Definite Integral

A definite integral is an integral


with upper and lower limits. If x is restricted to lie on the real line, the definite integral is known as a Riemann integral (which is the usual definition encountered in elementary textbooks). However, a general definite integral is taken in the complex plane, resulting in the contour integral


with a, b, and z in general being complex numbers and the path of integration from a to b known as a contour.

The first fundamental theorem of calculus allows definite integrals to be computed in terms of indefinite integrals, since if F is the indefinite integral for a continuous function f(x), then


This result, while taught early in elementary calculus courses, is actually a very deep result connecting the purely algebraic indefinite integral and the purely analytic (or geometric) definite integral. Definite integrals may be evaluated in the Wolfram Language using Integrate[f, {x, a, b}].

The question of which definite integrals can be expressed in terms of elementary functions is not susceptible to any established theory. In fact, the problem belongs to transcendence theory, which appears to be "infinitely hard." For example, there are definite integrals that are equal to the Euler-Mascheroni constant gamma. However, the problem of deciding whether gamma can be expressed in terms of the values at rational values of elementary functions involves the decision as to whether gamma is rational or algebraic, which is not known.

Integration rules of definite integration include




For c in (a,b),


If g^' is continuous on [a,b] and f is continuous and has an antiderivative on an interval containing the values of g(x) for a<=x<=b, then


Watson's triple integrals are examples of (very) challenging multiple integrals. Other challenging integrals include Ahmed's integral and Abel's integral.

Definite integration for general input is a tricky problem for computer mathematics packages, and some care is needed in their application to definite integrals. Consider the definite integral of the form


which can be done trivially by taking advantage of the trigonometric identity


Letting z=(tanx)^a,


Many computer mathematics packages, however, are able to compute this integral only for specific values of a, or not at all. Another example that is difficult for computer software packages is


which is nontrivially equal to 0.

Some definite integrals, the first two of which are due to Bailey and Plouffe (1997) and the third of which is due to Guénard and Lemberg (2001), which were identified by Borwein and Bailey (2003, p. 61) and Bailey et al. (2007, p. 62) to be "technically correct" but "not useful" as computed by Mathematica Version 4.2 are reproduced below. More recent versions of Wolfram Language return them directly in the same simple form given by Borwein and Bailey without even the need for additional simplification:


(OEIS A091474, A091475, and A091476), where K is Catalan's constant. A fourth integral proposed by a challenge is also trivially computable in modern versions of the Wolfram Language,


(OEIS A091477), where zeta(3) is Apéry's constant.

A pretty definite integral due to L. Glasser and O. Oloa (L. Glasser, pers. comm., Jan. 6, 2007) is given by


(OEIS A127196), where gamma is the Euler-Mascheroni constant. This integral (in the form considered originally by Oloa) is the n=1 case of the class of integrals


previously studied by Glasser. The closed form given above was independently found by Glasser and Oloa (L. Glasser, pers. comm., Feb. 2, 2010; O. Oloa, pers. comm., Feb. 2, 2010), and proofs of the result were subsequently published by Glasser and Manna (2008) and Oloa (2008). Generalizations of this integral have subsequently been studied by Oloa and others; see also Bailey and Borwein (2008).

An interesting class of integrals is


which have the special values


(Bailey et al. 2007, pp. 42 and 60).

An amazing integral determined empirically is




(Bailey et al. 2007, p. 61).

A complicated-looking definite integral of a rational function with a simple solution is given by


(Bailey et al. 2007, p. 258).

Another challenging integral is that for the volume of the Reuleaux tetrahedron,


(OEIS A102888; Weisstein).

Integrands that look alike could provide very different results, as illustrated by the beautiful pair


due to V. Adamchik (OEIS A115287; Moll 2006; typo corrected), where W(1) is the omega constant and W(z) is the Lambert W-function. These can be computed using contour integration.

Computer mathematics packages also often return results much more complicated than necessary. An example of this type is provided by the integral


for alpha in R and |alpha|>1 which follows from a simple application of the Leibniz integral rule (Woods 1926, pp. 143-144).

There are a wide range of methods available for numerical integration. Good sources for such techniques include Press et al. (1992) and Hildebrand (1956). The most straightforward numerical integration technique uses the Newton-Cotes formulas (also called quadrature formulas), which approximate a function tabulated at a sequence of regularly spaced intervals by various degree polynomials. If the endpoints are tabulated, then the 2- and 3-point formulas are called the trapezoidal rule and Simpson's rule, respectively. The 5-point formula is called Boole's rule. A generalization of the trapezoidal rule is romberg integration, which can yield accurate results for many fewer function evaluations.

If the analytic form of a function is known (instead of its values merely being tabulated at a fixed number of points), the best numerical method of integration is called Gaussian quadrature. By picking the optimal abscissas at which to compute the function, Gaussian quadrature produces the most accurate approximations possible. However, given the speed of modern computers, the additional complication of the Gaussian quadrature formalism often makes it less desirable than the brute-force method of simply repeatedly calculating twice as many points on a regular grid until convergence is obtained. An excellent reference for Gaussian quadrature is Hildebrand (1956).

The June 2, 1996 comic strip FoxTrot by Bill Amend (Amend 1998, p. 19; Mitchell 2006/2007) featured the following definite integral as a "hard" exam problem intended for a remedial math class but accidentally handed out to the normal class:


The integral corresponds to integration over a spherical cone with opening angle pi/2 and radius 4. However, it is not clear what the integrand physically represents (it resembles computation of a moment of inertia, but that would give a factor (rhosinphi)^2 rather than the given rhocosphi).

FoxTrot by Bill Amend, June 2, 1996 strip. Reproduced with permission of the author.

See also

Abel's Integral, Ahmed's Integral, Calculus, Contour Integral, Fubini Theorem, Fundamental Theorems of Calculus, Improper Integral, Indefinite Integral, Infinite Cosine Product Integral, Integral, Inverse Erf, Log Gamma Function, Numerical Integration, Repeated Integral, Riemann Integral, Vardi's Integral Explore this topic in the MathWorld classroom

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Amend, B. Camp FoxTrot. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel, p. 19, 1998.Bailey, D. and Borwein, J. "Computer-Assisted Discovery and Proof." Tapas in Experimental Mathematics (Ed. T. Amdeberhan and V. H. Moll). Providence, RI: Amer. Math. Soc., pp. 21-52, 2008.Bailey, D. H.; Borwein, J. M.; Calkin, N. J.; Girgensohn, R.; Luke, D. R.; and Moll, V. H. Experimental Mathematics in Action. Wellesley, MA: A K Peters, 2007.Bailey, D. and Plouffe, S. "Recognizing Numerical Constants." Organic Mathematics. Proceedings of the Workshop Held in Burnaby, BC, December 12-14, 1995 (Ed. J. Borwein, P. Borwein, L. Jörgenson, and R. Corless). Providence, RI: Amer. Math. Soc., pp. 73-88, 1997., G. and Moll, V. Irresistible Integrals: Symbolics, Analysis and Experiments in the Evaluation of Integrals. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2004.Borwein, J. and Bailey, D. Mathematics by Experiment: Plausible Reasoning in the 21st Century. Wellesley, MA: A K Peters, 2003.Borwein, J.; Bailey, D.; and Girgensohn, R. Experimentation in Mathematics: Computational Paths to Discovery. Wellesley, MA: A K Peters, 2004.Glasser, M. L. and Manna, D. "On the Laplace Transform of the Psi Function." In Tapas in Experimental Mathematics (Ed. T. Amdeberhan and V. H. Moll). Providence, RI: Amer. Math. Soc., pp. 205-214, 2008.Guénard, F. and Lemberg, H. La méthode expérimentale en mathématiques. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer-Verlag, 2001.Hildebrand, F. B. Introduction to Numerical Analysis. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 319-323, 1956.Mitchell, C. W. Jr. In "Media Clips" (Ed. M. Cibes and J. Greenwood). Math. Teacher 100, 339, Dec. 2006/Jan. 2007.Moll, V. H. "Some Questions in the Evaluation of Definite Integrals." MAA Short Course, San Antonio, TX. Jan. 2006., O. "Some Euler-Type Integrals and a New Rational Series for Euler's Constant." In Tapas in Experimental Mathematics (Ed. T. Amdeberhan and V. H. Moll). Providence, RI: Amer. Math. Soc., pp. 253-264, 2008.Press, W. H.; Flannery, B. P.; Teukolsky, S. A.; and Vetterling, W. T. "Integration of Functions." Ch. 4 in Numerical Recipes in FORTRAN: The Art of Scientific Computing, 2nd ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, pp. 123-158, 1992.Sloane, N. J. A. Sequences A091474, A091475, A091476, A091477, A102888, A115287, and A127196 in "The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences."Woods, F. S. Advanced Calculus: A Course Arranged with Special Reference to the Needs of Students of Applied Mathematics. Boston, MA: Ginn, 1926.

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Definite Integral

Cite this as:

Weisstein, Eric W. "Definite Integral." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource.

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