Difference equations which discretely approximate boundary value problems for second-order ordinary differential equations are analysed. It is well known that the existence of solutions to the continuous problem does not necessarily imply existence of solutions to the discrete problem and, even if solutions to the discrete problem are guaranteed, they may be unrelated and inapplicable to the continuous problem. Analogues to theorems for the continuous problem regarding a priori bounds and existence of solutions are formulated for the discrete problem. Solutions to the discrete problem are shown to converge to solutions of the continuous problem in an aggregate sense. An example which arises in the study of the finite deflections of an elastic string under a transverse load is investigated. The earlier results are applied to show the existence of a solution; the sufficient estimates on the step size are presented. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.