In the mathematical
fields of differential geometry
and tensor calculus
, differential forms are an approach to multivariable calculus
that is independent of coordinate
s. Differential forms provide a unified approach to define integrand
s over curves, surfaces, solids, and higher-dimensional manifold
s. The modern notion of differential forms was pioneered by Élie Cartan
. It has many applications, especially in geometry, topology and physics.
For instance, the expression from one-variable calculus is an example of a -form, and can be integrated
over an oriented interval in the domain of :
Similarly, the expression is a -form that has a surface integral
over an oriented surface
The symbol denotes the exterior product
, sometimes called the ''wedge product'', of two differential forms. Likewise, a -form represents a volume element
that can be integrated over an oriented region of space. In general, a -form is an object that may be integrated over a -dimensional oriented manifold, and is homogeneous of degree in the coordinate differentials.
of differential forms is organized in a way that naturally reflects the orientation
of the domain of integration. There is an operation on differential forms known as the exterior derivative
that, when given a -form as input, produces a -form as output. This operation extends the differential of a function
, and is directly related to the divergence
and the curl
of a vector field in a manner that makes the fundamental theorem of calculus
, the divergence theorem
, Green's theorem
, and Stokes' theorem
special cases of the same general result, known in this context also as the generalized Stokes theorem
. In a deeper way, this theorem relates the topology
of the domain of integration to the structure of the differential forms themselves; the precise connection is known as de Rham's theorem
The general setting for the study of differential forms is on a differentiable manifold
. Differential -forms are naturally dual to vector field
s on a manifold, and the pairing between vector fields and -forms is extended to arbitrary differential forms by the interior product
. The algebra of differential forms along with the exterior derivative defined on it is preserved by the pullback
under smooth functions between two manifolds. This feature allows geometrically invariant information to be moved from one space to another via the pullback, provided that the information is expressed in terms of differential forms. As an example, the change of variables formula
for integration becomes a simple statement that an integral is preserved under pullback.
Differential forms are part of the field of differential geometry, influenced by linear algebra. Although the notion of a differential is quite old, the initial attempt at an algebraic organization of differential forms is usually credited to Élie Cartan
with reference to his 1899 paper. Some aspects of the exterior algebra
of differential forms appears in Hermann Grassmann
's 1844 work, ''Die Lineale Ausdehnungslehre, ein neuer Zweig der Mathematik (The Theory of Linear Extension, a New Branch of Mathematics)''.
Differential forms provide an approach to multivariable calculus
that is independent of coordinate
Integration and orientation
A differential -form can be integrated over an oriented manifold
of dimension . A differential -form can be thought of as measuring an infinitesimal oriented length, or 1-dimensional oriented density. A differential -form can be thought of as measuring an infinitesimal oriented area, or 2-dimensional oriented density. And so on.
Integration of differential forms is well-defined only on oriented manifolds
. An example of a 1-dimensional manifold is an interval , and intervals can be given an orientation: they are positively oriented if , and negatively oriented otherwise. If then the integral of the differential 1-form over the interval (with its natural positive orientation) is
which is the negative of the integral of the same differential form over the same interval, when equipped with the opposite orientation. That is:
This gives a geometrical context to the conventions
for one-dimensional integrals, that the sign changes when the orientation of the interval is reversed. A standard explanation of this in one-variable integration theory is that, when the limits of integration are in the opposite order (), the increment is negative in the direction of integration.
More generally, an -form is an oriented density that can be integrated over an -dimensional oriented manifold. (For example, a -form can be integrated over an oriented curve, a -form can be integrated over an oriented surface, etc.) If is an oriented -dimensional manifold, and is the same manifold with opposite orientation and is an -form, then one has:
These conventions correspond to interpreting the integrand as a differential form, integrated over a chain
. In measure theory
, by contrast, one interprets the integrand as a function with respect to a measure and integrates over a subset , without any notion of orientation; one writes
to indicate integration over a subset . This is a minor distinction in one dimension, but becomes subtler on higher-dimensional manifolds; see below
Making the notion of an oriented density precise, and thus of a differential form, involves the exterior algebra
. The differentials of a set of coordinates, , ..., can be used as a basis for all -forms. Each of these represents a covector
at each point on the manifold that may be thought of as measuring a small displacement in the corresponding coordinate direction. A general -form is a linear combination of these differentials at every point on the manifold:
where the are functions of all the coordinates. A differential -form is integrated along an oriented curve as a line integral.
The expressions , where can be used as a basis at every point on the manifold for all two-forms. This may be thought of as an infinitesimal oriented square parallel to the –-plane. A general two-form is a linear combination of these at every point on the manifold: and it is integrated just like a surface integral.
A fundamental operation defined on differential forms is the exterior product
(the symbol is the wedge
). This is similar to the cross product
from vector calculus, in that it is an alternating product. For instance,
because the square whose first side is and second side is is to be regarded as having the opposite orientation as the square whose first side is and whose second side is . This is why we only need to sum over expressions , with ; for example: . The exterior product allows higher-degree differential forms to be built out of lower-degree ones, in much the same way that the cross product
in vector calculus allows one to compute the area vector of a parallelogram from vectors pointing up the two sides. Alternating also implies that , in the same way that the cross product of parallel vectors, whose magnitude is the area of the parallelogram spanned by those vectors, is zero. In higher dimensions, if any two of the indices , ..., are equal, in the same way that the "volume" enclosed by a parallelotope
whose edge vectors are linearly dependent
A common notation for the wedge product of elementary -forms is so called multi-index notation
: in an -dimensional context, for we define
Another useful notation is obtained by defining the set of all strictly increasing multi-indices of length , in a space of dimension , denoted Then locally (wherever the coordinates apply),
spans the space of differential -forms in a manifold of dimension , when viewed as a module over the ring of smooth functions on . By calculating the size of
combinatorially, the module of -forms on a -dimensional manifold, and in general space of -covectors on an -dimensional vector space, is choose : This also demonstrates that there are no nonzero differential forms of degree greater than the dimension of the underlying manifold.
The exterior derivative
In addition to the exterior product, there is also the exterior derivative
operator . The exterior derivative of a differential form is a generalization of the differential of a function
, in the sense that the exterior derivative of is exactly the differential of . When generalized to higher forms, if is a simple -form, then its exterior derivative is a -form defined by taking the differential of the coefficient functions:
with extension to general -forms through linearity: if then its exterior derivative is
In , with the Hodge star operator
, the exterior derivative corresponds to gradient
, and divergence
, although this correspondence, like the cross product, does not generalize to higher dimensions, and should be treated with some caution.
The exterior derivative itself applies in an arbitrary finite number of dimensions, and is a flexible and powerful tool with wide application in differential geometry
, differential topology
, and many areas in physics. Of note, although the above definition of the exterior derivative was defined with respect to local coordinates, it can be defined in an entirely coordinate-free manner, as an antiderivation
of degree 1 on the exterior algebra
of differential forms. The benefit of this more general approach is that it allows for a natural coordinate-free approach to integration on manifold
s. It also allows for a natural generalization of the fundamental theorem of calculus
, called the (generalized) Stokes' theorem
, which is a central result in the theory of integration on manifolds.
Let be an open set
in . A differential -form ("zero-form") is defined to be a smooth function
on – the set of which is denoted . If is any vector in , then has a directional derivative
, which is another function on whose value at a point is the rate of change (at ) of in the direction:
(This notion can be extended point-wise to the case that is a vector field
on by evaluating at the point in the definition.)
In particular, if is the th coordinate vector
then is the partial derivative
of with respect to the th coordinate function, i.e., , where , , ..., are the coordinate functions on . By their very definition, partial derivatives depend upon the choice of coordinates: if new coordinates , , ..., are introduced, then
The first idea leading to differential forms is the observation that is a linear function
for any vectors , and any real number . At each point ''p'', this linear map
from to is denoted and called the derivative
of at . Thus . Extended over the whole set, the object can be viewed as a function that takes a vector field on , and returns a real-valued function whose value at each point is the derivative along the vector field of the function . Note that at each , the differential is not a real number, but a linear functional on tangent vectors, and a prototypical example of a differential -form
Since any vector is a linear combination
of its components
, is uniquely determined by for each and each , which are just the partial derivatives of on . Thus provides a way of encoding the partial derivatives of . It can be decoded by noticing that the coordinates , , ..., are themselves functions on , and so define differential -forms , , ..., . Let . Since , the Kronecker delta function
, it follows that
The meaning of this expression is given by evaluating both sides at an arbitrary point : on the right hand side, the sum is defined "pointwise
", so that
Applying both sides to , the result on each side is the th partial derivative of at . Since and were arbitrary, this proves the formula .
More generally, for any smooth functions and on , we define the differential -form pointwise by
for each . Any differential -form arises this way, and by using it follows that any differential -form on may be expressed in coordinates as
for some smooth functions on .
The second idea leading to differential forms arises from the following question: given a differential -form on , when does there exist a function on such that ? The above expansion reduces this question to the search for a function whose partial derivatives are equal to given functions . For , such a function does not always exist: any smooth function satisfies
so it will be impossible to find such an unless
for all and .
of the left hand side in and suggests introducing an antisymmetric product on differential -forms, the exterior product
, so that these equations can be combined into a single condition
where is defined so that:
This is an example of a differential -form. This -form is called the exterior derivative
of . It is given by
To summarize: is a necessary condition for the existence of a function with .
Differential -forms, -forms, and -forms are special cases of differential forms. For each , there is a space of differential -forms, which can be expressed in terms of the coordinates as
for a collection of functions . Antisymmetry, which was already present for -forms, makes it possible to restrict the sum to those sets of indices for which .
Differential forms can be multiplied together using the exterior product, and for any differential -form , there is a differential -form called the exterior derivative of .
Differential forms, the exterior product and the exterior derivative are independent of a choice of coordinates. Consequently, they may be defined on any smooth manifold
. One way to do this is cover with coordinate chart
s and define a differential -form on to be a family of differential -forms on each chart which agree on the overlaps. However, there are more intrinsic definitions which make the independence of coordinates manifest.
Let be a smooth manifold
. A smooth differential form of degree is a smooth section
of the th exterior power
of the cotangent bundle
of . The set of all differential -forms on a manifold is a vector space
, often denoted .
The definition of a differential form may be restated as follows. At any point , a -form defines an element
where is the tangent space
to at and is its dual space
. This space is naturally isomorphic to the fiber at of the dual bundle of the th exterior power of the tangent bundle
of . That is, is also a linear functional
, i.e. the dual of the th exterior power is isomorphic to the th exterior power of the dual:
By the universal property of exterior powers, this is equivalently an alternating multilinear map
Consequently, a differential -form may be evaluated against any -tuple of tangent vectors to the same point of . For example, a differential -form assigns to each point a linear functional
on . In the presence of an inner product
on (induced by a Riemannian metric
on ), may be represented
as the inner product with a tangent vector
. Differential -forms are sometimes called covariant vector fields
, covector fields, or "dual vector fields", particularly within physics.
The exterior algebra may be embedded in the tensor algebra by means of the alternation map. The alternation map is defined as a mapping
For a tensor at a point ,
where is the symmetric group
on elements. The alternation map is constant on the cosets of the ideal in the tensor algebra generated by the symmetric 2-forms, and therefore descends to an embedding
This map exhibits as a totally antisymmetric covariant tensor field
of rank . The differential forms on are in one-to-one correspondence with such tensor fields.
As well as the addition and multiplication by scalar operations which arise from the vector space structure, there are several other standard operations defined on differential forms. The most important operations are the exterior product
of two differential forms, the exterior derivative
of a single differential form, the interior product
of a differential form and a vector field, the Lie derivative
of a differential form with respect to a vector field and the covariant derivative
of a differential form with respect to a vector field on a manifold with a defined connection.
The exterior product of a -form and an -form , denoted , is a ()-form. At each point of the manifold , the forms and are elements of an exterior power of the cotangent space at . When the exterior algebra is viewed as a quotient of the tensor algebra, the exterior product corresponds to the tensor product (modulo the equivalence relation defining the exterior algebra).
The antisymmetry inherent in the exterior algebra means that when is viewed as a multilinear functional, it is alternating. However, when the exterior algebra embedded a subspace of the tensor algebra by means of the alternation map, the tensor product is not alternating. There is an explicit formula which describes the exterior product in this situation. The exterior product is
This description is useful for explicit computations. For example, if , then is the -form whose value at a point is the alternating bilinear form
The exterior product is bilinear: If , , and are any differential forms, and if is any smooth function, then
It is ''skew commutative'' (also known as ''graded commutative''), meaning that it satisfies a variant of anticommutativity
that depends on the degrees of the forms: if is a -form and is an -form, then
On a Riemannian manifold
, or more generally a pseudo-Riemannian manifold
, the metric defines a fibre-wise isomorphism of the tangent and cotangent bundles. This makes it possible to convert vector fields to covector fields and vice versa. It also enables the definition of additional operations such as the Hodge star operator
and the codifferential
, which has degree and is adjoint to the exterior differential .
Vector field structures
On a pseudo-Riemannian manifold, -forms can be identified with vector fields; vector fields have additional distinct algebraic structures, which are listed here for context and to avoid confusion.
Firstly, each (co)tangent space generates a Clifford algebra
, where the product of a (co)vector with itself is given by the value of a quadratic form – in this case, the natural one induced by the metric
. This algebra is ''distinct'' from the exterior algebra
of differential forms, which can be viewed as a Clifford algebra where the quadratic form vanishes (since the exterior product of any vector with itself is zero). Clifford algebras are thus non-anticommutative ("quantum") deformations of the exterior algebra. They are studied in geometric algebra
Another alternative is to consider vector fields as derivations. The (noncommutative) algebra of differential operator
s they generate is the Weyl algebra
and is a noncommutative ("quantum") deformation of the ''symmetric'' algebra in the vector fields.
Exterior differential complex
One important property of the exterior derivative is that . This means that the exterior derivative defines a cochain complex
This complex is called the de Rham complex, and its cohomology
is by definition the de Rham cohomology
of . By the Poincaré lemma
, the de Rham complex is locally exact
except at . The kernel at is the space of locally constant function
s on . Therefore, the complex is a resolution of the constant sheaf
, which in turn implies a form of de Rham's theorem: de Rham cohomology computes the sheaf cohomology
Suppose that is smooth. The differential of is a smooth map between the tangent bundles of and . This map is also denoted and called the pushforward. For any point and any , there is a well-defined pushforward vector in . However, the same is not true of a vector field. If is not injective, say because has two or more preimages, then the vector field may determine two or more distinct vectors in . If is not surjective, then will be a point at which does not determine any tangent vector at all. Since a vector field on determines, by definition, a unique tangent vector at every point of , the pushforward of a vector field does not always exist.
By contrast, it is always possible to pull back a differential form. A differential form on may be viewed as a linear functional on each tangent space. Precomposing this functional with the differential defines a linear functional on each tangent space of and therefore a differential form on . The existence of pullbacks is one of the key features of the theory of differential forms. It leads to the existence of pullback maps in other situations, such as pullback homomorphisms in de Rham cohomology.
Formally, let be smooth, and let be a smooth -form on . Then there is a differential form on , called the pullback of , which captures the behavior of as seen relative to . To define the pullback, fix a point of and tangent vectors , ..., to at . The pullback of is defined by the formula
There are several more abstract ways to view this definition. If is a -form on , then it may be viewed as a section of the cotangent bundle of . Using to denote a dual map, the dual to the differential of is . The pullback of may be defined to be the composite
This is a section of the cotangent bundle of and hence a differential -form on . In full generality, let
denote the th exterior power of the dual map to the differential. Then the pullback of a -form is the composite
Another abstract way to view the pullback comes from viewing a -form as a linear functional on tangent spaces. From this point of view, is a morphism of vector bundle
where is the trivial rank one bundle on . The composite map
defines a linear functional on each tangent space of , and therefore it factors through the trivial bundle . The vector bundle morphism
defined in this way is .
Pullback respects all of the basic operations on forms. If and are forms and is a real number, then
The pullback of a form can also be written in coordinates. Assume that , ..., are coordinates on , that , ..., are coordinates on , and that these coordinate systems are related by the formulas for all . Locally on , can be written as
where, for each choice of , ..., , is a real-valued function of , ..., . Using the linearity of pullback and its compatibility with exterior product, the pullback of has the formula
Each exterior derivative can be expanded in terms of , ..., . The resulting -form can be written using Jacobian
denotes the determinant of the matrix whose entries are
A differential -form can be integrated over an oriented -dimensional manifold. When the -form is defined on an -dimensional manifold with , then the -form can be integrated over oriented -dimensional submanifolds. If , integration over oriented 0-dimensional submanifolds is just the summation of the integrand evaluated at points, with according to the orientation of those points. Other values of correspond to line integrals, surface integrals, volume integrals, and so on. There are several equivalent ways to formally define the integral of a differential form, all of which depend on reducing to the case of Euclidean space.
Integration on Euclidean space
Let be an open subset of . Give its standard orientation and the restriction of that orientation. Every smooth -form on has the form
for some smooth function . Such a function has an integral in the usual Riemann or Lebesgue sense. This allows us to define the integral of to be the integral of :
Fixing an orientation is necessary for this to be well-defined. The skew-symmetry of differential forms means that the integral of, say, must be the negative of the integral of . Riemann and Lebesgue integrals cannot see this dependence on the ordering of the coordinates, so they leave the sign of the integral undetermined. The orientation resolves this ambiguity.
Integration over chains
Let be an -manifold and an -form on . First, assume that there is a parametrization of by an open subset of Euclidean space. That is, assume that there exists a diffeomorphism
where . Give the orientation induced by . Then defines the integral of over to be the integral of over . In coordinates, this has the following expression. Fix a chart on with coordinates . Then
Suppose that is defined by
Then the integral may be written in coordinates as
is the determinant of the Jacobian
. The Jacobian exists because is differentiable.
In general, an -manifold cannot be parametrized by an open subset of . But such a parametrization is always possible locally, so it is possible to define integrals over arbitrary manifolds by defining them as sums of integrals over collections of local parametrizations. Moreover, it is also possible to define parametrizations of -dimensional subsets for , and this makes it possible to define integrals of -forms. To make this precise, it is convenient to fix a standard domain in , usually a cube or a simplex. A -chain is a formal sum of smooth embeddings . That is, it is a collection of smooth embeddings, each of which is assigned an integer multiplicity. Each smooth embedding determines a -dimensional submanifold of . If the chain is
then the integral of a -form over is defined to be the sum of the integrals over the terms of :
This approach to defining integration does not assign a direct meaning to integration over the whole manifold . However, it is still possible to assign such a meaning indirectly because every smooth manifold may be smoothly triangulated
in an essentially unique way, and the integral over may be defined to be the integral over the chain determined by a triangulation.
Integration using partitions of unity
There is another approach, expounded in , which does directly assign a meaning to integration over , but this approach requires fixing an orientation of . The integral of an -form on an -dimensional manifold is defined by working in charts. Suppose first that is supported on a single positively oriented chart. On this chart, it may be pulled back to an -form on an open subset of . Here, the form has a well-defined Riemann or Lebesgue integral as before. The change of variables formula and the assumption that the chart is positively oriented together ensure that the integral of is independent of the chosen chart. In the general case, use a partition of unity to write as a sum of -forms, each of which is supported in a single positively oriented chart, and define the integral of to be the sum of the integrals of each term in the partition of unity.
It is also possible to integrate -forms on oriented -dimensional submanifolds using this more intrinsic approach. The form is pulled back to the submanifold, where the integral is defined using charts as before. For example, given a path , integrating a -form on the path is simply pulling back the form to a form on , and this integral is the integral of the function on the interval.
Integration along fibers
states that the integral over a set that is a product may be computed as an iterated integral over the two factors in the product. This suggests that the integral of a differential form over a product ought to be computable as an iterated integral as well. The geometric flexibility of differential forms ensures that this is possible not just for products, but in more general situations as well. Under some hypotheses, it is possible to integrate along the fibers of a smooth map, and the analog of Fubini's theorem is the case where this map is the projection from a product to one of its factors.
Because integrating a differential form over a submanifold requires fixing an orientation, a prerequisite to integration along fibers is the existence of a well-defined orientation on those fibers. Let and be two orientable manifolds of pure dimensions and , respectively. Suppose that is a surjective submersion. This implies that each fiber is -dimensional and that, around each point of , there is a chart on which looks like the projection from a product onto one of its factors. Fix and set . Suppose that
and that does not vanish. Following , there is a unique
which may be thought of as the fibral part of with respect to . More precisely, define to be the inclusion. Then is defined by the property that
is any -covector for which
The form may also be notated .
Moreover, for fixed , varies smoothly with respect to . That is, suppose that
is a smooth section of the projection map; we say that is a smooth differential -form on along . Then there is a smooth differential -form on such that, at each ,
This form is denoted . The same construction works if is an -form in a neighborhood of the fiber, and the same notation is used. A consequence is that each fiber is orientable. In particular, a choice of orientation forms on and defines an orientation of every fiber of .
The analog of Fubini's theorem is as follows. As before, and are two orientable manifolds of pure dimensions and , and is a surjective submersion. Fix orientations of and , and give each fiber of the induced orientation. Let be an -form on , and let be an -form on that is almost everywhere positive with respect to the orientation of . Then, for almost every , the form is a well-defined integrable form on . Moreover, there is an integrable -form on defined by
Denote this form by
Then proves the generalized Fubini formula
It is also possible to integrate forms of other degrees along the fibers of a submersion. Assume the same hypotheses as before, and let be a compactly supported -form on . Then there is a -form on which is the result of integrating along the fibers of . The form is defined by specifying, at each , how pairs against each -vector at , and the value of that pairing is an integral over that depends only on , , and the orientations of and . More precisely, at each , there is an isomorphism
defined by the interior product
If , then a -vector at determines an -covector at by pullback:
Each of these covectors has an exterior product against , so there is an -form on along defined by
This form depends on the orientation of but not the choice of . Then the -form is uniquely defined by the property
and is smooth . This form also denoted and called the integral of along the fibers of . Integration along fibers is important for the construction of Gysin maps in de Rham cohomology.
Integration along fibers satisfies the projection formula . If is any -form on , then
The fundamental relationship between the exterior derivative and integration is given by the Stokes' theorem
: If is an ()-form with compact support on and denotes the boundary
of with its induced orientation
A key consequence of this is that "the integral of a closed form over homologous chains is equal": If is a closed -form and and are -chains that are homologous (such that is the boundary of a -chain ), then
, since the difference is the integral
For example, if is the derivative of a potential function on the plane or , then the integral of over a path from to does not depend on the choice of path (the integral is ), since different paths with given endpoints are homotopic
, hence homologous (a weaker condition). This case is called the gradient theorem
, and generalizes the fundamental theorem of calculus
. This path independence is very useful in contour integration
This theorem also underlies the duality between de Rham cohomology
and the homology
Relation with measures
On a ''general'' differentiable manifold (without additional structure), differential forms ''cannot'' be integrated over subsets of the manifold; this distinction is key to the distinction between differential forms, which are integrated over chains or oriented submanifolds, and measures, which are integrated over subsets. The simplest example is attempting to integrate the -form over the interval . Assuming the usual distance (and thus measure) on the real line, this integral is either or , depending on ''orientation:''
. By contrast, the integral of the ''measure'' on the interval is unambiguously (i.e. the integral of the constant function with respect to this measure is ). Similarly, under a change of coordinates a differential -form changes by the Jacobian determinant
, while a measure changes by the ''absolute value'' of the Jacobian determinant, , which further reflects the issue of orientation. For example, under the map on the line, the differential form pulls back to ; orientation has reversed; while the Lebesgue measure
, which here we denote , pulls back to ; it does not change.
In the presence of the additional data of an ''orientation'', it is possible to integrate -forms (top-dimensional forms) over the entire manifold or over compact subsets; integration over the entire manifold corresponds to integrating the form over the fundamental class
of the manifold, . Formally, in the presence of an orientation, one may identify -forms with densities on a manifold
; densities in turn define a measure, and thus can be integrated .
On an orientable but not oriented manifold, there are two choices of orientation; either choice allows one to integrate -forms over compact subsets, with the two choices differing by a sign. On non-orientable manifold, -forms and densities cannot be identified —notably, any top-dimensional form must vanish somewhere (there are no volume form
s on non-orientable manifolds), but there are nowhere-vanishing densities— thus while one can integrate densities over compact subsets, one cannot integrate -forms. One can instead identify densities with top-dimensional pseudoform
Even in the presence of an orientation, there is in general no meaningful way to integrate -forms over subsets for because there is no consistent way to use the ambient orientation to orient -dimensional subsets. Geometrically, a -dimensional subset can be turned around in place, yielding the same subset with the opposite orientation; for example, the horizontal axis in a plane can be rotated by 180 degrees. Compare the Gram determinant
of a set of vectors in an -dimensional space, which, unlike the determinant of vectors, is always positive, corresponding to a squared number. An orientation of a -submanifold is therefore extra data not derivable from the ambient manifold.
On a Riemannian manifold, one may define a -dimensional Hausdorff measure
for any (integer or real), which may be integrated over -dimensional subsets of the manifold. A function times this Hausdorff measure can then be integrated over -dimensional subsets, providing a measure-theoretic analog to integration of -forms. The -dimensional Hausdorff measure yields a density, as above.
The differential form analog of a distribution
or generalized function is called a current
. The space of -currents on is the dual space to an appropriate space of differential -forms. Currents play the role of generalized domains of integration, similar to but even more flexible than chains.
Applications in physics
Differential forms arise in some important physical contexts. For example, in Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism
, the Faraday 2-form, or electromagnetic field strength
where the are formed from the electromagnetic fields
; e.g., , , or equivalent definitions.
This form is a special case of the curvature form
on the principal bundle
on which both electromagnetism and general gauge theories
may be described. The connection form
for the principal bundle is the vector potential, typically denoted by , when represented in some gauge. One then has
The current -form is
where are the four components of the current density. (Here it is a matter of convention to write instead of , i.e. to use capital letters, and to write instead of . However, the vector rsp. tensor components and the above-mentioned forms have different physical dimensions. Moreover, by decision of an international commission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics
, the magnetic polarization vector is called
since several decades, and by some publishers , i.e. the same name is used for different quantities.)
Using the above-mentioned definitions, Maxwell's equations
can be written very compactly in geometrized units
denotes the Hodge star
operator. Similar considerations describe the geometry of gauge theories in general.
, which is dual
to the Faraday form, is also called Maxwell 2-form.
Electromagnetism is an example of a gauge theory
. Here the Lie group
is , the one-dimensional unitary group
, which is in particular abelian
. There are gauge theories, such as Yang–Mills theory
, in which the Lie group is not abelian. In that case, one gets relations which are similar to those described here. The analog of the field in such theories is the curvature form of the connection, which is represented in a gauge by a Lie algebra
-valued one-form . The Yang–Mills field is then defined by
In the abelian case, such as electromagnetism, , but this does not hold in general. Likewise the field equations are modified by additional terms involving exterior products of and , owing to the structure equations
of the gauge group.
Applications in geometric measure theory
Numerous minimality results for complex analytic manifolds are based on the Wirtinger inequality for 2-forms
. A succinct proof may be found in Herbert Federer
's classic text ''Geometric Measure Theory''. The Wirtinger inequality is also a key ingredient in Gromov's inequality for complex projective space
in systolic geometry
* Closed and exact differential forms
* Complex differential form
* Vector-valued differential form
* Equivariant differential form
* ''Calculus on Manifolds''
* Multilinear form
* Polynomial differential form
* —Translation of ''Formes différentielles'' (1967)
* , a course taught at Cornell University
* , an undergraduate text.