Journal Article

The DIRECT Algorithm—25 Years Later


D. R. Jones, and J. R. R. A. Martins


Journal of Global Optimization, 79521–566, 2021



Introduced in 1993, the DIRECT global optimization algorithm provided a fresh approach to minimizing a black-box function subject to lower and upper bounds on the variables. In contrast to the plethora of nature-inspired heuristics, DIRECT was deterministic and had only one hyperparameter (the desired accuracy). Moreover, the algorithm was simple, easy to implement, and usually performed well on low-dimensional problems (up to six-variables). Most importantly, DIRECT balanced local and global search (exploitation versus exploration) in a unique way: in each iteration, several points were sampled, some for global and some for local search. This approach eliminated the need for “tuning parameters” that set the balance between local and global search. However, the very same features that made DIRECT simple and conceptually attractive also created weaknesses. For example, it was commonly observed that, while DIRECT is often fast to find the basin of the global optimum, it can be slow to fine-tune the solution to high accuracy. In this paper, we identify several such weaknesses and survey the work of various researchers to extend DIRECT so that it performs better. All of the extensions show substantial improvement over DIRECT on various test functions. An outstanding challenge is to improve performance robustly across problems of different degrees of difficulty, ranging from simple (unimodal, few variables) to very hard (multimodal, sharply peaked, many variables). Opportunities for further improvement may lie in combining the best features of the different extensions.