Summary: The computational modeling of failure mechanisms in solids due to fracture based on
crack discontinuities suffers in situations with complex crack topologies. This can be overcome by a diffusive
crack modeling based on the introduction of a crack phase field. Following our recent work [Int. J. Numer. Methods Eng. 83, No. 10, 1273–1311 (2010; Zbl 1202.74014
)] on phase-field-type fracture, we propose in this paper a new variational framework for rate-independent diffusive fracture that bases on the introduction of a local history field. It contains a maximum reference energy obtained in the deformation history, which may be considered as a measure for the maximum tensile strain obtained in history. It is shown that this local variable drives the evolution of the crack phase field. The introduction of the history field provides a very transparent representation of the balance equation that governs the diffusive crack topology. In particular, it allows for the construction of a new algorithmic treatment of diffusive fracture. Here, we propose an extremely robust operator split scheme that successively updates in a typical time step the history field, the crack phase field and finally the displacement field. A regularization based on a viscous crack resistance that even enhances the robustness of the algorithm may easily be added. The proposed algorithm is considered to be the canonically simple scheme for the treatment of diffusive fracture in elastic solids. We demonstrate the performance of the phase field formulation of fracture by means of representative numerical examples.