In abstract algebra, more specifically ring theory, local rings are certain rings that are comparatively simple, and serve to describe what is called "local behaviour", in the sense of functions defined on varieties or manifolds, or of algebraic number fields examined at a particular place, or prime. Local algebra is the branch of commutative algebra that studies commutative local rings and their modules.
In practice, a commutative local ring often arises as the result of the localization of a ring at a prime ideal.
A ring R is a local ring if it has any one of the following equivalent properties:
If these properties hold, then the unique maximal left ideal coincides with the unique maximal right ideal and with the ring's Jacobson radical. The third of the properties listed above says that the set of non-units in a local ring forms a (proper) ideal, necessarily contained in the Jacobson radical. The fourth property can be paraphrased as follows: a ring R is local if and only if there do not exist two coprime proper (principal) (left) ideals, where two ideals I1, I2 are called coprime if R = I1 + I2.
In the case of commutative rings, one does not have to distinguish between left, right and two-sided ideals: a commutative ring is local if and only if it has a unique maximal ideal. Before about 1960 many authors required that a local ring be (left and right) Noetherian, and (possibly non-Noetherian) local rings were called quasi-local rings. In this article this requirement is not imposed.
To motivate the name "local" for these rings, we consider real-valued continuous functions defined on some open interval around 0 of the real line. We are only interested in the behavior of these functions near 0 (their "local behavior") and we will therefore identify two functions if they agree on some (possibly very small) open interval around 0. This identification defines an equivalence relation, and the equivalence classes are what are called the "germs of real-valued continuous functions at 0". These germs can be added and multiplied and form a commutative ring.
To see that this ring of germs is local, we need to characterize its invertible elements. A germ f is invertible if and only if f(0) ≠ 0. The reason: if f(0) ≠ 0, then by continuity there is an open interval around 0 where f is non-zero, and we can form the function g(x) = 1/f(x) on this interval. The function g gives rise to a germ, and the product of fg is equal to 1. (Conversely, if f is invertible, then there is some g such that f(0)g(0) = 1, hence f(0) ≠ 0.)
With this characterization, it is clear that the sum of any two non-invertible germs is again non-invertible, and we have a commutative local ring. The maximal ideal of this ring consists precisely of those germs f with f(0) = 0.
Exactly the same arguments work for the ring of germs of continuous real-valued functions on any topological space at a given point, or the ring of germs of differentiable functions on any differentiable manifold at a given point, or the ring of germs of rational functions on any algebraic variety at a given point. All these rings are therefore local. These examples help to explain why schemes, the generalizations of varieties, are defined as special locally ringed spaces.
Given a field K, which may or may not be a function field, we may look for local rings in it. If K were indeed the function field of an algebraic variety V, then for each point P of V we could try to define a valuation ring R of functions "defined at" P. In cases where V has dimension 2 or more there is a difficulty that is seen this way: if F and G are rational functions on V with
one sees that the value at P is a concept without a simple definition. It is replaced by using valuations.
Non-commutative local rings arise naturally as endomorphism rings in the study of direct sum decompositions of modules over some other rings. Specifically, if the endomorphism ring of the module M is local, then M is indecomposable; conversely, if the module M has finite length and is indecomposable, then its endomorphism ring is local.
We also write (R, m) for a commutative local ring R with maximal ideal m. Every such ring becomes a topological ring in a natural way if one takes the powers of m as a neighborhood base of 0. This is the m-adic topology on R. If (R, m) is a commutative Noetherian local ring, then
As for any topological ring, one can ask whether (R, m) is complete (as a uniform space); if it is not, one considers its completion, again a local ring. Complete Noetherian local rings are classified by the Cohen structure theorem.
In algebraic geometry, especially when R is the local ring of a scheme at some point P, R / m is called the residue field of the local ring or residue field of the point P.
The Jacobson radical m of a local ring R (which is equal to the unique maximal left ideal and also to the unique maximal right ideal) consists precisely of the non-units of the ring; furthermore, it is the unique maximal two-sided ideal of R. However, in the non-commutative case, having a unique maximal two-sided ideal is not equivalent to being local.