- A solution exists
- The solution is unique
- The solution's behavior hardly changes when there's a slight change in the initial condition (topology).
Examples of archetypal well-posed problems include the Dirichlet problem for Laplace's equation, and the heat equation with specified initial conditions. These might be regarded as 'natural' problems in that there are physical processes that solve these problems. By contrast the inverse heat equation, deducing a previous distribution of temperature from final data is not well-posed in that the solution is highly sensitive to changes in the final data. Problems that are not well-posed in the sense of Hadamard are termed ill-posed. Inverse problems are often ill-posed.
Such continuum problems must often be discretized in order to obtain a numerical solution. While in terms of functional analysis such problems are typically continuous, they may suffer from numerical instability when solved with finite precision, or with errors in the data. Even if a problem is well-posed, it may still be ill-conditioned, meaning that a small error in the initial data can result in much larger errors in the answers. An ill-conditioned problem is indicated by a large condition number.
If the problem is well-posed, then it stands a good chance of solution on a computer using a stable algorithm. If it is not well-posed, it needs to be re-formulated for numerical treatment. Typically this involves including additional assumptions, such as smoothness of solution. This process is known as regularization. Tikhonov regularization is one of the most commonly used for regularization of linear ill-posed problems.
- Hadamard, Jacques (1902). "Sur les problèmes aux dérivées partielles et leur signification physique". Princeton University Bulletin. pp. 49–52.
- Parker, Sybil B., ed. (1989) . McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-045270-9.
- Tikhonov, A. N.; Arsenin, V. Y. (1977). Solutions of Ill-Posed Problems. New York: Winston. ISBN 0-470-99124-0.