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Category theory is a general theory of mathematical structures and their relations that was introduced by
Samuel Eilenberg Samuel Eilenberg (September 30, 1913 – January 30, 1998) was a Polish-American mathematician who co-founded category theory (with Saunders Mac Lane) and homological algebra. Early life and education He was born in Warsaw, Kingdom of Poland to a ...
and Saunders Mac Lane in the middle of the 20th century in their foundational work on
algebraic topology Algebraic topology is a branch of mathematics that uses tools from abstract algebra to study topological spaces. The basic goal is to find algebraic invariants that classify topological spaces up to homeomorphism, though usually most classify u ...
. Nowadays, category theory is used in almost all areas of mathematics, and in some areas of computer science. In particular, many constructions of new
mathematical object A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics. In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that has been (or could be) formally defined, and with which one may do deductive reasoning and mathematical p ...
s from previous ones, that appear similarly in several contexts are conveniently expressed and unified in terms of categories. Examples include quotient spaces,
direct product In mathematics, one can often define a direct product of objects already known, giving a new one. This generalizes the Cartesian product of the underlying sets, together with a suitably defined structure on the product set. More abstractly, one ta ...
s, completion, and duality. A
category Category, plural categories, may refer to: Philosophy and general uses *Categorization, categories in cognitive science, information science and generally *Category of being * ''Categories'' (Aristotle) * Category (Kant) * Categories (Peirce) ...
is formed by two sorts of objects: the objects of the category, and the
morphism In mathematics, particularly in category theory, a morphism is a structure-preserving map from one mathematical structure to another one of the same type. The notion of morphism recurs in much of contemporary mathematics. In set theory, morphisms a ...
s, which relate two objects called the ''source'' and the ''target'' of the morphism. One often says that a morphism is an ''arrow'' that ''maps'' its source to its target. Morphisms can be ''composed'' if the target of the first morphism equals the source of the second one, and morphism composition has similar properties as function composition (
associativity In mathematics, the associative property is a property of some binary operations, which means that rearranging the parentheses in an expression will not change the result. In propositional logic, associativity is a valid rule of replacemen ...
and existence of identity morphisms). Morphisms are often some sort of
function Function or functionality may refer to: Computing * Function key, a type of key on computer keyboards * Function model, a structured representation of processes in a system * Function object or functor or functionoid, a concept of object-orient ...
, but this is not always the case. For example, a
monoid In abstract algebra, a branch of mathematics, a monoid is a set equipped with an associative binary operation and an identity element. For example, the nonnegative integers with addition form a monoid, the identity element being 0. Monoids ar ...
may be viewed as a category with a single object, whose morphisms are the elements of the monoid. The second fundamental concept of category is the concept of a
functor In mathematics, specifically category theory, a functor is a mapping between categories. Functors were first considered in algebraic topology, where algebraic objects (such as the fundamental group) are associated to topological spaces, and ...
, which plays the role of a morphism between two categories $C_1$ and $C_2:$ it maps objects of $C_1$ to objects of $C_2$ and morphisms of $C_1$ to morphisms of $C_2$ in such a way that sources are mapped to sources and targets are mapped to targets (or, in the case of a
contravariant functor In mathematics, specifically category theory, a functor is a mapping between categories. Functors were first considered in algebraic topology, where algebraic objects (such as the fundamental group) are associated to topological spaces, and ma ...
, sources are mapped to targets and ''vice-versa''). A third fundamental concept is a
natural transformation In category theory, a branch of mathematics, a natural transformation provides a way of transforming one functor into another while respecting the internal structure (i.e., the composition of morphisms) of the categories involved. Hence, a natura ...
that may be viewed as a morphism of functors.

# Categories, objects, and morphisms

## Categories

A ''category'' ''C'' consists of the following three mathematical entities: * A
class Class or The Class may refer to: Common uses not otherwise categorized * Class (biology), a taxonomic rank * Class (knowledge representation), a collection of individuals or objects * Class (philosophy), an analytical concept used differentl ...
ob(''C''), whose elements are called ''objects''; * A class hom(''C''), whose elements are called
morphism In mathematics, particularly in category theory, a morphism is a structure-preserving map from one mathematical structure to another one of the same type. The notion of morphism recurs in much of contemporary mathematics. In set theory, morphisms a ...
s or maps or ''arrows''.
Each morphism ''f'' has a ''source object a'' and ''target object b''.
The expression , would be verbally stated as "''f'' is a morphism from ''a'' to ''b''".
The expression – alternatively expressed as , , or – denotes the ''hom-class'' of all morphisms from ''a'' to ''b''. * A
binary operation In mathematics, a binary operation or dyadic operation is a rule for combining two elements (called operands) to produce another element. More formally, a binary operation is an operation of arity two. More specifically, an internal binary o ...
∘, called ''composition of morphisms'', such that
for any three objects ''a'', ''b'', and ''c'', we have ::. :The composition of and is written as or ''gf'', governed by two axioms: ::1.
Associativity In mathematics, the associative property is a property of some binary operations, which means that rearranging the parentheses in an expression will not change the result. In propositional logic, associativity is a valid rule of replacemen ...
: If , , and then ::: ::2. Identity: For every object ''x'', there exists a morphism called the ''
identity morphism In mathematics, particularly in category theory, a morphism is a structure-preserving map from one mathematical structure to another one of the same type. The notion of morphism recurs in much of contemporary mathematics. In set theory, morphisms ...
for x'',
such that :::for every morphism , we have :::. :: From the axioms, it can be proved that there is exactly one
identity morphism In mathematics, particularly in category theory, a morphism is a structure-preserving map from one mathematical structure to another one of the same type. The notion of morphism recurs in much of contemporary mathematics. In set theory, morphisms ...
for every object. ::Some authors deviate from the definition just given, by identifying each object with its identity morphism.

## Morphisms

Relations among morphisms (such as ) are often depicted using
commutative diagram 350px, The commutative diagram used in the proof of the five lemma. In mathematics, and especially in category theory, a commutative diagram is a diagram such that all directed paths in the diagram with the same start and endpoints lead to the s ...
s, with "points" (corners) representing objects and "arrows" representing morphisms.
Morphism In mathematics, particularly in category theory, a morphism is a structure-preserving map from one mathematical structure to another one of the same type. The notion of morphism recurs in much of contemporary mathematics. In set theory, morphisms a ...
s can have any of the following properties. A morphism is a: * monomorphism (or ''monic'') if implies for all morphisms . *
epimorphism In category theory, an epimorphism (also called an epic morphism or, colloquially, an epi) is a morphism ''f'' : ''X'' → ''Y'' that is right-cancellative in the sense that, for all objects ''Z'' and all morphisms , : g_1 \circ f = g_2 \circ f ...
(or ''epic'') if implies for all morphisms . * ''bimorphism'' if ''f'' is both epic and monic. * isomorphism if there exists a morphism such that . *
endomorphism In mathematics, an endomorphism is a morphism from a mathematical object to itself. An endomorphism that is also an isomorphism is an automorphism. For example, an endomorphism of a vector space is a linear map , and an endomorphism of a gr ...
if . end(''a'') denotes the class of endomorphisms of ''a''. *
automorphism In mathematics, an automorphism is an isomorphism from a mathematical object to itself. It is, in some sense, a symmetry of the object, and a way of mapping the object to itself while preserving all of its structure. The set of all automorphism ...
if ''f'' is both an endomorphism and an isomorphism. aut(''a'') denotes the class of automorphisms of ''a''. * retraction if a right inverse of ''f'' exists, i.e. if there exists a morphism with . *
section Section, Sectioning or Sectioned may refer to: Arts, entertainment and media * Section (music), a complete, but not independent, musical idea * Section (typography), a subdivision, especially of a chapter, in books and documents ** Section si ...
if a left inverse of ''f'' exists, i.e. if there exists a morphism with . Every retraction is an epimorphism, and every section is a monomorphism. Furthermore, the following three statements are equivalent: * ''f'' is a monomorphism and a retraction; * ''f'' is an epimorphism and a section; * ''f'' is an isomorphism.

# Functors

Functor In mathematics, specifically category theory, a functor is a mapping between categories. Functors were first considered in algebraic topology, where algebraic objects (such as the fundamental group) are associated to topological spaces, and ...
s are structure-preserving maps between categories. They can be thought of as morphisms in the category of all (small) categories. A (covariant) functor ''F'' from a category ''C'' to a category ''D'', written , consists of: * for each object ''x'' in ''C'', an object ''F''(''x'') in ''D''; and * for each morphism in ''C'', a morphism in ''D'', such that the following two properties hold: * For every object ''x'' in ''C'', ; * For all morphisms and , . A contravariant functor is like a covariant functor, except that it "turns morphisms around" ("reverses all the arrows"). More specifically, every morphism in ''C'' must be assigned to a morphism in ''D''. In other words, a contravariant functor acts as a covariant functor from the
opposite category In category theory, a branch of mathematics, the opposite category or dual category ''C''op of a given category ''C'' is formed by reversing the morphisms, i.e. interchanging the source and target of each morphism. Doing the reversal twice yields ...
''C''op to ''D''.

# Natural transformations

A ''natural transformation'' is a relation between two functors. Functors often describe "natural constructions" and natural transformations then describe "natural homomorphisms" between two such constructions. Sometimes two quite different constructions yield "the same" result; this is expressed by a natural isomorphism between the two functors. If ''F'' and ''G'' are (covariant) functors between the categories ''C'' and ''D'', then a natural transformation η from ''F'' to ''G'' associates to every object ''X'' in ''C'' a morphism in ''D'' such that for every morphism in ''C'', we have ; this means that the following diagram is
commutative In mathematics, a binary operation is commutative if changing the order of the operands does not change the result. It is a fundamental property of many binary operations, and many mathematical proofs depend on it. Most familiar as the name of ...
: The two functors ''F'' and ''G'' are called ''naturally isomorphic'' if there exists a natural transformation from ''F'' to ''G'' such that η''X'' is an isomorphism for every object ''X'' in ''C''.

# Other concepts

## Universal constructions, limits, and colimits

Using the language of category theory, many areas of mathematical study can be categorized. Categories include sets, groups and topologies. Each category is distinguished by properties that all its objects have in common, such as the
empty set In mathematics, the empty set is the unique set having no elements; its size or cardinality (count of elements in a set) is zero. Some axiomatic set theories ensure that the empty set exists by including an axiom of empty set, while in othe ...
or the product of two topologies, yet in the definition of a category, objects are considered atomic, i.e., we ''do not know'' whether an object ''A'' is a set, a topology, or any other abstract concept. Hence, the challenge is to define special objects without referring to the internal structure of those objects. To define the empty set without referring to elements, or the product topology without referring to open sets, one can characterize these objects in terms of their relations to other objects, as given by the morphisms of the respective categories. Thus, the task is to find '' universal properties'' that uniquely determine the objects of interest. Numerous important constructions can be described in a purely categorical way if the ''category limit'' can be developed and dualized to yield the notion of a ''colimit''.

## Equivalent categories

It is a natural question to ask: under which conditions can two categories be considered ''essentially the same'', in the sense that theorems about one category can readily be transformed into theorems about the other category? The major tool one employs to describe such a situation is called ''equivalence of categories'', which is given by appropriate functors between two categories. Categorical equivalence has found numerous applications in mathematics.

## Further concepts and results

The definitions of categories and functors provide only the very basics of categorical algebra; additional important topics are listed below. Although there are strong interrelations between all of these topics, the given order can be considered as a guideline for further reading. * The functor category ''D''''C'' has as objects the functors from ''C'' to ''D'' and as morphisms the natural transformations of such functors. The Yoneda lemma is one of the most famous basic results of category theory; it describes representable functors in functor categories. * Duality: Every statement, theorem, or definition in category theory has a ''dual'' which is essentially obtained by "reversing all the arrows". If one statement is true in a category ''C'' then its dual is true in the dual category ''C''op. This duality, which is transparent at the level of category theory, is often obscured in applications and can lead to surprising relationships. * Adjoint functors: A functor can be left (or right) adjoint to another functor that maps in the opposite direction. Such a pair of adjoint functors typically arises from a construction defined by a universal property; this can be seen as a more abstract and powerful view on universal properties.

## Higher-dimensional categories

Many of the above concepts, especially equivalence of categories, adjoint functor pairs, and functor categories, can be situated into the context of ''higher-dimensional categories''. Briefly, if we consider a morphism between two objects as a "process taking us from one object to another", then higher-dimensional categories allow us to profitably generalize this by considering "higher-dimensional processes". For example, a (strict)
2-category In category theory, a strict 2-category is a category with "morphisms between morphisms", that is, where each hom-set itself carries the structure of a category. It can be formally defined as a category enriched over Cat (the category of catego ...
is a category together with "morphisms between morphisms", i.e., processes which allow us to transform one morphism into another. We can then "compose" these "bimorphisms" both horizontally and vertically, and we require a 2-dimensional "exchange law" to hold, relating the two composition laws. In this context, the standard example is Cat, the 2-category of all (small) categories, and in this example, bimorphisms of morphisms are simply
natural transformation In category theory, a branch of mathematics, a natural transformation provides a way of transforming one functor into another while respecting the internal structure (i.e., the composition of morphisms) of the categories involved. Hence, a natura ...
s of morphisms in the usual sense. Another basic example is to consider a 2-category with a single object; these are essentially monoidal categories. Bicategories are a weaker notion of 2-dimensional categories in which the composition of morphisms is not strictly associative, but only associative "up to" an isomorphism. This process can be extended for all
natural number In mathematics, the natural numbers are those numbers used for counting (as in "there are ''six'' coins on the table") and ordering (as in "this is the ''third'' largest city in the country"). Numbers used for counting are called '' cardinal ...
s ''n'', and these are called ''n''-categories. There is even a notion of '' ω-category'' corresponding to the
ordinal number In set theory, an ordinal number, or ordinal, is a generalization of ordinal numerals (first, second, th, etc.) aimed to extend enumeration to infinite sets. A finite set can be enumerated by successively labeling each element with the least n ...
ω. Higher-dimensional categories are part of the broader mathematical field of higher-dimensional algebra, a concept introduced by Ronald Brown. For a conversational introduction to these ideas, se
John Baez, 'A Tale of ''n''-categories' (1996).

# Historical notes

Whilst specific examples of functors and natural transformations had been given by
Samuel Eilenberg Samuel Eilenberg (September 30, 1913 – January 30, 1998) was a Polish-American mathematician who co-founded category theory (with Saunders Mac Lane) and homological algebra. Early life and education He was born in Warsaw, Kingdom of Poland to a ...
and Saunders Mac Lane in a 1942 paper on
group theory In abstract algebra, group theory studies the algebraic structures known as groups. The concept of a group is central to abstract algebra: other well-known algebraic structures, such as rings, fields, and vector spaces, can all be seen as ...
, these concepts were introduced in a more general sense, together with the additional notion of categories, in a 1945 paper by the same authors (who discussed applications of category theory to the field of
algebraic topology Algebraic topology is a branch of mathematics that uses tools from abstract algebra to study topological spaces. The basic goal is to find algebraic invariants that classify topological spaces up to homeomorphism, though usually most classify u ...
). Their work was an important part of the transition from intuitive and geometric homology to homological algebra, Eilenberg and Mac Lane later writing that their goal was to understand natural transformations, which first required the definition of functors, then categories. Stanislaw Ulam, and some writing on his behalf, have claimed that related ideas were current in the late 1930s in Poland. Eilenberg was Polish, and studied mathematics in Poland in the 1930s. Category theory is also, in some sense, a continuation of the work of
Emmy Noether Amalie Emmy NoetherEmmy is the ''Rufname'', the second of two official given names, intended for daily use. Cf. for example the résumé submitted by Noether to Erlangen University in 1907 (Erlangen University archive, ''Promotionsakt Emmy Noethe ...
(one of Mac Lane's teachers) in formalizing abstract processes; Noether realized that understanding a type of mathematical structure requires understanding the processes that preserve that structure (
homomorphism In algebra, a homomorphism is a structure-preserving map between two algebraic structures of the same type (such as two groups, two rings, or two vector spaces). The word ''homomorphism'' comes from the Ancient Greek language: () meaning "sam ...
s). Eilenberg and Mac Lane introduced categories for understanding and formalizing the processes (
functor In mathematics, specifically category theory, a functor is a mapping between categories. Functors were first considered in algebraic topology, where algebraic objects (such as the fundamental group) are associated to topological spaces, and ...
s) that relate topological structures to algebraic structures ( topological invariants) that characterize them. Category theory was originally introduced for the need of homological algebra, and widely extended for the need of modern
algebraic geometry Algebraic geometry is a branch of mathematics, classically studying zeros of multivariate polynomials. Modern algebraic geometry is based on the use of abstract algebraic techniques, mainly from commutative algebra, for solving geometrical ...
( scheme theory). Category theory may be viewed as an extension of
universal algebra Universal algebra (sometimes called general algebra) is the field of mathematics that studies algebraic structures themselves, not examples ("models") of algebraic structures. For instance, rather than take particular groups as the object of study ...
, as the latter studies
algebraic structure In mathematics, an algebraic structure consists of a nonempty set ''A'' (called the underlying set, carrier set or domain), a collection of operations on ''A'' (typically binary operations such as addition and multiplication), and a finite set o ...
s, and the former applies to any kind of mathematical structure and studies also the relationships between structures of different nature. For this reason, it is used throughout mathematics. Applications to mathematical logic and semantics ( categorical abstract machine) came later. Certain categories called topoi (singular ''topos'') can even serve as an alternative to
axiomatic set theory Set theory is the branch of mathematical logic that studies sets, which can be informally described as collections of objects. Although objects of any kind can be collected into a set, set theory, as a branch of mathematics, is mostly concern ...
as a foundation of mathematics. A topos can also be considered as a specific type of category with two additional topos axioms. These foundational applications of category theory have been worked out in fair detail as a basis for, and justification of,
constructive mathematics In the philosophy of mathematics, constructivism asserts that it is necessary to find (or "construct") a specific example of a mathematical object in order to prove that an example exists. Contrastingly, in classical mathematics, one can prove t ...
. Topos theory is a form of abstract sheaf theory, with geometric origins, and leads to ideas such as pointless topology. Categorical logic is now a well-defined field based on type theory for
intuitionistic logic Intuitionistic logic, sometimes more generally called constructive logic, refers to systems of symbolic logic that differ from the systems used for classical logic by more closely mirroring the notion of constructive proof. In particular, systems ...
s, with applications in functional programming and
domain theory Domain theory is a branch of mathematics that studies special kinds of partially ordered sets (posets) commonly called domains. Consequently, domain theory can be considered as a branch of order theory. The field has major applications in computer ...
, where a
cartesian closed category In category theory, a category is Cartesian closed if, roughly speaking, any morphism defined on a product of two objects can be naturally identified with a morphism defined on one of the factors. These categories are particularly important in ma ...
is taken as a non-syntactic description of a
lambda calculus Lambda calculus (also written as ''λ''-calculus) is a formal system in mathematical logic for expressing computation based on function abstraction and application using variable binding and substitution. It is a universal model of computation t ...
. At the very least, category theoretic language clarifies what exactly these related areas have in common (in some abstract sense). Category theory has been applied in other fields as well. For example, John Baez has shown a link between
Feynman diagrams In theoretical physics, a Feynman diagram is a pictorial representation of the mathematical expressions describing the behavior and interaction of subatomic particles. The scheme is named after American physicist Richard Feynman, who introduce ...
in
physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its fundamental constituents, its motion and behavior through space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical science is that department of knowledge which rel ...
and monoidal categories. Another application of category theory, more specifically: topos theory, has been made in mathematical music theory, see for example the book ''The Topos of Music, Geometric Logic of Concepts, Theory, and Performance'' by
Guerino Mazzola Guerino Bruno Mazzola (born 1947) is a Swiss mathematician, musicologist, jazz pianist as well as a writer. Education and career Mazzola obtained his PhD in mathematics at University of Zürich in 1971 under the supervision of Herbert Groß and ...
. More recent efforts to introduce undergraduates to categories as a foundation for mathematics include those of William Lawvere and Rosebrugh (2003) and Lawvere and Stephen Schanuel (1997) and Mirroslav Yotov (2012).

*
Domain theory Domain theory is a branch of mathematics that studies special kinds of partially ordered sets (posets) commonly called domains. Consequently, domain theory can be considered as a branch of order theory. The field has major applications in computer ...
* Enriched category theory * Glossary of category theory *
Group theory In abstract algebra, group theory studies the algebraic structures known as groups. The concept of a group is central to abstract algebra: other well-known algebraic structures, such as rings, fields, and vector spaces, can all be seen as ...
* Higher category theory * Higher-dimensional algebra * Important publications in category theory *
Lambda calculus Lambda calculus (also written as ''λ''-calculus) is a formal system in mathematical logic for expressing computation based on function abstraction and application using variable binding and substitution. It is a universal model of computation t ...
* Outline of category theory * Timeline of category theory and related mathematics

# References

## Sources

* * . * . * * * * * . * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Notes for a course offered as part of the MSc. in Mathematical Logic, Manchester University. * , draft of a book. * * Based on .

*

Theory and Application of Categories
an electronic journal of category theory, full text, free, since 1995.
nLab
a wiki project on mathematics, physics and philosophy with emphasis on the ''n''-categorical point of view.
The n-Category Café
essentially a colloquium on topics in category theory.
Category Theory
a web page of links to lecture notes and freely available books on category theory. * , a formal introduction to category theory. * * , with an extensive bibliography.
List of academic conferences on category theory
* — An informal introduction to higher order categories.
WildCats
is a category theory package for
Mathematica Wolfram Mathematica is a software system with built-in libraries for several areas of technical computing that allow machine learning, statistics, symbolic computation, data manipulation, network analysis, time series analysis, NLP, optimizat ...
. Manipulation and visualization of objects,
morphism In mathematics, particularly in category theory, a morphism is a structure-preserving map from one mathematical structure to another one of the same type. The notion of morphism recurs in much of contemporary mathematics. In set theory, morphisms a ...
s, categories,
functor In mathematics, specifically category theory, a functor is a mapping between categories. Functors were first considered in algebraic topology, where algebraic objects (such as the fundamental group) are associated to topological spaces, and ...
s,
natural transformation In category theory, a branch of mathematics, a natural transformation provides a way of transforming one functor into another while respecting the internal structure (i.e., the composition of morphisms) of the categories involved. Hence, a natura ...
s, universal properties. * , a channel about category theory. * .
Video archive
of recorded talks relevant to categories, logic and the foundations of physics.
Interactive Web page
which generates examples of categorical constructions in the category of finite sets.

an instruction on category theory as a tool throughout the sciences.
Category Theory for Programmers
A book in blog form explaining category theory for computer programmers.
Introduction to category theory.
{{DEFAULTSORT:Category Theory Higher category theory Foundations of mathematics