TheInfoList

In
category theory Category theory formalizes mathematical structure In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and ...
, a branch of
mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and their changes (cal ...
, an initial object of a
category Category, plural categories, may refer to: Philosophy and general uses *Categorization Categorization is the ability and activity to recognize shared features or similarities between the elements of the experience of the world (such as O ...
is an object in such that for every object in , there exists precisely one
morphism In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and th ...

. The
dual Dual or Duals may refer to: Paired/two things * Dual (mathematics), a notion of paired concepts that mirror one another ** Dual (category theory), a formalization of mathematical duality ** . . . see more cases in :Duality theories * Dual ...
notion is that of a terminal object (also called terminal element): is terminal if for every object in there exists exactly one morphism . Initial objects are also called coterminal or universal, and terminal objects are also called final. If an object is both initial and terminal, it is called a zero object or null object. A pointed category is one with a zero object. A strict initial object is one for which every morphism into is an
isomorphism In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and ...

.

# Examples

* The
empty set #REDIRECT Empty set #REDIRECT Empty set#REDIRECT Empty set In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry ...

is the unique initial object in Set, the
category of sets In the mathematical Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities an ...
. Every one-element set ( singleton) is a terminal object in this category; there are no zero objects. Similarly, the empty space is the unique initial object in Top, the
category of topological spaces In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and the ...
and every one-point space is a terminal object in this category. * In the category
Rel Rel or REL may mean: __NOTOC__ Science and technology * REL Rel or REL may mean: __NOTOC__ Science and technology * , a human gene * the rel descriptor of , see *REL (''Rassemblement Européen pour la Liberté''), , a defunct French far-right party ...
of sets and relations, the empty set is the unique initial object, the unique terminal object, and hence the unique zero object. * In the category of
pointed set In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and th ...
s (whose objects are non-empty sets together with a distinguished element; a morphism from to being a function with ), every singleton is a zero object. Similarly, in the category of pointed topological spaces, every singleton is a zero object. * In Grp, the
category of groups In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and ...
, any
trivial group In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and the ...
is a zero object. The trivial algebra is also a zero object in Ab, the
category of abelian groupsIn mathematics, the category theory, category Ab has the abelian groups as object (category theory), objects and group homomorphisms as morphisms. This is the prototype of an abelian category: indeed, every Small category, small abelian category can ...
, Rng the category of pseudo-rings, ''R''-Mod, the
category of modulesIn algebra Algebra (from ar, الجبر, lit=reunion of broken parts, bonesetting, translit=al-jabr) is one of the areas of mathematics, broad areas of mathematics, together with number theory, geometry and mathematical analysis, analysis. In i ...
over a ring, and ''K''-Vect, the
category of vector spacesIn algebra Algebra (from ar, الجبر, lit=reunion of broken parts, bonesetting, translit=al-jabr) is one of the areas of mathematics, broad areas of mathematics, together with number theory, geometry and mathematical analysis, analysis. In i ...
over a field. See ''
Zero object (algebra) Image:Terminal and initial object.svg, Morphisms to and from the zero object In algebra, the zero object of a given algebraic structure is, in the sense explained below, the simplest object of such structure. As a set (mathematics), set it is a s ...
'' for details. This is the origin of the term "zero object". * In Ring, the
category of rings In mathematics, the category of rings, denoted by Ring, is the category (mathematics), category whose objects are ring (mathematics), rings (with identity) and whose morphisms are ring homomorphisms (that preserve the identity). Like many categor ...
with unity and unity-preserving morphisms, the ring of
integer An integer (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to ...
s Z is an initial object. The
zero ring In ring theory In algebra, ring theory is the study of ring (mathematics), rings—algebraic structures in which addition and multiplication are defined and have similar properties to those operations defined for the integers. Ring theory studies ...
consisting only of a single element 0 = 1 is a terminal object. * In Rig, the category of rigs with unity and unity-preserving morphisms, the rig of
natural number In mathematics, the natural numbers are those numbers used for counting (as in "there are ''six'' coins on the table") and total order, ordering (as in "this is the ''third'' largest city in the country"). In common mathematical terminology, w ...
s N is an initial object. The zero rig, which is the
zero ring In ring theory In algebra, ring theory is the study of ring (mathematics), rings—algebraic structures in which addition and multiplication are defined and have similar properties to those operations defined for the integers. Ring theory studies ...
, consisting only of a single element 0 = 1 is a terminal object. * In Field, the
category of fields In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ...
, there are no initial or terminal objects. However, in the subcategory of fields of fixed characteristic, the
prime field In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ...
is an initial object. * Any
partially ordered set In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and ...
can be interpreted as a category: the objects are the elements of , and there is a single morphism from to
if and only if In logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning. Informal logic seeks to characterize Validity (logic), valid arguments informally, for instance by listing varieties of fallacies. Formal logic represents st ...
. This category has an initial object if and only if has a
least element In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). I ...
; it has a terminal object if and only if has a
greatest element In mathematics, especially in order theory, the greatest element of a subset S of a partially ordered set (poset) is an element of S that is greater than every other element of S. The term least element is defined duality (order theory), dually, t ...
. * Cat, the
category of small categoriesIn mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ha ...
with
functor In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers ( and ), formulas and related structures (), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (), and quantities and their changes ( and ). There is no ge ...

s as morphisms has the empty category, 0 (with no objects and no morphisms), as initial object and the terminal category, 1 (with a single object with a single identity morphism), as terminal object. * In the category of schemes, Spec(Z), the
prime spectrum In algebra Algebra (from ar, الجبر, lit=reunion of broken parts, bonesetting, translit=al-jabr) is one of the areas of mathematics, broad areas of mathematics, together with number theory, geometry and mathematical analysis, analysis. In ...
of the ring of integers, is a terminal object. The empty scheme (equal to the prime spectrum of the
zero ring In ring theory In algebra, ring theory is the study of ring (mathematics), rings—algebraic structures in which addition and multiplication are defined and have similar properties to those operations defined for the integers. Ring theory studies ...
) is an initial object. * A
limit Limit or Limits may refer to: Arts and media * Limit (music), a way to characterize harmony * Limit (song), "Limit" (song), a 2016 single by Luna Sea * Limits (Paenda song), "Limits" (Paenda song), 2019 song that represented Austria in the Eurov ...
of a
diagram A diagram is a symbolic Depiction, representation of information using Visualization (graphics), visualization techniques. Diagrams have been used since prehistoric times on Cave painting, walls of caves, but became more prevalent during the Age ...
''F'' may be characterised as a terminal object in the
category of conesIn category theory, a branch of mathematics, the cone of a functor is an abstract notion used to define the limit (category theory), limit of that functor. Cones make other appearances in category theory as well. Definition Let ''F'' : ''J'' → '' ...
to ''F''. Likewise, a colimit of ''F'' may be characterised as an initial object in the category of co-cones from ''F''.

# Properties

## Existence and uniqueness

Initial and terminal objects are not required to exist in a given category. However, if they do exist, they are essentially unique. Specifically, if and are two different initial objects, then there is a unique
isomorphism In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and ...

between them. Moreover, if is an initial object then any object isomorphic to is also an initial object. The same is true for terminal objects. For complete categories there is an existence theorem for initial objects. Specifically, a (
locally small This is a glossary of properties and concepts in category theory Category theory formalizes mathematical structure In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), ...
) complete category has an initial object if and only if there exist a set ( a
proper class Proper may refer to: Mathematics * Proper map In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers ( and ), formulas and related structures (), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (), and qu ...
) and an -
indexed family In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and th ...
of objects of such that for any object of , there is at least one morphism for some .

## Equivalent formulations

Terminal objects in a category may also be defined as
limit Limit or Limits may refer to: Arts and media * Limit (music), a way to characterize harmony * Limit (song), "Limit" (song), a 2016 single by Luna Sea * Limits (Paenda song), "Limits" (Paenda song), 2019 song that represented Austria in the Eurov ...
s of the unique empty
diagram A diagram is a symbolic Depiction, representation of information using Visualization (graphics), visualization techniques. Diagrams have been used since prehistoric times on Cave painting, walls of caves, but became more prevalent during the Age ...
. Since the empty category is vacuously a
discrete categoryIn mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ha ...

, a terminal object can be thought of as an
empty product In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ...
(a product is indeed the limit of the discrete diagram , in general). Dually, an initial object is a
colimit In category theory Category theory formalizes mathematical structure and its concepts in terms of a Graph labeling, labeled directed graph called a ''Category (mathematics), category'', whose nodes are called ''objects'', and whose labelled di ...
of the empty diagram and can be thought of as an empty
coproduct In category theory Category theory formalizes mathematical structure and its concepts in terms of a Graph labeling, labeled directed graph called a ''Category (mathematics), category'', whose nodes are called ''objects'', and whose labelled d ...
or categorical sum. It follows that any
functor In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers ( and ), formulas and related structures (), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (), and quantities and their changes ( and ). There is no ge ...

which preserves limits will take terminal objects to terminal objects, and any functor which preserves colimits will take initial objects to initial objects. For example, the initial object in any
concrete category In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers ( and ), formulas and related structures (), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (), and quantities and their changes ( and ). There is no gener ...
with
free object In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and th ...
s will be the free object generated by the empty set (since the
free functorIn mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ha ...
, being
left adjoint In mathematics, specifically category theory, adjunction is a relationship that two functors may have. Two functors that stand in this relationship are known as adjoint functors, one being the left adjoint and the other the right adjoint. Pairs o ...
to the
forgetful functor In mathematics, in the area of category theory, a forgetful functor (also known as a stripping functor) 'forgets' or drops some or all of the input's structure or properties 'before' mapping to the output. For an algebraic structure of a given signa ...
to Set, preserves colimits). Initial and terminal objects may also be characterized in terms of universal properties and
adjoint functors In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers ( and ), formulas and related structures (), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (), and quantities and their changes ( and ). There is no gen ...
. Let 1 be the discrete category with a single object (denoted by •), and let be the unique (constant) functor to 1. Then *An initial object in is a
universal morphism In category theory Category theory formalizes mathematical structure and its concepts in terms of a Graph labeling, labeled directed graph called a ''Category (mathematics), category'', whose nodes are called ''objects'', and whose labelled d ...
from • to . The functor which sends • to is left adjoint to ''U''. *A terminal object in is a universal morphism from to •. The functor which sends • to is right adjoint to .

## Relation to other categorical constructions

Many natural constructions in category theory can be formulated in terms of finding an initial or terminal object in a suitable category. *A
universal morphism In category theory Category theory formalizes mathematical structure and its concepts in terms of a Graph labeling, labeled directed graph called a ''Category (mathematics), category'', whose nodes are called ''objects'', and whose labelled d ...
from an object to a functor can be defined as an initial object in the
comma category In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It h ...
. Dually, a universal morphism from to is a terminal object in . *The limit of a diagram is a terminal object in , the
category of conesIn category theory, a branch of mathematics, the cone of a functor is an abstract notion used to define the limit (category theory), limit of that functor. Cones make other appearances in category theory as well. Definition Let ''F'' : ''J'' → '' ...
to . Dually, a colimit of is an initial object in the category of cones from . *A representation of a functor to Set is an initial object in the category of elements of . *The notion of final functor (respectively, initial functor) is a generalization of the notion of final object (respectively, initial object).

## Other properties

*The endomorphism monoid of an initial or terminal object is trivial: . *If a category has a zero object , then for any pair of objects and in , the unique composition is a
zero morphismIn category theory Category theory formalizes mathematical structure and its concepts in terms of a Graph labeling, labeled directed graph called a ''Category (mathematics), category'', whose nodes are called ''objects'', and whose labelled dire ...
from to .