In mathematics, function composition is an operation that takes two functions f and g and produces a function h such that h(x) = g(f(x)). In this operation, the function g is applied to the result of applying the function f to x. That is, the functions f : X → Y and g : Y → Z are composed to yield a function that maps x in X to g(f(x)) in Z.
Intuitively, if z is a function of y, and y is a function of x, then z is a function of x. The resulting composite function is denoted g ∘ f : X → Z, defined by (g ∘ f )(x) = g(f(x)) for all x in X.[nb 1] The notation g ∘ f is read as "g circle f ", "g round f ", "g about f ", "g composed with f ", "g after f ", "g following f ", "g of f", "f then g", or "g on f ", or "the composition of g and f ". Intuitively, composing functions is a chaining process in which the output of function f feeds the input of function g.
The composition of functions is always associative—a property inherited from the composition of relations. That is, if f, g, and h are composable, then f ∘ (g ∘ h) = (f ∘ g) ∘ h. Since the parentheses do not change the result, they are generally omitted.
The functions g and f are said to commute with each other if g ∘ f = f ∘ g. Commutativity is a special property, attained only by particular functions, and often in special circumstances. For example, |x| + 3 = |x + 3| only when x ≥ 0. The picture shows another example.
The composition of one-to-one (injective) functions is always one-to-one. Similarly, the composition of onto (surjective) functions is always onto. It follows that the composition of two bijections is also a bijection. The inverse function of a composition (assumed invertible) has the property that (f ∘ g)−1 = g−1∘ f−1.
Suppose one has two (or more) functions f: X → X, g: X → X having the same domain and codomain; these are often called transformations. Then one can form chains of transformations composed together, such as f ∘ f ∘ g ∘ f. Such chains have the algebraic structure of a monoid, called a transformation monoid or (much more seldom) a composition monoid. In general, transformation monoids can have remarkably complicated structure. One particular notable example is the de Rham curve. The set of all functions f: X → X is called the full transformation semigroup or symmetric semigroup on X. (One can actually define two semigroups depending how one defines the semigroup operation as the left or right composition of functions.)
If the transformations are bijective (and thus invertible), then the set of all possible combinations of these functions forms a transformation group; and one says that the group is generated by these functions. A fundamental result in group theory, Cayley's theorem, essentially says that any group is in fact just a subgroup of a permutation group (up to isomorphism).
If Y ⊆ X, then f: X→Y may compose with itself; this is sometimes denoted as f 2. That is:
More generally, for any natural number n ≥ 2, the nth functional power can be defined inductively by f n = f ∘ f n−1 = f n−1 ∘ f, a notation introduced by Hans Heinrich Bürmann and John Frederick William Herschel. Repeated composition of such a function with itself is called iterated function.
Note: If f takes its values in a ring (in particular for real or complex-valued f ), there is a risk of confusion, as f n could also stand for the n-fold product of f, e.g. f 2(x) = f(x) · f(x). For trigonometric functions, usually the latter is meant, at least for positive exponents. For example, in trigonometry, this superscript notation represents standard exponentiation when used with trigonometric functions: sin2(x) = sin(x) · sin(x). However, for negative exponents (especially −1), it nevertheless usually refers to the inverse function, e.g., tan−1 = arctan ≠ 1/tan.
In some cases, when, for a given function f, the equation g ∘ g = f has a unique solution g, that function can be defined as the functional square root of f, then written as g = f 1/2.
More generally, when gn = f has a unique solution for some natural number n > 0, then f m/n can be defined as gm.
Under additional restrictions, this idea can be generalized so that the iteration count becomes a continuous parameter; in this case, such a system is called a flow, specified through solutions of Schröder's equation. Iterated functions and flows occur naturally in the study of fractals and dynamical systems.
To avoid ambiguity, some mathematicians choose to use ∘ to denote the compositional meaning, writing f∘n(x) for the n-th iterate of the function f(x), as in, for example, f∘3(x) meaning f(f(f(x))). For the same purpose, f[n](x) was used by Benjamin Peirce whereas Alfred Pringsheim and Jules Molk suggested nf(x) instead.[nb 3]
In the mid-20th century, some mathematicians decided that writing "g ∘ f " to mean "first apply f, then apply g" was too confusing and decided to change notations. They write "xf " for "f(x)" and "(xf)g" for "g(f(x))". This can be more natural and seem simpler than writing functions on the left in some areas – in linear algebra, for instance, when x is a row vector and f and g denote matrices and the composition is by matrix multiplication. This alternative notation is called postfix notation. The order is important because function composition is not necessarily commutative (e.g. matrix multiplication). Successive transformations applying and composing to the right agrees with the left-to-right reading sequence.
Mathematicians who use postfix notation may write "fg", meaning first apply f and then apply g, in keeping with the order the symbols occur in postfix notation, thus making the notation "fg" ambiguous. Computer scientists may write "f ; g" for this, thereby disambiguating the order of composition. To distinguish the left composition operator from a text semicolon, in the Z notation the ⨾ character is used for left relation composition. Since all functions are binary relations, it is correct to use the [fat] semicolon for function composition as well (see the article on composition of relations for further details on this notation).
Given a function g, the composition operator Cg is defined as that operator which maps functions to functions as
Function composition appears in one form or another in numerous programming languages.
Partial composition is possible for multivariate functions. The function resulting when some argument xi of the function f is replaced by the function g is called a composition of f and g in some computer engineering contexts, and is denoted f |xi = g
In general, the composition of multivariate functions may involve several other functions as arguments, as in the definition of primitive recursive function. Given f, a n-ary function, and n m-ary functions g1, ..., gn, the composition of f with g1, ..., gn, is the m-ary function
This is sometimes called the generalized composite or superposition of f with g1, ..., gn. The partial composition in only one argument mentioned previously can be instantiated from this more general scheme by setting all argument functions except one to be suitably chosen projection functions. Here g1, ..., gn can be seen as a single vector/tuple-valued function in this generalized scheme, in which case this is precisely the standard definition of function composition.
A set of finitary operations on some base set X is called a clone if it contains all projections and is closed under generalized composition. Note that a clone generally contains operations of various arities. The notion of commutation also finds an interesting generalization in the multivariate case; a function f of arity n is said to commute with a function g of arity m if f is a homomorphism preserving g, and vice versa i.e.:
A unary operation always commutes with itself, but this is not necessarily the case for a binary (or higher arity) operation. A binary (or higher arity) operation that commutes with itself is called medial or entropic.
The category of sets with functions as morphisms is the prototypical category. The axioms of a category are in fact inspired from the properties (and also the definition) of function composition. The structures given by composition are axiomatized and generalized in category theory with the concept of morphism as the category-theoretical replacement of functions. The reversed order of composition in the formula (f ∘ g)−1 = (g−1 ∘ f −1) applies for composition of relations using converse relations, and thus in group theory. These structures form dagger categories.
The composition symbol ∘ is encoded as U+2218 ∘ RING OPERATOR (HTML
∘, ∘); see the Degree symbol article for similar-appearing Unicode characters. In TeX, it is written