Using $ {l}_{1} $-norm regularization for the purpose of achieving sparsity of the solution has been successfully applied a lot. But many times, I found the paper using mixed-norm instead of $l_1$-norm.

Considering the mixed norm $ {L}_{p,q}$ norm defined as:

$$ {\left\| a \right\|}_{p,q} = \left( \sum_{i} \left( \sum_{j} {\left| {a}_{i,j} \right|}^{p} \right)^{ \frac{q}{p} } \right)^{ \frac{1}{q} } $$

How is mixed-norm better than $l1$-norm for sparse representation? Most of what I have seen is $l_{1,2}$.

Reference, for example,


1 Answer 1


The mixed norm allows you to impose some simple structure in the solution matrix. Using your example with $p=q=1$ then this means the solution could have arbitrary elements set to non-zero coefficients. This would not impose any structure in the solution. In this case the $L_{11} $ norm just sums the absolute value of all the matrix elements - similar to the Frobenius norm.

As an example, consider that $L_{11}$ norm of the following matrices are the same:

$\begin{bmatrix} 0&2 \\ 0 & 0\end{bmatrix}, \quad \begin{bmatrix} 0&0 \\ 2 & 0\end{bmatrix}, \quad \begin{bmatrix} 2&0 \\ 0 & 0\end{bmatrix}, \quad \begin{bmatrix} 0&0 \\ 0 & 2\end{bmatrix}$.

So there is no preference as to which element is set to non-zero

Instead, if $p=2$ and $q=1$, then the objective function is minimizing the $l_2$ norm of the columns and then the $l_1$ norm over the that. This means you're looking for an $a$ matrix with a sparse number of column vectors and where each column vector has a small $l_2$ norm. Of course this assumes you are using the $l_1$ norm as a proxy for sparsity.

Consider the $L_{2,1}$ and $L_{1,2}$ norms of following matrices:

$\begin{bmatrix} 2&0 \\ 2 & 0\end{bmatrix}, \quad L_{2,1} = \sqrt{8} \approx 2.8, \quad L_{1,2} = 4 $


$\begin{bmatrix} 2 & 0\\ 0 & 2 \end{bmatrix}, \quad L_{2,1}= 4, \quad L_{1,2} = \sqrt{8} $

So minimizing the $L_{2,1}$ norm tends to prefer the structure of the first matrix over the second one, while minimizing the $L_{1,2}$ norm tends to prefer the structure second matrix over the first.

Thus the mixed norm allows you impose a soft constraint on the structure of the sparse solution that you're looking for. It's relatively easy to see that be you could also set it up to look for a sparse set of row vectors, each with a small $l_2$ norm. Deciding which to use is really dependent on how you set up your equations.

  • $\begingroup$ May you explain why “with $p = q = 1$ , this means the solution could have arbitrary elements set to non-zero coefficients”? May be I miss some points but not $L_{1}$ forces the coefficient to be zero as many as possible? $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ $L_1$ is normally used as a substitute for $L_0$, in order to make the problem convex - so I'm assuming you are looking for a sparse solution - as per the title of your question. Using $L_{11}$ the matrix $[ 0, 2, 0 ,0]$ and $[0, 0, 0, 2]$ have the same have the same norm. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 22:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I updated my answer to try to be more explicit. It is difficult to typeset matrices in the comments. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks so much for updating the answer with matrices. One thing is may you check the paragraph before the last paragraph pls? $L2,1$ are written twice and I wonder may be one of them should be $L1,2$ norm? $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, you are correct. I made the correction. If the post does answer your question then I'd appreciate the upvote. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 13:44

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