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This strategy of inexact line search works well in practice, as well as it has the following geometric interpretation:

Sufficient decrease

Let’s consider the following scalar function while being at a specific point of \(x_k\):

\[\phi(\alpha) = f(x_k - \alpha\nabla f(x_k)), \alpha \geq 0\]

consider first order approximation of \(\phi(\alpha)\):

\[\phi(\alpha) \approx f(x_k) - \alpha\nabla f(x_k)^\top \nabla f(x_k)\]

A popular inexact line search condition stipulates that \(\alpha\) should first of all give sufficient decrease in the objective function \(f\), as measured by the following inequality:

\[f(x_k - \alpha \nabla f (x_k)) \leq f(x_k) - c_1 \cdot \alpha\nabla f(x_k)^\top \nabla f(x_k)\]

for some constant \(c_1 \in (0,1)\). (Note, that \(c_1 = 1\) stands for the first order Taylor approximation of \(\phi(\alpha)\)). This is also called Armijo condition. The problem of this condition is, that it could accept arbitrary small values \(\alpha\), which may slow down solution of the problem. In practice, \(c_1\) is chosen to be quite small, say \(c_1 \approx 10^{−4}\).

Curvature condition

To rule out unacceptably short steps one can introduce a second requirement:

\[-\nabla f (x_k - \alpha \nabla f(x_k))^\top \nabla f(x_k) \geq c_2 \nabla f(x_k)^\top(- \nabla f(x_k))\]

for some constant \(c_2 \in (c_1,1)\), where \(c_1\) is a constant from Armijo condition. Note that the left-handside is simply the derivative \(\nabla_\alpha \phi(\alpha)\), so the curvature condition ensures that the slope of \(\phi(\alpha)\) at the target point is greater than \(c_2\) times the initial slope \(\nabla_\alpha \phi(\alpha)(0)\). Typical values of \(c_2 \approx 0.9\) for Newton or quasi-Newton method. The sufficient decrease and curvature conditions are known collectively as the Wolfe conditions.

Goldstein conditions

Let’s consider also 2 linear scalar functions \(\phi_1(\alpha), \phi_2(\alpha)\):

\[\phi_1(\alpha) = f(x_k) - c_1 \alpha \|\nabla f(x_k)\|^2\]


\[\phi_2(\alpha) = f(x_k) - c_2 \alpha \|\nabla f(x_k)\|^2\]

Note, that Goldstein-Armijo conditions determine the location of the function \(\phi(\alpha)\) between \(\phi_1(\alpha)\) and \(\phi_2(\alpha)\). Typically, we choose \(c_1 = \rho\) and \(c_2 = 1 - \rho\), while \(\rho \in (0.5, 1)\).