Trying to solve the following:

DSolve[{y''[x] + y[x] y'[x] == 0, y[0] == 1, y'[0] == -1}, y[x], x]

leads Mathematica to declare that no analytic solution exists {} along with the error:

DSolve::bvfail: For some branches of the general solution, unable to solve the conditions.

Yet, by performing a very simple substitution of $u = y'$ and solving by hand, we arrive at the remarkably simple solution of $y(x)=\tan\left(\frac{\pi}{4} - \frac{x}{2}\right)$. Indeed, using Maple to compute the solution yields this answer directly. Why is Mathematica unable to solve this DE symbolically while Maple can?

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    $\begingroup$ Nevertheless, it is a NKS - a "new kind of solver", that simply takes longer and solves less problems than Maple as @xzxczd has shown in his link below. :D $\endgroup$ – gwr Apr 12 '17 at 7:01

It's well known, that DSolve is relatively weak - at least as of now. Frequently we need to help it a bit to obtain the desired solution. In your case, we just need to find the general solution first and then solve for the constant:

generalsol = DSolve[{y''[x] + y[x] y'[x] == 0}, y, x][[1]]

const = Solve[{y[0] == 1, y'[0] == -1} /. generalsol // TrigToExp, {C[1], C[2]}, 
   Method -> Reduce][[1]]

y[x] /. generalsol /. const // Simplify
Simplify[%, C[3] ∈ Integers]
(* Cot[1/4 (π + 2 x)] *)
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure you really mean "common sense" here? :) $\endgroup$ – gwr Apr 12 '17 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ @gwr (Checking the dictionary) Yeah, I mean "common sense" :D . OK, at least it's a common sense among people frequently dealing with differential equation, I think. $\endgroup$ – xzczd Apr 12 '17 at 5:51
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    $\begingroup$ @1110101001 You may find this "interesting": 12000.org/my_notes/kamek/kamke_differential_equations.htm $\endgroup$ – xzczd Apr 12 '17 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ @xzczd Wow that confirms what you said. Maple solved 92% while Mathematica got 72%. And maple did them roughly 30x faster. Maybe Wolfram should work on this core before poking fun at maple $\endgroup$ – 1110101001 Apr 12 '17 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ Re English usage: I think the idiom in this case is "common knowledge." $\endgroup$ – Michael E2 Apr 12 '17 at 11:28

DSolve as of V11, sets the Method option of Solve to Restricted. This probably fixes some things, but it gets in the way here. We can try the Villegas-Gayley trick to override the setting. This does it for all instances of Solve used by DSolve, but it's hard to target the instance that is needed.

 Solve[eq_, v_, opts___] /; ! TrueQ[$in] := Block[{$in = True},
   Solve[eq, v, Method -> Automatic, opts]
 sol = DSolve[{y''[x] + y[x] y'[x] == 0, y[0] == 1, y'[0] == -1}, y[x], x]
  {{y[x] -> 
     ConditionalExpression[I Tanh[1/2 (I x + 1/2 I (-π + 8 π C[3]))], C[3] ∈ Integers]}}

This can be simplified as @xzczd does, Simplify[sol, C[3] ∈ Integers].

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  • $\begingroup$ Just a side note: this doesn't work in v9 (the output is still {}), modifying Solve[eq, v, Method -> Automatic, opts] to Solve[eq // TrigToExp, v, opts] works though. $\endgroup$ – xzczd Apr 12 '17 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ @xzczd Thanks, your fix for V9 will be helpful. Note one still needs to reset Method for it to work in V11: Solve[eq // TrigToExp, v, Method -> Automatic, opts]. $\endgroup$ – Michael E2 Apr 12 '17 at 16:42


Maples dsolve is able to solve this IVP without any fuss,


enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ yeah I noted that in the opening post $\endgroup$ – 1110101001 Apr 12 '17 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ @1110101001 opening post? $\endgroup$ – zhk Apr 12 '17 at 8:24
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    $\begingroup$ In the body of my question — "...Maple to compute the solution yields this answer directly" $\endgroup$ – 1110101001 Apr 12 '17 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ @1110101001 not a second order ode, you mentioned first order ode which u get after subbing $\endgroup$ – zhk Apr 12 '17 at 9:59

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