I need to thank Duane Hanselman for suggesting this great idea.
Fminspleas is a simple nonlinear least squares tool that fits regression models of the form
Y = a1*f1(X,C) + a2*f2(X,C) + ... + an*fn(X,C)
X can be any array, so it works on multidimensional
problems, and C is the set of only intrinsically nonlinear parameters. f1, f2, etc., must return a column vector result, of the same length as Y.
Because the optimization (in this case, fminsearch) need only work on the intrinsically nonlinear parameters, far fewer function evaluations are required. The example I give in the help took only 32 function evaluations to estimate 2 linear parameters plus 1 nonlinear parameter, versus over 300 evaluations had I just called fminsearch directly.
Fminspleas now allows you to specify bound constraints on the nonlinear parameters only. I'll see about adding linear parameter constraints if there are requests.
Finally, fminspleas allows the user to supply a set of nonnegative weights to the regression.
Email me with any problems or bugs.
1.0.0.0  Fix indexing in the nested function 

Release 2.1: repair an error in the example 

Inclusion of weights as an option 

Remove (the mistaken) requirement of the optimization toolbox 

Version 1.1  clean up the help & added another example with a second nonlinear parameter 

Cleaned up the help, added constraints on the nonlinear parameters. 
Inspired by: fminsearchbnd, fminsearchcon, fminsearch interface, Optimization Tips and Tricks
Create scripts with code, output, and formatted text in a single executable document.
Matt J (view profile)
Extremely useful. I would recommend, though, allowing all the fminsearch outputs to be passed as outputs from fminspleas as well
function [INLP,ILP,varargout] = fminspleas(funlist,NLPstart,xdata,ydata,INLB,INUB,weights,options)
...
[tINLP,varargout{1:nargout2}] = fminsearch(@fminspleas_obj,tNLPstart,options);
zhang (view profile)
elham (view profile)
Matt J (view profile)
Alessandro,
Hard to comment without seeing the code you ran. However, it's surprising that fminsearch gave you anything reasonable when applied to a problem with 200+ variables. fminsearch is designed for 1variable problems. When applied to multivariable problems, it has been found to work empirically, but only for small dimensions (up to say, 6 unknowns).
Alessandro De Sanctis (view profile)
@ Matt J,
Thanks a lot.

Another issue:
I found optimal linear values completely different from those obtained using fminsearch (for which I provided starting values). Moreover, the likelihood of the probit I obtained using the optimal nonlinear values from fminspleas is slightly lower than the one obtained using the values from fminsearch.
Matt J (view profile)
@Alessandro,
Suppose A is an Nx200 matrix associated with your 200 linear parameters. Then a 2line way of creating the funlist is,
Ac=num2cell(A,1);
funlist=arrayfun(@(i) @(inlp,xdata) Ac{i},1:length(Ac),'uni',0);
Then append to funlist additional functions for your 2 nonlinear parameters
Matt J (view profile)
Alessandros' comment is pertinent to my comments on Dec. 29, 2010.
Alessandro De Sanctis (view profile)
Thanks for the code.
Is there a simple way to estimate a model in which, in addition to 2 nonlinear parameters, there are almost 200 linear parameters? Do I need to create other 200 functions? (The majority of them are dummy variables)
vivkrs (view profile)
John (view profile)
If the data can be represented as:
y = a0 + a1*sin(c1*x+c2) + a2*sin(c3*x+c4) + a3*sin(c5*x+c6);
Should the funlist be:
funlist = {1, @(c,xdata) sin(c(1)*xdata+c(2)), @(c,xdata) sin(c(3)*xdata+c(4)), @(c,xdata) sin(c(5)*xdata+c(6))};
right?
Or can it be a simpler formula?
Florian (view profile)
Great piece of code!
Actually, constraints for the linear parameters would be a valuable extension. I am fitting a Gaussian with an additional offset:
y = a1 + a2 * exp(  (c1x)^2 / 4/c2^2 )
Sometimes it happens that a2 becomes negative, which is not a good solution for my data as the "peak" is then a "dip".. Besides of this, it works just perfectly fine!
Antonui (view profile)
John D'Errico (view profile)
Do you mean that the linear parameters are to be the same for both terms? Then your model is simply
Y = a*(f1(X,C) + f2(X,C))
No explicit constraint is needed. Simply define one function as above.
Matthew (view profile)
Is it possible to constrain the linear parameters? E.g. have a function Y = a*f1(X,C) + a*f2(X,C)?
Francis EsmondeWhite (view profile)
This is an elegant and extremely useful optimization function.
Matt J (view profile)
There was a posting in the NG that looks like it could benefit from this tool, with a few modifications.
http://www.mathworks.com/matlabcentral/newsreader/view_thread/299811
For one, the tool would need to allow an additional term depending only on the intrinsically nonlinear parameters
Y = f0(X,C)+ a1*f1(X,C) + a2*f2(X,C) + ... + an*fn(X,C)
It looks like nearly the same methodology would accomodate this.
Secondly, it might be good to have the option, rather than passing the individual fi(X,C) as sepearate functions to allow the complete matrix
F(X,C)=[f0(X,C), f1(X,C),...,fn(X,C)]
to be passed. For large n, there may be MATLABsavvy vectorized ways of generating the complete matrix whereas generating columnbycolumn could be slow. The above NG post gives one such case.
Jonas (view profile)
This is a beautiful piece of code. In addition to doing very well what it does, it is very well documented. Thus, it is easily modified, for example to allow robust fitting.
John D'Errico (view profile)
Ok, let me explain why simulated annealing is generally a rather poor choice for nonlinear regression modeling. Understanding the tools that you will use is important, else you use the wrong tool for the wrong problem.
Simulated annealing is a stochastic optimizer. I've written such tools as well as having used them. Broadly, it uses the process of cooling to an annealed state as a metaphor for optimization. The optimization tool varies the parameters in a random process, with the objective function viewed as the energy state of the system. Eventually, the system moves to a minimal energy state, if enough time is allowed for convergence. Of course, this is only a probabilistic statement, so there is no assurance that a simulated annealing schedule will succeed in convergence to a global minimizer. In fact and in practice, it can leave you in an arbitrarily bad location.
Worse, simulated annealing, like any Monte Carlo optimizer, will not quickly yield any degree of tight tolerances on your result. It can easily take a huge number of function evaluations to give an adequate result.
Contrast this to fminspleas, which uses a partitioned least squares scheme to give many digits of accuracy for often only a few dozen function evaluations, because many problems reduce to a single nonlinear parameter to be solved for. Because of the variable partitioning, you need only supply starting values for those nonlinear parameters. This makes it even easier to use this code than it is to use a simulated annealer, since you need not worry about starting values for many of the parameters. As well, this code is far more robust to poor starting values than are many other nonlinear regression tools.
In very rare cases, simulated annealing might converge to a solution that fminspleas will miss. That is always a possibility with ANY optimizer. The vast majority of the time, fminspleas will converge to a far better solution, faster than simulated annealing.
So while LPS is free to use simulated annealing if he so prefers, I would suggest it reflects a lack of understanding of the tools he uses.
LPS (view profile)
I have found through my work that this function can fail on a verity of fitting problems in data analysis. A more general function is available here, using Simulated Annealing:
http://www.mathworks.de/matlabcentral/fileexchange/10548
Andre Guy Tranquille (view profile)
when I tried to use f = {1, @(xdata, coef) exp(xdata*coef)};
It gives the 'identifier' error.
can you tell me what causes the problem?
The best approach for solving optimization problems where there is a mixture of linear and nonlinear terms. Solve for the linear terms using linear least squares embedded inside a nonlinear optimizer for the nonlinear terms. This function is difficult to describe with simple help text alone, but well worth the effort required to use it.
I've already added constraints to the nonlinear parameters in the new version going up, plus cleaned up the documentation a bit.