Could someone please provide a proof for the following rule:

$$\nabla\|x\|_2^2 = 2x$$

I.E. why is the gradient of the $L_2$ norm square of $x$ equal to $2x$?



Use the definition. If $$f(x)=\|x\|^2_2= \left(\left(\sum_{k=1}^n x_k^2 \right)^{1/2}\right)^{2}=\sum_{k=1}^n x_k^2 ,$$ then $$\frac{\partial}{\partial x_j}f(x) =\frac{\partial}{\partial x_j}\sum_{k=1}^n x_k^2=\sum_{k=1}^n \underbrace{\frac{\partial}{\partial x_j}x_k^2}_{\substack{=0, \ \text{ if } j \neq k,\\=2x_j, \ \text{ else }}}= 2x_j.$$ It follows that $$\nabla f(x) = 2x.$$

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. One follow up question, does this still hold if x is complex? $\endgroup$ – user167133 Jul 30 '14 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't the L2 norm defined as: $$f(x)=\|x\|^2_2= \left(\left(\sum_{k=1}^n |x_k|^2 \right)^{1/2}\right)^{2}=\sum_{k=1}^n |x_k|^2$$, there is an absolute value sign surrounding $x_k$, so when you take the derivative what should pop out is $2|x_j|$ not just $2x_j$, correct me if I am wrong $\endgroup$ – Carlos - the Mongoose - Danger Oct 23 '15 at 17:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Lookbehindyou well |t|^2 = t^2 for any $t\in\Bbb R$. Moreover, note that $\frac{d}{t}|t|^2 = 2|t|\operatorname{sign}(t)=2t$, where $\operatorname{sign}$ is the sign function $\endgroup$ – Surb Feb 29 '16 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ Could you please explain what happened to the sigma in the last step? $\endgroup$ – Gigili Aug 16 '16 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Gigili: If $k\neq j$, then $\frac{\partial }{\partial x_j}x_k^2=0$. Then, $$\sum_{k=1}^n\frac{\partial }{\partial x_j}x_k^2=0+...+0+2x_j+0+...+0=2x_j.$$ $\endgroup$ – Surb Aug 16 '16 at 12:44

Another approach that extends to more general settings is to use the connection between the norm and the inner product, $$\|x\|^2 = (x,x).$$

We have the finite difference, \begin{align} \|x+sh\|^2 - \|x\|^2 &= (x+sh,x+sh) - (x,x) \\ &= (x,x) + 2s(x,h) + s^2(h,h) - (x,x) \\ &= 2s(x,h) + s^2(h,h). \end{align}

The gradient acting in the direction $h$ is the limit of this finite difference as the stepsize goes to zero, \begin{align} (\nabla\|x\|^2, h) &:= \lim_{s \rightarrow 0} \frac{1}{s}\left[\|x+sh\|^2 - \|x\|^2\right] \\ &= \lim_{s \rightarrow 0} \frac{1}{s}\left[2s(x,h) + s^2(h,h)\right] \\ &= (2x,h). \end{align} Since this holds for any direction $h$, the gradient must be $\nabla \|x\|^2 = 2x$.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.