can be approximated by

where denotes evaluated at time . Eq. (64) is not usually practical because stability is only achieved with severe restrictions on the time step. Eq. (64) is an

This is unconditionally stable but if is a nonlinear function, Eq. (65) requires solution of a system of nonlinear equations. Semi-implicit schemes are possible, such as

If is a linear function, then the scheme (66) with is unconditionally stable and is furthermore second order accurate in time, unlike (64) and (65) which are only first order accurate.

where is assumed to be constant. The simplest scheme is

where denotes evaluated at and where . Eq. (68) is unconditionally unstable and therefore useless. The Lax scheme is a modification of (68) in which is replaced by :

This scheme is stable if the Courant-Friedrichs-Lewy (CFL) condition

is satisfied. However, it is only first order accurate in time. Another problem is that it is possible for to become negative. This problem is overcome in so-called upwind schemes:

This is stable if the CFL condition is satisfied but is only first order accurate in space. Use of the upwind scheme is equivalent to the introduction of a large artificial diffusion. A scheme which is explicit, second order accurate in space and time and is stable if the CFL condition is satisfied is the two-step Lax-Wendroff scheme:

This scheme does however still allow negative values of .

For simplicity we will assume that the diffusivity is constant. An explicit scheme which is first order accurate in time and second order accurate in space is

This is stable if

This usually requires a vast number of time steps for the effects of diffusion to become noticeable. The fully implicit scheme

is unconditionally stable but it is necessary to solve a tridiagonal system of equations at each time step. If the average of Eq. (74) and (76) is taken we get the Crank-Nicholson scheme which is unconditionally stable and second order accurate in space and time.

If is not constant, the above schemes can easily be
generalised. For example, we can write

Now consider

By adding the first two equations in (79) we get Eq. (78) but we can step forward these two equations separately, thus using the techniques available for the solution of simpler equations.

As another example, consider the three-dimensional diffusion equation:

Using the notation in Eq. (77), we can solve

Adding these equations gives a consistent representation of Eq. (80) which is second order accurate in space and time. This is an alternating-direction implicit (ADI) method.