Numerical fractional derivative

Last time we have looked into fractional derivatives and even managed to derive fractional derivative for \( f(x) = x \). For more complicated functions this is much more problematic. Here, in this post, we will show you a quick numerical method to calculate fractional derivative of any arbitrary series.

Fractional derivative of \( f(x) = \sin(x) \)

Derivation of sine's fractional derivative is quite a bit involved. Although it is not impossible to derive and the answer is well-known:

\begin{equation} D^n \sin(x) = \sin\left(x + \frac{n}{2} \pi \right) . \end{equation}

This derivative once again interpolates nicely between the function, its derivative and anti-derivative. Though note that anti-derivative in this particular case comes into play together with integration constant (\( C = 1 \)).

Note that this app doesn't use analytical formula we have provided, but instead relies on numerical method discussed in the following section.

Numerical method

What we haven't mentioned last time is that we have used numerical method to calculate the fractional derivative (we do this for sine, too). This is the reason for the small, yet noticeable, differences. We use method discussed in [1], which using Python can be implemented as follows (see this repository).

def frac_diff(x: list[float], d: float) -> list[float]:
    """Fast fractional difference algorithm (by Jensen & Nielsen (2014)).
        x: list[float]
            Array of values to be differentiated.
        d: float
            Order of the differentiation. Recommend to use -0.5 < d < 0.5, but
            should work for almost any reasonable d.
        Fractionally differentiated series.

    def next_pow2(n):
        # we assume that the input will always be n > 1,
        # so this brief calculation should be fine
        return (n - 1).bit_length()

    n_points = len(x)
    fft_len = 2 ** next_pow2(2 * n_points - 1)

    # calculate coeffs for fractional differentiation
    prod_ids = np.arange(1, n_points)
    frac_diff_coefs = np.append([1], np.cumprod((prod_ids - d - 1) / prod_ids))

    # convolution throught frequency domain
    dx = ifft(fft(x, fft_len) * fft(frac_diff_coefs, fft_len))

    return np.real(dx[0:n_points])

Key moment of the algorithm is performing convolution between the series in question, \( \vec{x} \), and certain set of coefficients \( \vec{f} \), which are responsible for the numerical differentiation. These coefficients are obtained like this:

\begin{equation} f_k = \prod_{i=1}^k \frac{i - d - 1}{i} , \quad \text{and} \quad f_0 = 1. \end{equation}

Then we just need to perform convolution:

\begin{equation} \vec{X} = \left( \vec{x} * \vec{f} \right). \end{equation}

Note that normalization is not included in the Python code above, as the code assumes that \( \vec{x} \) is sampled in unit intervals. In other cases, one needs to include dependence on interval width \( \Delta \).

\begin{equation} \vec{X} = \frac{1}{\Delta^d} \left( \vec{x} * \vec{f} \right). \end{equation}

For JavaScript implementation check JavaScript files of the both app for fractional derivative of \( f(x) = x \) here or \( f(x) = \sin(x) \) here (in both implementations you'll find frac_deriv function).


  • A. N. Jensen, M. O. Nielsen. A fast fractional difference algorithm. Journal of Time Series Analysis 35: 428-436 (2014). doi: 10.1111/jtsa.12074.