The Lanczos approximation is a particularly effective method for computing values of the Gamma function to high precision. Here is one form of this approximation based on the work of Paul Godfrey:


where ${\bf\mathrm{Z}}$ is an $n$-dimensional row vector constructed from the function argument, $z$:


and ${\bf\mathrm{P}}$ is an $n$-dimensional column vector constructed as the product of several $n\times n$ matrices and the $n$-dimensional column vector ${\bf\mathrm{F}}$:



\[{\bf\mathrm{B}}_{ij}=\left\{\begin{matrix}1&{\rm if}~i=0,\\-1^{j-i}\begin{pmatrix}i+j-1\\j-i\end{pmatrix}&{\rm if}~i>0,~j\ge i,\\0&{\rm otherwise}.\end{matrix}\right.\]

${\bf\mathrm{C}}$ is a matrix containing coefficients from Chebyshev polynomials:

\[{\bf\mathrm{C}}_{ij}=\left\{\begin{matrix}1/2&{\rm if}~i=j=0,\\0&{\rm if}~j>i,\\-1^{i-j}\sum\limits_{k=0}^{i}\begin{pmatrix}2i\\2k\end{pmatrix}\begin{pmatrix}k\\k+j-i\end{pmatrix}&{\rm otherwise},\end{matrix}\right.\]


\[{\bf\mathrm{D}}_{ij}=\left\{\begin{matrix}0&{\rm if}~i\ne j\\1&{\rm if}~i=j=0,\\-1&{\rm if}~i=j=1,\\\frac{{\bf{\mathrm{D}}_{i-1,j-1}}2(2i-1)}{i-1}&{\rm otherwise},\end{matrix}\right.\]


$g$ is an arbitrary real parameter and $n$ is an integer. For suitable choices of $g$ and $n$, very good precision can be obtained. The typical error can be computed as follows:



Using GMP

GMP is an arbitrary precision mathematical library. In the form provided, it is most suitable for use with C language programs; in particular, the authors have not (yet) provided so-called C++ wrapper classes for this library. (The current version of GMP is 3.1.1, and it is this version that I used.)

To facilitate an elegant C++ implementation of the Lanczos approximation, I have written a partial C++ wrapper for the floating point functions of GMP. My implementation contains two classes, mpdouble and mpcomplex, the latter utilizing the STL complex template class. A third class in my implementation, matrix, is a template class that implements many matrix arithmetic operations.

The class mpdouble is defined in the file mpdouble.h and provides the following public interface:

class mpdouble
    // Utility functions
    void set_default_prec(unsigned long prec);
    void set_default_base(int base);
    // Constants
    mpdouble pi();
    mpdouble e();
    // Constructors and destructors
    mpdouble(const mpdouble &op);
    mpdouble(const char *op);
    mpdouble(unsigned long op);
    mpdouble(long op);
    mpdouble(int op);
    mpdouble(double op);
    // Assignment operators
    mpdouble &operator=(mpdouble const &op);
    mpdouble &operator=(unsigned long op);
    mpdouble &operator=(long op);
    mpdouble &operator=(int op);
    mpdouble &operator=(double op);
    mpdouble &operator=(const char *op);
    // Arithmetic operators
    mpdouble &operator+() { return *this; };
    mpdouble operator-() const
    mpdouble operator+(mpdouble const &op) const
    mpdouble operator+(unsigned long op) const
    mpdouble operator+(long op) const
    mpdouble operator+(int op) const
    mpdouble operator+(double op) const
    mpdouble& operator+=(mpdouble const &op)
    mpdouble& operator+=(unsigned long op)
    mpdouble& operator+=(int op)
    mpdouble& operator+=(double op)
    mpdouble operator-(mpdouble const &op) const
    mpdouble operator-(unsigned long op) const
    mpdouble operator-(long op) const
    mpdouble operator-(int op) const
    mpdouble operator-(double op) const
    mpdouble& operator-=(mpdouble const &op)
    mpdouble& operator-=(unsigned long op)
    mpdouble& operator-=(int op)
    mpdouble& operator-=(double op)
    mpdouble operator*(mpdouble const &op) const
    mpdouble operator*(unsigned long op) const
    mpdouble operator*(long op) const
    mpdouble operator*(int op) const
    mpdouble operator*(double op) const
    mpdouble& operator*=(mpdouble const &op)
    mpdouble& operator*=(unsigned long op)
    mpdouble operator/(mpdouble const &op) const
    mpdouble operator/(unsigned long op) const
    mpdouble operator/(long op) const
    mpdouble operator/(int op) const
    mpdouble operator/(double op) const
    mpdouble& operator/=(mpdouble const &op)
    mpdouble& operator/=(unsigned long op)
    // Comparison operators
    bool operator<(mpdouble const &op);
    bool operator>(mpdouble const &op);
    bool operator<=(mpdouble const &op);
    bool operator>=(mpdouble const &op);
    bool operator==(mpdouble const &op);
    bool operator!=(mpdouble const &op);
    bool operator<(unsigned long op);
    bool operator>(unsigned long op);
    bool operator<=(unsigned long op);
    bool operator>=(unsigned long op);
    bool operator==(unsigned long op);
    bool operator!=(unsigned long op);
    bool operator<(long op);
    bool operator>(long op);
    bool operator<=(long op);
    bool operator>=(long op);
    bool operator==(long op);
    bool operator!=(long op);
    bool operator<(int op);
    bool operator>(int op);
    bool operator<=(int op);
    bool operator>=(int op);
    bool operator==(int op);
    bool operator!=(int op);
    bool operator<(double op);
    bool operator>(double op);
    bool operator<=(double op);
    bool operator>=(double op);
    bool operator==(double op);
    bool operator!=(double op);
    // Explicit conversion
    double getdouble();

// Non-member functions
// iostream support
::std::ostream &operator<<(::std::ostream &os, mpdouble const &op);
::std::istream &operator>>(::std::istream &is, mpdouble &op);
// Arithmetic operators
mpdouble operator+(unsigned long op1, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator+(int op1, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator+(double, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator-(unsigned long op1, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator-(int op1, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator-(double, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator*(unsigned long op1, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator*(int op1, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator*(double op1, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator/(unsigned long op1, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator/(int op1, mpdouble const &op2);
mpdouble operator/(double op1, mpdouble const &op2);
// Algebraic functions
mpdouble sqrt(mpdouble const &op);
mpdouble pow(mpdouble const &op1, unsigned long op2);
mpdouble abs(mpdouble const &op);
mpdouble floor(mpdouble const &op);
// Transcendental functions
mpdouble log(mpdouble op);
mpdouble exp(mpdouble x);
mpdouble sin(mpdouble x);
mpdouble cos(mpdouble x);
mpdouble atan2(mpdouble y, mpdouble x);

The class mpcomplex (in file mpcomplex.h) extends mpdouble using the complex template class from the STL. In addition to implementing the arithmetic operators declared in the template class complex, mpcomplex defines the following functions:

::std::ostream &operator<<(::std::ostream &os, mpcomplex const &op);
mpcomplex log(mpcomplex op);
mpcomplex exp(mpcomplex op);
mpcomplex sin(mpcomplex op);

The matrix template class provides the following public interface:

template <typename T> class matrix
    // Constructors and destructors
    matrix(int r, int c);
    matrix(const matrix &op);
    // Assignment operator
    matrix &operator=(const matrix &op);
    // Data extraction
    matrix sub(int r, int c);
    // Arithmetic operators
    matrix &operator*=(const T &op);
    matrix operator*(const T &op);
    matrix &operator/=(const T &op);
    matrix operator/(const T &op);
    matrix operator*(const matrix &op);
    // "Complexification" operator
    operator matrix< complex<T> > ();

// Non-member functions
// iostream support
template<typename T> ::std::ostream &operator<<(::std::ostream &os, matrix<T> const &op);

The Lanczos Approximation

Using the helper classes defined above, it is possible to create a very compact, elegant (and reasonably fast) implementation of the Lanczos approximation.

My implementation uses a small set of helper functions. First of these is one that computes the Combination ($C_k^n$) of two integers yielding an arbitrary precision result:

mpdouble Comb(int n, int k);

For reasons of convenience, this implementation returns 0 if $k<0$, and 1 if $k>n$.

Next come several functions that compute the matrices ${\rm{\bf B}}$, ${\rm{\bf C}}$, ${\rm{\bf D}}$, ${\rm{\bf F}}$. Here are these functions in their entirety:

void makeB(matrix<mpdouble> &B, int n)
    int r, c;
    for (c = 0; c < n; c++) B[0][c] = 1;
    for (r = 1; r < n; r++)
        for (c = 0; c < n; c++)
            B[r][c] = Comb(r+c-1, c-r);
            if ((r+c)&1) B[r][c] = -B[r][c];

void makeC(matrix<mpdouble> &C, int n)
    for (int i = 1; i < n; i++)
        for (int j = 0; j <= i; j++)
            C[i][j] = 0;
            for (int k = 0; k <= i; k++)
                C[i][j] += Comb(2*i, 2*k) * Comb(k, k+j-i);
            if ((i-j)&1) C[i][j] = -C[i][j];
    C[0][0] = 0.5;

void makeD(matrix<mpdouble> &D, int n)
    D[0][0] = 1;
    D[1][1] = -1;
    for (int i = 2; i < n; i++)
        D[i][i] = D[i-1][i-1] * (2 * (2*i-1));
        D[i][i] /= (i - 1);

void makeF(matrix<mpdouble> &F, double g, int n)
    for (int a = 0; a < n; a++)
        int i;
        F[a][0] = 2;
        for (i = a + 1; i <= 2 * a; i++)
            F[a][0] *= i;
            F[a][0] /= 4;
        F[a][0] *= exp(mpdouble(a) + g + 0.5);
        F[a][0] /= pow(mpdouble(a) + g + .5, a);
        F[a][0] /= sqrt(mpdouble(a) + g + .5);

With these functions, it is now possible to create an extremely compact Gamma function implementation. Assuming that the variables n (integer), g (double), and z (mpcomplex) have been assigned their appropriate values, the implementation takes only a few lines:

matrix<mpdouble> B(n, n);
matrix<mpdouble> C(n, n);
matrix<mpdouble> D(n, n);
matrix<mpdouble> F(n, 1);
matrix<mpdouble> P(n, 1);
matrix<mpcomplex> Z(1, n);
matrix<mpcomplex> R(1, 1);

makeB(B, n);
makeC(C, n);
makeD(D, n);
makeF(F, g, n);
P = D*B*C*F;

Z[0][0] = mpdouble(1);
for (int i = 1; i < n; i++)
Z[0][i] = 1/(z+i);
R = Z * P;
mpcomplex r = z + g + 0.5;
r = log(R[0][0]) + (z+.5) * log(r) - r;

It is this implementation, complete with a simple user interface loop and additional support for arguments with a negative real part, that is contained within the file lanczos.cpp.

Some Results

I ran the program lanczos in a loop in order to determine the best parameters for use with simple calculator programs. I found that the best precision with the minimum number of coefficients is obtained using the following $(n,g)$ parameter pairs:

n = 4, g = 3.65
n = 5, g = 4.35
n = 6, g = 5.15
n = 7, g = 5.90

I was also able to find pairs of values for which the approximation produces exceptionally accurate results. For instance, using $n=90$, $g=85$, and 1024-bit precision, the Gamma function of 102 is computed as:


Of course, computing the matrices ${\rm{\bf B}}$, ${\rm{\bf C}}$, ${\rm{\bf D}}$ and ${\rm{\bf F}}$ is very time consuming (several minutes on a 550MHz Pentium-III system) when this level of precision is used (but that was a long-time ago, in the early 2000's; in 2012, on a modern, quad-core system, it only takes a few seconds.)


If you wish to experiment with this implementation of the Lanczos approximation, you can download the source code by following this link. (NB: This code was updated on Jan 22, 2012, to ensure compatibility with current versions of the GNU compiler suite and to fix a long-standing bug affecting results when $\mathrm{Re}~z<0$.)