Carathéodory's existence theorem

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In mathematics, Carathéodory's existence theorem says that an ordinary differential equation has a solution under relatively mild conditions. It is a generalization of Peano's existence theorem. Peano's theorem requires that the right-hand side of the differential equation is continuous, while Carathéodory's theorem shows existence of solutions (in a more general sense) for some discontinuous equations. The theorem is named after Constantin Carathéodory.


Consider the differential equation

 y'(t) = f(t,y(t)) \,

with initial condition

 y(t_0) = y_0, \,

where the function ƒ is defined on a rectangular domain of the form

 R = \{ (t,y) \in \mathbf{R}\times\mathbf{R}^n \,:\, |t-t_0| \le a, |y-y_0| \le b \}.

Peano's existence theorem states that if ƒ is continuous, then the differential equation has at least one solution in a neighbourhood of the initial condition.[1]

However, it is also possible to consider differential equations with a discontinuous right-hand side, like the equation

 y'(t) = H(t), \quad y(0) = 0,

where H denotes the Heaviside function defined by

 H(t) = \begin{cases} 0, & \text{if } t \le 0; \\ 1, & \text{if } t > 0. \end{cases}

It makes sense to consider the ramp function

 y(t) = \int_0^t H(s) \,\mathrm{d}s = \begin{cases} 0, & \text{if } t \le 0; \\ t, & \text{if } t > 0 \end{cases}

as a solution of the differential equation. Strictly speaking though, it does not satisfy the differential equation at t=0, because the function is not differentiable there. This suggests that the idea of a solution be extended to allow for solutions that are not everywhere differentiable, thus motivating the following definition.

A function y is called a solution in the extended sense of the differential equation y' = f(t,y) with initial condition y(t_0)=y_0 if y is absolutely continuous, y satisfies the differential equation almost everywhere and y satisfies the initial condition.[2] The absolute continuity of y implies that its derivative exists almost everywhere.[3]

Statement of the theorem[edit]

Consider the differential equation

 y'(t) = f(t,y(t)), \quad y(t_0) = y_0, \,

with f defined on the rectangular domain  R=\{(t,y) \, | \, |t - t_0 | \leq a,  |y - y_0| \leq b\} . If the function f satisfies the following three conditions:

then the differential equation has a solution in the extended sense in a neighborhood of the initial condition.[4]


  1. ^ Coddington & Levinson (1955), Theorem 1.2 of Chapter 1
  2. ^ Coddington & Levinson (1955), page 42
  3. ^ Rudin (1987), Theorem 7.18
  4. ^ Coddington & Levinson (1955), Theorem 1.1 of Chapter 2