I'm trying to determine whether any solutions exist to a system of $(n+1)$ polynomial equations in $n$ unknowns. For example: $$ \begin{align*} xy&=-2\\ x^2-1&=0\\ y^3-3y^2+2y&=0 \end{align*} $$ This is an accurate simplification of my actual system in that the first equation contains mixed terms with all variables represented and the remaining $n$ equations are univariate, and that the maximum degree of any term (say, $D$) is in the low single digits. The actual system is very large ($n$ is $10^3$ to $10^4$), but with similar $D$. It also typically has many terms in the first equation.

In this example, the system is in fact consistent ($x=-1; y=2$). Were the first equation altered, however, to $xy=-3$, the system would be inconsistent. My naive approach is to find the solutions to the last $n$ equations (here $x\in\{-1,1\},y\in\{0,1,2\}$) and try all combinations thereof until one satisfies the first equation or I exhaust the combinations, but this requires roughly $D^n$ checks, which isn't feasible for large systems. It's also not necessary to find a solution, just prove whether one exists.

I've spent some time looking for appropriate algorithms, and I'll summarise my current understanding. I don't have a very strong background in this kind of math, so please correct any misconceptions I have here.

  • As per Wikipedia, consistency can be checked via computation of the Grobner basis. It seems like I would need to know a priori the order $y>x$ to compute the basis, which I do not. Also, one of the papers I read on the topic seems to indicate that this method gets exponentially slower with increasing $n$.

  • There is a numerical method called `homotopy continuation' for finding solutions given a similar set of equations with known solutions, but since the number of solutions is unknown (which is the point after all) I couldn't see how/if I could apply it. It involves varying a parameter $t$ from 0 to 1 and formulating the equations such that at $t=0$ you recover the known case and at $t=1$ you recover the desired case, using Newton's method. My attempt failed because it is possible that no solutions exist for some intermediate $t$ even though the system is consistent at both $t=0$ and $t=1$.

  • It is possible to state the equations as rational functions in a single variable using a technique called `rational univariate representation'. I don't properly understand how to get this representation of the system other than by trial and error, although I do understand how it would allow me to determine the consistency of the system if I did find it.

I believe that due to the form of the system, I won't ever have infinite solutions, but I may have more than one.

I can accept having to use methods that are exponential in $D$ due to it never getting large, but not in $n$. If a suitable algorithm to check consistency relies upon the assumption of integer solutions, I would consider that an acceptable drawback. Can any of the above methods serve, or how else might I go about this? Thank you very much for your patience in reading this, and for any assistance you can provide.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The Groebener basis "ordering" has nothing to do with the ordering of the numeric values of the variables. It is just an ordering of the variables used by the algorithm. The algorithm works with any ordering. I am not very familiar with the details but depending on the problem, some orderings might be better than others. $\endgroup$
    – Ted
    Dec 24, 2012 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ You are giving a bit of an impression that you want only integer solutions. $\endgroup$
    – Will Jagy
    Dec 24, 2012 at 3:04
  • $\begingroup$ Ted, thanks for the clarification. $\endgroup$
    – Aoeuid
    Dec 24, 2012 at 4:48
  • $\begingroup$ Will, I didn't mean to give that impression; it just simplified the example. The construction of the univariate polynomials specifies whether the solutions are integers or not. That said, if an algorithm relies on the assumption of integer solutions, it would be sufficiently usable. I'll edit the question to reflect that- thanks for being so perceptive. $\endgroup$
    – Aoeuid
    Dec 24, 2012 at 5:11

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure you can hope for a fast algorithm in general. Suppose the first equation has the form


where $a_1,a_2,\ldots,a_n$ are positive integers, and the other $n$ equations are all of the form


Then what you're checking for is solutions of the partition problem for the set $S=\{a_1,a_2,\ldots,a_n\}$, which is NP-complete (although the Wikipedia article indicates it's an "easy" hard problem that can often be solved in practice via dynamic programming).


It is very easy to check whether a system of polynomial equation is consistent or not. All you have to do is calculate the grobner basis for the system. If the Grobner basis is $(1)$, then the system is inconsistent, otherwise not. Mathematica can easily calculate grobner basis for any system of polymonial equations. And for checking consistency, the monomial ordering won't matter at all.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, Mohan. Not having access to Mathematica this week, I used CoCoA to perform this computation. Unfortunately, while for the example system it worked fast, a trial system with $n=10$ took hours to compute. It is my understanding that the time to compute a Grobner basis grows exponentially or doubly-exponentially in the size of the system. $\endgroup$
    – Aoeuid
    Dec 27, 2012 at 16:32

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