Getting FreeFem++ to display impressive visuals under Linux.

One of my Computing habits is, to acquire many frameworks, for performing Scientific or Analytical Computing, even though, in all honesty, I have little practical use for them, most of the time. They are usually of some Academic curiosity to me.

Some of the examples familiar to me are, ‘wxMaxima‘ (which can also be installed under Linux, directly from the package manager), ‘Euler Math Toolbox‘ (which, under Linux, is best run using Wine), and ‘SageMath‘ (which IMHO, is best installed under Linux, as a lengthy collection of packages, from the standard repositories, using the package manager, that include certain ‘Jupyter’ packages). In addition to that, I’d say that ‘Python‘ can also be a bit of a numerical toolbox, beyond what most programming languages can be, such as C++, yet, a programming language primarily, which under Linux, is best installed as a lengthy collection of packages through the package manager. And a single important reason is the fact that a Python script can perform arbitrary-precision integer arithmetic natively, and, with a small package named ‘python3-gmpy2′, can also perform arbitrary-precision floating-point arithmetic easily. If a Linux user wanted to do the same, using C, he or she would need to learn the library ‘GMP’ first, and that’s not an easy library to use. Also, there exists IPython, although I don’t know how to use that well. AFAICT, this consists mainly of an alternative shell, for interacting with Python, which makes it available through the Web-interface called “Jupyter”. Under Debian Linux, it is best installed as the packages ‘ipython3′, ‘python3-ipython-genutils’, ‘python3-ipykernel’, ‘python3-nbconvert’, and ‘python3-notebook’, although simply installing those packages, does not provide a truly complete installation… Just as one would want a ‘regular’ Python installation to have many additional packages, one would want ‘IPython’ to benefit from many additional packages as well.

But then, that previous paragraph also touches on an important issue. Each Scientific Computing platform I learn, represents yet-another scripting language I’d need to learn, and if I had to learn 50 scripting languages, ultimately, my brain capacity would become diluted, so that I’d master none of them. So, too much of a good thing can actually become a bad thing.

As a counter-balance to that, it can attract me to a given Scientific Computing platform, if it can be made to output good graphics. And, another Math platform which can, is called “FreeFem“. What is it? It’s a platform for solving Partial Differential Equations. Those equations need to be distinguished from simple derivatives, in that they are generally equations, in which a derivative of a variable is being stated on one side (the “left, bilinear side”), but in which a non-derivative function of the same variable is being stated on the other (the “right side”). What this does, is to make the equation a kind of recursive problem, the complexity of which really exceeds that of simple integrals. (:2)  Partial Differential Equations, or ‘PDE’s, are to multi-variable Calculus, as Ordinary Differential Equations, or ‘ODE’s, are to single-variable Calculus. Their being “partial” derives from their derivatives being “partial derivatives”.

In truth, Calculus at any level should first be studied at a University, before computers should be used as a simplified way of solving its equations.

FreeFem is a computing package, that solves PDEs using the “Finite Element Method”. This is a fancy way of saying, that the software foregoes finding an exact analytical solution-set, instead providing an approximation, in return for which, it will guarantee some sort of solution, in situations, where an exact, analytical solution-set could not even be found. There are several good applications. (:1)

But I just found myself following a false idea tonight. In search of getting FreeFem to output its results graphically, instead of just running in text mode, I next wasted a lot of my time, custom-compiling FreeFem, with linkage to my many libraries. In truth, such custom-compilation is only useful under Linux, if the results are also going to be installed to the root file-system, where the libraries of the custom-compile are also going to be linked to at run-time. Otherwise, a lot of similar custom-compiled software simply won’t run.

What needs to be understood about FreeFem++ – the executable and not the libraries – is, that it’s a compiler. It’s not an application with a GUI, from which features could be explored and evoked. And this means that a script, which FreeFem can execute, is written much like a C++ program, except that it has no ‘main()‘ function, and isn’t entirely procedural in its semantics.

And, all that a FreeFem++ script needs, to produce a good 2D plot, is the use of the ‘plot()‘ function! The example below shows what I mean:

 

Screenshot_20210708_232521

 

I was able to use an IDE, which I’d normally use to write my C++ programs, and which is named “Geany”, to produce this – admittedly, plagiarized – visual. The only thing I needed to change in my GUI was, the command that should be used, to execute the program, without compiling it first. I simply changed that command to ‘FreeFem++ "./%f"‘.

Of course, if the reader wants in-depth documentation on how to use this – additional – scripting language, then This would be a good link to find that at, provided by the developers of FreeFem themselves. Such in-depth information will be needed, before FreeFem will solve any PDEs which may come up within the course of the reader’s life.

But, what is not really needed would be, to compile FreeFem with support for many back-ends, or to display itself as a GUI-based application. In fact, the standard Debian version was compiled by its package maintainers, to have as few dependencies as possible (‘X11′), and thus, only to offer a minimal back-end.

(Updated 7/14/2021, 21h45… )

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