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Error function
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In mathematics, the error function (also called the

Gauss error function or probability integral[1]) is
a special function (non-elementary) of sigmoid
shape which occurs in probability, statistics and
partial differential equations. It is defined as:

The complementary error function, denoted erfc,

is defined as

Plot of the error function

The complex error function, denoted w(x) and also known as the Faddeeva function, is defined as

1 Properties
1.1 Taylor series
1.2 Inverse function
1.3 Asymptotic expansion
2 Approximation with elementary functions
3 Applications
4 Related functions
4.1 Generalized error functions
4.2 Iterated integrals of the complementary error function
5 Implementations
6 Table of values
7 See also
7.1 Related functions
7.1.1 In probability
8 References
9 External links


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Error function - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The error function is odd:

Plots in the complex plane

Also, for any complex number z:

where is the complex conjugate of z.

The integrand ƒ = exp(−z2) and ƒ = erf(z) are shown in the complex z-plane
in figures 2 and 3. Level of Im(ƒ) = 0 is shown with a thick green line.
Negative integer values of Im(ƒ) are shown with thick red lines. Positive
integer values of are shown with thick blue lines. Intermediate levels
of Im(ƒ) = constant are shown with thin green lines. Intermediate levels of
Re(ƒ) = constant are shown with thin red lines for negative values and with
thin blue lines for positive values.
Integrand exp(−z2)
At the real axis, the erf(z) approach unity at z → +∞ and −1 at z → −∞. At
the imaginary axis, it tends to ±i∞.

Taylor series

The error function is an entire function; it has no singularities (except that

at infinity) and its Taylor expansion always converges.

The defining integral cannot be evaluated in closed form in terms of

elementary functions, but by expanding the integrand e−z into its Taylor
series and integrating term by term, one obtains the error function's Taylor
series as:


which holds for every complex number z. The denominator terms are sequence A007680 in the OEIS.

For iterative calculation of the above series, the following alternative formulation may be useful:

because expresses the multiplier to turn the kth term into the (k + 1)th term (considering z as the first


The error function at +∞ is exactly 1 (see Gaussian integral).

The derivative of the error function follows immediately from its definition:

An antiderivative of the error function is

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Error function - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Inverse function

The inverse error function has series

where c0 = 1 and

So we have the series expansion (note that common factors have been canceled from numerators and denominators):

(After cancellation the numerator/denominator fractions are entries A092676/A132467 in the OEIS; without
cancellation the numerator terms are given in entry A002067.) Note that error function's value at ±∞ is equal to ±1.

Asymptotic expansion

A useful asymptotic expansion of the complementary error function (and therefore also of the error function) for large x

This series diverges for every finite x, and its meaning as asymptotic expansion is that, for any one has

where the remainder, in Landau notation, is

as .

Indeed, the exact value of the remainder is

which follows easily by induction, writing and integrating by parts.

For large enough values of x, only the first few terms of this asymptotic expansion are needed to obtain a good
approximation of erfc(x) (while for not too large values of x note that the above Taylor expansion at 0 provides a very
fast convergence).

Approximation with elementary functions

One approximation is given by

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Error function - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Such a fit gives at least one correct decimal digit of function erf in vicinity of the real axis. Using a ≈ 0.140012, the
largest error of the approximation is about 0.00012.[2]

This approximation can also be inverted to calculate the inverse error function:

When the results of a series of measurements are described by a normal distribution with standard deviation and
expected value 0, then is the probability that the error of a single measurement lies between −a and +a, for
positive a. This is useful, for example, in determining the bit error rate of a digital communication system.

The error and complementary error functions occur, for example, in solutions of the heat equation when boundary
conditions are given by the Heaviside step function.

Related functions
The error function is essentially identical to the standard normal cumulative distribution function, denoted Φ, also
named norm(x) by software languages, as they differ only by scaling and translation. Indeed,

or rearranged for erf and erfc:

Consequently, the error function is also closely related to the Q-function, which is the tail probability of the standard
normal distribution. The Q-function can be expressed in terms of the error function as

The inverse of is known as the normal quantile function, or probit function and may be expressed in terms of the
inverse error function as

The standard normal cdf is used more often in probability and statistics, and the error function is used more often in
other branches of mathematics.

The error function is a special case of the Mittag-Leffler function, and can also be expressed as a confluent

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Error function - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

hypergeometric function (Kummer's function):

It has a simple expression in terms of the Fresnel integral. In terms of the Regularized Gamma function P and the
incomplete gamma function,

is the sign function.

Generalized error functions

Some authors discuss the more general functions:

Graph of generalised error functions En(x):

grey curve: E1(x) = (1 − e −x )/
red curve: E2(x) = erf(x)
green curve: E3(x)
blue curve: E4(x)
gold curve: E5(x).

Notable cases are:

E0(x) is a straight line through the origin:

E2(x) is the error function, erf(x).

After division by n!, all the En for odd n look similar (but not identical) to each other. Similarly, the En for even n look
similar (but not identical) to each other after a simple division by n!. All generalised error functions for n > 0 look
similar on the positive x side of the graph.

These generalised functions can equivalently be expressed for x > 0 using the Gamma function and incomplete Gamma

Therefore, we can define the error function in terms of the incomplete Gamma function:

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Error function - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Iterated integrals of the complementary error function

The iterated integrals of the complementary error function are defined by

They have the power series

from which follow the symmetry properties


C/C++: C99 provides the functions double erf(double x) and double erfc(double x) in the header math.h
or cmath. The pairs of functions {erff(),erfcf()} and {erfl(),erfcl()} take and return values of type float
and long double respectively. GCC makes these functions available in C++ too.

Fortran: gfortran provides the intrinsic real function ERF(X) and the double precision function DERF(X).

Python: An implementation of erf for complex arguments is in SciPy as scipy.special.erf()[3] and also in the
arbitrary-precision arithmetic mpmath library as mpmath.erf()

Mathematica: erf is implemented as Erf and Erfc in Mathematica

Haskell (programming language): An erf package[4] exists that provides a typeclass for the error function and
implementations for the native floating point types

Table of values

x erf(x) erfc(x) x erf(x) erfc(x)

0.00 0.0000000 1.0000000 1.30 0.9340079 0.0659921
0.05 0.0563720 0.9436280 1.40 0.9522851 0.0477149
0.10 0.1124629 0.8875371 1.50 0.9661051 0.0338949
0.15 0.1679960 0.8320040 1.60 0.9763484 0.0236516
0.20 0.2227026 0.7772974 1.70 0.9837905 0.0162095
0.25 0.2763264 0.7236736 1.80 0.9890905 0.0109095

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Error function - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

0.30 0.3286268 0.6713732 1.90 0.9927904 0.0072096

0.35 0.3793821 0.6206179 2.00 0.9953223 0.0046777
0.40 0.4283924 0.5716076 2.10 0.9970205 0.0029795
0.45 0.4754817 0.5245183 2.20 0.9981372 0.0018628
0.50 0.5204999 0.4795001 2.30 0.9988568 0.0011432
0.55 0.5633234 0.4366766 2.40 0.9993115 0.0006885
0.60 0.6038561 0.3961439 2.50 0.9995930 0.0004070
0.65 0.6420293 0.3579707 2.60 0.9997640 0.0002360
0.70 0.6778012 0.3221988 2.70 0.9998657 0.0001343
0.75 0.7111556 0.2888444 2.80 0.9999250 0.0000750
0.80 0.7421010 0.2578990 2.90 0.9999589 0.0000411
0.85 0.7706681 0.2293319 3.00 0.9999779 0.0000221
0.90 0.7969082 0.2030918 3.10 0.9999884 0.0000116
0.95 0.8208908 0.1791092 3.20 0.9999940 0.0000060
1.00 0.8427008 0.1572992 3.30 0.9999969 0.0000031
1.10 0.8802051 0.1197949 3.40 0.9999985 0.0000015
1.20 0.9103140 0.0896860 3.50 0.9999993 0.0000007

See also
Related functions

Gaussian integral, over the whole real line

Gaussian function, derivative
Dawson function, renormalized imaginary error function

In probability

Normal distribution
Normal cumulative distribution function, a scaled and shifted form of error function
Probit, the inverse or quantile function of the normal CDF
Q-function, the tail probability of the normal distribution

1. ^ "The probability integral" ( . Retrieved 10 September 2010. and on MathWorld
2. ^ Winitzki, Sergei (6 February 2008). "A handy approximation for the error function and its inverse"
( (PDF).
3. ^
4. ^

Abramowitz, Milton; Stegun, Irene A., eds. (1965), "Chapter 7" (
/page_297.htm) , Handbook of Mathematical Functions with Formulas, Graphs, and Mathematical Tables, New
York: Dover, pp. 297, MR0167642 ( ,
ISBN 978-0486612720,
Temme, N. M. (2010), "Error Functions, Dawson’s and Fresnel Integrals" ( , in Olver, Frank
W. J.; Lozier, Daniel M.; Boisvert, Ronald F. et al., NIST Handbook of Mathematical Functions, Cambridge
University Press, ISBN 978-0521192255,

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Error function - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

External links
MathWorld – Erf (
Retrieved from ""
Categories: Special functions | Special hypergeometric functions | Gaussian function

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