Integrating cosines of polynomials

In this post, we want to integrate functions that look like:

\begin{align} \int_a^b Q(t) \cos(\alpha t^2 + \beta t + \gamma) {\rm d} t & & \int_a^b Q(t) \sin(\alpha t^2 + \beta t + \gamma) {\rm d} t \end{align}

where \(Q\) can be any polynomial. We'll first reduce the problem analytically before implementing a C++ function to approximate its solution.

Problem simplification

Let's focus on the cosine case. The sine case proceeds similarly, either using a trigonometric formula such as \(\cos(\theta) = \sin(\pi/2 - \theta)\) or reproducing each step mutatis mutandis. For starters, by linearity of the integral we can deal w.l.o.g. with the case where \(Q\) is a monomial. Also, if \(a > 0\), a change of variable \(t' = t - a\) and an update of the constant term \(\gamma\) of the polynomial inside the cosine takes us to the same problem with \(a = 0\). Furthermore, since \(\cos\) is an even function, we can assume w.l.o.g. that \(\alpha > 0\).

Reduction of the outer polynomial degree

If \(Q\) has degree \(n + 1\) for \(n \geq 1\), integrating by parts leads us back to two Integrals of Sines of Polynomials (ISP), one with \(\mathrm{deg}(Q) = n - 1\) and the other where \(\mathrm{deg}(Q) = 0\). If \(Q\) has degree 1, we write the ISP as the real part of its complex counterpart:

\begin{equation*} \Re\left(\int_0^b t e^{it}{\rm d}t\right) \end{equation*}

Calculating in the complex world allows us to rewrite the expression as:

\begin{equation*} \frac{1}{2 \alpha} \left[\sin(\alpha b^2 + \beta b + \gamma) - \sin \gamma - \beta \int_a^b \sin(\alpha t^2 + \beta t + \gamma) {\rm d}t\right] \end{equation*}

We are thus down to the case where \(Q\) is simply a constant.

Reduction of the inner polynomial degree

Let's now take a look at the "inner" polynomial under the cosine or sine of the ISP, whose degree is 2. A change of variable allows us to eliminate its degree-one monomial:

\begin{equation*} \int_0^b \cos(\alpha t^2 + \beta t + \gamma) {\rm d}t = \frac{1}{\sqrt{\alpha}} \int_{\frac{\beta}{2\sqrt{\alpha}}}^{\sqrt{\alpha} b + \frac{\beta}{2\sqrt{\alpha}}} \cos\left[u^2 + \left(\gamma - \frac{\beta^2}{4 \alpha}\right)\right] {\rm d}u \end{equation*}

Trigonometric formulas to the rescue:

\begin{equation*} \cos\left[u^2 + \left(\gamma - \frac{\beta^2}{4 \alpha}\right)\right] = \cos(u^2) \cos\left(\gamma - \frac{\beta^2}{4 \alpha}\right) - \sin(u^2) \sin\left(\gamma - \frac{\beta^2}{4 \alpha}\right) \end{equation*}

We thus eliminate the constant term \(\gamma - \beta^2 / 4\alpha\), modulo multiplicating by a few constants. All that's left to calculate our ISP is to integrate \(\cos(u^2)\).

Power series expansion

Consider the power series expansion of the expression under the integral:

\begin{equation*} \int_0^{b} \cos(u^2) {\rm d} u = \int_0^{b} \sum_{n=0}^{+\infty} (-1)^n \frac{u^{4n}}{(2n)!} {\rm d}u \end{equation*}

By a normal convergence criterion, we can apply the integral-power series inversion theorem to swap the sum and integral symbols in this expression. This yields:

\begin{equation*} \int_0^{b} \cos(u^2) {\rm d} u = \sum_{n=0}^{+\infty} \frac{(-1)^n}{(2n)!} \frac{b^{4n+1}}{4n+1} \end{equation*}

The partial sums and remainder of this series are easy to estimate, as the power series is an alternating one. If \(b\) is not "too" large, we can approximate its value by computing the series up to some index \(N\), the remainder of order \(N\) giving us the order of magnitude of the precision of this result.

Yet, this method would not work as we go to larger and larger values of \(b\): terms in this alternating series are then of increasing magnitudes, and we will run into numerical precision issues when computing their differences with floating-point arithmetic (for instance, the double type in C). One (non-trivial) solution to this problem would be to group terms by orders of magnitude, but we will leave this question open in this post.

C++ implementation

Here is an iterative implementation of this method in C++, starting with the reduced problem:

constexpr double kDesiredPrecision = 1e-20;

double integrate_cos_x2(double b) {
    if (b > 1) {
        warn("Precision issue due to high bound.");

    const double stop_threshold = kDesiredPrecision / b;
    double cur_fact = 1.0;
    double cur_term = 1.0;
    double sum = cur_term;
    for (unsigned i = 1; cur_term < 0.0 || cur_term > stop_threshold; ++i) {
        cur_fact *= (-1.0) * (b *b * b * b) / (2.0 * i) / (2.0 * i - 1.0);
        cur_term = cur_fact / (4.0 * i + 1.0);
        sum += cur_term;

    return b * sum;

double integrate_cos_x2(double from, double to) {
    return integrate_cos_x2(to) - integrate_cos_x2(from);

The integrate_sin_x2() function can be implemented similarly. Next, suppose we have defined a Polynomial class where the bracket operator[] reads individual coefficients. We can finally solve our ISPs as:

enum SineFunction { COS, SIN };

double integrate_isp(SineFunction sine, Polynomial P, double from, double to) {
    if (P[2] < 0) {
        switch (sine) {
            case COS:
                return integrate_isp(sine, -P, from, to);
            case SIN:
                return -integrate_isp(sine, -P, from, to);

    double dc_sqrt = sqrtl(P[2]);
    double new_from = dc_sqrt * from + P[1] / 2. / dc_sqrt;
    double new_to = dc_sqrt * to + P[1] / 2. / dc_sqrt;
    double delta = P[0] - P[1]*P[1] / 4. / dc_sqrt;

    double I1, I2;
    switch (sine) {
        case COS:
            I1 = cosl(delta) * integrate_cos_x2(new_from, new_to);
            I2 = sinl(delta) * integrate_sin_x2(new_from, new_to);
            return I1 - I2;
        case SIN:
            I1 = cosl(delta) * integrate_sin_x2(new_from, new_to);
            I2 = sinl(delta) * integrate_cos_x2(new_from, new_to);
            return I1 + I2;

Wrapping up: with some trigonometric and power-series analysis, we found a way to compute with relatively little code our integrals of sines of polynomials. Yet, our algorithm becomes numerically unstable over large integration domains (\(b \to \infty\)) and we have left that next problem open.


There are no comments yet. Feel free to leave a reply using the form below.

Post a comment

You can use Markdown with $\LaTeX$ formulas in your comment.

You agree to the publication of your comment on this page under the CC BY 4.0 license.

Your email address will not be published.

© Stéphane Caron — All content on this website is under the CC BY 4.0 license.