Polynomial expressions

This page describes how libcommute represent polynomial expressions built out of non-commuting quantum-mechanical operators and what features such expressions support.

Class definitions

template<typename ScalarType, typename ...IndexTypes>
class expression

Defined in <libcommute/expression/expression.hpp>

A polynomial expression, the main building block of libcommute’s DSL.

Expressions are finite ordered sums of monomials \(M^{(n)}_{i_1 i_2 \ldots i_n}\) accompanied by their respective coefficients \(C_{i_1 i_2 \ldots i_n}\),

\[E = C M^{(0)} + \sum_i C_i M^{(1)}_i + \sum_{ij} C_{ij} M^{(2)}_{ij} + \ldots\]

The monomials are in turn canonically ordered products of algebra generators (operators \(c^\dagger\)/\(c\), \(a^\dagger\)/\(a\), etc).

ScalarType is the type of coefficients \(C_{i_1 i_2 \ldots i_n}\). The most common choices of ScalarType are double for expressions with real coefficients and std::complex<double> for the complex expressions. There are two convenience type aliases in the libcommute::static_indices namespace for these particular scalar types, static_indices::expr_real and static_indices::expr_complex. Use of custom scalar types – subject to some requirements – is also allowed. See Section Custom scalar types for more details.

Indices \(i\), \(j\), etc in the definition above are compound indices with a fixed number of components. Types of the components are given by the template parameter pack IndexTypes. All index types must be less-comparable and form strictly ordered sets.

Example: Expression types
// Polynomial expressions with real coefficients. Monomials in 'expr1'
// and 'expr2' are products of operators with one integer index.
libcommute::expression<double, int> expr1;
libcommute::static_indices::expr_real<int> expr2;

// Polynomial expressions with complex coefficients. Monomials in 'expr3'
// and 'expr4' are products of operators with one integer
// and one string index.
libcommute::expression<std::complex<double>, int, std::string> expr3;
libcommute::static_indices::expr_complex<int, std::string> expr4;

Member type aliases

using scalar_type = ScalarType
using index_types = std::tuple<IndexTypes...>
using monomial_t = monomial<IndexTypes...>
using monomials_map_t = std::map<monomial_t, ScalarType>


expression() = default

Construct a trivial expression, i.e. an expression containing no monomials.

template<typename S>
expression(expression<S, IndexTypes...> const &x)

Construct a copy of an expression x with a different scalar type S by converting its coefficients to ScalarType.

template<typename S>
explicit expression(S const &x)

Construct a constant expression \(E = x M^{(0)}\).

template<typename S>
explicit expression(S const &x, monomial_t const &monomial)

Construct an expression made of exactly one monomial, \(E = x M^{(n)}_{i_1 i_2 \ldots i_n}\).

The constructors listed here have limited functionality. One is supposed to use the factory functions to build expressions most of the time.

Copy/move-constructors and assignments

expression(expression const&) = default
expression(expression&&) noexcept = default
expression &operator=(expression const&) = default
expression &operator=(expression&&) noexcept = default
template<typename S>
expression &operator=(expression<S, IndexTypes...> const &x)

Arithmetic operations

Two expression objects can be added, subtracted and multiplied as long as their IndexTypes agree and the corresponding arithmetic operation is defined for their scalar types. For example, it is possible to mix real and complex expressions as operands of +, - and *. The unary minus is defined for an expression type iff it is defined for expression’s scalar type. Another possibility is to mix expression objects with objects of other arbitrary types in binary operations. Object of the non-expression types are treated as constants, i.e. contributions to \(C M^{(0)}\).

The following table shows how result types of arithmetic operations are calculated.

Arithmetic operation

Result type

expression<S1, IT...>{} + expression<S2, IT...>{}

expression<decltype(S1{} + S2{}), IT...>

expression<S1, IT...>{} - expression<S2, IT...>{}

expression<decltype(S1{} - S2{}), IT...>

expression<S1, IT...>{} * expression<S2, IT...>{}

expression<decltype(S1{} * S2{}), IT...>

-expression<S, IT...>{}

expression<decltype(-S{}), IT...>

expression<S1, IT...>{} + S2{}

expression<decltype(S1{} + S2{}), IT...>

expression<S1, IT...>{} - S2{}

expression<decltype(S1{} - S2{}), IT...>

expression<S1, IT...>{} * S2{}

expression<decltype(S1{} * S2{}), IT...>

S1{} + expression<S2, IT...>{}

expression<decltype(S1{} + S2{}), IT...>

S1{} - expression<S2, IT...>{}

expression<decltype(S1{} - S2{}), IT...>

S1{} * expression<S2, IT...>{}

expression<decltype(S1{} * S2{}), IT...>

Compound assignments +=, -=, *= are available under the same scalar type compatibility conditions between LHS and RHS. If the RHS is of a non-expression type S, libcommute will attempt to select the optimized compound operator ScalarType::operator+=(S const &x) first (similarly for -=, *=). If it fails, ScalarType::operator+(S const &x) and the regular assignment will be called instead.

Iteration interface and transformations

class const_iterator

Constant bidirectional iterator over monomial-coefficient pairs \((M,C)\) in a polynomial expression. Given an iterator it, it->monomial returns a constant reference to the monomial object \(M\), and it->coeff is a constant reference to the respective coefficient \(C\).

const_iterator begin() const noexcept
const_iterator cbegin() const noexcept

Constant iterator to the first monomial-coefficient pair.

const_iterator end() const noexcept
const_iterator cend() const noexcept

Constant past-the-end iterator.

template<typename F, typename NewScalarType>
friend expression<NewScalarType, IndexTypes...> transform(expression const &expr, F &&f)

Apply functor f to each monomial-coefficient pair in expr. Return a new expression obtained by replacing coefficients in expr with respective values returned by f. The expected signature of f is

NewScalarType f(monomial_t const&, ScalarType const&)

The transformed scalar type NewScalarType is automatically deduced from f’s return type. When f returns a zero for a certain monomial, that monomial is excluded from the resulting expression.

Other methods and friend functions

std::map<monomial_t, ScalarType> const &get_monomials() const

Direct read-only access to the list of monomials.

std::size_t size() const

Number of monomials in this polynomial expression.

void clear()

Set expression to zero by removing all monomials.

friend bool operator==(expression const &e1, expression const &e2)

Check if e1 and e2 contain identical lists of monomials.

friend bool operator!=(expression const &e1, expression const &e2)

Check if e1 and e2 contain different lists of monomials.

friend expression conj(expression const &expr)

Return Hermitian conjugate of expr.

friend std::ostream &operator<<(std::ostream &os, expression const &expr)

Output stream insertion operator.

template<typename ...IndexTypes>
using static_indices::expr_real = expression<double, IndexTypes...>;

Declared in <libcommute/expression/expression.hpp>

Shorthand type for expressions with real coefficients and statically typed indices.

template<typename ...IndexTypes>
using static_indices::expr_complex = expression<std::complex<double>, IndexTypes...>;

Declared in <libcommute/expression/expression.hpp>

Shorthand type for expressions with complex coefficients and statically typed indices.

Custom scalar types

Choosing double or std::complex<double> as the scalar type of expressions covers the vast majority of practically important cases. Nonetheless, sometimes it may be desirable to go beyond and pass a user-defined type as ScalarType. For instance, one may want to use types from an arbitrary-precision arithmetic library to represent expansion coefficients of a quantum-mechanical operator. Another potential use - making coefficients depend on a parameter, such as time or an external field. The polynomial class from the Boost Math Toolkit or a similar type would allow to represent the functional dependence on the parameter while also implementing addition, subtraction and multiplication operations.

Mathematically speaking, instances of ScalarType are assumed to form a ring without a multiplicative identity (a.k.a. rng). More specifically, the set of ScalarType instances must be

  • An abelian group under addition (with binary operator+ and operator-). In particular, there must be a well-defined zero element.

  • A semigroup under multiplication (operator*).

  • Multiplication must be distributive with respect to addition.

Let us say we have a type S with the required algebraic properties. Before using it as a scalar type, we must define a specialization of structure scalar_traits in the namespace libcommute to teach libcommute how to deal with the new type.

namespace libcommute {

template<> struct scalar_traits<S> {

  // Test whether 's' is the zero element
  static bool is_zero(S const& s) { ... }

  // Make a constant of type 'S' from a double value 'x'
  static S make_const(double x) { ... }

  // OPTIONAL: Complex conjugate of 's'
  static S conj(S const& s) { ... }


The static member scalar_traits<S>::conj() is optional and will only be called by the Hermitian conjugation function conj().


For the built-in floating-point types, the zero-value test method is implemented as

static bool is_zero(S const& s) {
  return std::abs(s) < 100 * std::numeric_limits<S>::epsilon();

One can adjust the test and change the constant 100 to something else by defining a special macro LIBCOMMUTE_FLOATING_POINT_TOL_EPS.

[C++17] Dynamically typed index sequences

On the most basic level, index sequences of all generators found in a single expression must agree in types with the IndexTypes template parameter pack. In many situations, however, it is more natural to have generators with different numbers/types of indices mixed in one expression. This is where the dynamically typed index sequences step in. They are instantiations of the dyn_indices_generic class template defined in a special nested namespace libcommute::dynamic_indices.

template<typename ...IndexTypes>
class dynamic_indices::dyn_indices_generic

A wrapper around std::vector<std::variant<IndexTypes...>>.

using indices_t = std::vector<std::variant<IndexTypes...>>

Underlying dynamically typed sequence of indices.

dyn_indices_generic() = default

Construct an empty index sequence.

dyn_indices_generic(indices_t &&indices)
dyn_indices_generic(indices_t const &indices)

Construct an index sequence from a vector of indices.

template<typename ...Args>
dyn_indices_generic(Args&&... args)

Construct an index sequence from an argument pack of indices.

dyn_indices_generic(dyn_indices_generic const&) = default
dyn_indices_generic(dyn_indices_generic&&) noexcept = default
dyn_indices_generic &operator=(dyn_indices_generic const&) = default
dyn_indices_generic &operator=(dyn_indices_generic&&) noexcept = default

Copy/move-constructors and assignments

std::size_t size() const

Number of indices in the sequence.

explicit operator indices_t const&() const

Explicit cast to the underlying index sequence type.

friend bool operator==(dyn_indices_generic const &ind1, dyn_indices_generic const &ind2)
friend bool operator!=(dyn_indices_generic const &ind1, dyn_indices_generic const &ind2)
friend bool operator<(dyn_indices_generic const &ind1, dyn_indices_generic const &ind2)
friend bool operator>(dyn_indices_generic const &ind1, dyn_indices_generic const &ind2)

Compare two dynamic index sequences ind1 and ind2. These operators compare sequences’ lengths first, and in the case of equal lengths call the corresponding methods of std::vector.

friend std::ostream &operator<<(std::ostream &os, dyn_indices_generic const &ind)

Output stream insertion operator.

Dynamic index sequence example
#include <libcommute/expression/dyn_indices.hpp>

// A user-defined index type
enum spin {up, down};

// Our own dynamically typed index sequence (mind the namespace!)
using my_dyn_indices =
  libcommute::dynamic_indices::dyn_indices_generic<int, std::string, spin>;

// An expression with dynamically typed indices
libcommute::expression<double, my_dyn_indices> dyn_expr;

dyn_expr is an expression with dynamically typed indices. It can contain generators that effectively carry a variable number of indices, each of type int, std::string or of the user-defined enumeration type spin.

There is also a special set of factory functions defined in namespaces nested under libcommute::dynamic_indices. Those return commonly used QM operators with the dynamically typed indices. Some related type aliases are declared in the same namespace for the sake of convenience.

using dynamic_indices::dyn_indices = dyn_indices_generic<int, std::string>

Declared in <libcommute/expression/dyn_indices.hpp>

Dynamic mixture of integer and string indices.

using dynamic_indices::expr_real = expression<double, dyn_indices>
using dynamic_indices::expr_complex = expression<std::complex<double>, dyn_indices>

Declared in <libcommute/expression/expression.hpp>

Real/complex expression shorthand types.

Iteration interface and transformations

Both expressions and their constituent monomials can be easily iterated over using STL-compatible iterators or range-based for-loops. This allows for writing complex expression analysis algorithms.

Expression iteration example
  using namespace libcommute;

  // We are going to analyse the structure of this expression
  expression<double, int> E;

  // Fill expression 'E' ...

  // Iterate over all monomial-coefficient pairs in 'E'
  for(auto const& mc : E) {
    std::cout << "Coefficient: " << mc.coeff << "\n";
    std::cout << "Monomial: ";

    // Iterate over algebra generators in current monomial
    for(auto const& g : mc.monomial) {

      if(is_fermion(g)) { // Print information about fermionic operators
        auto const& f = dynamic_cast<generator_fermion<int> const&>(g);
        std::cout << (f.dagger() ? "  c^+(" : "  c(");
        std::cout << std::get<0>(g.indices());
        std::cout << ")";

      if(is_fermion(g)) { // Print information about bosonic operators
        auto const& a = dynamic_cast<generator_boson<int> const&>(g);
        std::cout << (a.dagger() ? "  a^+(" : "  a(");
        std::cout << std::get<0>(g.indices());
        std::cout << ")";

      if(is_spin(g)) { // Print information about spin operators
        auto const& s = dynamic_cast<generator_spin<int> const&>(g);
        switch(s.component()) {
          case plus:
            std::cout << "S_+("; break;
          case minus:
            std::cout << "S_-("; break;
          case z:
            std::cout << "S_z("; break;
        std::cout << std::get<0>(g.indices());
        std::cout << ")";

    std::cout << std::endl;


Only the constant iterators are implemented by expression and monomial.

Another common task is building a new expression out of an existing one by changing some of monomial coefficients. Removing some monomials (for instance, those corresponding to particle interaction terms) is a special case that amounts to setting coefficients of the unwanted monomials to zero. In the following example we show how to use function libcommute::transform() to change Hamiltonian of a finite atomic chain

\[\hat H = v \sum_{a=1}^{N-1} (c^\dagger_a c_{a+1} + c^\dagger_{a+1} c_a)\]

into the Su-Schrieffer-Heeger (SSH) model, where the hopping constant is taken to be different on odd and even chain links.

  using namespace libcommute;

  // Hamiltonian of the atomic chain
  expression<double, int> H;

  using static_indices::c_dag;
  using static_indices::c;

  // Length of the chain
  int const N = 10;
  // Hopping matrix element
  double const v = 1.0;

  // Add hopping terms
  for(int a = 0; a < N - 1; ++a) {
    H += v * (c_dag(a) * c(a + 1) + c_dag(a + 1) * c(a));

  std::cout << "H = " << H << std::endl;

  // Construct the Su-Schrieffer-Heeger (SSH) model by changing hopping
  // constants on all even links of the chain.

  // Hopping matrix element on the even links
  double const w = 0.5;

  // Transformation operation
  auto update_hopping_element = [v, w](decltype(H)::monomial_t const& m,
                                double coeff) -> double {
    // The monomial 'm' we are expecting here is a product c^\dagger(a1) c(a2)

    // Site index of c^\dagger
    int a1 = std::get<0>(m[0].indices());
    // Site index of c
    int a2 = std::get<0>(m[1].indices());
    // Index of link connecting a1 and a2
    int link = std::min(a1, a2);

    // Return the updated matrix element
    return (link % 2 == 1 ? w : v);

  auto H_SSH = transform(H, update_hopping_element);

  std::cout << "H_SSH = " << H_SSH << std::endl;

\(\pm H.c.\) notation

It is common to use the \(\pm H.c.\) (“plus/minus Hermitian conjugate”) notation to abbreviate analytical expressions when writing down Hamiltonians and other Hermitian operators. The same trick works with libcommute’s expressions, thanks to the hc singleton object.

Here is a simple usage example that constructs two operators

\[\begin{split}\hat H_A = c^\dagger_1 c_2 + c^\dagger_2 c_1 = c^\dagger_1 c_2 + H.c.,\\ \hat H_B = i(c^\dagger_1 c_2 - c^\dagger_2 c_1) = ic^\dagger_1 c_2 - H.c.\end{split}\]
#include <libcommute/expression/hc.hpp>

auto H_A = c_dag(1) * c(2) + hc;

std::complex<double> I(0,1);
auto H_B = I * c_dag(1) * c(2) - hc;