitude lower than the residual norms of the mean flow variables. Because there are multiple solver algorithms available to solve the turbulence model, this problem can be caused by different reasons, and the typical solution would be switching between turbulence solver methods, or increasing the number of sub iterations for the turbulence model if not running in coupled mode.

If the turbKSP solver is being used, the users can set 'ANKTurbKSPDebug' to True, and monitor the information printed for each nonlinear turbulence iteration. All the fixes mentioned in this section will apply to the standalone turbKSP solver as it uses the same default algorithm with the ANK solver.

Special Cases

Even though there are a number of failure modes of the solver, these problems usually occur in a coupled manner, where there is a fundamental problem with the case itself. Here, we will share our experience with cases that are different than the default transonic application we tuned our code for.

Complex configurations such as a full aircraft geometry with a full tail, nacelle, and pylon are usually difficult to converge. This is due to the fact that to achieve a grid for such a geometry, overset meshes must be heavily utilized. This introduces inter-block couplings in the global Jacobian matrices, as the overset connectivities between blocks must be represented. Furthermore, the overset grids may introduce large-small cell volume couplings, and this will further worsen the conditioning of the linear systems. Another problem with complex configurations such as the strut braced wing, or configurations with nacelles usually contain separation in the early stages of the optimization. In all these cases, the solver will take more nonlinear iterations to converge, and each linear solution is expected to be more expensive.

Cases that utilize actuator regions to simulate the momentum gains due to a powered fan can have difficulties converging in the initial stages of convergence. To avoid these issues, users should use the feature in ADflow that gradually ramps up the momentum source terms as the solver converges, as the problem is usually caused by introducing a lot of momentum in a uniform flow field, which is far from a converged solution.

Cases with massive separation should employ a higher turbulence sub-iteration number, and always start with either the turbDADI or the turbKSP solvers. We have converged three dimensional wing-body configurations at 90 degrees angle of attack, therefore users should be aware that the solver will be able to overcome the difficulties introduced by massive separation, if tuned properly.

Supersonic cases introduce new challenges due to the increased strength of the shock waves present in the solution. One critical observation that we have made in the past is that, increasing ANKPhysicalLSTol value from its default value of 0.2 to 0.4-0.6 greatly helps with supersonic cases where the solver is taking very small steps. This is due to the moving shocks within the solution domain, and larger changes in the physical state allows the shock wave positions to settle with fewer nonlinear iterations.

Cases with very low Mach numbers should ideally be simulated with an incompressible CFD code. However, we have some experience with simulating wind turbines, or automobile geometries with very low Mach numbers. The typical problem with these cases is that the solver takes a lot of nonlinear iterations due to the very sub-optimal nonlinear convergence rate. To solve this problem, users should experiment with the second order switch, as this will greatly influence the convergence rate. Furthermore, the users can try prescribing a lower linear solver tolerance, again for the same goal.


The Newton–Krylov (NK) solver is the solver we recommend for using the final stages of convergence. It yields the best nonlinear convergence if the initial guess is close to the basin of attraction. With well behaving cases, it is typical to see the NK solver drop the residual norm by 2–3 orders of magnitude in one nonlinear iteration. However, if the NK solver is used when the state is away from the solution, the solver will either stall or yield bad performance. To use the NK solver, users can include 'useNKSolver`': True in their runscrips. We also recommend prescribing the relative convergence when ADflow will switch to the NK solver by setting NKSwitchTol option. This is a case dependent parameter, for RANS simulations, a relative convergence of 1e-4 would be a good case scenario. For very difficult cases, this switch can be reduced down to 1e-8 levels to achieve reasonable performance with the NK solver. Typically, a setting around 1e-5 and 1e-6 will yield good results. The NK solver does not have as many tunable parameters as the ANK solver, however performance can still be improved. Most of these parameters are related to the linear solver used with the NK solver, and we will describe these options under Linear Solver Performance. However, we first give a quick description of the solver algorithm, along with the important aspects that enable high nonlinear convergence rates.

Solver Algorithm

The NK solver solves the nonlinear system of governing equations by simply using the Newton’s method. This involves solving a large linear system at each iteration to calculate the update to the state vector. To solve this linear system, we use the GMRES algorithm, which is a Krylov subspace based solver; hence the name Newton–Krylov. All state variables are handled in a coupled way, and we use the default scaling described in the Turbulence Coupling section. The method is equivalent to using Euler’s method with an infinite time step, and as a result, we do not have a time step in our linear sytems; the implicit component is only composed of the Jacobian. We still use a matrix-based preconditioner based on an approximate Jacobian, however the main driver for the linear solver is the exact matrix-free residual operations. As a result, we always solve for the exact Jacobian. After solving for the update, we use a cubic line search by default to guaranee a reduction in the total residual norm. A number of line search algorithms are available and can be specified with the option NKLS. We recommend the default 'cubic' line search, however setting this option to 'non-monotone' can help by relaxing the criteria to achieve a decrease in the residual norm, and users can even select 'none' to default the solver to take the full step at each iteration.

Selecting the Linear Solver Tolerance

One of the most important aspects of the NK implementation in ADflow is how the linear solver tolerance is selected. To do this, we use a method called Eisenstat–Walker (EW) algorithm (Eisenstat and Walker, 1996). In simple words, the main idea is to avoid over-solving the linear system at each nonlinear iteration. The Newton update is calculated using a linearization about the current state. Therefore, if the state is away from the solution, the nonlinear convergence obtained with the update will be limited. However, as the state approaches the solution, the Newton update can yield a few orders of magnitude of relative convergence in one iteration. Besides these, the linear solutions are very expensive, and tighter linear convergence tolerances require large computational efforts due to the size of the problems. Therefore, we face a trade-off: over-solving the linear system will yield better convergence, however the linear solution will be expensive. Under-solving the linear system on the other hand will require lower computational effort, however the update vector will not be as accurate, and nonlinear convergence will suffer.

Keeping these outcomes in mind, Eisenstat and Walker developed an algorithm that monitors the linear and nonlinear convergence rates between iterations, and picks the optimal linear solution tolerance for the next nonlinear iteration. When linear solver performance is not a limiting factor, the algorithm picks large linear solver tolerances that yield fast but inaccurate updates when the state is far from the solution, i.e. nonlinear convergence is not satisfactory. However, as the nonlinear convergence rates improve, the algorithm picks a lower linear solver tolerance, in turn yielding a more expensive iteration, but a more accurate one at the same time.

The practical outcomes for users is as follows: The solver will start with the default NKLinearSolveTol of 0.3. This is an option in ADflow, however if users want to prescribe a constant linear solution tolerance for each iteration, besides setting this option, they need to disable the EW algorithm by setting 'NKUseEW': False. If the default 'NKUseEW': True is preserved, the solver will only solve the linear system in the first NK iteration to 0.3 relative convergence. After this step, the solver will monitor nonlinear convergence, and determine the linear solver tolerance for the next nonlinear iteration. Users can monitor the linear convergence by reading the number under Lin Res that is printed with the default ADflow output. The solver picking a lower linear solver tolerance means that the nonlinear convergence was satisfactory, and the performance can be improved with a tighter linear convergence. This is the desired behavior, and the NK solver will gradually lower the linear solver tolerance. As the linear solver tolerance gets lower values, each iteration will take more time, but nonlinear convergence between nonlinear iterations will improve. When this happens, it is typical to see 2–3 orders of magnitude relative nonlinear convergence at each nonlinear iteration.

On the other hand, if the nonlinear convergence is not satisfactory, the solver will pick a larger linear solver tolerance, to avoid over-solving the linear system. In this case, the solver will pick a linear convergence higher than the previous iteration, for example, the second iteration after the first 0.3 linear convergence will have a higher linear convergence tolerance. This means that the state is not close to the solution, and the solver prefers to take more low-cost iterations, rather than taking fewer but more expensive ones. This behavior is usually okay, as the solver will eventually start picking lower linear solver tolerances. If the solver does not pick a lower linear solution tolerance after a handful of iterations, it is usually better to lower the NKSwitchTol and try again. The ANK solver will handle these transients better, and switching to the NK solver later on will help avoiding these issues.

There is a hard coded upper limit for the linear solver tolerance, which is set to 0.8. This means that if the solver is consistently solving the linear system to 0.8 relative convergence, the state is far away from the solution, and the users should try again with a lower NKSwitchTol.

Linear Solver Performance

All the scenarios described in the previous subsection assumes that the linear solver performance is not a limiting factor, i.e. the prescribed linear solution tolerance is reached on every nonlinear iteration. However, this is usually not the outcome with difficult cases. Especially with large overset meshes, the default linear solver might fail to meet the prescribed linear solver tolerances. This can happen due to a weak or outdated preconditioner, accompanied with the solver running out of GMRES iterations. To prevent these, users can tweak a number of ADflow options to obtain a stronger linear solver for the NK solver.

As stated in the previous subsection, there is a hard coded upper limit on linear solver tolerance, which is 0.8. If the Lin Res outputs go above this value, it means that the linear solver is failing to meet the tolerances. On the other hand, the linear solver can fail as the EW algorithm picks lower linear tolerances. This case is usually okay, however users can monitor the health of the linear solver by observing the change under Iter Tot output. This output prints the cumulative number of linear iterations. If the change in Iter Tot between nonlinear iterations are larger than the specified linear iteration limit for the NK solver, i.e. NKSubspaceSize, the solver linear solver is failing to reach the prescribed tolerance.

To obtain a stronger linear solver, there are a number of options. Each option either increases memory requirements, CPU usage (more operations), or both. Most likely, the adjoint solver will be the bottleneck in terms of memory usage, and users can read the Performance section to get some estimates. As a result, users will have bit of room to improve the linear solver used with the NK solver, as the default memory usage will be less than the adjoint solver.

One way to improve the preconditioner is setting a higher value for NKPCILUFill. This option will increase the fill level of the ILU preconditioner, at the cost of more memory, and more computations per iteration. The option NKASMOverlap can be increased to increase the overlap between parallel subdomains, at the cost of more communication and memory costs. This option can be useful if very large number of processors are used, and the linear solver is failing due to the aggressive domain decomposition. The users can increase NKOuterPreconIts and NKInnerPreconIts values to perform more iterations with the global and local preconditioners within the NK solver. These options improve the preconditioner strength at no memory cost, however, each iteration will require more computations. All the options mentioned so far should be handled with care, as small changes in the parameter tuning will cause large changes in the resulting linear solver. Users should avoid going past a value of 3-4 for all the parameters mentioned in this paragraph so far. Finally, the users can increase the subpsace size used for the GMRES solver by modifying NKSubspaceSize. The default subspace size is set to 60, and increasing this value will require more memory, along with increasingly more computational effort since each iteration of the GMRES solver uses an orthogonalization with respect to the previous vectors.

By default, the preconditioner used with the NK solver is lagged by 20 nonlinear iterations. This value can be set with modifying NKJacobianLag. If the solver is performing well in the first nonlinear iteration, however if linear solver performance degrades after a few iterations, users may benefit from reducing this number. However, forming and factorizing these preconditioners are expensive, therefore some lag is usually recommended.

The basis matrix for the preconditioner is an approximate Jacobian that is fully formed by using finite-differences and an efficient coloring algorithm. However, the finite-difference calculations might be inaccurate, resulting in a preconditioner that is unable to improve the linear solver performance even with a very strong tuning. In these cases, users can try setting the NKADPC option to True, which will default the solver to using forward mode algorithmic differentiation to calculate the basis matrix for the preconditioner. This will result in the code obtaining analytical partial derivatives in the approximate Jacobian matrix, however cost of forming each preconditioner will increase considerably.


There are three main modes of failure of the NK solver. Here, we will address how each failure mode can be avoided. However, in most cases, the users can simply reduce the NK switch tolerance, and converge further with the ANK solver. The problems may persist even with the ANK solver, however because it has more tunable parameters, it is more likely to fix the problems using ANK rather than NK. Furthermore, these failure modes will occur in coupled manners, and this makes troubleshooting more difficult with the NK solver.

Failed Linear Solutions

The linear solver may fail to achieve the prescribed tolerance with the NK solver. Because the target linear convergence tolerance is varied using the EW algorithm, diagnosing failed linear solutions is usually not straightforward. To determine if the linear solver failed in a nonlinear iteration, the users can check the number of linear iterations within that nonlinear iteration. This can be calculated by looking at the difference in the total iteration number between the current and previous iterations. If this value has reached the upper limit set by NKSubspaceSize, then the linear solver possibly failed to reach the prescribed tolerance. The default subspace size is 60, and we use the GMRES algorithm in the NK solver without restarts. The users should note that due to the line search algorithm after the linear solution, the reported total iteration change might be greater than 60. This is due to ADflow counting each line search iteration as a linear iteration, because the costs are similar (i.e. approximately one residual evaluation).

Very Small Step Sizes

This is a very common failure mode with the NK solver, where the solver practically cannot take any meaningful step. This prevents any progress, as the changes to the state vector become very small with small step sizes. The ideal way to avoid this problem is to reduce the NK switch tolerance and try again. This problem occurs if the NK solver is initiated before the transients has settled in the domain, or the flow and turbulence residual norms are not scaled properly. The ANK solver can handle both of these cases better, and therefore it is the recommended solution. However, users can relax line search criteria by setting the NKLS option to 'non-monotone', or can even completely disable the line search by picking 'none'. This is not advised as it will usually cause the solver to either diverge, or get NaNs in the solution vector. Even if this method works, it will usually be slower than converging a few orders of magnitude more with the ANK solver and trying the NK solver again.

EW Algorithm Stalling

In some cases, the EW algorithm might consistently pick very large linear convergence tolerances, and this will prevent the NK solver to achieve its full potential. This will happen due to the nonlinear convergence between nonlinear iterations being unsatisfactory. This outcome itself can occur due to different reasons, therefore it is easier to go back to the ANK solver and try to switch to the NK solver at a later point. If users just want to prescribe a constant linear convergence for each nonlinear NK iteration, they can set NKUseEW to False, and use the option NKLinearSolveTol to prescribe the new linear convergence target. However, this approach may introduce unnecessary costs in the solver algorithm, as the lack of nonlinear convergence might be caused by small step sizes, but the solver will repeatedly try to solve linear systems to tight tolerances until the maximum iteration limit is reached.