Assume I have some non-convex function $f(x_1, x_2, ...)$ and I want to optimize it to find a global minimum. I feel like it is easy to show that this problem is in the class NP with the decision problem

Is there a set of points such that f < C?

Where C is some constant. However, I am not sure if these problems are in the class of NP-Complete, and if so, what would you say the size of the input is? Complexity of the function?


  • $\begingroup$ It's not straightforward to figure out how to formalize this in terms where NP-completeness is applicable. What are the inputs, and what are the desired outputs? Is $f$ fixed, or part of the input? If $f$ is fixed, please specify the function $f$ in the question. If it's part of the input, how is the function $f$ specified? What's the type signature of $f$? Is it continuous ($f:\mathbb{R} \to \mathbb{R}$) or discrete? If it is discrete and specified as a truth table, that takes exponential space, which is problematic. If it id continuous, it can't be specified as a truth table. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Mar 26, 2018 at 17:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ To show that your problem is NP-hard, try encoding SAT as a non-convex optimization problem. $\endgroup$ Mar 26, 2018 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ Even a QP problem with one negative eigenvalue is $\mathcal{NP}$-hard, see link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00120662 $\endgroup$
    – Eugene
    Mar 26, 2018 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ However, the answer depends on your function. There are nonconvex functions easy to optimize. $\endgroup$
    – Eugene
    Mar 26, 2018 at 19:32

2 Answers 2


Yes, non-convex optimization is NP-hard. For a simple proof, consider the following reduction from Subset-Sum. The Subset-Sum problem asks whether there is a subset of the input integers $a_1, \dots, a_n$ which sums to zero. To reduce to non-convex programming, let $x_1, \dots, x_n$ be variables encoding the subset and consider the following non-convex program:

$$ \begin{align*} \text{minimize }\quad&(a\cdot x)^2 + \sum_{i=1}^n x_i^2(1 - x_i)^2\\ \text{subject to}\quad& \sum_{i=1}^n x_i \ge 1. \end{align*} $$

Note that the optimum of this program is zero iff the Subset-Sum instance has a subset which sums to zero.

  • $\begingroup$ If one want's to convert this into an unconstrained problem, just add a small enough bump function at 0 to the objective. $\endgroup$
    – Miheer
    Nov 18, 2018 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ A different way to obtain an unconstrained problem, replace $(a\cdot x)^2$ with $\left(a\cdot x-\frac{a_1+a_2+\dots + a_n}2\right)^2$ and you obtain a reduction from the (bi-)partition problem. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2019 at 14:30

Quadratic programming is an example of a non-convex optimization problem that is NP-hard. See Transforming SAT to Quadratic Programming in polynomial time for a proof.


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