The rest of this article will assume, unless specified otherwise, that a surface is nonempty, Hausdorff, second-countable, and connected.
In the previous section, a surface is defined as a topological space with certain properties, namely Hausdorff and locally Euclidean. This topological space is not considered a subspace of another space. In this sense, the definition given above, which is the definition that mathematicians use at present, is intrinsic.
Any fundamental polygon can be written symbolically as follows. Begin at any vertex, and proceed around the perimeter of the polygon in either direction until returning to the starting vertex. During this traversal, record the label on each edge in order, with an exponent of -1 if the edge points opposite to the direction of traversal. The four models above, when traversed clockwise starting at the upper left, yield
Note that the sphere and the projective plane can both be realized as quotients of the 2-gon, while the torus and Klein bottle require a 4-gon (square).
Gluing edges of polygons is a special kind of quotient space process. The quotient concept can be applied in greater generality to produce new or alternative constructions of surfaces. For example, the real projective plane can be obtained as the quotient of the sphere by identifying all pairs of opposite points on the sphere. Another example of a quotient is the connected sum.
It follows that a closed surface is determined, up to homeomorphism, by two pieces of information: its Euler characteristic, and whether it is orientable or not. In other words, Euler characteristic and orientability completely classify closed surfaces up to homeomorphism.
Closed surfaces with multiple connected components are classified by the class of each of their connected components, and thus one generally assumes that the surface is connected.
Conversely, the boundary of a compact surface is a closed 1-manifold, and is therefore the disjoint union of a finite number of circles; filling these circles with disks (formally, taking the cone) yields a closed surface.
If one removes the assumption of second-countability from the definition of a surface, there exist (necessarily non-compact) topological surfaces having no countable base for their topology. Perhaps the simplest example is the Cartesian product of the long line with the space of real numbers.
Two smooth surfaces are diffeomorphic if and only if they are homeomorphic. (The analogous result does not hold for higher-dimensional manifolds.) Thus closed surfaces are classified up to diffeomorphism by their Euler characteristic and orientability.
This result exemplifies the deep relationship between the geometry and topology of surfaces (and, to a lesser extent, higher-dimensional manifolds).