One easy integration of $\sec x$ substitutes $u=\sin x$, viz.$$\int\frac{\cos x}{1-\sin^2 x}\,\mathrm{d}x=\frac{1}{2}\ln\left|\frac{1+\sin x}{1-\sin x}\right|+C.$$Multiplying top and bottom by $1+\sin x$ and writing $1-\sin^2 x=\cos^2 x$ gives the more familiar $$\ln\left|\sec x+\tan x\right|+C.$$A proof written so as to get to that result first requires more elaborate tricks, such as comparing the derivatives of $\sec x$ and $\tan x$ to spot a solution to $y'=y\sec x$, or to use the fact that $f:=\sec x,\,g:=\tan x$ satisfy$$f^2=g^2+1\implies\frac{f'}{g}=\frac{g'}{f}\implies\frac{d}{dx}\ln\left|f+g\right|=\frac{f'}{g}=\sec x.$$So why is the sec/tan formula for an antiderivative universally taught, instead of the sine-based one?

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    +1 for the question. In some curricula, only $\cos$, $\sin$, $\tan$ (and a little bit of $\cot$) are used, there's no $\sec$ and $\csc$ whatsoever. – BPP Oct 3 at 15:32
  • With suitable limits the integral computes the distance from $(0,0)$ to $(\sec x, 0)$ in the constant curvature $-4$ metric on the unit disk. From this point of view the form in terms of $\sin x$ is more natural than the form in terms of $\sec x$ and $\tan x$. – Dan Fox Oct 4 at 13:56
  • @DanFox That's interesting. What is the constant curvature $-4$ metric? – J.G. Oct 4 at 13:59
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    My Bronstein gives $\ln (\tan(x/2 +\pi/4))$ as antiderivative. This comes from the nice antiderivative $\ln (\tan(x/2))$ of $\csc$ by using that $\cos$ is just $\sin$ shifted by $\pi/2$. (It also only uses the function mentioned by @BPP). – Torsten Schoeneberg Oct 5 at 18:47
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First idea: Maybe just because it's easier to memorize the derivatives and antiderivatives of the trig functions this way: $\sin$ always pairs with $\cos$, $\tan$ always pairs with $\sec$, and $\cot$ always pairs with $\csc$. These are the same pairs you already know from the sum/difference of squares formulas too, if your precalculus trig studies included all* 6 functions.

You may put the dividing line between "stuff to memorize" and "stuff to re-derive when needed" in a different place, but at least some students have been expected to memorize those 6 derivatives and 6 antiderivatives.

Second idea: if you arrived at $\int \sec x\ dx$ through a trig substitution, then an answer involving $\sec x$ and $\tan x$ will be easier to translate back to the original variable than one with a pair of $\sin x$, since you already figured out what $\sec x$ is, and again, the relationship between $\sec x$ and $\tan x$ is one of those easy difference-of-squares-equals-1 deals.

*Sorry, exsecant and haversine.

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    +1 for pointing out that the sec+tan form is more helpful at the end of a trig sub problem. – Aeryk Oct 3 at 18:31
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    Moral +1 from me. I think having a simpler formula to remember is in fact the reason for why it is written this way. Otherwise leaving it in sin form is more intuitive. IMNSHO. – guest Oct 3 at 19:55
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    Not an answer, but I think it is my duty to post a link to this paper whenever this integral is mentioned: math.uconn.edu/~kconrad/math1132s10/secantintegral.pdf – Steven Gubkin Oct 4 at 15:56
  • Great article. I have taken navigation class and yes Mercator projection is great because of rhumb lines. (However, you usually still plot a series of segments. Because Great Circle route is not constant bearing. But approximating the trip with set of segments is fine. Hard to really steer a Great Circle.) – guest Oct 4 at 20:59

Stewart's text (link) derives the result via: $$\int \sec x\ dx = \int \sec x \frac{\sec x +\tan x}{\sec x +\tan x}\ dx = \int \frac{\sec^2 x +\sec x \tan x}{\sec x +\tan x}\ dx$$ and then $u=\sec x +\tan x$. I don't think this is any worse than rewriting $\frac{1}{\cos x} = \frac{\cos x}{1-\sin^2x}$, using a $u$-sub, and then partial fractions.

Also, if you take $\sec$ and $\tan$ to be functions in their own right, then $\ln|\sec x+\tan x|$ requires fewer computational steps than $\frac{1}{2}\ln\left|\frac{1+\sin x}{1-\sin x}\right|$.

  • Stewart's text? – J.G. Oct 3 at 16:19
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    Most Calculus II textbooks I've seen (in Canada) also use this method. – orion2112 Oct 3 at 16:22
  • Link now provided to Stewart's text. This is a very standard Calculus text in the U.S. – Aeryk Oct 3 at 16:57
  • @Aeryl Ah yes, between Examples 6 & 7 in Sec. 7.2. – J.G. Oct 4 at 5:35

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