Description of the different parts of the library

gmm library


Gmm++ is a linear algebra library which was originally designed to make an interface between the need in linear algebra procedures of GetFEM++ and existing free linear algebra libraries (MTL, Superlu, Blas, Lapack originally). It rapidly evolves to an independent self-consistent library with its own vector and matrix types. It is now used as a base linear algebra library by several other projects (projet KDE, for instance).

However, it preserves the characteristic to be a potential interface for more specific packages. Any vector or matrix type having the minimum of compatibility can be used by generic algorithms of Gmm++ writing a linalg_traits structure.

A Gmm++ standalone version is distributed since release 1.5 of GetFEM++. It is however developed inside the GetFEM++ project even though since release 3.0 it is completely independent of any GetFEM++ file.

In addition to the linear algebra procedures, it furnishes also the following utilities to GetFEM++.

  • Fix some eventual compatibility problems in gmm_std.h.
  • Error, warning and trace management in gmm_except.h.
  • Some extended math definitions in gmm_def.h.


For the moment, Gmm++ cover the needs of GetFEM++ concerning the basic linear algebra procedures.


There is potentatialy several points to be improved in Gmm++ (partial introduction of expression template for some base types of matrix and vectors, reflection on the way to represent in a more coherent manner sparse sub-vectors and sub-matrices, introduction of C++ concepts, etc.). However, since Gmm++ globally cover the needs of GetFEM++ and since there exists some other project like Glas to build a reference C++ library for linear algebra, a global reflection seems not necessary for the moment. This part is considered to be stabilized.

The current vocation of Gmm++ is to continue to collect generic algorithms and interfaces to some other packages in order to cover new needs of the whole project. The library is now frequently used as a separate package and has also the vocation to collect the contribution of any person who propose some improvements, new algorithms or new interfaces.

MESH module


This part of the library has the role to store and manage the meshes, i.e. a collection of elements (real elements) connected to each other by some of their faces. For that, it develops concepts of elements, elements of reference, structure of meshes, collection of nodes, geometric transformations, subpart of the boundary or subzone of the mesh.

There is no really effective meshing capabilities available for the moment in GetFEM++. The meshes of complex objects must be imported from existing meshers such as Gmsh or GiD. Some importing functions of meshes have been written and can be easily extended for other formats.

The object which represents a mesh declared in the file getfem_mesh.h and which is used as a basis for handling of the meshes in GetFEM++ manages also the possibility for the structures depending on a mesh (see MESHFEM and MESHIM modules) to react to the evolution of the mesh (addition or removal of elements, etc.).


The main C++ header files are

  • bgeot_convex_structure.h

    Describes the structure of an element disregarding the coordinates of its vertices.

  • bgeot_mesh_structure.h

    Describes the structure of a mesh disregarding the coordinates of the nodes.

  • bgeot_node_tab.h

    A node container allowing the fast search of a node.

  • bgeot_convex.h

    Describes an element with its vertices.

  • bgeot_convex_ref.h

    Describe reference elements.

  • bgeot_mesh.h

    Describes a mesh with the collection of node (but without the description of geometric transformations).

  • bgeot_geometric_trans.h

    Describes geometric transformations.

  • bgeot_geotrans_inv.h

    A tool to invert geometric transformations.

  • getfem_mesh.h

    Fully describes a mesh (with the geometric transformations, subparts of the mesh, support for parallelization). Includes the Bank algorithm to refine a mesh.

  • getfem_mesher.h

    An attempt to develop a mesher. To be use with care.

A prototype of mesher is in the files getfem_mesher.h and which makes it possible to mesh geometries defined by some level sets. However, the continuation of the development of this mesher is not planned for the moment because the project GetFEM++ has vocation to focus on the finite element methods themselves.


For the moment, the module is split into two parts which lie into two different namespaces. Of course, It would be more coherent to gather the module in only one namespace (getfem).


The file bgeot_mesh.h could be renamed getfem_basic_mesh.h.

A possible work to do on this part would be to examine the manner of storing the meshes and possibly to make a bibliographical study on the manner of storing a mesh (for instance see [remacle2002]). It would be necessary to supplement documentation and to examine also the management of the events and the way in which the structures which depend on the mesh react to these events.

FEM module


The FEM module is the part of GetFEM++ which describes the finite elements at the element level and the degrees of freedom. Finite element methods can be of different types. They could be scalar or vectorial, polynomial, piecewise polynomial or non-polynomial, equivalent via the geometric transformation or not. Moreover, the description of the degrees of freedom have to be such that it is possible to gather the compatible degrees of freedom between two neighbor elements in a generic way (for instance connecting a Lagrange 2D element to another Lagrange 1D element).


The main files of the module are

  • getfem_fem.h

    Abstract definition of a finite element and a degree of freedom. Interface for the exported functions of and


    Definition of the polynomial finite elements and interface to get the descriptor on these elements (function pfem fem_descriptor(std::string name)).


    Definition of the piecewise polynomial finite elements.

The two files and mainly contains all the finite element description for basic elements. A exhaustive list of the defined finite elements is given in Appendix A. Finite element method list.

Some other files define some specific finite element such as getfem_fem_level_set.h which is a complex construction which allows to “cut” a existing element by one or several level sets (see the LEVELSET module).

The manner to describe the degrees of freedom globally satisfies the needing (connecting dof from an element to another in a generic way) but is a little bit obscure and too much complicated.

Conversely, the way to represent non-equivalent elements with the supplementary matrix M has proven its efficiency on several elements (Hermites elements, Argyris, etc.).


The principal dissatisfaction of this module is that description of the degrees of freedom is not completely satisfactory. It is the principal reason why one documentation on how to build an element from A to Z was not made for the moment because description of the degrees of freedom was conceived to be temporary. An effort of design is thus to be provided to completely stabilize this module mainly thus with regard to the description of degrees of freedom but also perhaps the description of finite elements which could be partially externalized in a similar way to the cubature methods , at least for the simplest finite elements (equivalent and polynomial finite elements).



The CUBATURE module gives access to the numerical integration methods on reference elements. In fact it does not only contain some cubature formulas because it also give access to some exact integration methods. However, the exact integration methods are only usable for polynomial element and affine geometric transformations. This explain why exact integration methods are not widely used. The description of cubature formulas is done either directly in the file getfem_integration.h or via a description file in the directory cubature of GetFEM++. The addition of new cubature formulas is then very simple, it suffices to reference the element on which it is defined and the list of Gauss points in a file and add it to this directory. Additionally, In order to integrate terms defined on a boundary of a domain, the description should also contains the reference to a method of same order on each face of the element.


This module meets the present needs for the project and is considered as stabilized. The list of available cubature formulas is given in Appendix B. Cubature method list.


No change needed for the moment. An effort could be done on the documentation to describe completely how to add a new cubature formula (format off descritption files).

MESHFEM module

to be done




Parallelisation of dof numbering to be done. An optimal (an simple) algorithm exits.


to be done




MESHIM module

to be done





to be done




The high-level generic assembly module in GetFEM++

Some implementation details of the high level generic assembly are descibed in this section.

to be continuated ...

A few implementation details

The assembly string is transformed in an assembly tree by a set of function in src/ The process has 4 steps:

  • Lexical analysis with the procedure ga_get_token.
  • Syntax analysis and transformation into a syntax tree by ga_read_string.
  • Semantic analysis, simplification (pre-computation) of constant expressions and enrichment of the tree.
  • Symbolic (automatic) differentiation.
  • Compilation in a sequence of instructions with optimization not to evaluate several time the same expression.
  • Execution of the sequence of instructions and assembly.

These steps are performed only once at the beginning of the assembly. The final tree is evaluated on each Gauss point of each element after compilation.

Predefined functions

Some predefined scalar functions are available in GetFEM++ generic assembly langage in order to describe a weak formulation (or also to make basic algebraic computations). This is limited to scalar functions of one or two arguments. Due to the automatic differentiation used to obtain the tangent system of described problems, the derivative each function have to be available. The principle retained is the following: For each predefined function is available:
  • A C++ function which computes the value given the argument(s).
  • The support of the function in the first each argument in term of a (possibly infinite) interval (this is for simplification of expressions).
  • The string corresponding of the derivative in terms of already known functions

A new predefined function is easy to add. See init_predefined_functions() in file src/ + describe how to give the derivative ...


to be done


to be done

The low-level generic assembly module in GetFEM++

to be done




BRICK module

to be done




Events management


The mesh, mesh_fem, mesh_im and model description are linkedtogether in the sense that there is some dependencies between them. For instance, when an element is suppressed to a mesh, the mesh_fem object has to react.


The main tool to deal with simple dependence of object is in getfem_context.h. An object context_dependencies is defined there. In order to deal with the dependencies of an object, the object context_dependencies needs to be a parent class of this object. It adds the following methods to the object:

Add an object (which has to have context_dependencies as a parent class) to the list of objects from which the current object depend.
Indicates to the dependent objects that something has change in the object.
Check if the object has to be updated. if it is the case it makes first a check to the dependency list and call the update function of the object. (the update function of the dependencies are called before the update function of the current object).
Says if the object has still a valid context, i.e. if the object in the dependency list still exist.

Moreover, the object has to define a method:

``void update_from_context(void) const``

which is called after a context_check() if the context has changed.

An additional system is present in the object mesh. Each individual element has a version number in order for the objects mesh_fem and mesh_im to detect which element has changed between two calls.


Some object do not manage satisfactorily events. This is the case for instance of mesh_level_set, mesh_fem_level_set, partial_mesh_fem, etc.

This is clear that the event management still have to be tested and improved to have a fully reactive system.

Python, Scilab and Matlab interfaces

A simplified interface of GetFEM++ is provided, so that it is possible to use getfem in other languages.


All sources are located in the interface/src directory. The interface is composed of one large library getfemint (which stands for getfem interaction), which acts as a layer above the GetFEM++ library, and is used by the python, matlab and scilab interfaces.

This interface is not something that is generated automatically from c++ sources (as that could be the case with tools such as swig). It is something that has been designed as a simplified and consistent interface to getfem. Adding a new language should be quite easy (assuming the language provides some structures for dense arrays manipulations).


Here is a list of the various files, with a short description:


    This is the bridge between the script language and the getfem interface. The function getfem_interface_main is exported as an extern "C" function, so this is a sort of c++ barrier between the script language and the getfem interface (exporting only a C interface avoids many compilation problems).

  • matlab/gfm_mex.c.

    The matlab interface. The only thing it knows about getfem is in getfem_interface.h.

  • python/getfem_python.c.

    The python interface. The only thing it knows about getfem is in getfem_interface.h.

  • gfi_array.h, gfi_array.c.

    Both gfm_mex.c and getfem_python.c need a simple convention on how to send and receive arrays, and object handles, from getfem_interface_main(). This file provide such functionnality.

  • getfemint_object.h.

    Not all getfem objects are exported, only a selected subset, mostly mesh, mesh_im, mesh_fem, slice, brick, etc. They are all wrapped in a common interface, which is getfemint::getfem_object.

  • getfemint_mesh.h, getfemint_mesh_fem.h, etc.

    All the wrapped GetFEM++ objects. Some of them are quite complicated (getfemint_gsparse which export some kind of mutable sparse matrix that can switch between different storage types, and real of complex elements).


    Memory management for getfem objects. There is a layer in getfemint::getfem_object which handles the dependency between for example a getfemint_mesh and a getfemint_mesh_fem. It makes sure that no object will be destroyed while there is still another getfem_object using it. The goal is to make sure that under no circumstances the user is able to crash getfem (and the host program, matlab, scilab or python) by passing incorrect argument to the getfem interface.

    It also provides a kind of workspace stack, which was designed to simplify handling and cleaning of many getfem objects in matlab (since matlab does not have “object destructors”).

  • getfemint.h,

    Define the mexarg_in, mexarg_out classes, which are used to parse the list of input and output arguments to the getfem interface functions. The name is not adequate anymore since any reference to “mex” has been moved into gfm_mex.c.

  •,,,, etc.

    All the functions exported be the getfem interfaces, sorted by object type (gf_mesh*, gf_mesh_fem*, gf_fem*), and then organized as one for the object construction (gf_mesh), one for the object modification (gf_mesh_set), and one for the object inquiry (gf_mesh_get). Each of these files contain one main function, that receives a mexargs_in and mexargs_out stack of arguments. It parses then, and usually interprets the first argument as the name of a subfunction (gf_mesh_get('nbpts') in matlab, or Mesh.nbpts() in python).

  • matlab/gfm_rpx_mexint.c.

    An alternative to gfm_mex.c which is used when the --enable-matlab-rpc is passed to the ./configure script. The main use for that is debugging the interface, since in that case, the matlab interface communicates via sockets with a “getfem_server” program, so it is possible to debug that server program, and identify memory leaks or anything else without having to mess with matlab (it is pain to debug).

  • python/

    The python interface is available as a “” file which is produced during compilation by the python script “bin/“.

Objects, methods and functions of the interface

The main concepts manipulated by the interface are a limited number of objects (Fem, Mesh, MeshFem, Model ...), the associated methods and some functions defined on these objects.

A special effort has been done to facilitate the addition of new objects, methods and functions to the interface without doing it separetaly for each partsupported script language (Python, Scilab, Matlab).

All the information needed to build the interface for the different objects, methods and functions is contained in the files interface/src/gf*.cc. A python script (bin/extract_doc) produces all the necessary files from the information it takes there. In particular, it produces the python file, the matlab m-files for the different functions and objects (including subdirectories) and it also produces the automatic documentations.

To make all the things work automatically, a certain number of rules have to be respected:

  • An object have to be defined by three files on the interface

    • : contains the constructors of the object
    • : contains the methods which only get some information about the object (if any).
    • : contains the methods which transform the object (if any).
  • A list of function is defined by only one file it contains a list of sub-comands.

  • For each file, the main commentary on the list of functions or methods is delimited by the tags ‘/@GFDOC’ and ‘@/’. For a file corresponding to the constructors of an object, the commentary should correspond to the description of the object.

  • Each non trivial file gf_*.cc contains a macro allowing to define the methods of the object or the sub-commands. In particular, this system allows to have a efficient search of the called method/function. This macro allows to declare a new method/function with the following syntax:

    /*@GET val = ('method-name', params, ...)
       Documention of the method/function.
    ("method-name", 0, 0, 0, 1,
      body of the method/function

    The first three line are a c++ commentary which describes the call of the method/function with a special syntax and also gives a description of the method/function which will be included in the documentations. The first line of this commentary is important since it will be analyzed to produce the right interface for Python, Matlab and Scilab.

    The syntax for the description of the call of a method/function is the following: After /*@ a special keyword should be present. It is either INIT, GET, SET, RDATTR or FUNC. The keyword INIT means that this is the description of a constructor of an object. RDATTR is for a short method allowing to get an attribut of an object. GET is for a method of an object which does not modify it. SET is for a method which modifies an object and FUNC is for the sub-command of a function list.

    If the method/function returns a value, then a name for the return value is given (which is arbitrary) followed by =.

    The parameters of the method/function are described. For a method, the object itself is not mentionned. The first parameter should be the method or sub-command name between single quotes (a speical case is when this name begins with a dot; this means that it corresponds to a method/function where the command name is not required).

    The other parameters, if any, should be declared with a type. Predefined types are the following:

    • @CELL : a cell array,
    • @imat : matrix of integers,
    • @ivec : vector of integers,
    • @cvec : vector of complex values,
    • @dcvec : vector of complex values,
    • @dvec : vector of real values,
    • @vec : vector of real or complex values,
    • @dmat : matrix of real values,
    • @mat : matrix of real or complex values,
    • @str : a string,
    • @int : an integer,
    • @bool : a boolean,
    • @real : a real value,
    • @scalar : a real or complex value,
    • @list : a list.

    Moreover, @tobj refers to an object defined by the interface. For instance, ou can refer to @tmesh, @tmesh_fem, @tfem, etc. There are some authorized abreviations:

    • @tcs for @tcont_struct
    • @tmf for @tmesh_fem
    • @tbrick for @tmdbrick
    • @tstate for @tmdstate
    • @tgt for @tgeotrans
    • @tgf for @tglobal_function
    • @tmo for @tmesher_object
    • @tmls for @tmesh_levelset
    • @tmim for @tmesh_im
    • @tls for @tlevelset
    • @tsl for @tslice
    • @tsp for @tspmat
    • @tpre for @tprecond

    Three dots at the end of the parameter list (...) mean that additional parameters are possible. Optional parameters can be described with brackets. For instance /*@SET v = ('name'[, @int i]). But be carreful how it is interpreted by the extract_doc script to build the python interface.

    The second to fifth parameters of the macro correspond respectively to the minimum number of input arguments, the maximum one, the minimum number of output arguments and the maximum number of output arguments. It is dynamically verified.

    Additional parameters for the function lists ....

    For unknown reasons, the body of the function cannot contain multiple declarations such as int a, b; (c++ believes that it is an additional parameter of the macro).

  • The parts of documentation included in the c++ commentaries should be in reStructuredText format. In particular, math formulas can be included with :math:`f(x) = 3x^2+2x+4` or with:

    .. math::
      f(x) = 3x^2+2x+4

    It is possible to refer to another method or function of the interface with the syntax INIT::OBJNAME('method-name', ...), GET::OBJNAME('method-name', ...), SET::OBJNAME('method-name', ...), FUNC::FUNCNAME('subcommand-name', ...). This will be replaced with the right syntax depending on the language (Matlab, Scilab or Python).

  • Still in the documentations, parts for a specific language can be added by @MATLAB{specific part ...}, @SCILAB{specific part ...} and @PYTHON{specific part ...}. If a method/sub-command is specific to an interface, it can be added, for instance for Matlab, replacing GET by MATLABGET, FUNC by MATLABFUNC, etc. If a specific code is needed for this additional function, it can be added with the tags /*@MATLABEXT, /*@SCILABEXT, /*@PYTHONEXT. See for instance the file

  • For Python and the Matlab object, if a SET method has the same name as a GET method, the SET method is prefixed by set_.

Adding a new function or object method to the getfem interface

If one want to add a new function gf_mesh_get(m, "foobar", .), then the main file to modify is Remember to check every argument passed to the function in order to make sure that the user cannot crash scilab, matlab or python when using that function. Use the macro defined in to add your function.

Do not forget to add documentation for that function: in, this is the documentation that appears in the matlab/scilab/python help files (that is when on type “help gf_mesh_get” at the matlab prompt), and in the getfem_python autogenerated documentation.

IMPORTANT. Note that the array indices start at 0 in Python and 1 in Matlab and Scilab. A specific function:


whose value is 0 in python and 1 in Matlab and Scilab has to be used to exchange indices and array of indices. Take care not to make the correction twice. Some Array of indices are automatically shifted.

Adding a new object to the getfem interface

In order to add a new object to the interface, you have to build the new corresponding sources, and Of course you can take the existing ones as a model.

A structure name getfemint_object_name has to be defined (see getfemint_mesh.h for instance). Moreover, for the management of the object, you have to declare the class in and getfemint.h and add the methods is_object(), to_const_object(), to_object() and to_getfemint_object(). You have to set its class_id in gfi_array.h (with respect to the alphabetic order of its name).

You have also to add the call of the interface function in and modifiy the file bin/extract_doc and run the configure file.

The methods get('char') and get('display') should be defined for each object. The first one should give a string allowing the object to be saved in a file and the second one is to give some information about the object. Additionnaly, a constructor from a string is necessary to load the object from a file.

For the Scilab interface the file sci_gateway/c/ has to be modified and the files in the directory macros/overload.


The interface grows in conjunction with GetFEM++. The objective is to interface the maximum of the GetFEM++ functionalities.