In mathematics, a free module is a module that has a basis – that is, a generating set consisting of linearly independent elements. Every vector space is a free module, but, if the ring of the coefficients is not a division ring (not a field in the commutative case), then there exist non-free modules.
Given any set S and ring R, there is a free R-module with basis S, which is called the free module on S or module of formal R-linear combinations of the elements of S.
An immediate consequence of the second half of the definition is that the coefficients in the first half are unique for each element of M.
Given a set E and ring R, there is a free R-module that has E as a basis: namely, the direct sum of copies of R indexed by E
A similar argument shows that every free left (resp. right) R-module is isomorphic to a direct sum of copies of R as left (resp. right) module.
The free module R(E) may also be constructed in the following equivalent way.
We equip it with a structure of a left module such that the addition is defined by: for x in E,
Many statements about free modules, which are wrong for general modules over rings, are still true for certain generalisations of free modules. Projective modules are direct summands of free modules, so one can choose an injection into a free module and use the basis of this one to prove something for the projective module. Even weaker generalisations are flat modules, which still have the property that tensoring with them preserves exact sequences, and torsion-free modules. If the ring has special properties, this hierarchy may collapse, e.g., for any perfect local Dedekind ring, every torsion-free module is flat, projective and free as well. A finitely generated torsion-free module of a commutative PID is free. A finitely generated Z-module is free if and only if it is flat.