In mathematics, rings are algebraic structures that generalize fields: multiplication need not be commutative and multiplicative inverses need not exist. In other words, a ring is a set equipped with two binary operations satisfying properties analogous to those of addition and multiplication of integers. Ring elements may be numbers such as integers or complex numbers, but they may also be non-numerical objects such as polynomials, square matrices, functions, and power series.
Formally, a ring is an abelian group whose operation is called addition, with a second binary operation called multiplication that is associative, is distributive over the addition operation, and has a multiplicative identity element. (Some authors use the term "ring" to refer to the more general structure that omits this last requirement; see § Notes on the definition.)
Whether a ring is commutative (that is, whether the order in which two elements are multiplied might change the result) has profound implications on its behavior. Commutative algebra, the theory of commutative rings, is a major branch of ring theory. Its development has been greatly influenced by problems and ideas of algebraic number theory and algebraic geometry. The simplest commutative rings are those that admit division by non-zero elements; such rings are called fields.
Examples of commutative rings include the set of integers with their standard addition and multiplication, the set of polynomials with their addition and multiplication, the coordinate ring of an affine algebraic variety, and the ring of integers of a number field. Examples of noncommutative rings include the ring of n × n real square matrices with n ≥ 2, group rings in representation theory, operator algebras in functional analysis, rings of differential operators, and cohomology rings in topology.
The conceptualization of rings spanned the 1870s to the 1920s, with key contributions by Dedekind, Hilbert, Fraenkel, and Noether. Rings were first formalized as a generalization of Dedekind domains that occur in number theory, and of polynomial rings and rings of invariants that occur in algebraic geometry and invariant theory. They later proved useful in other branches of mathematics such as geometry and analysis.
In the terminology of this article, a ring is defined to have a multiplicative identity, and a structure with the same axiomatic definition but for the requirement of a multiplicative identity is called a rng (IPA: ). For example, the set of even integers with the usual + and ⋅ is a rng, but not a ring. As explained in § History below, many authors apply the term "ring" without requiring a multiplicative identity.
The multiplication symbol ⋅ is usually omitted; for example, xy means x ⋅ y.
Although ring addition is commutative, ring multiplication is not required to be commutative: ab need not necessarily equal ba. Rings that also satisfy commutativity for multiplication (such as the ring of integers) are called commutative rings. Books on commutative algebra or algebraic geometry often adopt the convention that ring means commutative ring, to simplify terminology.
The additive group of a ring is the underlying set equipped with only the operation of addition. Although the definition requires that the additive group be abelian, this can be inferred from the other ring axioms. The proof makes use of the "1", and does not work in a rng. (For a rng, omitting the axiom of commutativity of addition leaves it inferrable from the remaining rng assumptions only for elements that are products: ab + cd = cd + ab.)
Although most modern authors use the term "ring" as defined here, there are a few who use the term to refer to more general structures in which there is no requirement for multiplication to be associative. For these authors, every algebra is a "ring".
The familiar properties for addition and multiplication of integers serve as a model for the axioms of a ring.
More generally, for any ring R, commutative or not, and any nonnegative integer n, the square matrices of dimension n with entries in R form a ring: see Matrix ring.
The study of rings originated from the theory of polynomial rings and the theory of algebraic integers. In 1871, Richard Dedekind defined the concept of the ring of integers of a number field. In this context, he introduced the terms "ideal" (inspired by Ernst Kummer's notion of ideal number) and "module" and studied their properties. Dedekind did not use the term "ring" and did not define the concept of a ring in a general setting.
The term "Zahlring" (number ring) was coined by David Hilbert in 1892 and published in 1897. In 19th century German, the word "Ring" could mean "association", which is still used today in English in a limited sense (for example, spy ring), so if that were the etymology then it would be similar to the way "group" entered mathematics by being a non-technical word for "collection of related things". According to Harvey Cohn, Hilbert used the term for a ring that had the property of "circling directly back" to an element of itself (in the sense of an equivalence). Specifically, in a ring of algebraic integers, all high powers of an algebraic integer can be written as an integral combination of a fixed set of lower powers, and thus the powers "cycle back". For instance, if a3 − 4a + 1 = 0 then a3 = 4a − 1, a4 = 4a2 − a, a5 = −a2 + 16a − 4, a6 = 16a2 − 8a + 1, a7 = −8a2 + 65a − 16, and so on; in general, an is going to be an integral linear combination of 1, a, and a2.
The first axiomatic definition of a ring was given by Adolf Fraenkel in 1915, but his axioms were stricter than those in the modern definition. For instance, he required every non-zero-divisor to have a multiplicative inverse. In 1921, Emmy Noether gave a modern axiomatic definition of commutative rings (with and without 1) and developed the foundations of commutative ring theory in her paper Idealtheorie in Ringbereichen.
Most or all books on algebra up to around 1960 followed Noether's convention of not requiring a 1 for a "ring". Starting in the 1960s, it became increasingly common to see books including the existence of 1 in the definition of "ring", especially in advanced books by notable authors such as Artin, Atiyah and MacDonald, Bourbaki, Eisenbud, and Lang. There are also books published as late as 2006 that use the term without the requirement for a 1.
Gardner and Wiegandt assert that, when dealing with several objects in the category of rings (as opposed to working with a fixed ring), if one requires all rings to have a 1, then some consequences include the lack of existence of infinite direct sums of rings, and that proper direct summands of rings are not subrings. They conclude that "in many, maybe most, branches of ring theory the requirement of the existence of a unity element is not sensible, and therefore unacceptable." Poonen makes the counterargument that rings without a multiplicative identity are not totally associative (the product of any finite sequence of ring elements, including the empty sequence, is well-defined, independent of the order of operations) and writes "the natural extension of associativity demands that rings should contain an empty product, so it is natural to require rings to have a 1".
Authors who follow either convention for the use of the term "ring" may use one of the following terms to refer to objects satisfying the other convention:
As a special case, one can define nonnegative integer powers of an element a of a ring: a0 = 1 and an = an−1 a for n ≥ 1. Then am+n = am an for all m, n ≥ 0.
A subset S of R is called a subring if any one of the following equivalent conditions holds:
For example, the ring Z of integers is a subring of the field of real numbers and also a subring of the ring of polynomials Z[X] (in both cases, Z contains 1, which is the multiplicative identity of the larger rings). On the other hand, the subset of even integers 2Z does not contain the identity element 1 and thus does not qualify as a subring of Z; one could call 2Z a subrng, however.
An intersection of subrings is a subring. Given a subset E of R, the smallest subring of R containing E is the intersection of all subrings of R containing E, and it is called the subring generated by E.
Like a group, a ring is said to be simple if it is nonzero and it has no proper nonzero two-sided ideals. A commutative simple ring is precisely a field.
Rings are often studied with special conditions set upon their ideals. For example, a ring in which there is no strictly increasing infinite chain of left ideals is called a left Noetherian ring. A ring in which there is no strictly decreasing infinite chain of left ideals is called a left Artinian ring. It is a somewhat surprising fact that a left Artinian ring is left Noetherian (the Hopkins–Levitzki theorem). The integers, however, form a Noetherian ring which is not Artinian.
A homomorphism from a ring (R, +, ⋅) to a ring (S, ‡, ∗) is a function f from R to S that preserves the ring operations; namely, such that, for all a, b in R the following identities hold:
To give a ring homomorphism from a commutative ring R to a ring A with image contained in the center of A is the same as to give a structure of an algebra over R to A (which in particular gives a structure of an A-module).
The notion of quotient ring is analogous to the notion of a quotient group. Given a ring (R, +, ⋅ ) and a two-sided ideal I of (R, +, ⋅ ), view I as subgroup of (R, +); then the quotient ring R/I is the set of cosets of I together with the operations
The concept of a module over a ring generalizes the concept of a vector space (over a field) by generalizing from multiplication of vectors with elements of a field (scalar multiplication) to multiplication with elements of a ring. More precisely, given a ring R with 1, an R-module M is an abelian group equipped with an operation R × M → M (associating an element of M to every pair of an element of R and an element of M) that satisfies certain axioms. This operation is commonly denoted multiplicatively and called multiplication. The axioms of modules are the following: for all a, b in R and all x, y in M, we have:
When the ring is noncommutative these axioms define left modules; right modules are defined similarly by writing xa instead of ax. This is not only a change of notation, as the last axiom of right modules (that is x(ab) = (xa)b) becomes (ab)x = b(ax), if left multiplication (by ring elements) is used for a right module.
Although similarly defined, the theory of modules is much more complicated than that of vector space, mainly, because, unlike vector spaces, modules are not characterized (up to an isomorphism) by a single invariant (the dimension of a vector space). In particular, not all modules have a basis.
The axioms of modules imply that (−1)x = −x, where the first minus denotes the additive inverse in the ring and the second minus the additive inverse in the module. Using this and denoting repeated addition by a multiplication by a positive integer allows identifying abelian groups with modules over the ring of integers.
Any ring homomorphism induces a structure of a module: if f : R → S is a ring homomorphism, then S is a left module over R by the multiplication: rs = f(r)s. If R is commutative or if f(R) is contained in the center of S, the ring S is called a R-algebra. In particular, every ring is an algebra over the integers.
Let R and S be rings. Then the product R × S can be equipped with the following natural ring structure:
as a direct sum of abelian groups (because for abelian groups finite products are the same as direct sums). Clearly the direct sum of such ideals also defines a product of rings that is isomorphic to R. Equivalently, the above can be done through central idempotents. Assume that R has the above decomposition. Then we can write
An important application of an infinite direct product is the construction of a projective limit of rings (see below). Another application is a restricted product of a family of rings (cf. adele ring).
Given a symbol t (called a variable) and a commutative ring R, the set of polynomials
A ring R and the matrix ring Mn(R) over it are Morita equivalent: the category of right modules of R is equivalent to the category of right modules over Mn(R). In particular, two-sided ideals in R correspond in one-to-one to two-sided ideals in Mn(R).
The most important properties of localization are the following: when R is a commutative ring and S a multiplicatively closed subset
A complete ring has much simpler structure than a commutative ring. This owns to the Cohen structure theorem, which says, roughly, that a complete local ring tends to look like a formal power series ring or a quotient of it. On the other hand, the interaction between the integral closure and completion has been among the most important aspects that distinguish modern commutative ring theory from the classical one developed by the likes of Noether. Pathological examples found by Nagata led to the reexamination of the roles of Noetherian rings and motivated, among other things, the definition of excellent ring.
A nonzero ring with no nonzero zero-divisors is called a domain. A commutative domain is called an integral domain. The most important integral domains are principal ideal domains, PIDs for short, and fields. A principal ideal domain is an integral domain in which every ideal is principal. An important class of integral domains that contain a PID is a unique factorization domain (UFD), an integral domain in which every nonunit element is a product of prime elements (an element is prime if it generates a prime ideal.) The fundamental question in algebraic number theory is on the extent to which the ring of (generalized) integers in a number field, where an "ideal" admits prime factorization, fails to be a PID.
In algebraic geometry, UFDs arise because of smoothness. More precisely, a point in a variety (over a perfect field) is smooth if the local ring at the point is a regular local ring. A regular local ring is a UFD.
The following is a chain of class inclusions that describes the relationship between rings, domains and fields:
A division ring is a ring such that every non-zero element is a unit. A commutative division ring is a field. A prominent example of a division ring that is not a field is the ring of quaternions. Any centralizer in a division ring is also a division ring. In particular, the center of a division ring is a field. It turned out that every finite domain (in particular finite division ring) is a field; in particular commutative (the Wedderburn's little theorem).
Every module over a division ring is a free module (has a basis); consequently, much of linear algebra can be carried out over a division ring instead of a field.
The study of conjugacy classes figures prominently in the classical theory of division rings; see, for example, the Cartan–Brauer–Hua theorem.
Any module over a semisimple ring is semisimple. (Proof: A free module over a semisimple ring is semisimple and any module is a quotient of a free module.)
The Skolem–Noether theorem states any automorphism of a central simple algebra is inner.
Azumaya algebras generalize the notion of central simple algebras to a commutative local ring.
A ring may be viewed as an abelian group (by using the addition operation), with extra structure: namely, ring multiplication. In the same way, there are other mathematical objects which may be considered as rings with extra structure. For example:
To any group is associated its Burnside ring which uses a ring to describe the various ways the group can act on a finite set. The Burnside ring's additive group is the free abelian group whose basis are the transitive actions of the group and whose addition is the disjoint union of the action. Expressing an action in terms of the basis is decomposing an action into its transitive constituents. The multiplication is easily expressed in terms of the representation ring: the multiplication in the Burnside ring is formed by writing the tensor product of two permutation modules as a permutation module. The ring structure allows a formal way of subtracting one action from another. Since the Burnside ring is contained as a finite index subring of the representation ring, one can pass easily from one to the other by extending the coefficients from integers to the rational numbers.
To any group ring or Hopf algebra is associated its representation ring or "Green ring". The representation ring's additive group is the free abelian group whose basis are the indecomposable modules and whose addition corresponds to the direct sum. Expressing a module in terms of the basis is finding an indecomposable decomposition of the module. The multiplication is the tensor product. When the algebra is semisimple, the representation ring is just the character ring from character theory, which is more or less the Grothendieck group given a ring structure.
To any irreducible algebraic variety is associated its function field. The points of an algebraic variety correspond to valuation rings contained in the function field and containing the coordinate ring. The study of algebraic geometry makes heavy use of commutative algebra to study geometric concepts in terms of ring-theoretic properties. Birational geometry studies maps between the subrings of the function field.
Every simplicial complex has an associated face ring, also called its Stanley–Reisner ring. This ring reflects many of the combinatorial properties of the simplicial complex, so it is of particular interest in algebraic combinatorics. In particular, the algebraic geometry of the Stanley–Reisner ring was used to characterize the numbers of faces in each dimension of simplicial polytopes.
Every ring can be thought of as a monoid in Ab, the category of abelian groups (thought of as a monoidal category under the ). The monoid action of a ring R on an abelian group is simply an R-module. Essentially, an R-module is a generalization of the notion of a vector space – where rather than a vector space over a field, one has a "vector space over a ring".
Let (A, +) be an abelian group and let End(A) be its endomorphism ring (see above). Note that, essentially, End(A) is the set of all morphisms of A, where if f is in End(A), and g is in End(A), the following rules may be used to compute f + g and f ⋅ g:
where + as in f(x) + g(x) is addition in A, and function composition is denoted from right to left. Therefore, associated to any abelian group, is a ring. Conversely, given any ring, (R, +, ⋅ ), (R, +) is an abelian group. Furthermore, for every r in R, right (or left) multiplication by r gives rise to a morphism of (R, +), by right (or left) distributivity. Let A = (R, +). Consider those endomorphisms of A, that "factor through" right (or left) multiplication of R. In other words, let EndR(A) be the set of all morphisms m of A, having the property that m(r ⋅ x) = r ⋅ m(x). It was seen that every r in R gives rise to a morphism of A: right multiplication by r. It is in fact true that this association of any element of R, to a morphism of A, as a function from R to EndR(A), is an isomorphism of rings. In this sense, therefore, any ring can be viewed as the endomorphism ring of some abelian X-group (by X-group, it is meant a group with X being its set of operators). In essence, the most general form of a ring, is the endomorphism group of some abelian X-group.
Any ring can be seen as a preadditive category with a single object. It is therefore natural to consider arbitrary preadditive categories to be generalizations of rings. And indeed, many definitions and theorems originally given for rings can be translated to this more general context. Additive functors between preadditive categories generalize the concept of ring homomorphism, and ideals in additive categories can be defined as sets of morphisms closed under addition and under composition with arbitrary morphisms.
Algebraists have defined structures more general than rings by weakening or dropping some of ring axioms.
A nonassociative ring is an algebraic structure that satisfies all of the ring axioms except the associative property and the existence of a multiplicative identity. A notable example is a Lie algebra. There exists some structure theory for such algebras that generalizes the analogous results for Lie algebras and associative algebras.
A semiring (sometimes rig) is obtained by weakening the assumption that (R, +) is an abelian group to the assumption that (R, +) is a commutative monoid, and adding the axiom that 0 ⋅ a = a ⋅ 0 = 0 for all a in R (since it no longer follows from the other axioms).
In algebraic geometry, a ring scheme over a base scheme S is a ring object in the category of S-schemes. One example is the ring scheme Wn over Spec Z, which for any commutative ring A returns the ring Wn(A) of p-isotypic Witt vectors of length n over A.