Hence, every real sinusoid (and real signal) can be considered to consist of a positive and negative frequency, whose imaginary components cancel but whose real components contribute equally to form the real signal.
To avoid the use of complex numbers and negative frequencies, the sine and cosine transforms together can be used as an equivalent alternative form of the Fourier transform.
Comparing this to the definition of the Fourier transform, it follows that:
That there is no one preferred way (often, one says "no canonical way") to compare the two versions of the real line which are involved in the Fourier transform—fixing the units on one line does not force the scale of the units on the other line—is the reason for the plethora of rival conventions on the definition of the Fourier transform. The various definitions resulting from different choices of units differ by various constants.
(In probability theory, and in mathematical statistics, the use of the Fourier—Stieltjes transform is preferred, because so many random variables are not of continuous type, and do not possess a density function, and one must treat not functions but distributions, i.e., measures which possess "atoms".)
The Fourier transform may be defined in some cases for non-integrable functions, but the Fourier transforms of integrable functions have several strong properties.
See Pontryagin duality for a general formulation of this concept in the context of locally compact abelian groups.
From another, perhaps more classical viewpoint, the Laplace transform by its form involves an additional exponential regulating term which lets it converge outside of the imaginary line where the Fourier transform is defined. As such it can converge for at most exponentially divergent series and integrals, whereas the original Fourier decomposition cannot, enabling analysis of systems with divergent or critical elements. Two particular examples from linear signal processing are the construction of allpass filter networks from critical comb and mitigating filters via exact pole-zero cancellation on the unit circle. Such designs are common in audio processing, where highly nonlinear phase response is sought for, as in reverb.
Furthermore, when extended pulselike impulse responses are sought for signal processing work, the easiest way to produce them is to have one circuit which produces a divergent time response, and then to cancel its divergence through a delayed opposite and compensatory response. There, only the delay circuit in-between admits a classical Fourier description, which is critical. Both the circuits to the side are unstable, and do not admit a convergent Fourier decomposition. However, they do admit a Laplace domain description, with identical half-planes of convergence in the complex plane (or in the discrete case, the Z-plane), wherein their effects cancel.
In modern mathematics the Laplace transform is conventionally subsumed under the aegis Fourier methods. Both of them are subsumed by the far more general, and more abstract, idea of harmonic analysis.
A stronger uncertainty principle is the Hirschman uncertainty principle, which is expressed as:
where the logarithms may be in any base that is consistent. The equality is attained for a Gaussian, as in the previous case.
The function f can be recovered from the sine and cosine transform using
Distributions can be differentiated and the above-mentioned compatibility of the Fourier transform with differentiation and convolution remains true for tempered distributions.
The Fourier transform is also a special case of Gelfand transform. In this particular context, it is closely related to the Pontryagin duality map defined above.
Perhaps the most important use of the Fourier transformation is to solve partial differential equations. Many of the equations of the mathematical physics of the nineteenth century can be treated this way. Fourier studied the heat equation, which in one dimension and in dimensionless units is
The example we will give, a slightly more difficult one, is the wave equation in one dimension,
As usual, the problem is not to find a solution: there are infinitely many. The problem is that of the so-called "boundary problem": find a solution which satisfies the "boundary conditions"
Fourier's method is as follows. First, note that any function of the forms
satisfies the wave equation. These are called the elementary solutions.
From a calculational point of view, the drawback of course is that one must first calculate the Fourier transforms of the boundary conditions, then assemble the solution from these, and then calculate an inverse Fourier transform. Closed form formulas are rare, except when there is some geometric symmetry that can be exploited, and the numerical calculations are difficult because of the oscillatory nature of the integrals, which makes convergence slow and hard to estimate. For practical calculations, other methods are often used.
The twentieth century has seen the extension of these methods to all linear partial differential equations with polynomial coefficients, and by extending the notion of Fourier transformation to include Fourier integral operators, some non-linear equations as well.
Therefore, the Fourier transform can be used to pass from one way of representing the state of the particle, by a wave function of position, to another way of representing the state of the particle: by a wave function of momentum. Infinitely many different polarisations are possible, and all are equally valid. Being able to transform states from one representation to another is sometimes convenient.
This is the same as the heat equation except for the presence of the imaginary unit i. Fourier methods can be used to solve this equation.
In relativistic quantum mechanics, Schrödinger's equation becomes a wave equation as was usual in classical physics, except that complex-valued waves are considered. A simple example, in the absence of interactions with other particles or fields, is the free one-dimensional Klein–Gordon–Schrödinger–Fock equation, this time in dimensionless units,
This is, from the mathematical point of view, the same as the wave equation of classical physics solved above (but with a complex-valued wave, which makes no difference in the methods). This is of great use in quantum field theory: each separate Fourier component of a wave can be treated as a separate harmonic oscillator and then quantized, a procedure known as "second quantization". Fourier methods have been adapted to also deal with non-trivial interactions.
The Fourier transform is used for the spectral analysis of time-series. The subject of statistical signal processing does not, however, usually apply the Fourier transformation to the signal itself. Even if a real signal is indeed transient, it has been found in practice advisable to model a signal by a function (or, alternatively, a stochastic process) which is stationary in the sense that its characteristic properties are constant over all time. The Fourier transform of such a function does not exist in the usual sense, and it has been found more useful for the analysis of signals to instead take the Fourier transform of its autocorrelation function.
Knowledge of which frequencies are "important" in this sense is crucial for the proper design of filters and for the proper evaluation of measuring apparatuses. It can also be useful for the scientific analysis of the phenomena responsible for producing the data.
The power spectrum of a signal can also be approximately measured directly by measuring the average power that remains in a signal after all the frequencies outside a narrow band have been filtered out.
Spectral analysis is carried out for visual signals as well. The power spectrum ignores all phase relations, which is good enough for many purposes, but for video signals other types of spectral analysis must also be employed, still using the Fourier transform as a tool.
The Fourier transform can also be written in terms of angular frequency:
Variations of all three conventions can be created by conjugating the complex-exponential kernel of both the forward and the reverse transform. The signs must be opposites. Other than that, the choice is (again) a matter of convention.
As in the case of the "non-unitary angular frequency" convention above, the factor of 2π appears in neither the normalizing constant nor the exponent. Unlike any of the conventions appearing above, this convention takes the opposite sign in the exponent.
The appropriate computation method largely depends how the original mathematical function is represented and the desired form of the output function.
Explicit numerical integration over the ordered pairs can yield the Fourier transform output value for any desired value of the conjugate Fourier transform variable (frequency, for example), so that a spectrum can be produced at any desired step size and over any desired variable range for accurate determination of amplitudes, frequencies, and phases corresponding to isolated peaks. Unlike limitations in DFT and FFT methods, explicit numerical integration can have any desired step size and compute the Fourier transform over any desired range of the conjugate Fourier transform variable (for example, frequency).